Astoria, Featured, Restaurants, Sushi and Japanese
Feb 16, 2016

First Taste – Tea, Ramen, and Snacks at Astoria’s Shuya Cafe de Ramen

Last night I ventured over to new ramen shop, Shuya Cafe de Ramen. First, props to @linnychu on Twitter who pointed out developments in the new space (which used to (…)

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Photo credit: Shuya M. on Yelp

Last night I ventured over to new ramen shop, Shuya Cafe de Ramen. First, props to @linnychu on Twitter who pointed out developments in the new space (which used to be Broadway Grill), and also to Redditor PrincessBaguette who noticed that Shuya Cafe was open for business. This is a nice addition to this strip of Broadway and seems to blend in well with the diverse offerings nearby (e.g. Peruvian chicken, pizza, Doyle’s Corner, and Muncan).

I was originally hoping to do a phone chat with owner Shuya Miyawaki, but he said, “Why don’t you stop by our restaurant to eat? We can talk a bit if not so busy!” With the impending snow (which I love) and chilly weather (which doesn’t bother me—I love the cold), I thought that an early dinner of ramen and tea (and hopefully a pork bun) would be a perfect way to enjoy the early evening, all cosy in a local ramen shop. And let me tell you, ramen was a great choice—warm, savory, and nourishing all in one bowl.

Shuya was right about being busy—he’s the main guy in the kitchen and from what I can tell he has exacting standards. We didn’t get to talk much, but what I learned is that he’s been in the kitchen for many years—previously he was at 1 or 8 in Williamsburg (where they serve “free-styling Japanese food”), and before that was Executive Chef at the now defunct Jinya Ramen Bar in the Village.

One interesting observation he made was that many ramen joints he’s come across focus on the pork broth, which is so popular. He says a lot of places decide to balance out the richness of this broth with MSG, which at times didn’t agree with him (NB: we understand that effect of MSG on the body is a highly charged topic in many circles). As a result, he wanted to look at using other kinds of broths—chicken and fish, primarily. They do tend to be lighter, which I can attest to from my experience at Shuya.

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The space itself is decorated simply but elegantly, and has a warmth to it with blonde wood and comfy cushions on the chairs. One of the walls has a large shelf made of cubbyholes containing ceramics, plants, and bags of tea and/or coffee. I sat at a large table that would seat six; I would say the place seats a couple dozen or so.

I started with tea. There are four choices, including Sencha, Hoji, and Oolong, as well as Kuromame, which is basically roasted black soybeans steeped in hot water. It was delicious! It tasted a little like roasted barley tea, and I was blown away to learn that the tea did not contain any tea leaves! It is also the caffeine-free tea on the list.

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I liked that they gave me an entire teapot of the tea, and they offered to refill it with hot water if I would like. The tea was served in a beautiful handmade ceramic cup, too.

Other beverage options include coffee, water, and juice—I’d certainly like to try the yuzu soda or Ramune sometime.

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Since I am a fan of many things pickled and fermented, I chose a bowl of Japanese pickled vegetables. Not only did they help with digestion, they were a lovely way to start the meal. There was cabbage, carrot, cucumber, and peppers in the mix. They seemed to be pickled with a mix of salt, vinegar, and soy sauce. The pickling liquid did not make the pickles taste overly salty or sour, and the flavor was quite balanced. Although mellow, a little goes a long way, so this one small dish is enough for four people.

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They also gave me a bowl of house-made potato chips seasoned with salt and pepper. They were very thin and light, and crispy.

As I mentioned above, I hoped for a pork bun and I was so happy to see it on the menu. The soft as a cloud and pleasantly warm bun was filled with slices of cha su pork, topped with an “egg tartar sauce,” and leaf of curly kale. I really liked that I could eat through all elements of the pork—meat to fat—with ease; sometimes the fat is a bit too chewy for my taste. I was told that it has to do with the way they cook it—first braised, then grilled. It was balanced in the salt department, definitely porky, earthy umami, and had an overall luscious texture. The kale lightened things up a bit. I could have eaten a half dozen of these buns.

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There are five different kinds of ramen offered—a basic ramen simply called “Ramen”; Shuya ramen; “Assari” yuzu ramen; a Vegetable ramen; and Tantan “Mazemen” ramen. The last one on this list is  soupless ramen, the noodles topped with ground black pork, accompanied by spicy sesame sauce and a soft cooked egg. I tried the first Ramen, which is made with a chicken and fish broth and comes with two slices of cha su pork. I added a flavored egg and ginger to it (each $1).

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I liked the lighter chicken/fish broth. Often the pork broth, as delicious as it is, can be hard for me to finish because it is so rich, so I appreciate the lighter broth (I finished the bowl). Also, there was not an overage of broth compared to the other elements in the ramen. I especially liked the noodles, which were yellow in color, a bit curly and slightly uneven in width. The best part about them was that they had a nice chewiness—nothing fell apart or got soggy. The pork, again, was very easy to eat, but did not disintegrate into the broth.

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The flavored egg was bigger than I expected! It looked a little like a tea egg and was flavored with soy sauce; I liked the gelatinous yolk, too. I’m on a bit of a ginger kick these days and the finely grated ginger extra dispersed throughout the broth to add additional warming touch to the dish. After I had eaten all the solid elements in the ramen, I had a beautiful wooden spoon with which to consume the remaining broth. It felt really special compared to ceramic or stainless.

I thought my meal was decently priced—$21 total, $25 with tip; tax is built into the pricing you see on the menu.

Vegetarians, you’re covered—meatless options are clearly marked with a green leaf icon. The Vegetarian ramen contains plenty of veggies, either in tempura or steamed form. Almost all of the Cold Tapas are veg, including shishito peppers, a garden salad with 12 different kinds of vegetables, and a Forest Salad containing mushrooms and quinoa. The one Hot Tapa that’s vegetarian is the Brussels Sprouts Tempura, which sounds amazing—some of you may know my obsession with B.Sprouts, so this is something I must try next time I’m by.

So, if you’re looking for some really interesting Japanese ramen dishes and small plates, Shuya Cafe de Ramen is worth checking out.

Shuya Cafe de Ramen (42-13 Broadway, Astoria. 718-777-0430)
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About Meg Cotner

Meg Cotner was trained as a harpsichordist and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Queens," and is a skilled and avid home cook, baker, and preserver.

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