Dry ramen? I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued that Yuji is only open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. It’s a pop-up restaurant that shares the space behind a bar with another restaurant that operates on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The vibe is very hip, even more hip than Williamsburg itself because it is tucked away from Bedford Ave in a garage that is also an art gallery. So hip.
The space is very small. We were lucky enough to secure the back long table against the cool Asian mural (K.C. – it is Asian!!). The menu changes constantly. The uni ramen that so many Yelpers yelped about was no longer on the menu when I got there. I imagine they are doing their market research and rotating items to see which ones are the best so they know which ones to implement when they open their real deal.
I ordered the Chilled Tomato and Clam ($11) while everyone else ordered the Summer Crab ($12). The benefit to dry ramen is that the noodles stay al dente throughout your gastronomic journey, unlike traditional soupy ramen. There is no broth to weaken the chewiness. My chilled ramen was perfect for the hot summer night (no air conditioning at this venue!). The tomato and clam sauce made it taste almost like an Italian pasta sauce over Japanese noodles. Clams were barely present but definitely added to the flavor of the fresh tomato paste. My only qualm about the dish is that the portion was way too small. It seemed more like an appetizer portion. It would be a perfect bar snack though… Maybe that’s what it is intended to be. In that case, lower your prices, please!
My dining mates G.B. and E.C. both ordered the Summer Crab ($12) ramen. I had a bite of it and immediately knew that I had ordered the better dish (mahahaha). The ramen was warm and had a thick paste that tasted a bit too strongly of the sea. I imagine the lime was supposed to help freshen up the thickness but it was not enough to combat the warmth of the noodles. The whole combination of warm noodle with thick paste and seafoody taste made it all a bit nauseating.
We also ordered Pork Buns ($7) and Shiitake Buns ($6). The pork buns are different from your typical Ippudo/Momofuku/Baohaus pork buns. Instead of sandwiching a thick slice of pork belly with lettuce and some sort of mayo and brown sauce, Yuji uses pulled pork and kimchee. The result is a unique bun that is less sweet, slightly pickled (kimchee) and pretty darn juicy. I’ve read that a lot of people felt the pork was too bland and the kimchee too weird. I actually thought the pork was very flavorful and liked the combination with kimchee… it made the bun a little sweet and sour! Maybe the chef read the reviews and changed up his recipe? Or maybe I was just really hungry and had a false impression.
The shiitake buns ($6) were great, minus the fact that there was too little filling for the amount of bun. The mushrooms were tremendously fragrant and very little seasoning was added (salt, soy, oyster sauce?) so that the natural flavor of the mushroom was able to shine through. If there were more mushrooms, the buns would be much better.
It was a great experience overall. The concept of dry ramen is new and delicious. This was my first time at a pop-up restaurant. It seems that the quality of food is a bit inconsistent across the menu items, which makes reading ahead more important so that you don’t waste time and money on a bad dish! Then again, the menu is constantly changing and I do love the experimental nature of it all. I’ll definitely want to try more pop-ups in the future… if you know of any, please let me know!