Last March, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells published a list of the Top 10 Ramen Destinations in New York, and awarded Mu Ramen in Long Island City the top spot. He seemed to have underestimated both his cultural authority and just how badly New Yorkers were craving a bowl of good ramen, as by the next day, the restaurant, which had been operating as a pop-up in a bagel shop, had shut themselves down due to an overwhelming demand for reservations.
Wells received some public backlash, which he addresses in his review of Mu this week. In fact, he uses the first seven paragraphs to clear the air and argue that he was not, in fact, the villain in this culinary tale. As he explains to his readers, “Last week, Joshua Smookler, Mu Ramen’s chef and its owner, told me ‘the real reason’ he had decamped from the bagel shop. ‘I was scared of the government finding out what we were doing,’ he said, even though he believed it was legal, ‘and was afraid that would have an effect on our doing a brick-and-mortar.’”
OK, you’re off the hook, Pete.
He then goes on to explain why the more-permanent Mu Ramen deserves two stars, and how it “impressed” him on his visits. He wants diners to try other dishes besides the ramen and encourages you to listen if the appetizers “call your name; they definitely called mine.” While the chicken wings stuffed with foie gras and brioche “did not stop traffic, which they are clearly meant to do,” he does recommend the edamame, “U&I” (which stands for uni and ikura), the scallion pancake with smoked trout, and the clams in saffron aïoli. Then comes the biggest compliment of them all:
He recommends “all ramen.”
This is quite a statement of confidence and appreciation — not even Ivan Orkin received such a positive blanket judgement of his work when Wells gave Ivan Ramen two stars last August. Wells praises the “like heavy cream” tonkotsu, the “full-bodied knockout” shoyu, and the signature Mu Ramen. He even cautions other chefs, as “The weightiest, richest possible broth is not necessarily the ramen ideal… Mr. Smookler’s ramen is so compelling in part because it’s an exception. My praise for it should not be taken as a signal to other chefs to try to make soups as robustly silky as his.”
In other words, don’t try this at home, kids.
He ends his review by once again addressing the kerfuffle he accidentally stirred last year, of which he apparently has few if any regrets; as he puts it, “if I had it all to do over again, would I still tell the world how much I admire Mu Ramen? Do I feel the same way now? Absolutely.”