302 Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg
Sui Ren opened in Williamsburg just under a year ago to relatively little fanfare. Part of a growing trend in Japanese izakaya (traditional gastropubs, basically), the simply designed Metropolitan Avenue space looked to corner the Brooklyn ramen market, and provide focus for a swelling citywide interest in fine sakes. The first time we stopped by, about six months ago, it seemed like things were going well, with plenty of people in both the back restaurant section and the intimate front bar section, sipping on original Japanese-inflected cocktails while happily munching on assorted izakaya amuse bouche (lots of things on skewers... always good).
Somehow, though, it didn't really add up. The space was awkwardly partitioned, with the front section feeling cramped rather than intimate, and the back just a little bit too open. And the food—while an interesting selection—really did feel like an afterthought; a competent, perfectly satisfying afterthought, but disappointing when compared to local favorite (and proto-izakaya) Bozu.
Happily, we weren't the only ones to notice. Over the last few months Sui Ren's owners have renovated the front section of the restaurant and ushered in a new chef—and it's all for the better. While the mushroom ramen (the best vegetarian ramen in the city, it says here) was good the first time, it was somehow a little too thick, almost oleaginous, and felt more like gravy than ramen. Well, whatever the new chef has done to fix this dish, it's now amazing: I'm currently unable to go more than three hours without craving its rich, savory broth (a little lighter than the first version) filled with chewy ramen noodles, fresh, bright snowpeas, and perfectly grilled king oyster mushrooms (marinated, I think, in a splash of mirin).
And if you're looking for variety (i.e. you can't make up your mind) the new chef seems to have perfected the small plate items that make up most of the menu: the Crispy Duck Confit Bun ($7) was somehow simultaneously light and dangerously rich; the Agedashi Tofu ($6) was the best we've had in the city, featuring a heavenly smooth consistency anchored by a perfect note of savory tang; the Buta To Uzura (Berkshire pork belly on a skewer with a quail's egg) was a complex juxtaposition of flavors that went perfectly with the dry sake we had; and of course, the new and improved mushroom ramen ($12)... can't stop thinking about it.
I honestly don't think you can find a better Japanese meal right now at these prices (oh, and did I mention the multiple beer specials? Two for one draft on Tuesdays, free draft with ramen on Wednesdays), so you'd better to get Sui Ren before everyone else figures out its changed... for the better.