Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ramen battle is on in Fort Lee

Spicy Miso Ramen at Ramen Setagaya in Fort Lee.


The slurping of soup noodles has become especially loud near Main Street and Center Avenue in Fort Lee.

For more than a decade, Batten Ramen has slung authentic Japanese noodle soup, gyoza and other dishes in a no-frills setting on Center Avenue.

About 3 months ago, a branch of Ramen Setagaya, a popular Manhattan ramen spot, opened around the corner on Main Street, though you might have trouble finding it, because there still is no sign on the storefront.

Both Ramen Setagayas are outposts of a well-known chain in Japan.

The new place offers eight flavors of ramen at lunch and dinner, compared to five at Batten Ramen, including a kid's portion with fried chicken.

Ramen is based on a slow-cooked pork broth filled with chewy wheat noodles, topped with seaweed, sliced pork, egg, corn, vegetables or other garnishes.

Ramen Setagaya is a bit more expensive, but claims to serve "100% natural ingredients" with no MSG. The menu boasts of special sea salt and soy sauce imported from Japan.

I had lunch there on Thursday with my teen-age son, and the Asian man next to us made loud slurping noises as he sucked the soup noodles into his mouth -- a sign that he was really enjoying himself.

Ramen Setagaya offers table and counter seating.
The kitchen is behind large glass panels.

The man was having the set $13 menu -- a bowl of Shio or Syo-yu Ramen with Buta-don (sliced pork and rice), Curry Rice or Gyoza (Japanese dumplings).

We were the only non-Asian customers in the restaurant.

Two young, enthusiastic servers did a great job, but the volume on a flat-screen TV was annoyingly high as it repeatedly played a Japanese video on how ramen is made.

My son ordered Spicy Miso Ramen (soybean-paste flavor) with barbecued pork, bean sprouts, bamboo shoot, corn and half of a nearly hard-boiled egg ($10.50).

He said it was seriously spicy, reminding him of the spicy Korean instant ramyun he is addicted to.

I tried some of the noodles from his soup, and found them deliciously firm and chewy, far superior to any instant noodle soup.

Because I don't eat meat and I'm cutting down on carbohydrates, I ordered Seafood Gyoza ($5); Shumai, another dumpling filled with minced shrimp ($5), and Menma-zara, a bamboo-shoot salad ($3).

Gyoza are available with three different fillings.
A crunchy salad of Salt Taste Bamboo Shoots.

I once ate ramen regularly at Batten Ramen, either with my wife and son or with a friend who lived in Japan for three years and taught English at a junior high school.

I also liked other items on the Batten Ramen menu, including rice balls.

Batten Ramen serves only pan-fried pork goyza, but when I ate meat, I loved its version of this popular dumpling.

When Saigon R opened in a small storefront in Englewood, where I lived at the time, we discovered Vietnamese anise-flavored pho with rice noodles, and never looked back.

On Thursday in Fort Lee, I walked around the corner to pick up a takeout menu at Batten Ramen, and noticed it had more customers than the challenger. 

Ramen Setagaya, 243 Main St., Fort Lee; 201-585-0739. BYO, no American Express cards. Metered parking.

Batten Ramen, 2024 Center Ave., on the street side of Oak Tree Center, Fort Lee; 201-461-5465. BYO, cash only. Free parking in small underground garage.

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