Ugly Duck Ramen provides a small, intimate setting offering distinctive, gourmet dishes and craft beverages with true depth. The service is wonderful, with patient and detail-oriented wait staff; and the vibe offers a fantastic escape from finals and essays: whether a student just needs a break, or is done and needs to relax.
Partner and Executive Chef AJ Swanda said in the guide to Midtown Crossing, he took pop-up ramen restaurants around the city (a pop-up is a temporary restaurant that usually operates from a private home or in a former factory) and it took 36 pop-ups before these tiny ramen eateries eventually evolved into Ugly Duck. Swanda said Ugly Duck was a dream and a passion-project of his.
Among their smaller dishes or “little plates,” they offer Hamachi (Yellowtail) Sashimi. This is offered with daikon radish, cucumber, citrus and puffy rice. Pork Belly Fritters, with green onion, salsa verde, kewpie (a smoother form of mayonnaise made of rice vinegar rather than distilled) and bonito (a type of fish similar to tuna) are also offered.
Another dish is the Osaka Shishito Pepper Tempura, which has a thick flavor, where an average consumer might feel they are biting into many details of texture. The spices are neither used liberally nor sparsely, but just right. This comes with smoked garlic, nori (edible seaweed) and pickled mustard.
The restaurant’s big plates also draw the eye. The larger dishes include green curry mussels with capperino pepper, okra, mint and tea rice. There is also duck fried rice with confit, lap cheong, apple and fried egg. The prices get a little intimidating, but that encourages one to savor their meal more and as such get more for what they paid.
The ramen bowls are the proverbial stars. They feature Harvest Chicken, with crispy braised thigh, roasted beets, pickled raisin, mustard green and soft egg. Also featured is the Vegan Red Miso: with roasted mushrooms, picked wood ear, nori and joy’s pea tendrils. There is also the Nacho Picasso, with kimchi chili cheese broth, spicy Korean sausage, green onion and soft egg. Even if only one dish is in the budget, that will be enough as the bowls are filled with a multitude of noodles, many sides and rich, detailed broth.
Many of the drinks offered are craft, from soda or beer to wine or sake. The cherry coke, like many of their dishes, has a lot of texture to offer, and unlike a typical cherry coke, emphasizes the cherry.
For those over 21, the wines are primo quality, the most affordable for students being works like the Rio Madre, Rioja; the Semaphore 7, Tinto; or the Ca’ La Bionda, Valpolicella Classico. Some of the more creative options offered are the “ducktails:” a customer can get the Yellow Jacket, consisting of tequila, elder flower and yellow chartreuse; or the Duck and Stormy, with rum, Brickway ginger beer and walnut bitter; among many others.
For those who need to decompress after an arduous test, or for those who are genuinely just stressed by day-to-day life, Ugly Duck Ramen offers good food, drink and vibes for all.
Ugly Duck Ramen’s hours of operations are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday.