Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ippudo Ramen, Ebisu, Tokyo

When I found out that I was coming to Tokyo, one of the first names that I wrote on my list of things to do was Ippudo, the famed Hakata-style ramen house. The servers here wear T-shirts that proclaim, “Your happiness of eating this ramen makes us happy,” and on my visit they must have been very happy indeed, because I was positively overflowing with happiness.

Ippudo offers two variations of their rich, creamy, pork-bone broth ramen. The classic version is called Shiromaru Moto-Aji, which is a thick, white broth with a breathtaking intensity, harmony and complexity of flavor. It’s full-bodied and pungent yet never heavy, and I slurped every last drop out of my big, white bowl. The Akamaru Shin-Aji powers it up a notch, if that’s possible, with an even richer, porkier broth, plus a spoonful of red pork fat in case you haven’t had quite enough. This is an unbridled celebration of the pig, emphasizing richness and depth of flavor, whereas the Shiromaru (while being plenty rich in its own right) seems to have a bit more clarity and complexity. Both are utterly, fabulously delicious. I liked that the noodles in the Akamaru are ever-so-slightly thicker to balance the extra richness of the broth—the sort of attention to detail that lets you know these guys are really serious about their ramen.

On the table are a number of condiments to enliven your ramen (not that it really needs any enlivening), including spicy beansprouts, pickled greens, pickled ginger, fresh garlic (accompanied by a garlic press) and freshly ground sesame seeds. You’ll see your fellow diners heaping all of this stuff into their bowls, but I’d advise moderation at first, the better to enjoy the gloriously porky goodness of the broth. The Shiromaru is only ¥750 for a huge bowl, and the Akamaru ¥850, but for ¥100 more you can get the lunchtime set, which includes light, crunchy gyoza and a bowl of plain rice. At first I imagined the rice as overkill, but I was soon glad for its inclusion, as the pork broth is so rich that you almost need the rice to give you a bit of ballast.

As of the 17th of March, Ippudo has opened a branch in Manhattan, at 65 Fourth Avenue between 9th and 10th. I’m hoping it will be as spectacular as it is in Tokyo, but I’ll have to wait a little while to find out.

Ippudo, Hiroo 1-3-13, Tokyo (on Meiji-dori in the direction of Hiroo, on the left just past the post office)

11 comments:

David McDuff said...

I've been living vicariously through your Japan posts, Peter. And now there's yet another place to add to the list for my next trip to NYC.

cheers,
David

the vlm said...

Peter-

As a fellow ramen addict, your post has me positively drooling.

The only nice culinary thing about moving to SoCal is the number of excellent ramen shops. I'm getting my fix for lunch today.

The places I've been going don't have the condiments you listed.

Also, the broth has three basic forms, shio, shoyu, and miso. Your broths all look shio, is that correct?

I'm in New York next week and will try to check out the Manhattan version. I'll post notes on my blog if I do.

cheers.

Peter Liem said...

Thanks David,

I've been worried that nobody wants to read this stuff. ("That's not about champagne!") But Japan is so amazing that I can't help but rave about it. Now I see why all the Champenois and Burgundian winemakers I know are so eager to come work the Japanese market. I'll be looking for excuses to get back here as well.

Peter Liem said...

Hello Nathan,

Few things are as satisfying as a great bowl of ramen. Ippudo's ramen is Hakata-style, which is a tonkotsu broth made with pork bones. It resembles some shio ramen in color, but it's much richer and creamier, as it derives its flavor from pork rather than seafood. (Nothing like porkification to enrich something.) Hopefully, Ippudo will be an exciting addition to the already vibrant NYC ramen scene. Do you know Rai Rai Ken and Setagaya? Those are currently my two favorite Manhattan ramen shops -- both shoyu ramen (Rai Rai Ken has others, but the shoyu is the best), and so completely different in style than Ippudo.

Brooklynguy said...

I tried to go to Ippudo on 4th Ave in NYC today, but alas, the opening has been postponed until March 31st, or so says the woman running the Japanese bakery nearby. Instead we went to Setagaya, also nearby, and famous in Japan for shio, or salt flavor ramen. my third time at that place and I like it better each time. i still think, though, that the finest bowl of ramen in nyc is Rai Rai Ken on 10th street btwn 1st and 2nd aves. something about that place makes me feel like i'm in Tampopo. thanks for these posts Peter - lots of fun to read.

Ippudo said...

Ippudo is great, I've been to the shop in Ebisu as well as Ikebukuro. Love it! Can't wait for the shop in NYC to finally open at the end of the month.

Peter Liem said...

You guys have got to tell me how the NYC shop is when it opens.

In other ramen news, this week my friend Tetsuo took me to his favorite ramen place in his home city of Yokohama. A grand connoisseur of ramen, Tetsuo-san holds this place in such high esteem that he’s been going there once a week for the past ten years! Their shoyu ramen was superb, with a wonderful clarity and precision of flavor, but it’s the tonkatsu ramen that he really wanted me to taste. It’s quite a different style from Ippudo, even though both are made with pork broth. This was less overtly rich in body while possessing a similar intensity of flavor, and to top it off, they grab a dollop of pork fat from a steamer, put it into a strainer, and shake the whole thing over your bowl so it’s glistening with all these terrifically delicious bits of pork fat. Amazing. And Tetsuo said that it wasn’t even one of their best days—he complained that our noodles were just slightly overcooked while the broth was “good, but they can do better.” I still thought it was delicious.

John said...

I found your blog on Ippudo as a result of google search for "wine shop ebisu". I will definitely try the ramen, but I am wondering have you found a great wine shop in the area. I am already familiar with Party and Vinee in Ebisu garden. It is requiring quite an adjustment to wine prices and limited selections in Tokyo, after being spoiled in California. Not to mention mention sky high restaurant wine list prices and $100 corkage fees!

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