It seemed like all my friends were either working or doing some sort of volunteering on Saturday so I was on my own for an...ahem...late lunch. I was all set to either walk two blocks and go to Num Pang or just take a short cab ride to Momofuku. But, I remembered a conversation I had with one of Sakuramen's owners and he had mentioned Ippudo for a place to go to when you want ramen in NYC. I looked them up quickly and headed down to the East Village.
There was some scaffolding draped across most of the front of the restaurant so it was hard to spot if you were coming from the East. Once you did find it, the front of Ippudo looks has nice, smooth wood paneling that gives off an Asian modern vibe. This continues as you walk in and are immediately greeted by a stylish bar with what looks like an array of ramen bowls decorating the wall. I'd never been to Ippudo but I guess the word is out on this place as it was really busy. I was lucky enough to be able to get a single seat at one of the communal tables in the back.
The main dining room is melded onto the kitchen and you can see everything the staff is doing while waiting for your food. The room, itself, still has the same modern, sleek styling as the outside and the waiting area. My communal table could seat about 10 people and as only half full when I sat down. The menu offered much more than I expected ranging from small little grilled bites to sush rolls. I didn't want to be indecisive in trying to choose my meal so I just stuck to basics and ordered some steamed pork buns to start and a bowl of ramen.
The steamed buns came in a thick, fluffy bun that's closer in consistency to the siopao buns that I grew up so I liked that familiarity. It included the braised pork belly with lettuce and Ippudo's own spicy buns sauce. I thought the lettuce was a weird addition as I usually don't remember ever having lettuce in my asian buns. The flavor on these was great with not quite the depth of Momofuku buns yet much more in line to traditional pork buns. I'd be hard pressed to choose between either one and since they're so close to each other, I'd probably vote to go to both.
For my noodle soup, I probably should have chosen their Hakata Classic so I could get a baseline comparison to Toki Underground. Instead, I went for variety and got the Akamaru Modern. This was their tonkotsu (pork broth), noodles, their secret miso paste (umami dama), pork chashu, cabbage, mushrooms, scallions, and garlic oil. Of course, I added a boiled egg and some extra pork belly. The broth here was closer to what you would expect from traditional Japanese ramen. It was just a touch thinner in consistency but the depth of flavor was spot on. I regretted adding the pork belly though because there was too little of it and was pretty bland in flavor as compared to the chashu that was part of the dish. I found myself looking for a bit more heat and wishing that the noodles were just a touch thicker but that's just my preference and definitely not a detriment to the dish. The one thing I did notice was this ramen was cleaner than the ones I've tried lately. There was less evidence of pork fat/grease in the broth and after the night before, I was glad for that but I'm not sure if that's what I prefer.
I feel like I've eaten a whole lot of ramen in the past few months and Ippudo kind of checks off that last box of "placespeopleraveaboutwhenitcomestoramen". That's a real word, look it up. My thoughts on this is that it's refreshing to find ramen restaurants making it big in the mainstream of culinary choices since I grew up going to sh*tholes and dives looking for a good bowl of ramen. I also feel compelled to compare each bun and bowl of soup I try at all of these places. However, I'm actually going to refrain from doing because each experience I've had, I've come away thinking that each of them were different even if by small nuances. Yeah, that may be a cop out but all I'm really saying is that I would never turn down an invitation to go back and eat at any of those places.
65 4th Ave, New York, NY 10003, 212.388.0088, www.ippudony.com