If I could pick one dish to eat every day for the rest of my life, it would be the ramen noodles at Ippudo. I might mourn the loss of the Black Label burger at Minetta Tavern and the spaghetti from Scarpetta at first, but these noodles have a little bit of everything. I think of it as Japanese comfort food; this aint no sissy sushi with brown rice. This is a steaming bowl of umami overload, and I loved every minute of it.
Ippudo has been on my list of places to try for a while now, and every time I've gone, the wait is over an hour and I'm always too hungry to hold out. Damn me and my ridiculous appetite. So last night, Ange and I had a little pre-dinner nosh at Bahr Che (more on that later), enabling us to hold out for a table without giving in to the pangs of hunger. Good thing we did this, because the wait was an hour and 15 mins for two. What to do during that time? Drink up.
About an hour in (15 mins early – sweet relief!), I hear my name being called by the hostess, and it is a great feeling. "Finally!", I think to myself, "I'm going to get my ramen noodles!" My expectations were already so high, that I thought for a second there was nowhere to go but down – but I didn't want to cloud the meal with negativity. If you're going to cloud a meal with anything, let it be vodka. Note: I do not recommend getting drunk at Ippudo. You want to remember this.
The restaurant was packed, and the servers are constantly yelling things in Japanese, and I'm still not sure who the shouts are directed at. I don't know what they're saying, but it makes for a lively experience – at one point I half-expected people to start doing the wave. Anyway, we started off the meal with pork buns and fried Japanese peppers. Pork buns have grown on me over the years, mostly due to their ever-growing popularity in mainstream cuisine and foodie festivals. Ippudo's pork buns hold a sweet and savory mini-slab of pork in a hot, puffy, steamed yeast bun. Nums. The fried japanese peppers are crispy and salty, but be advised that some of them are REALLY spicy. I will say that this app is a little inconsistent because some of the peppers have a lot of seeds (which hold all the heat), and there's no way to tell which ones until you bite into one. So, eat at your own risk.
By now, we had been watching people slurp down those silky noodles by the pound, and we were getting antsy. At that moment, two HUGE red bowls arrive: one is the Akamaru Modern Ramen with egg, and the other is Akamaru Modern Ramen with spicy paste (aka Bakudan). The light broth and scallions mixed with black garlic oil and red miso swirled together looks like a work of art. Seriously. The noodles and Berkshire pork belly are not totally visible at first, so you have to dig them out a little, but it's well worth the chopstick work. The ramen noodles are house-made, not like that crap you get for 39 cents a package at the grocery store (though I used to eat that all the time), so they're perfectly al dente, and they swim around in that savory broth, soaking up all it's garlicky, salty goodness. My mouth just watered thinking about it. Mine had a hard boiled egg in it (I love eggs), but I have to say, the Bakudan paste is an excellent addition if you like things spicy.
You know how you know when food is really good? When no one is talking. Everyone is just completely absorbed in what they're eating; head down, eyes jumping from what you just ate to what you will bite into next, and that's the beauty of the ramen at Ippudo. There are so many different ingredients and flavors, each bite can be different if you want it to be. Truth be told though, the broth is the same from first bite to last. In fact, we ate so much that we reached the intersection of "I'm going to puke" and "I need to nap". It tasted so good that we didn't want it to end. We waited so long for these noodles (and you will too), but it was worth every second.
65 Fourth Ave (nr 10th st)