Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ippudo - 10th St & 4th Ave

65 4th Ave

Last October, famed Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto listed the top five ramen joints in the East Village, and Ippudo came in second only to David Chang's revered Momofuku Noodle Bar - by 1 point out of 20. I’d been to Momofuku Noodle Bar once before and loved it, so when Scott was craving udon noodle soup, I convinced him to try the ramen at Ippudo, instead.

Ippudo doesn't take reservations, so the wait can be pretty long - at 10 pm on a Friday, we still had a 30-minute wait. We killed time having a drink at the bar, which offers mostly sake, shochu (Sake cocktails), and Asian beer. I had a Cherry Blossom, which is plum wine, Campari, and white grapefruit juice - it was delicious and really interesting! It truly tasted of sweet plums, but the grapefruit juice’s tartness kept the sweetness from being overpowering.

The restaurant itself is fun and energetic, with a waitstaff to match. There are some private booths in the back, but I recommend sitting at one of the two large tables in the center of the room. These tables have giant pits cut out of the center, which are painted blood-red and filled with charred driftwood and candles. The chairs surrounding these tables are like small, love seat sofas cut down the middle. Each chair has a back and an arm on one side, so that two chairs pushed together make up one unit – it’s fun and cozy, but you need to like the person you're out with!

Everything we tried here was amazing! The hirata buns (steamed pork buns) are slices of very tender, delicately spiced pork with just enough fat to truly melt in your mouth. Topped with chopped iceberg lettuce and a mildly spicy sauce, the whole creation is cradled in the folds of a pillowy, steamed bun. The real show-stoppers here, though, are the ramen dishes, and Ippudo offers additional ramen toppings, like hard-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, and braised pork belly.

Left: Akamaru Moden ramen; Right: Shiromaru Hakata Classic ramen (click to enlarge). Both ramens are featured with an additional order of braised pork belly.

The braised pork belly is so amazing that I could never come back to Ippudo without ordering it. It’s plump and fatty, and really picks up extra salty flavor from the ramen broth. It pulls apart sensually in your mouth into tender bits of fat and meat that burst with flavor as they dissolve on your tongue.

With the pork belly added to it, the Akamaru ramen is just unbelievably good. The noodles are thin and al dente, and the broth is so silky and smooth, it's… almost creamy, but without any dairy. The red-pepper paste, sesame oil, and scallions mix together beautifully, and the more you eat, the more you're able to notice the subtle ginger notes. But the pork belly... it's truly worth mentioning again how good it is - having had it, I now can't imagine any ramen without it!

If you’re really hungry and don’t think that a huge bowl of ramen is enough food, you can ask for “Kae-Dama” – if you time it properly and finish your noodles about halfway through your soup, you can ask for an extra order of noodles to finish off the broth. I couldn't possibly eat two orders of noodles without hurting myself, but Ippudo is so good, I want to try!

I'd need to go back to Momofuku to double-check, but I think the pork buns and the ramen are better at Ippudo - it’s a fantastic meal, and I can't wait to go back! If only they could do something about the 90-minute wait during the dinner rush…


  1. Wow, this sounds amazing. I love noodle soup. Not just japanese ramen. All kinds of them. I wish I still live in new york. There are so many great restaurants there. But Vancouver isn't too bad. I like it here too. Thanks for sharing. Great review.

  2. I love Ippudo, and I think the broth is better at Ippudo than Momofuku. The pork buns are a tough call, they are both so good!

  3. I don't know.

    I thought Ippudo was as close to a salt bomb as you can imagine. I found myself reaching for a glass of water every other second. Intense porky broth but the sodium was off the charts.

    Minca remains my go-to place for ramen with Momofuku Noodle Bar a close second.