65 Fourth Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets
about $40 for two, with drinks, with tip
Shigemi Kawahara became Japan’s Ramen King after winning three consecutive years in a TV program against other ramen chefs. After twenty years in business, people still line up outside his Ippudo branches in Japan. This East Village store is his first foray overseas. The pandemonium has now reached New York City and the wait for a table to eat ramen is already two hours long. Alas, Ippudo’s reputation precedes itself.
We put our names down around 7pm and bought a few drinks around the East Village before heading back to see if the maitre d’ was any closer to calling out our names from her book. Two more Sapporo and Kirin drafts later and we were finally seated in front of the beautiful sequin piece in the back (next to chef Pichet Ong, no less). I immediately noticed the heavy wood interior when we walked in. Everything inside Ippudo looks expensive. I realized I’ve seen this kind of design before (Wagamama in London and Momofuku a few blocks away), but Ippudo presents itself quietly and with grace. Don’t expect loud music inside; there’s a buzz but it doesn’t get as loud as David Chang’s Noodle Bar. During opening week, they seemed understaffed because service was slow. The waiters were attentive but I just didn’t want to wait for my food any longer after having already waited two hours.
It’s amazing how a simple food item like ramen can be glorified this way. There is no need to bill the Berkshire pork nor the organic ingredients. At Ippudo, it’s all about the art involved in making the ramen. The high-quality ingredients just follow.
We ordered the bowls Ippudo is well known for: Akamaru Shin-aji and Shiromaru Moto-aji. The akamaru was appropriately served in a red bowl (aka is “red” in Japanese) while the shiromaru was in a white bowl. (Shiro translates to “white”.) The broth is milky white, a sign that pork bones have been simmered for a few hours, but it didn’t have that slimy smell you usually get in regular ramen broths. It tasted of pork, but clean and rich at the same time. You don’t begin to really appreciate the Ippudo signature until you start chewing on the noodles. Firm and tender noodles. I never had ramen noodles like this before even from the small ramenyas in Tokyo.
They ran out of the kakumi, or pork belly with braised daikon radish, when we visited so we supplemented our ramen bowls with the Ippudo roll instead: grilled pork with custard and cucumber. We slurped loudly and happily, appreciating every effort that has gone to making each noodle the way ramen should be.
Watch out Momofuku.