Just in time for the first nip of frosty air, dive into a deep, complex bowl of ramen at new Japanese/Korean noodle bar Moon Rabbit. Only a short time ago we enjoyed a Latin meal there at Cienega, but Owner Pedro Munoz has spun the wheel across the globe for a slightly more family-oriented redo. The narrow building he redesigned several years ago, in the car dealership district of New Rochelle, is still an oasis—only now the mural over the bar is a Japanese painting, and banquettes have been replaced with backless red benches that some might find ascetic, others fun (my child cites years of experience at school lunch).
We’ll gladly swing our legs over the benches, because we’re buying what Chef James Kim is selling: expertly crafted, artfully presented noodle bowls ($13-$16) and Japanese and Korean appetizers with a local, seasonal slant. He comes to us from high-profile Manhattan restaurants such as Roberta’s, Balthazar, Grand Banks, and SKÁL.
Sinking our teeth right into the noodles, then, you’ll find thin, slightly springy ramen that lets other ingredients shine, and layered, richly flavored broth that’s the measure of this stuff. Vegetable miso with tamago, shiitake, and black garlic arrives like liquid yin-yang, a flourish of nori swooping up one side and a floating mass of scallion on the other, dotted with half a soft-cooked egg. We could have asked only for togarashi to sprinkle atop. We slurped up kaisen ramen with razor clam, clam, PEI mussels, “prawns” (per the menu, we had expected more than one), fish cakes, and egg, leaving only a few morsels of resistant calamari.
Ssam jang cold soba was not what we expected, but better: instead of a dipping sauce, all was premixed—Brussels sprout leaves, nori, shiitake, pecan for a crunch that put it over the top—and a hefty dose of the Korean chili paste ssamjang. This fairly serious heat, which we are wild for, arrives without warning if you’re not familiar with ssamjang; if you prefer to avoid this, you know who you are.
Do round out your meal with appetizers. Korean fried chicken is everything it should be, lacquered with sticky ssamjang glaze and falling off the bone, set off with daikon. Vegetable gyoza’s whole edamame pop in a mix of leeks, winter squash, and cabbage, but the dumplings call for dipping sauce. (The place had been open only a week; I presume they’ll get around to such niceties.) Gyoza are made also with Berkshire pork, or have your Berkshire pork in kimchi fried rice with hen’s egg, if you prefer. Bao buns are wrapped around either short ribs or pork belly. A refreshing complement to these indulgences is ginger-carrot salad with spinach and pickles. There’s also a kids’ menu of chicken ramen or teriyaki rice bowl.
If noodle soup isn’t enough to take the edge off the cold, have a Japanese cocktail, such as Toji (Junmai Daiginjo saké, vodka, agave, shiso, and lime), Matcha Margarita, or Sake Sour. Beer is yet to come, but there’s a small selection of wine by the glass. Cienega will be missed, but we can’t deny this is a great addition to the neighborhood.
Moon Rabbit Noodle Bar
179 E Main St