If you are a safe eater, someone unwilling to go beyond your culinary comfort zone, stop reading now.
What I'm about to tell you about can only be described as Chinese grandmother cooking, and for the typical American palate, stagnating in predictable flavors and preparations, that's bad news.
But for you adventurous types in the AOA readership, those who can open their minds (and mouths) to unusual ingredients and authentic, ethnic technique, read on:
David's Uptown Noodle and its ramen menu are awaiting you.
It's amazing that ramen was ever poised for a renaissance in America. The dollar-or-less variety of instant ramen that was the stereotypical sustenance of college students was invented by Momofuku Ando (1910-2007), a Japanese man who took the centuries-old Asian practice of noodles in flavorful broth and made it microwaveable. Ramen has origins in China (Cantonese and Shanghai cooking) and was brought to Japan where the artform of long-cooking broth was mastered and noodles were adapted to become what we recognize as soba and ramen noodles today. (Lucky Peach has a timeline of ramen.)
In the early 2000s, gastronomic wunderkind David Chang opened Momofuku in New York City, a noodle bar that took ramen from the bargain basement and helped popularize it as respected foodstuff in America.
And now in this area, that trend continues with another David (Zheng), owner of Sake Cafe on New Scotland Avenue and Tanpopo, in the former Miss Albany Diner space on Broadway, both in Albany. At Tanpopo, Zheng channels the upscale-but-eater-friendly ramen that Chang helped to popularize stateside. Familiar meats and toppings fill the menu -- nothing too unrecognizable for lovers of Asian food or offensive for noobs to the ramen scene.
That's not the approach at David's Uptown Noodle, Zheng's latest offering. Located on Colvin Avenue in Albany, Zheng eyed the potential for an authentic Asian experience due to the number of Asian college students who live on the nearby blocks. He makes note that when that crowd comes to dine at David's Uptown Noodle, they feel transported back to their nainai's kitchen.
Much of that comes from the meat used to fill ramen bowls. Tendons, arteries, offal, and cartilage are rife in beef and pork options, giving the soup its deep umami flavors and thick, jiggly consistency.
This isn't beginner ramen. This is stuff you build up to. If you didn't grow up appreciating the nutritional and taste aspects of these overlooked protein sources, their purpose might be lost on you. But if you seek authentic ramen, this is the best you can get short of a market stand with hand-pulled noodles in Tokyo.
Perhaps the mouthfeel is the hardest part of these proteins to become accustomed to. Chewy and stringy, it's not too different from a bite of gristle in a Porterhouse steak or biting into a piece of a joint from the Thanksgiving turkey.
The smell of slow-cooked ramen is less chicken soup and more rendered lard, punctuated with notes of spicy ground pork paste, tea-colored boiled eggs, and fresh vegetal tones of radish and scallion. Add a little red wine vinegar to perforate the rich broth with a bright acidity. (Tonkotsu broth is cooked for 16 hours. Zheng makes it himself and hauls it in 5-gallon pails between his establishments.)
The menu at David's Uptown Noodle mirrors Tanpopo, but it's the preparation that makes all the difference. It's ramen versus ramen-lite. It's Bruce Lee versus Jackie Chan.
Round out the meal with an order of pork buns (worth every cent of the $8 price tag). And if you still have the urge to microwave your ramen, let it be the leftovers you loving retrieve from your fridge after your meal at David's.
David’s Uptown Noodle
11 Colvin Ave
Albany, NY 12206
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