Whenever I come to New York, I have every intention of eating out as much as possible. Usually what happens, however, is I gorge on bagels and smoked sable from the Polish district in Greenpoint (which my mother buys in bulk, and which is one of those foods that permanently alters your DNA so you crave it forever), and/or I stay at home and eat my mother’s delicious cooking. Last Monday, however, friend K asked me, “Have you been to Ippudo?” “Iiiipppuuudddoooo,” crooned friend C, her eyes glazing.
Ippudo is a Japanese chain founded by “Ramen King” Shigemi Kawahara. There are 43 shops in Japan, but according to Ippudo’s website, New York is Ippudo’s first international outpost. I love noodles in soup, and for me, ramen is like the Holy Grail; I will go on the modern-day equivalent of a knightly quest if good ramen is promised at the end of it. K claimed this was “the best ramen.” She was right.
I should offer a couple of disclaimers. First, I have never been to Japan. Second, I was absolutely trashed by the time I turned up at Ippudo for our 8:45 reservation (the martinis at the W Bar on Union Square are LETHAL). Likely for this latter reason, I have found writing this blog post a struggle. Also, I didn’t take any photos. (See second disclaimer, above.) Fortunately, there are about 248,000 photographs online (I love the lunatic dedication of foodies), so you can rely on the internet to supplement my enchanting prose.
Everything at our meal was a bit of a blur (martinis!) but I can say this: it would be a mistake to come to Ippudo and bypass the hirata pork buns ($9). $9 may seem like a lot to pay for two pork buns, but consider: these may well have been the best pork buns I have eaten in my life. I don’t say this lightly. Sweet soft steamed rice buns were stuffed with oblongs of hot sticky grilled pork belly, glazed in a sweet chilli sauce. The use of belly means that no actual mastication is required; hot sweet tender porky goodness just kind of spreads itself in your mouth in ecstatic entropy. We had a couple of other starters but both were relegated to wallflower status by the pork buns.
The ramen portions are large – big enough to share, if you’re also having starters, which is useful if, like me, you find it difficult to order anything in a ramen restaurant except tonkotsu ramen. We ordered Shiromara Hakata Classic (Ippudo’s tonkotsu ramen, $15), Akamaru Modern (tonkotsu topped with “Ippudo’s secret ‘Umami Dama’ miso paste,” $15) and Karaka Men (spicy ramen, $16). Done right, tonkotsu ramen is a milky-white broth made from pork marrow bones, cooked long and slow until the bones are gelatinous and the broth is silky, fatty, and opaque. Too often it will be too thin, or too salty, or have that unmistakable ‘stock cube’ finish. Ippudo’s tonkotsu was phenomenal, with a deep, saturated marrow flavour, like veal broth, and a slight natural pork sweetness, nicely balanced by the sesame kikurage mushrooms and pickled ginger. The ramen itself was cooked so it had an al dente bite to it, and gorgeous (literally, as well as in the comestible sense) in the beautiful hot soup. For $2, you can order kae-dama, or an extra serving of noodles.
I’m a purist: when the tonkotsu ramen is this good, I don’t see any reason to order anything else. In fairness, though, the Karaka Men was delicious, with a nice pervasive delicate heat. I don’t remember much about the Akamaru Modern (I was drunk!) but I recall thinking it didn’t work quite as well as the others.
Ippudo is noisy and always incredibly busy, but when you eat you’re left blessedly alone without the usual New York passive-aggressive hovering. This is no small thing in a restaurant that frequently has two-hour wait times. Ippudo’s website proclaims, “Under the banner ‘Keep changing to remain unchanged’, the IPPUDO team, tapping the potential for ramen, will spread the ‘Japanese ramen culture’ from New York to the rest of the world.” Bring it.
65 Fourth Avenue, New York, 10003
Price per person: $20 – $30 at dinnertime
The verdict: Must try!
I am shocked, shocked to find that drinking is going on in New York! Mmmm, ramen. Your descriptions are so good. Photos not needed.
The big city is a den of vice. I’m sure you and Steve will get up to No Good when you come.
You bet they will! I’ll make sure of it. Bwahahahahaha!
Love this! I haven’t been back to NY since I moved in ’01 but this makes me want to find some ramen ASAP. I look forward to you visiting your sister so we can meet, eat and drink!
Ippudo is one of our favorite restaurant in NYC. My husband and I always get the same thing – Hirata pork buns and Akamaru Modern. To be fair, we’ve not tried any other ramen because we were both hooked on the modern. OK, we share the buns, but we each get our own bowl of ramen, AND FINISH IT, slurping all the way! Just the sight of those red bowls makes me want to fly to NYC. Funny, I always take photos of the ramen and buns, even if I have the same exact photos every time. For us, it is the best ramen we’ve ever had aside from the ones we’ve had in Tokyo.
Where else did you eat?
I should have known you’d know all about Ippudo. I had a lovely lunch (if we’re being technical about it, two lunches) with blogger Daisy Bow from Cool Cook Style. That review is coming up! (I find writing reviews SO much harder than writing recipe posts, so I’m way behind.)
I second the other Daisy’s Akamaru Modern recommendation for Ippudo. That is hands-down my favorite thing there. I always get a whole bowl for myself and a nice big plate of shishito peppers. Because they FRY them at Ippudo! And serve them with YUZU salt. Doesn’t get any better!
Flash fry. No breading.
God, I’m obsessing right now. Can you tell?
We had the fried shishito peppers! They were tasty! I have been eating heaps of pimientos de padron here in London, so maybe my appreciation for them was unfairly diminished.
Awwww! I love pimientos de padron too. Basically the same thing . . . but the yuzu salt! Swoon!
I’m insanely jealous! I wish, I wish, these guys would open in London.
BTW the noodle soup you had is called tonkotsu with an ‘o’, not tonkatsu with an ‘a’. The latter is a breaded pork chop usually served with curry.
I SO WISH THESE GUYS WOULD OPEN IN LONDON. I will make the appropriate correction. Thank you!
Thank you for giving me (another) good reason to go back to NYC soon! I just know my son would love eating at this place. Me, too 🙂
Make a reservation to avoid the two-hour wait! And let me know what you think, if you do go.
Sounds amazing! Funny how much more enjoyable your favorite dishes are after you’ve been drinking.
It was amazing! Do you know, I actually wished I was more sober, so that I could better focus on the food? (That’s not to say I didn’t have beer at the restaurant. In fact, I did.)
“modern-day equivalent of a knightly quest” <– this is how I feel about burritos! (And pancakes. And doughnuts.)
I feel exactly the same way about burritos! Thanks for dropping by & thanks for following!
Great review, Susan! For someone who went tipsy, your recall is excellent!
Ha!!! It is less than perfect. I was DRUNK.
Well, I think your drunken recall is excellent. I wish my drunken recall was as good, but it’s usually something like, “Blue!”
And that’s all I remember!
The food sounds delicious. I had some great food in NY when I visited 6 years ago and would love to go again one day. I’ve also nominated you for an award on my blog at http://searchingforspice.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/versatile-blogger-award/
Ippudo sounds delicious! I don’t think I’ve told you this, but I took one of your suggestions and ate at Il Corvo in Seattle — aaaaawesome. Anyways, hearing about ramen is making me wish I was back in Sapporo (home of miso ramen) — I’ll definitely try this when I’m out in NY again. 🙂
Isn’t Il Corvo adorable??? I wondered whether you’d go — I remember you commented on my review that you were heading to Seattle soon. So glad you went, so glad you liked it!
I do not like most Japanese food, but I love pork buns. Next time I get back to New York I may go just for those.