I don’t think New Yorkers are rude, but I don’t think New Yorkers are nice. They can be helpful, but they’re rarely friendly. They can follow through, but they do so with impatience. I have gotten used to the brusqueness and have sometimes relished in letting my own sharp-edged shoulders finally poke through. But it can get tiring, especially when dining out. When an industry has at least one foot firmly planted in customer service, it is hard to explain the endless lack of warmth here, ESPECIALLY when servers get paid so poorly. I’ve always found it curious how New Yorkers, even the cash-strapped, will put down a 20% tip no matter what because of the lower server minimum wage. In a city full of hustlers, why don’t we require a little bit more hustle out of those we interact with when wanting a pleasant dining experience away from home?
When you do feel warmth here, it can be a bit jarring. Can it be trusted? Maybe they’re being a little too nice? What’s the catch? This is mostly for those that are not mom-and-pop, where the abundance of warmth and too-muchness can be the draw. And that distrust is just another pointer to New Yorkness. But, once those sharp edges dull from the presence of good food and the lack of a catch, it is hard not to want to bathe in the genuine kindness. It doesn’t take much. I’m not talking about Per Se level service or coat check tickets. I just mean being made to feel welcome, appreciated, and looked after with a level of friendliness that does not seem forced. The feeling that someone is happy to see you in their establishment and would like to see you return, both for their livelihood and because this is what they love to do.
I have always found this to be the case with the endeavors of the Yuji Ramen/Okonomi team. Yes, the food they put out is innovative and delicious, full stop. But they are also some of the most pleasant people to have ever served me, and I can only recommend that you frequent their establishment if you ever have the chance. I did not try Yuji Ramen when it was a Smorgasburg kiosk, but I did go when it was a long-term fixture of the Bowery Whole Foods for both a la carte ramen and for an evening ramen tasting/omakase. They have now moved on to a permanent home in Williamsburg. I have yet to try their set breakfast and lunch menu, but I have been back for the new (and pricier) ramen omakase.
Warmth, charm, comfort, ease. These are words I associate with my evening there. When there are only six to 10 other diners, the attention from the team (one server, two cooks) is constant but still casual. Explanations of dishes are simple, but they invite questions that are never turned down. The room would be sold as intimate rather than small, but my dining companion and I still had privacy for gossip. The soft lighting and beautiful pottery only enhance the feeling that you are taking a break from the outside grey and noise and being well taken care of for the evening.
And then there is the food. The portions seemed on the small side, but my big appetite left happy. The beer probably helped with that. They make their own ramen/pasta, so part of the delight is getting to try the uncharacteristic shapes and doughs. The amount of fish you eat over the course of the tasting is something to boast to your doctor about. I will just highlight some of my favourites from what I think was an eight-course tasting.
The cod roe in between the sashimi pieces was the star here. Curing = salty = love.
When these parcels popped and flooded my mouth with what amounts to the foie gras of the sea, I had a little death.
The ochazuke was described as pure comfort food: a homey broth complemented with (unseen) chewy brown rice. The tilefish was present in the broth, as sizable pieces, and then as a crispy skin garnish. The textural contrast served to underscore that it wasn’t my Japanese grandmother who dished me up this soup, but talented chefs.