New York City is already saturated with ramen shops and how can you not like a bowl with deep-flavored broth and noodles, especially in the cold winter? As a person with Korean background, I have always envied the masterful craftsmanship and dedication that Japanese people put into ramen-making. Yes, there is a variety of ramen called “ramyun” in Korea too but they are more popular as instant noodle types where you put boiled water onto a brick of fried noodle that has already been processed. I used to love those when I was in school, after having way too many after my guard duty during my time at the Korean military, I decided to shy away from them entirely. When I recently heard of a ramyun shop that was opened by a Korean chef who spent his time at some of the best fine-dining restaurants in NYC, I was therefore quite curious as to what JeJu can bring to the table. Can chef Douglas Kim present a compelling alternative to the ramen stronghold based on the flavor of Korea? After our meal, my wife Jun and I concluded that JeJu has potentials.
Before you go for the ramen, there is a concise menu of appetizers that you can choose from. The amberjack salad with spicy “yang yum jang” sauce was good but the sauce was a little bit more citrusy than spicy for us. On the other hand, we liked the idea of having corn in the pork belly buns and finished them in a couple of bites. Now on to the main part. I ordered gochu (“pepper” in Korean) ramyun based on spicy pork broth with pork belly and white kimchi, while Jun ordered so (“cow” in Korean) ramyun based on veal broth with “soo yuk” brisket and scallion. The gochu ramyun was delicious, with its firm noodle and spicy broth that I can tell was prepared for a long time to add depth. I didn’t, however, understand what the rather citrusy white kimchi was supposed to do; instead of enhancing the broth, it was a distraction. Jun’s so ramyun was more memorable for both of us, other than the fact that there wasn’t really any brisket instead (Jun totally felt cheated while she was picking through the noodles to look for those meats). The veal broth was clean and soothing just like the way we would normally expect from a very well-made Korean gomtang (a popular beef bone soup). After finishing my gochu ramyun, I went on to finish the rest of the broth that Jun hadn’t finished!
Getting a reservation wasn’t too difficult but the space (with typical trendy décor you see at a casual café) fills up pretty quickly with curious diners (a good mix of Asian and non-Asian) so try to avoid prime times if you don’t have a reservation in advance. I was somewhat miffed that the beverage selection was rather weak. Interestingly, the cooks are also providing services as waiters (so they get to collect tips); despite concerns about hiccups in services initially, our cook / waiter was adequate. JeJu is not perfect, but I appreciate the novel experiment that chef Kim has put out to the world. I would love to see how his re-interpretation of this favorite Korean instant food (according to NYTimes restaurant critic Pete Wells, the domestic demand for ramyun in Korea reached over 1.1 billion pounds!) evolves over time.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 7.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 679 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10014
Telephone: (646) 666-0947