Fort Lee is probably one of the most exciting food destinations in New Jersey. Sure, the restaurants mostly lean toward Korean and Japanese, but the sheer volume of options alone make this town worthy of multiple return visits. I've been returning whenever I get a chance.
On this return trip, we headed over to Menya Sandaime--a Korea-based Japanese restaurant situated in a house on a side street. Ramen was calling us on this chilly autumn morning, and this newly-opened place seemed as good a spot as any.
I'm not sure if my lack of experience with ramen informs my opinions to a fault, or if the ramen I've been eating has actually been really super. But my recent experiences have really left me wanting more. Menya Sandaime was no exception.
You should know before visiting that the place is small. Table seating for maybe 18 or so, and a counter overlooking the kitchen which can hold 5 or 6 people, make for a crowded restaurant with the distinct possibility of lines. We showed up shortly after 11 am on a Saturday, and by 11.30, people were waiting for a seat.
There are several types of ramen offered here, and I wish I could speak on those options with some sort of intelligence. But I cannot. The menu, which comes glued into a large box, does a nice job of explaining the differences, in very small text. But my eyes are not as good as they used to be and I couldn't see squat. I really wasn't concerned about the differences. I knew they'd all be good.
I ordered the black ramen, blindly, while the missus had a spicy version. We also ordered the gyoza.
The ramen hit the table first, leading us to believe they forgot the gyoza. They didn't. That order came out shortly later, after they had pushed a bunch of ramen out of the kitchen for the entire restaurant.
The black ramen is made with a bit of a fish base, which is slightly, but not overwhelmingly, evident on the nose and palate. There's a hint of smoke here (from katsuobushi? he wondered, having no idea), and I found the combination to be very, very pleasing. The spicy version had quite a kick when compared to the black ramen.
Each version is served in a very large bowl, with a good amount of noodle, half an egg, some vegetables, and ridiculously tender slices of pork belly. I'd assume this pork belly is braised and then grilled. Whatever they're doing with it, they're doing it right.
Each broth was deeply flavored, as one would hope. Like drinking the inside of a bone. Thick, rich, and perfect for a cold day. Or, a hot day. Ramen doesn't care what temperature is outside. Ramen freakin' rocks.
The gyoza was outstanding. Served with a crusty side and a steamed side, these things were incredibly moist and impossibly tender. Both the meat and the skin were like silk.
A couple of things about this meal threw me off. The first was the piece of metal in my ramen. Eh, shit happens. Luckly my finely-tuned tongue was able to remediate the situation immediately. The other is that they won't pack your leftover ramen to go. I've been trying to come up with a reason for this policy, but I'm at a loss. That just meant I had to keep eating it.
Service was friendly at this BYOB (they do serve non-alcoholic beer) and overall this was a pleasant meal at a very good restaurant. Looking forward to returning (with a metal detector and some Tupperware).
Menya Sandaime : 1638 Parker Ave : Fort Lee, NJ : 201.482.4141 : BYOB