My friend and food stylist Karen Stylist never fails to surprise me. On set, her nickname is “Ninja.” She’s quiet and stealthy, coming up with thoughtful nuances that make a shot. We’ve worked together on about six projects. For our New York City trip, she had a little hit list or restaurants, and Ippudo Ramen was on it.
Karen is singular in her resolve so I rarely mess with her. Plus she does her homework. Ippudo Ramen is a carefully styled Japan-export with only one outlet in the States – in New York’s East Village. We had to go.
All week long, we planned our meals around our business appointments. However, for Ippudo Ramen, I ditched my conference so we could easily snag two seats for lunch. That Sunday afternoon, the wait was 30 minutes for the two of us. Larger parties had to wait at least an hour.
We only had room for two bowls of ramen and opted for the “special” of kasana black ramen made with a rich pork and chicken broth. (The “black” refers to black fermented garlic.) The other was shiromaru hakata ramen. “Hakata is where tonkotsu [milky rich pork broth that’s so popular these days] came from. If they say Hakata, it’s a promise of purity. I have to try it,” Karen said. And so we did.
Before getting into nitty gritty, a sense of the place. Ippudo Ramen is carefully styled and ultra cool. Note the pants on the guy in the photo above. (It was dark and Karen had to shoot quick, hence the quality.) Fooling around with my iPhone, I made this little movie from our ramen lunch:
Ippudo ramen tasting notes: The kasana ramen came with a thin float of fat, hence the unattractive image in the movie. Undaunted, I stirred things up and the bowl became sublime. It was greasy tasting at all. The fat all but disappeared. The garlic provided a lovely back note. Everything was deeply savory. Lots of umami.
The hakata ramen broth wasn’t as rich and complex as the kasana, more like a cream soup but without the dairy. As much as we would have loved to drink every bit of broth in both bowls, they were so intensely flavored that we enjoyed the broth more like a seasoning to coat the noodles.
And for Ippudo’s ramen noodles… they were thin and round, chewy and just so. Excellent. Where do the noodles come from? When you go to use the restroom, a strategically placed window allows you to view the noodle making team at their rolling machine. One of their styled out ramen makers is pictured at the top of this post; great pants.
The subterranean part of Ippudo Ramen is darkly lit for an extra club feel. Viewing the noodle making show was a pleasure. Karen and I lingered and loitered, letting other ladies go before us.
Asian noodle houses typically have a wealth of tasty snacks and sides to go with the main feature. Karen and I had front loaded our ramen lunch with a pair of Ippudo’s pork belly buns. She’d heard that they were very good and the waiter said that among the three kinds that the pork was best.
Ippudo sears the sliced pork belly and adds a little spicy mayonnaise for extra richness, and iceberg lettuce for crunchy contrast. The bun was your average Wonder Bread-esque steamed Chinese roll. Very nice. Very rich. Playfully sinful.
I needed my daily dose of vegetables and tofu, so I wanted the house salad with tofu dressed with ponzu dressing.
The thin slices of silken tofu were served on the side so as to not weigh down the greens. What made everything sing were the fine shreds of excellent nori seaweed. It was high-grade stuff, nearly black and aromatic. The seaweed lent umami depth to the tofu and salad. The seeds (I think it was mustard or sansho) added texture and a delicate bite.
The multiracial wait staff does not want you to linger too long. Bowls, plates and utensils are cleared quickly because there are always people waiting for your seat.
Karen was so smitten by Ippudo Ramen that she bought t-shirts as souvenirs for her family. They’re not on display for sale so she had to ask for them. Whimsically decorated, their plastic bag even looked cool hanging on Karen's arm. It was all worth the wait and anticipation. Always travel with a hit list.
How does Ippudo against other excellent ramen? I'm not a major ramen expert but Ippudo Ramen is damn good, arguably the best I've ever had in the States. In Los Angeles, Daikokuya is fabulous but Ippudo is hauntingly good by comparison. Hakata Ramen is a runner up to Daikokuya.
If you have a favorite ramen shop, please don't keep it to yourself. Share your noodly tips.