Ippudo is my new word for describing something that rocks so much, mere words can't describe it. As in, Shaun White's second run at the Olympics was IPPUDO. Because that's how I felt when the first delectable ribbons of Shigemi Kawahara's ramen noodles touched my lips.
I've worked my way through many a Ramen House in Japan, and it quickly became an obsession. As Kawahara's first Ramen House outside of Japan, I can attest to its authenticity, its excellence, its tradition, and its innovative approach.
Yes, there's a wait, and it's not the most pleasant of waits. The front bar is crowded, a tangled mass of humanity, and standing outside is just not as interesting. I was told it would be an hour wait; it was 42 minutes. I appreciated the expectation management. But then you enter Ramen Heaven, welcomed with the traditional shouts of "Irashaimase!" that have always made me feel like a special customer. The decor is modern and beautifully minimalist, with clean lines, and the ability to watch the ramen experts perform their magic.
If there was ever a time to order too much food, do it at a place like Ippudo, where misordering is rare, if at all existent. We started with Japanese cucumber in a sesame oil dressing. It was cool, fresh, crunchy, and with just a touch of heat - the perfect start as we transitioned to progressively heavier items. Hirata Buns, pork belly swept with a spicy sauce and folded into a steamed bun proved itself to be satisfying. Earlier in the evening, another pair of patrons insisted that the pork belly buns at Ippudo were better than Momofuku's. What say you?! Those are melt-in-your-mouth morsels of transcendence! In the end, we agreed the brush of spiciness at Ippudo gave it points, but that the luxuriousness of Momofuku's pork belly still reigned supreme.
Next, the spicy tofu and pork strips served in a hot stone bowl - a lift from Korean cuisine and its Sundubu Jigae, it was altogether sweet, salty, spicy, and irresistible. We were approaching full, and knowing that our Ramen bowls would be coming shortly did not keep us from partaking. Gluttons, we are.
Then finally, the pièce de résistance, the moment I had waited all evening to experience, the Akamaru Modern Ramen bowl arrived in all its glory, and flanked by its pages, Kakuni and Menma (more braised pork belly and seasoned bamboo shoots). Taking in the sight of the colorful garnishes and milky broth shrouding gastronomic secrets created such an anticipation. Next, a sip of the broth. Just as there is a method to drinking wine, there is surely a method for enjoying a bowl of Ramen noodles. Silky, balanced, sumptuous, and yet there was a levity that kept the richness from becoming overbearing. Then the rapture of the noodles. Toothsome, a textural wonderment, perfection. I may have closed my eyes. I'm not sure, but I do remember thinking, THIS is IPPUDO.
Ippudo - Japanese Ramen Noodle Brasserie
65 Fourth Ave (bet 9th and 10th Sts)