For almost a year now, Union Ramen has been open at the LGD end of Magazine Street, the brainchild of Nhat “Nate” Nguyen, the Vietnamese-born opening chef for Gert Town’s tiny, bright yellow ramen joint, Kin. That summer, it was all over the local news, hyped and hyped again, which generally tends to turn me off, so I avoided it. Here it is a year later, and since Union Ramen managed to survive the pandemic shutdowns, I thought it was high time to give it a go.
We got to the restaurant early in the evening, hoping to beat the crowds and found the restaurant was already half full. We were seated at a large, communal table (one we had to ourselves) and proceeded to order half the menu. Yes, I’m exaggerating, but do want to emphasize how succinct their menu actually is. Five types of ramen are offered (not including the “Kid’s Ramen”), and only two with broth, though there are a lot of protein options for each bowl.
Excited for what was to come, we stole peeks at what other diners were eating while pretending to watch an episode of One Piece, a popular anime series about pirates playing on a huge flat screen. Before long our first appetizer arrived, something I’d been dying to try for a long time, Spam musubi (basically the Hawaiian version of Japanese onigiri). Fluffy, sticky white rice was layered with a sweetened soy sauce or teriyaki-marinated and griddled slice of Spam, and wrapped with a strip of crispy seaweed or nori. Fantastic! While gobbling these with a will, I wondered if this could be duplicated keto-style, though I doubt cauliflower rice could attain that level of sticky, fluffy goodness. Maybe a bowl version?
Almost as soon as we finished the first plate, our second appetizer arrived, the “NOLA BBQ” stuffed squid. As anyone who’s enjoyed New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp could tell you, it’s not a flavor most Americans think of when they think BBQ. Instead of the smoky, sweet tomato-based flavor I grew up enjoying, smothered on chicken at family barbecues, New Orleans BBQ sauce is Worcestershire-based with shallots, garlic and butter (though the original at Pascal’s Manale is just oleo and lots of pepper).
Now, keep in mind that John and I are binge-watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (again), so when the stuffed squid arrived, I couldn’t help but think about Quark and his brother Rom, and their deep love of “tube grubs,” a Ferengi, larvae-like comfort food, frequently served pre-chewed by their females. While I have no idea how tube grubs taste (or worms of any kind, for that matter), I somehow doubt they taste as good as this. The squid was stuffed with dirty rice (a wonderful Creole-seasoned, ground beef rice dish) and served atop a small pool of BBQ sauce. We loved it! All that was missing was a hunk of French bread to soak up the sauce.
At long last our entrees arrived. John chose a no-broth mazeman dubbed “Slap Ya Kimchi” with blackened chicken, spinach, kimchi, nori flakes and egg noodles, and he kept it cool with the heat level at #1. I, on the other hand, love it spicy and leveled up to #2 in my dish, the original tori ramen with egg noodles, roasted pork, bamboo shoots, fried garlic, chili oil, and a seasoned or marinated egg (ajitsuke tamago) all in a rich, oily (in a good way!) chicken broth. Do you think they can come up with some keto-friendly noodles (NOT zoodles!)? I just don’t think it would be the same.