Winter is just around the corner. Can you feel it? It’s that time of year when New Yorkers are facing—and strategizing for—a few months of pseudo-hibernation.
To get through winter, I steer towards hot teas and delivery dinners. Becca, for the most part, bundles up and braves the cold only to run out to her nearby ramen shop. But we both agree: It’s the comfort of hot noodle broth that gets us through the worst of the cold.
So when a restaurant in Manhattan that serves up a $25 three-course ramen brunch invited the New York Bitches to give it a winter whirl, we couldn’t say no. After all, it might just become a go-to ramen spot.
But, ramen? For brunch? Part of what makes living in New York so amazing is how the city itself makes you redefine all things—brunch included. Before moving here, when I pictured brunch, I thought of traditional breakfast fare: bacon, eggs, pancakes, French toast.
But in the melting pot that is Manhattan, brunch can take on so many different meanings. From a fancy twist on your quintessential breakfast food, like our brunch at Empire Diner, to a decadent Italian feast, like the one we experienced at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria. On this particular Saturday, brunch meant diving headfirst into Asian fusion cuisine.
KOA is situated in one of those odd pockets of Manhattan where there are blocks of homegoods, furniture, and decorating shops. It’s not particularly appetizing to walk past windows of bathroom fixtures on your way to a chic Asian resto, but I shrugged off the odd location and met Becca in front of the restaurant, where she was already Snapchatting the beginning of our brunch Story.
As soon as you step inside, you completely forget about the world outside. The decor is absolutely outstanding—an open floorplan with a sleek mix of modern and rustic Asian accents, surrounding a dramatic square bar. The stunning space is perfectly lit and filled with cozy booths (with pillows) and chic high tables.
Even down to the details—ropes hanging from the ceiling are meant to bring to mind noodles, the stunning bun-shaped light fixtures in the hallway en route to the bathrooms—we were a bit in awe at the decor. A little dark for brunch (unless, of course, you need a dark space for a hangover), it would be perfect for a cozy winter date night.
Our server was quick to bring us peach bellinis as he went over the premise of the pre-fixe Noodle Brunch: For $24.75, you receive six different kinds of omakase finger food and a KOA original pork bun as an appetizer, plus three different varieties of ramen as your entree.
Not a bad deal at all. Brunch cocktails and other bevvies are served a la carte, most of them at around $13 a pop.
Sipping on our sweet bellinis, we asked about the restaurant’s beginning, and learned it was founded by Chef Yuji Wakiya, one of the top Iron Chefs in Japan. He specializes in Asian fusion, and was one of the first chefs to give traditional Chinese food a twist by infusing some Japanese influences.
Our appetizers arrived quickly, and the presentation of the food was just beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that we likely spent a tad too long snapping photos, Snaps, and Instas. The omakase was perfectly plated and incredibly vibrant in color–but things had gotten a tad cold by the time we dug in (our fault).
Since omakase means Chef’s choice, what you receive may vary based on what the Chef wants to serve that day. We enjoyed pickled lotus root, bang bang chicken with a ponzu sauce, yuzu shrimp, a wonton lettuce wrap with chili sauce, filet mignon with radish and asparagus, and golden beets with a grape tomato.
The pickled lotus root was interesting, and somewhat reminiscent of marinated mushrooms. The bang bang chicken was served cold, which we thought was a bit strange. The yuzu shrimp had good flavor, but the yuzu sauce had a cheesy Velveeta-like consistency, which was a bit off putting.
The wonton lettuce wrap was great; the crispness of the wonton paired nicely with the freshness of the lettuce and the spice from the chili sauce. Again, the filet mignon was a bit cold, but that might have been due to our delay for photos.
Two golden buns arrived, and we definitely got to these hot. They were fantastic–the perfect comfort food, filled with a cheesy-ragu mixture that brought to mind the Chef Boyardee of our childhoods. Becca commented she wished she could take a big bag home and keep them in her freezer. You could tell the buns were freshly made, and the meat inside had a great flavor.
With the appetizers down, we were ready for the main event: the ramen. There are three courses, Chashu ramen, Soy Milk Dan Dan ramen, and Spicy Dan Dan ramen. We were presented with Blood Orange mimosas to complement the first course, and they were just as sweet as the bellini.
The ramen builds up into a nice crescendo, with the mildest served first and the spiciest served last, so as to not overwhelm your palate. In our case, the milder version was the Chashu ramen. Chashu has a soy sauce-based broth, and is served with noodles, thinly sliced pork belly, bamboo shoots, and scallions.
I wasn’t expecting much, as I consider myself to be somewhat of a ramen connoisseur and have tried some of the best joints in the city. But I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed with how flavorful and authentic this ramen was. The broth was so rich, salty and tasty, and the pork belly was perfectly cooked.
Becca loved it too–it was the perfect comfort food on a cold day in the city. The Chashu ended up being our favorite dish of the entire brunch.
The second ramen dish was the Soy Milk Dan Dan. The Sorba version of this ramen is KOA’s signature dish. The noodles were served in a soy milk-based broth, topped with ground beef and scallions. This was the most interesting of the three ramen dishes—the milk base definitely gave it a creamier, almost cheesy, taste and consistency. While it was tasty, my beef was underseasoned and the broth was almost too rich, leaving me unable to finish my bowl.
The third, and last, ramen dish was the Spicy Dan Dan. These noodles were served in a soy sauce-based broth, with ground beef and a large amount of chili seeds and other spices. Our server warned us this was a very spicy dish and we should take our time and not rush through it.
He was right. It wasn’t overwhelmingly spicy at first, but the heat of the chilis and spices creeps up on you. Luckily, we were presented Lychee Beers prior to eating this ramen. This cocktail, a mix of Kirin Ichiban and lychee puree, paired perfectly with the Spicy Dan Dan. While the Lychee Beer alone was sweet, it was so refreshing, and the perfect counterpart to the spiciness of the ramen.
Three courses of ramen might sound a bit excessive, and we were definitely full, but we couldn’t pass on dessert. Especially when dessert is cheesecake dumplings. (Don’t ever say no to cheesecake dumplings, Bitches.)
Served with vanilla ice cream, caramelized walnuts, and freshly cut strawberries, these dumplings are handmade, filled with fresh cheesecake and topped with raspberry sauce. While the dumplings were tasty, they were very crisp, meaning the flavor of the cheesecake got a bit lost in the dry pastry. They would have been better with dipping sauce, instead of the drizzle.
The Bitches Say: B. Exemplary ramen, and a great brunch deal, but the appetizers and desserts left a bit to be desired, and we think those Lychee Beers should be bottomless.
12 W 21st St.
New York, NY 10010
KOA’s Noodle Brunch takes place on Saturdays, from 11:30am until 3:30pm.