Do any of you scan your Instagram food feed regularly to look at food photos? I know that due to who I follow on my blog account (@behindthepl8s …in case you aren’t already following along! Get on that!) I look at a sea of “foodporn” every day. It’s how the latest and greatest food trends get discovered and the next “it” eateries do their best marketing. One dish that has been on repeat on my feeds for a few years now is Ramen (and Ani Ramen’s posts are certainly lumped into this food porn phenomenon!)
It exploded onto the food scene a few years back and continues to prove it has stay power. And for anyone who has tried this Japanese noodle dish (And no, the dried Ramen packets you ate in college do not count….), you understand why Ramen has become a household name.
For my first true Ramen experience I started at the top of the craze with one of the pioneer establishments, Momofuku in New York City. It was revolutionary. The meaty broth, the sticky noodles, the crispy pork, there was just so much to love! I followed this up with another New York Ramen staple, Ippudo and it was a similarly exciting experience.
Since those initial tastings I have been searching for a New Jersey restaurant to do the dish justice. I have tried a handful of places. Most of these eateries didn’t specialize in Ramen, it was merely a menu item they offered. Ramen is a prideful dish that needs careful consideration when making the broth and noodles. That is what separates it from the pack. When Ani Ramen in Montclair, New Jersey offered for me to come taste test their ramen I was hoping for a game changer.
Ani Ramen is on the main drag of Montclair sandwiched between other local businesses and ironically located only four doors down from another ramen establishment. We walked into a small but, bustling restaurant. The casual style seating can only host a dozen or so tables and there is a small high top bar style table facing the window for a few extra seats. Handfuls of guests wait outside for their chance to sit down and slurp, sip and repeat (the restaurants motto). Lucky for us, we had a reservation.
We ask our waiter what the most popular and, in his opinion, the best dishes are. After his consultation we place our order. Yuzu lemonades are the first thing to arrive at our table. We opted not to bring wine for the evening (its BYOB) so we wanted to try out one of the restaurant’s signature non-alcoholic beverages. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit and it makes for a tart, refreshing lemonade.
Next our shrimp buns arrive. The shrimp are coated in a crispy panko batter. The buns are light, fluffy, and not too thick where it overtakes the shrimps’ sweet seafood flavor. Some pickled cucumber and shredded cabbage give it a cool crunch. Lastly there is a sake soy glaze and spicy mayo sauce that accompany it. I asked for the sauce on the side (mayo hater over here…hi!) but I was able to use the sake soy glaze for an added sweet taste to my bun. Not only was this our favorite bite of the meal, we agreed it may be one of the best Asian “buns” we’ve tried.
We also tried the crispy gyoza which are handmade daily. If you want proof that they are made in house, just wait until they arrive! The dough pockets are still attached to one another and a thin layer of access dough forms a fun canopy over our dumplings. The savory pork filling pairs great with the chili oil soy sauce and the fresh dough is the star of the dish.
Our ramen arrived and looked like works of art. The bowls were lined with our chosen protein, the noodles were heaped on top and drowned with savory meat broth. They were topped off with bright sprouts, spinach, and scallions. But, it only took us seconds to dive in.
I opted for the Ani Ramen which featured braised pork shoulder. The pork was not overwhelmingly fatty like I have experienced in the past with ramen bowl. However; it was still tender enough to break apart with your chopsticks so a bite was in each noodle filled mouthful. The broth is a very important part of this dish and they hit the nail on the head. It’s savory, salty, with an intensely meaty flavor that dares you to try and stop sipping and slurping it.
The noodles are thin and dense (in a good way). They certainly aren’t just the ramen noodles out of the dry packets. In fact, Ani Ramen uses Sun Noodle Company and they hand-roll their quality noodles. My husband’s short rib ramen bowl had all the same great qualities with a slightly heavier broth and a touch of spice and hearty fall apart short ribs instead of pork.
I have to applaud Ani Ramen for being the New Jersey ramen restaurant to finally meet my expectations! Now, can you open one up in Morristown pretty please? Or maybe don’t because I might turn into a dumpling myself with all the noodles I will consume!
Take a look at Ani Ramen’s current locations and menu here: http://www.aniramen.com/
…all for the love of the dish