The Whole Foods Bowery / Smorgasburg partnership has already brought some first-rate cheap eats to the second floor of that sprawling store, with Milk Truck’s quality grilled cheeses and Mighty Quinn’s sublime barbecue among the highlights since the program’s launch last fall. Really, it’s been a great addition to the neighborhood for Lower East Side and East Village residents, not to mention anyone looking for a quick bite before catching at movie at the Sunshine. And now? It’s even MORE great at the Whole Foods Smorgasburg with both the imminent opening of the Smorgasburg Snack Bar (starring, I hear, the fabulous sweet treats from the women of Butter and Scotch), and, right now, the crazy-good YUJI Ramen Test Kitchen setting up shop for the next two months.
Wonderful Dishes are Available at the YUJI Ramen Test Kitchen
The YUJI Ramen booth always draws some of the longest lines at the Smorgasburg proper–frankly, TOO long for my patience level–so when I heard that Chef Yuji Haraguchi was bringing his trademark Mazeman to Whole Foods Smorgasburg, I was, as they say, totally stoked.
Mazemen is Haraguchi’s brothless ramen, the noodles much thicker than what you find traditional ramen dishes and available here with three different toppings. I ordered the Bacon and Egg Mazemen on my first visit last weekend and quickly fell in love. This is a terrific snack-sized dish (and priced accordingly at $9), the egg wonderfully runny, the chunks of pig smoky and chewy, the greens adding bitterness, the bonito flakes bringing the brine, the noodles with plenty of bite.
YUJI Ramen also serves a more familiarly-soupy Daily Shoyu Ramen, made from whatever catches Chef Yuji’s eye downstairs at Whole Foods. On my visit the broth was pork-based–and it was deep and delicious–with a generous helping of salmon floating amid the skinny, firm noodles.
Like the Mazemen, the serving of Shoyu Ramen isn’t huge, but Chef Yuji is really going for a more street food feel here with his al la carte menu, which is available on weekdays until 6:00 (except Monday, when YUJI Ramen is closed) , and on weekends until 9:00.
While You Can Sample Great Food at the YUJI Ramen Test Kitchen, the Omakase-only Sittings are Sold Out
On weeknights, YUJI Ramen becomes a five-course omakase-only “restaurant”, for which you must pre-purchase tickets, and which, at the moment, are totally sold out for the stand’s entire run, through May 10. The good news for those of us who missed the boat on this one?
The whole point of the YUJI Ramen Test Kitchen is 1) so Chef Yuji can test out all kinds of new dishes because 2) he’s raising money to open a restaurant in Williamsburg this summer where, presumably, we’ll all be able to eat anything we want! In the meantime, though, I highly recommend getting to the Smorgasburg Whole Foods Bowery for YUJI Ramen’s Mazemen and Shoyu Ramen dishes.
YUJI Ramen Test Kitchen is located on the second floor of the Whole Foods Bowery for the next two months, and serves its a la carte street-food menu on Tuesday to Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays until 9:00 p.m. Closed Monday. The weeknight omakase dinners are sold out, but you might want to check here anyway, in case Chef Yuji added some seatings. More info about Yuji Ramen on his Facebook page.