Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year's Eve in NYC: Ramen Setagaya and Spot Dessert Bar

For New Year's Eve this year, Tricia and I decided to take a train down to our favorite place, New York City. While, NYC is famous for the Times Square celebration, featuring throngs of tourists, we passed on that and headed down to St. Mark's Place in the East Village. St. Mark's is an interesting little place, somewhat discordantly decorated with basement bars and trendy eateries in between head shops selling, er... non-food products. We tried out two places: Ramen Setagaya and Spot Dessert Bar. We had scoped out both of the places a few weeks in advance, and were confident that they were among the rare restaurants in NYC that didn't require a reservation on NYE. Below, you can find out why we absolutely loved both places!

First, let us take you through dinner:

Restaurant Info:
Ramen Setagaya
34 1/2 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 11101
(212) 387-7959

In the US, ramen noodles usually are associated with images of college students in front of a microwave rather than a special prepared meal. Contrary to the widely-held belief however, ramen noodles need not be instant. In fact, in Japan, specially prepare dashi (basically a stock base) gives rise to varied and delicious soup noodles known as ramen. In ramen house, all of these varieties are offered in addition to some traditional Japanese snack items (think gyoza, shumai, etc.).

To start our meal, we ordered some pickled Japanese vegetables which were vibrantly colorful:

Pickled vegetables (from left: cucumber, Japanese plum, radish)
Each of the vegetables had a different taste, and each was very different from an American pickle. The cucumbers were briny and crisp, the plums were very tart, and the radish was sweet. I liked all 3, but Tricia found that she preferred the radish to the others due to the sweetness. We shared a bottled of chilled Ume (plum)-infused sake while picking at the veggies. The sake was very sweet, smooth, and full-bodied. An excellent beginning to our meal!

Ume (Japanese Plum) Sake
After the appetizer, we delved into the ramen menu. All of the ramen at Setagaya comes with pork belly, and other accompaniments include corn, cabbage, sprouts, and more. There were no seafood choices, however, which compared to some of the more upscale ramen places in NYC is a bit of a letdown. Still, the most important choice with ramen is the dashi. Tricia selected the shio ramen. Shio means salt, and this is the simplest of all broths. To kick it up, the chefs at Setagaya added dried scallop powder. Her soup also had a salted egg, seaweed and scallions among the accoutrements:

Shio Ramen

Tricia really enjoyed her soup, especially the deliciously tender pork belly pieces. I ordered the spicy miso ramen. Miso is created from fermented soy beans, and for this broth it is combined with oily chicken stock and spices. The change in color is obvious:

Spicy Miso Ramen
The corn and cabbage were excellent in mine, and the flavor of the broth was incredible. Tricia noted that the spice from the broth really took to the noodles, giving them excellent flavor. Overall, both dishes were very well done and extremely filling. At around $11 a bowl, they are a great value too!

After the fabulous noodles, we set out for dessert just a few doors down @...

Restaurant Info
Spot Dessert Bar
13 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 11101
(212) 677-5670

When we arrived, the place was full. A polite host told us that the wait would be around 15 minutes. Looking around at everyone's food and the dessert counter, we decided that it would definitely be worth the wait! Once seated we were walked through the menu. Basically, Spot presents their desserts as tapa, so you can buy a few and share (we tried three). Most of the desserts are Asian-inspired twists on classical western desserts.

We started with the Thai Tea Creme Brulee:

I'll start by saying that I'm not a creme brulee enthusiast. To be, it's just boring. Ordering this one was Tricia's idea, but full credit to her for picking it and full credit to Spot, because this was fantastic! Cleverly presented along a freshly brewed vase of Thai tea (seen abover served with evaporated milk and simple syrup), this was by the best creme brulee I've ever had. The Thai tea flavor was really infused into the creme. After eating it, I realized that I had just had the same thing twice: tea, milk, and sugar was presented in its classical drinking form and in the from of a brulee (creme = milk, brulee = sugar). This was food deconstruction and reconstruction exemplified!

Up next was the Yuzu Eskimo:

Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit, and it was used here to flavor the ice cream seen above. The ice cream was patted on one side with a chocolate "soil" (think crushed oreos), and served on top of loose soil as well. A streak of ganache painted the plate, along with housemade chocolate pearls (milk chocolate drops, really), fresh strawberries, and a raspberry foam (molecular gastronomy strikes again!). For everything that was going on here, the plate was really well balanced. The acidity in the yuzu flavor cut against the chocolate's richness, and the textures all melded beautifully. It's tough to describe this dish fully in words, but I highly recommend it.

Finally, we finished with the Chocolate-Matcha Lava Cake:

For those that don't know, matcha is a special milled (powdered) Japanese green tea. Because of its powdered form, it incorporates well into desserts. Here, we were served matcha ice cream on a bed of chocolate soil and a chocolate lava cake dusted with matcha served on top of a white chocolate ganace that had been laced with more matcha powder. It was beautiful to look at from the start. And then, we opened it up:

Look at that matcha lava! Beautiful! It tasted wonderful too. This dessert on its own was worth the wait at Spot. The whole experience was great. Service was wonderful, the atmosphere was relaxed, and the food was phenomenal. We definitely think you should try out Spot if you are ever around the NYC area. Make sure to check out their whole menu, because they also sell homemade pastries, macaroons, and ice creams that looked great!

So, in food terms, that was our New Year's Eve! It was fun and filled with tasty treats. We really enjoyed ourselves and were thrilled to get to go down to NYC. If the Times Square fiasco on TV has kept you away, I hope that this entry convinces you that there are other parts to this great city to enjoy in a more comfortable setting (we DID make our way up to Central Park to watch fireworks too - also less crowded than Times Square).

Happy New Year everyone! We look forward to another great year of food to share with you all!


  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I should bookmark your page.

  2. Thanks so much! It's really fun to share all of my experiences. And bit by bit, I'm improving my photography skills - here, we chose not to bring the camera into the city, so this is all done with the cell phone.

  3. Setagaya is one of my favorite ramen houses! You should also try Ippudo...

  4. Thanks for the suggestion! Funny you should mention Ippudo, Siddharth and I had a difficult time which one to go to first. For sure, Ippudo will be our next ramen house to visit! Thanks for reading!