Saturday, November 23, 2013

Restaurant Review: Union Republic - Jersey City

**update 12/8/13** A return visit to Union Republic confirmed my suspicion that the noodle issue was based on the large volume of customers on opening night I am happy to say the noddles are now delicious and well cooked and the ramen is piping hot (as it should be especially in the winter!)

There is no doubt that I love to make a home cooked meal but not everything is really suited for home cooking. For me, ramen is one of those things. Between the complex, rich broths and little bits of everything thrown in that make each bowl a little treasure hunt it seems to be a little more trouble than its worth. Just tonight a new restaurant opened and I am so excited to report its only two blocks from us! Over the summer we moved to a new condo and while its only a few blocks further away from the PATH station (that is the subway here in Jersey City) those few blocks can be enough to make you stay home and order takeout when those first few really cold nights have arrived.

 Nose to Tail Ramen

We arrived about five minutes before the doors to Union Republic opened and used that time to run over to the small liquor store and grab a few beers. Once we were inside we were talked through the ordering process (you check off the items you want with a marker) and took a seat. While its definitely a casual dining atmosphere (you order up front but have the food delivered to your table) the space inside is really beautifully designed and looks quite modern. There is no typical Asian theme or look to the space and they do serve a variety of food so don't expect a traditional ramen from Union Republic. There is also a lot of open space still yet to be filled... when I questioned the man who was working the front of house he said that they will be using some of it for their pre-packed items and perhaps a band in the future. The room filled pretty quickly and by the time we left the large communal style table were rapidly filling as well.

 Shot of the communal table from their facebook

We had scouted out the menu online and have to admit the ramen burger sounded pretty good but unfortunately tonight was not the night for that! But it does give me a very good excuse to go back very soon. We started with the roasted pork tea sandwiches and the BBQ lamb ribs. The tea sandwiches came out in typical tea style cut into four little triangles (though I did spy a few orders going by later that night just cut into larger triangle halves). The pork was cubed up and the pickled onions were very nice, however they were a bit hard to eat without loosing all of the meat when you picked up the sandwich though I think that the larger cut probably helped that. The lamb ribs were perfectly sauced and seasoned. My only complaint there is that one thin little napkin that was on the table wasn't going to stand up to that sauce! But luckily we were able to flag a waitress down and get a stack before I had to resort to finger licking.

Next up was our ramen.... he tried the "Nose to Tail" and I had the "A Hen Full". I personally enjoyed the Hen Full more as the lighter Shoyu broth is more to my taste but the Nose to Tail was filled with a lot more fun little bits. I did really enjoyed the chicken meatballs in the Hen Full - they had the perfect amount of texture. I would have preferred the soft egg to be a bit more to room temp instead of cold as it was served and actually think that the entire bowl of ramen could have benefited from being a few degrees warmer. Instead of starting out so hot that you have to barely pick around while inhaling all that delicious broth flavored steam it was just warm when served and cooled down to room temp before I could finish. I think that this is a case of first night issues though as our waitress mentioned that she was suppose to be in the back so it seems that maybe they were still working out some kinks.  Sadly, the noodles were lacking. Most were clumped up and stuck together which made slurping just about impossible and they needed a bit more cooking as they were still very "al dente" in my Hen Full (lucky for my husband the Nose to Tail bowl was a bit better).  On our walk out we noticed at least one bowl full of noodles abandoned which isn't a good sign when the noodles are suppose to be the star of the show.

The verdict? I am definitely going to give UR another chance as they seemed to be a little overwhelmed with the large turnout and I am very interested in seeing how things work out in another few weeks. I am especially excited about their to go section as it could be a nice alternative for a no-cooking night (a line of refrigerations that were just about empty tonight but I am hoping will be filled with ready to heat/eat meals in the future)