Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Murray Hill for some underwhelming ramen.
Tenho Ramen, which opened about a month ago on a dreary stretch of Murray Hill, looks like any number of other ramen-yas that have appeared (and often disappeared) in Manhattan over the years. "Wait, have we been here before?" you might ask your companion, and the answer is probably, "Nope."
What is different, and intriguing, about Tenho is its origin story. The chef is Takafumi Hayashi, who hails from Kurume, Japan, the birthplace of tonkotsu, that rich, porky, slightly creamy ramen style that has become something of the default in this city. In Kurume they make their tonkotsu using the "yobimodoshi" method, meaning that the soup pot is never emptied, just added to, presumably intensifying the flavors more and more each day, a technique that Hayashi brings to Tenho.
As for your surroundings: inside there are tables for about 22 on the left, a long bar/open kitchen with comfortable stools on the left, and lots of dark wood, red highlights, and moody photographs. The soundtrack is contemporary rap, played at a pleasantly loud volume, and the scene so far seems to be locals "just checking out the new spot."
Chef Hayashi may have spent twenty years cooking in Kurume, but he didn't seem to be at Tenho at either of my meals here last week. It's hard to know whether his absence made any difference, but for the most part the ramen was pretty lackluster. The broth in the signature Tenho Kurume Ramen lacked the depth and complexity we've come to expect from our noodle bowls in NYC, and the noodles came out borderline mushy.
The interesting-sounding Spicy Tomato Ramen was just a total failure, tasting like watery, grocery-store tomato soup with slices of grey, bland, boiled bacon. By far the best bowl I had was the Kogashi Garlic Ramen, which uses a generous pour of black garlic to boost the flavors of the flat tonkatsu. The chasu, or roasted pork belly, was much more tender and juicy in this dish than on my previous visit as well.
Unexpectedly, my favorite part of the menu turned out to be the expansive "skewers" section, which goes on for two whole pages. There are nearly 30 different options, and I went with two odd ones (Grape wrapped in pork belly; Camembert Cheese with honey) and two more conventional ones (Potato with Butter wrapped in bacon; Washugyu Ribeye) and all of them were expertly grilled and ate like the best passed hors d'oeuvres at some party you didn't want to be at. Rounding out my eating misadventures were the Nozomi's Spicy Salad, which was, counter-intuitively, way too sweet, and the Takowasa, which failed to strike any sort of balance between the wasabi and the octopus cartilage.
Historic pedigree aside, Tenho Ramen needs to step up its NYC noodle game if it wants to make a mark here. There are too many outstanding ramen spots already busting their collective asses to serve broth this weak. Maybe Hayashi will return and put some love into the project? Anyway, if you do go, load up on skewers.
Tenho Ramen is located at 542 Third Avenue, at the corner of 36th Street, and is Monday through Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (646-781-9025; tenhoramen.com)