Last weekend, with no warning to the everyday layperson, Burger Batch (which had been closed for renovations for a week or two) suddenly became 237 Fifth. The new location is now a “Raman, small plate and sake” restaurant.
237 Fifth (@Steven McDowall)
Street Team Member Steven McDowall tried it this weekend and here is his review.
Got there just before 6 PM .. and the doors were locked .. which is ok .. not open yet! 🙂
Just before 6 PM, a pretty decent crowd was forming behind me (I was first in line) — and at 6ish we all heard a “Click” and the doors were open!
So I stepped inside and the woman behind me asked the front manager (who goes by the name “Cheese”) if they did take away. Answer “No”. So, no take-away yet.
I was seated and presented my shot of “hot” sake .. except — it was nothing like hot sake. Tepid Sake really. My server (a very nice woman named “Anna”) admitted that they hadn’t turned on the sake heater early enough. Oh well.
The first thing I noticed immediately — is how DARK this place is. I mean, bat cave dark. I had to use my iPhone Flashlight to see anything! It was also just a bit too loud with the music (Rap of some sort) that, to me, didn’t quite go with the dark theme (the loudness of the music). Did I mention I started a spelunking expedition mid-way through the meal?
“Not Gyoza” dumplings (©Steven McDowall)
So, I did order a nice Carafe of one of their monthly sakes — the slightly dry Tozai Ginko style .. one of my favorite styles. And also ordered what, for me, is one of the signature makings of a Ramen restaurant — Gyoza. I also ordered the Steamed Pork Buns, cuz. Those are obviously not authentic “Ramen” since they are Chinese but they are Asian Snack Food and I love them so.
Pork Buns (©Steven McDowall)
Well, they came out (see the pics) and the pork buns looked and were really good. Addictive. I gave one away to another solo eater next to me to try and we both agreed these were quite good ($10 for 3 I think… why I didn’t take any photos of the menu is beyond me.. sigh) Editor’s note: There was a menu available on their Instagram but, now it is gone – Tim
Now, the gyoza… well, they are not in any way Gyoza. (See pic). I appreciate a little bit of “liberties,” but this really was beyond going fusion. These were SO not gyoza .. I need to give them an “F” as GYOZA. Now, as tasty dumplings? I liked them a lot. Solid “B” for sure. They weren’t pan-fried as much as I would like, but I am not even sure they should be pan-fried. I honestly never encountered a dumpling quite like these before and I have eaten maybe 50+ dumpling types in my life from all over. They had a nice filling of meat and cabbage and sprinkled with sesame and green onions. The dipping sauce had a nice little bite I liked (could have used more black vinegar but that is my preference). So again, for being NOT GYOZA, I would eat them again. I am just a bit peeved they called them gyoza. And, they don’t have real Gyoza on the menu (probably my favorite dumpling).
On to the Ramen:
So, I was convinced to order the totally non-traditional in anyway Beef Broth w/ Oxtail and Bone Marrow Ramen. Again, Ramen is really Japanese fast causal food and there are a ton of variations. I never had this one but it certainly was in the “ballpark” of ramen. I tried to get it with my favorite Ramen Addition: Corn. No corn to be had. Tried for a Fish Cake. No Fish Cake. How about some Nori? Yes! They actually have Nori in a ramen restaurant! Woohoo!
So this brings up the point: I think they are missing the fundamental idea of a Ramen joint. It’s to let people customize their experience to things they like. Most ramen joints have a section below the ramens listing at least 6 if not 12 “add-ons” so you can customize your own bowl. Corn, Black Garlic, Bean Sprouts, Nori, Enoki Mushrooms, etc. There is a little surcharge but that’s ok.
Here, your only option is extra noodles – unless you order the Vegetarian then you can add the “Marinated Egg” for $2 (we’ll get to the egg in a moment).
Ramen (©Steven McDowall)
So here comes my ramen, giant marrow bone and all! Looks pretty good actually, but where the hell are my eggs!? It was to come with one of the “Marinated Eggs,” which everywhere else would call it an “Onsen egg,” being the appropriate term. I mean of all choices of words to use “Marinated Egg” sounds… horrible. And it’s not. It’s amazing! Slightly soft boiled then marinated in Soy, Mirin, etc. Anyway, Anna apologized and brought out the eggs and I added them to the soup . Now we’re talking ramen!
So. The noodles. There has been controversy about the noodles here. I even specifically asked multiple people in the restaurant if they were authentic alkaline ramen noodles. All said yes, emphatically. I still ordered my ramen with “al dente” noodles. The result, as far as I can tell, these were very good ramen noodles with just a nice chew, etc. I have no complaints at all with the noodles in my bowl. Not sure if they found a new supplier or what, but no issue at all.
The broth was tasty. The marrow (and I LOVE bone marrow) was delicious. The oxtail was tasty but what a pain in the ass to get the meat off the bone using nothing but chopsticks and my large ramen spoon. I resorted to using my fingers but the effort was worth it.
Now, there are two (again so standard it shouldn’t even be needed to say) table condiments in ramen shops: chili oil and “Sichimi Togarashi” (otherwise known as Japanese 7-spice powder). 237 Fifth has nothing on the table for condiments. However, I happened to ask if they had Sichimi Togarashi (my go-to topping for just about any soup) and they did! Anna brought out a nice little container and I was in a much happier place. I didn’t want to add chili oil (didn’t even ask) because I liked the soup the way I had doctored it. But certainly having a little bottle of chili oil and the 7-spice powder on each table would be a nice addition too.
So the net, this place is pretty darn good. I think they could improve a few things (but not service, that was awesome) and of course, I didn’t try everything but what I did try (with a bit of doctoring) was good.
237 Fifth Interior (©Steven McDowall)
I hope they bump it up a notch and allow more add-ons, offer both “real” Gyoza and that interesting dumpling, put 7-spice and chili oil on the table, and chopstick holders on the table (although that last is optional it would be a nice touch).
So price-wise, not a cheap meal by any means. But, we are taking downtown WS. The ramen was $15(?) for this bowl (Pork and Chicken cheaper). The “dumplings” (I refuse to call them Gyoza) were $10 for 6. Pork buns .. $10 for 3-ish. My total with sake was near $40. But, I did order a lot that could be split. Again, not a cheap date night but not horrible in my opinion for a ramen night out.
Now for lunch, I think that pricing would be way too high even for WS. I don’t think people are willing to pay more than $12 – $15 total for lunch, which is why maybe they aren’t open for lunch.
Thank you, Steven, for this great review. I know you have spent a lot of time in China and other Asian countries and have a lot of experience with this style of food.