Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ippudo : New York

Ippudo has been causing a recent stir in the New York Ramen afficionado scene, one post even saying that it was the best of NYC's ramen places (!).

We decided to use our time in NY to check it out.

Seeing as we didn't have time for a reservation (same-day, in-person), we encountered a 50 minute wait. This was around 9'ish on a Saturday night. There was a small dimly lit bar with bowls on the walls that you could wait at...

... but we ended up just walking around St Marks Place and the wait wasn't actually that bad.

We were seated at the bar in front of the kitchen, with a clear view of the chefs and their work area. The place is loud, because of the wait-staff, chefs and staff shouting welcome, thank you, etc.

As we watched the chefs, one in particular seemed pretty unhappy and it struck us during our meal, that he had been making one dish the entire night: the most popular appetizer, according to our server...

Hirata Buns - Hell, if I was stuck making these all night, I'd probably be pretty unhappy too. Made of steamed bready pancakes (similar to the Chinese mantou), pork in sweet honey sauce with a mayo sauce and lettuce. I wasn't that impressed by this. While the pork was undeniably tender, the sweet honey sauce and mayo was doing anything for me. All I could think of was fast-food burgers and the fact that I could probably do something like this at home. To kind of top things off, later on in the night, we saw a few chefs take the pancakes out from frozen branded bags (kind of like the the store-bought dumplings). Would definitely not order again.

Shiromaru Hakata - tonkatso broth, thin rice noodles, ginger slices, (?) black strips, pork slices, sesame seeds and probably a few other things I'm forgetting/couldn't id. According to our waiter, this was the broth that made Ippudo famous. The broth tasted like a meat stock w/ miso or perhaps starch from noodles, which gave it a cloudier texture/appearance. While pretty decent, it came across as lighter, particularly when compared to the deeper and rich umami taste of the other ramen bowl. While not immediately observable, there was a fatty taste to the broth (which I particularly like, but others may not). The pork cuts were drier than those in the other bowl, but still quite good. All in all, while solid, I wasn't particularly excited by this ramen and probably wouldn't order again.

Tori Ramen - The tori ramen was simpler, but better executed. A seeming straight-up stock broth, fatty & juicy pork slices, one naruto piece, mystery vegie? strips (looking like Chinese pickled radishes but not crunchy) and thicker noodles. I rather liked the hearty, rich and rather fatty broth, but it had such an intense umami, that it was like watching an incredible baseball hitter and having that insidious questioning doubt about steroids... did they add any MSG just to supe up the umami flavor? Maybe just a little? This had thicker noodles than the Shiromaru bowl and had that unmistakable handmade/fresh al dente texture on the inside of the noodle. We did briefly question the blue/green color around the yolk: doesn't that mean that they're over-cooked? But then again, hell, I like eggs almost any way you cook them and certainly with the lovely broth soaking into the yolk, that wasn't something I was anywhere close to complaining about. In short, I rather liked this bowl.

All in all, we had a pretty decent experience here. The ramen bowls were satisfying, particularly the tori ramen, if veering more on the fatty side, but I don't think I would rave about this place to friends. Going back and reading the Chowhound posts, I can definitely imagine that if you're experienced with ramen in Japan, then Ippudo may still be a notch down from what you've tasted.

But in any case, until I get a chance to visit Japan, it's interesting to learn more about the background and the culture of ramen places and get a taste of it here.

65 4th Ave New York, NY 10003-5220 (Map)
(212) 388-0088

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