Monday, January 30th, 2023:
Tampopo Ramen-Good Things Come To Those Who Wait.
Tampopo Ramen-Good Things Come To Those Who Wait.
By Benjamin Ramos Rosado. Sofrito In My Soul
Patience is a virtue… I do not possess! When I want something, I want it FUCKING NOW! Especially, when I am hungry or hangry-that terrifying combination of hungry and angry. Occasionally, I’m forced to learn the dreaded virtue of patience. After several failed attempts to dine at Tampopo Ramen, I learned that patience has its rewards.
Hidden away on Bennet Avenue, Tampopo Ramen is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Josh Frank and Nanae Mameuda-Frank both known for being Sting’s caterers. Tampopo Ramen is their first permanent location where they serve “Tokyo” style ramen, which is world-famous for its pork broth. Tampopo challenges the ramen status quo by serving chicken and vegetable-based broths instead.
Cozy and understated, the space features 2 small wooden tables and a long sushi bar. The décor is simple, elegant, and artistic! A beautiful mural of a steaming bowl of ramen covers the wall of the left-hand side, with little soup ingredients floating around it. Tampopo is stylish and comfortable; it is the perfect place to relax.
Tampopo’s diverse clientele makes the United Nations Cafeteria seem tame. I’ve overheard patrons speaking English (American and Australian), Spanish, Spanglish, Japanese, and Arabic, all the while slurping their noodles. It’s safe to say that Tampopo has won over Washington Heights’s multicultural population hands down. That very popularity kept me from dining there twice!
The first time I visited Tampopo it was a drizzling cold night after work, and I was really jonesing for a hot bowl of soupy relief. As I approached the door, I noticed a small group of people standing out front. I did not think much of it because some were smoking, and others looked like they were waiting for friends to arrive. As I walked in, I noticed every seat was occupied and that the host was holding a clipboard with a long list of names on it. Not being the sharpest tool in the shed, it took me a minute to realize that the crowd outside was waiting to be seated.
I asked the host how long the wait would be, and he replied, “At least 40 minutes…maybe 45.” Not having the patience to wait in the cold, I ordered an Uber and went home. Instead of having ramen, I bought greasy Chinese take-out and plopped on the couch to watch Netflix. That night, I invented the term starvid-that incredibly dangerous combination of starved and livid.
My second visit was on a sunny Sunday afternoon at 3:15pm, and once again I was hungry! This time there was no line out front and only a few patrons inside. As I entered, the host immediately informed me that they were closed and would reopen at 5pm for dinner. He suggested I come back at 4:45 p.m. so I could get a seat. Despite my eagerness to have some ramen, I was not going to wait so, I left! Famiurious (famished and furious), I vowed this would never happen again!
My third visit was a well-orchestrated military operation! I called ahead and found out that there aren’t busy Wednesday nights and confirmed that they opened at 5pm for dinner. I cleared my Wednesday night schedule. Immediately after work, I took a cab to Tampopo and stood in front of the door. I had arrived 40 minutes before their opening time. A small line of determined and jealous ramen lovers formed behind me. At precisely 5:01pm, the doors swung open, and I marched in victorious: I planned, I waited, and I conquered!
Once seated, I immediately ordered the Shio Classic Ramen, Gyoza, Onigiri (no longer on the menu) and Iced Matcha Green Tea. My server’s face was priceless; I had caught him by surprise. He asked me if I had been there before, and I replied, “No, I’ve tried twice, and I couldn’t get in. I know this menu backwards and forwards.” He laughed and said, “Welcome…finally!” He provided attentive and friendly service the whole night.
Tampopo’s menu includes Appetizers, Ramen, Ramen Specials, Stir-Fried Ramen, and Rice Bowls. I love their Steamed Bao Buns and Seaweed Salad (Appetizers), the Spicy Miso Ramen and Shoyu Ramen (Ramen), and the Yaki Soba (Stir-fried Ramen).
The Shio Classic Ramen contained curly noodles with char broiled slow-cooked pork, a marinated egg, nori seaweed, bean sprouts, scallions, and bamboo shoots in a creamy chicken-based broth. The savory broth was delicious and paired perfectly with the fatty, salty pork. The bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and scallions provided a delightful crunch and a refreshing vegetal flavor. The chewy noodles were fun to slurp (the height of praise in Japan) and added an excellent starchy note to the soup. As much as I hate being patient, I must admit this soup was worth the wait!
The Gyoza (Japanese pan-fried dumplings) were simple and exquisite. Lightly seared on top, the dumplings were filled with minced pork, scallions, and mushrooms. The dish was served with a simple vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil combo dipping sauce. Its acidic flavor paired well with the savory pork and earthy mushroom flavors.
Unfortunately, the Iced Matcha Tea did not agree with me. Usually, I love Matcha drinks, but this one was too bitter. I had to let the ice melt and added a lot of sugar to make it palatable. Despite my improvements, it was mediocre and unappealing. A good Iced Matcha drink has a perfect balance between bitter and sweet flavors. I think Tampopo needs to retool this recipe a bit.
Tampopo Ramen’s fare has added a unique dimension to the culinary culture of Washington Heights. Who would ever think you could get good ramen in the heart of the Dominican community of New York City? I guess if you are patient enough (gross!), then good things will come to those who wait.
Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen Provecho!