Rave reviews from restaurant critics for Chef Shigetoshi Nakamura brothless ramen from Ryan Sutton from Eater and Pete Wells from The New York Times prompted me to visit Niche (though the non-reservation policy kept me away for a few weeks and avoiding a weekend evening). I strolled in at 6pm on a weekday to meet a friend and about half of the seats at the 14-seat communal table were open and I chose to sit closer to the glassy entrance side as opposed to the excitement of the kitchen area, which was pretty dark. It was a rare gorgeous day in April in NYC and had to go to the light.
All of the reviews have fawned over the meaty ribeye mazemen but neither my friend nor I were in the mood for red meat. We opted for the duck magret special and the “Russ and Roe” (ramen with tarako-sauce, smoked salmon, basil, olive oil) with ikura and the temaki nori add-ons. Appetizers included the umami kombu fries and avocado crunch.
The umami kombu fries really do look like McDonalds fries– the same super square cut and each about three inches long, the right length to evenly pack into the stubby white bag. The best part of the kombu powder is the finish, the umami coating lingering on the taste buds. . . just the right amount of dusting to keep you reaching out for another fry. That said, like McDonalds fries, once they cool down, they aren’t as tasty so we focused more on the sliced avocado salad with crispy balls of tempura crunch. Super simple and very satisfying. I was surprised how the crunchiness kept.
Now onto the mazemen. A popular pasta dish in Japan is mentaiko-spaghetti (there are flavor packets you can buy at the grocery store!) and it’s usually topped with shredded nori. I love that dish, and it drove me to order the seafood dish and added the nori. . . and I couldn’t resist the thought of juicy ikura bursts so added that too.
Now, the nori on the add-on list is specifically listed as ‘temaki nori’ and I learned that the chef recommends that you use them to make handrolls, so we rolled up the saucy noodles, salmon and ikura as instructed. The nori adds much to the overall flavor profile but I don’t know if making a handroll made it better, just unusual. I think I would probably shred the nori on top of the ramen next time and dig in. I may also lose the ikura as they just didn’t stand out as the noodles are chewy so somehow the special-ness of getting a juicy burst is lost.
The Duck Magret dish was more straightforward and did not have any of the topping that would be found on the meat dish, e.g. spinach so the dish just looked monochrome brown. The duck was very nicely prepared and flavorful.
I will admit that I come from the school that a bowl of ramen is expensive at $18, and these bowls beyond that. So, while I overall enjoyed the meal, with the tab for the two appetizers, two mazemen with a few extras, and 3 glasses of wine coming in at almost $150 (with tip), I think Niche is not *that* good or unique enough to put into my regular restaurant rotation.