Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ippudo NYC

I finally made it to the New York City branch of Ippudo, the Hakata-style ramen shop. Having been to the one in the Ebisu district of Tokyo (as seen in this post), I was looking forward to seeing what the NYC version would be like.

I enjoyed it very much, although it’s not really the same thing. To begin with, the decor is wildly different: the NYC shop is much more upscale, with a sleekly modern feel. My first visit was on Monday, and even at around 2:30pm, it took about half an hour to get a seat. It was well worth the wait, however, as the akamaru ramen turned out to be the finest bowl of ramen that I have ever eaten in Manhattan. The broth didn’t seem quite as porky or as intense as I remembered from Tokyo, but the noodles themselves were outstanding, with a perfectly silky yet toothsome texture. The roasted Berkshire pork was absolutely, stunningly god-like, boasting a meltingly decadent succulence and sweetly caramelized exterior. I happily emptied the entire bowl. My only complaints were that 1.) there were only two small chunks of that sublime, mind-altering pork, which made me immediately regret not getting the extra chashu option for an additional three dollars; 2.) there is no gyoza on the menu, which just seems wrong; and 3.) you don’t get the array of condiments on the table that you do in Japan (pickled ginger, pickled tanaka and spicy beansprouts, plus garlic cloves that you press yourself). Nevertheless, I was very impressed overall, and thrilled about this addition to the Manhattan ramen scene.

Still dreaming about that bowl, I returned last night to re-experience the glory. Although akamaru was what I really wanted, I decided to get the shiromaru just to try it, and remembering the paucity of meat in my previous bowl, I opted for the addition of pork belly. (After all, how could anything not be improved by the addition of pork belly?) It turned out to be excellent, but it didn’t quite reach the lofty heights of my original bowl. The broth was actually better — deeper in flavor, more complex — but the chashu pork wasn’t nearly as great, and the noodles were a little overdone. I think it would definitely be worth asking for the noodles to be a little firmer (there are specific words for that which momentarily escape me, but I’m sure that one of you will remind me), especially since, if you’re a painfully slow eater like me, they continue to cook further as they sit in the hot broth. I still enjoyed it tremendously, although if I could have my way, I would have had akamaru with Wednesday’s broth and Monday’s noodles and pork. Plus extra chashu or pork belly, of course. The pork belly was damn tasty.

I still cling to my verdict that Ippudo is the best ramen in Manhattan. Ramen Setagaya is good, although the chashumen that I had there last week was slightly disappointing compared to, say, the first five times I ever went there after it opened in the East Village (saltier, less complex broth this time, and somehow less of a harmony of components). I do have a soft spot for Rai Rai Ken, especially the shoyu broth, but it’s a more rustic ramen, not as refined or as detailed as Setagaya or Ippudo. Ippudo is really where I want to go. I’ve heard people complain about the $13 price tag for a bowl of ramen, but come on, it’s New York City, for crying out loud. There are so many more unsatisfying ways that you can lose $13 in this city that it seems completely irrelevant to me. And anyway, it’s still far cheaper than a plane to Tokyo.

Ippudo, 65 Fourth Avenue, NYC (between E. 9th and 10th)

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