Ippudo — New York, New York

Slurping up a great ramen broth while sitting in a restaurant filled with slim-hipped hipsters from the East Village* could be a mixed bag. But in this case it was a pleasure. The hipsters were slightly more interested in the food than themselves, and anyone who is interested in eating is, at the very least, tolerable in small doses. The aggressively friendly and insistent waiters kept the dose small indeed. They weren’t rude or obnoxious, but they were certainly focused on turning tables. And at these prices I can understand why.

We had three appetizers at first, but couldn’t resist the pork buns and ordered another round of those. Two bowls of ramen, six beers, and the bill was less than $100, including a large tip.  We ordered two of the appetizers off of the specials menu, but when I return I will stick to the less expensive regular menu. The Smoked Duck With Basil Sauce was good, but overpriced at $12 for six or seven small, thin slices of duck. The Rice Ball and Unagi (eel) just missed, but was fun. Imagine a chunk of cheese in the middle of a rice ball, topped with a very nice piece of smoked eel, all swimming in a nice light broth. Weird, interesting, but ultimately not a keeper.

The buns were another thing entirely. Ah, the buns. The buns. Just wonderful. In my youth I would go to whatever Chinatown was near and pick up Char Su Bao, or steamed buns stuffed with pork. Usually the bun dwarfed the pork, and often the bun was dry and chalky. But they were insanely cheap, so I ignored the variable quality. Ippudo’s version is nothing like the typical stuff found at every Dim Sum parlor in the world. The buns were ethereally light, perfectly fresh and tender, and delicately flavored. The pork was lightly sauced with something that they cleverly call “Spicy Buns Sauce.” And there was some kind of green stuff in there too, but I ate them so quickly that I didn’t get a good look. But it was good.

But what of the ramen? Pretty damned good. I ordered their classic ramen with Berkshire pork and a bunch of other stuff that was excellent. The broth was intensely flavored, but not particularly fatty, and that is a challenge for any cook. One of the garnishes was a hard-boiled egg, and that did not make me happy, but more on that later. My dinner companion (that sounds so mysterious! It isn’t. She was my sister). had a similar ramen, but it was made with a darker broth, included a fish cake, and was glazed with a layer of oil. The broth was spectacular! Better than the original, with an interesting note of peanut and miso.

The only disappointing note, aside from the thoroughly pedestrian beer (why can’t the Japanese make good beer?), was the egg garnish. This dishes cries out for a gently poached or fried egg, or even — dare I suggest it in more than a whisper — a raw egg! I’m not particularly worried about Salmonella, and I would happily sign a waiver, giving up all rights to sue for $100,000,000 for slight gastrointestinal upset. But even with a silly hard-boiled egg, this restaurant is a delight — fun, relaxed, interesting looking, and best of all, great food. Oh, there is parking in the neighborhood!

*The web-site is pathetic. Unless you read Japanese, in which case I have no idea. It might still be pathetic in Kanji.

10 Replies to “Ippudo — New York, New York”

  1. How do their pork buns compare to those at Momofuku…which many folks would claim is the gold standard? Sapporo doesn’t completely suck if you can find it on tap.

  2. I have never had the buns at Momofuku, and as I write that I realize how ashamed I am.

    But you are incorrect Lt. Spunkmeyer, Sapporo is always crap — tap or bottle, cold or warm, fresh or stale.

  3. I know someone who often eats at the upscale Momofuku where an entire pig is served with buns…perhaps he can get you a seat.

  4. I had a “frito pie” at a carnivale in Texas a few months ago. It was about what you would expect: a paper boat of Fritos covered in warm chili and diced onions. It is esten with the hands. Disgusting, messy, and delicious.

  5. I went to Ippudo last night and I found the pork buns to be superior to those at Momofuku: the same Berkshire pork but more of it, on a larger bun (same pillowy texture as the Momo bun), no distracting cucumber slices (just a crisp piece of lettuce) and best of all a dollop of a very spicy mayonnaise. And about 2/3 the price! And Sapporo on tap! I will be going back. My companion was on the “noodle program” wherein they continue to ladle noodles into your ramen at $2 a pop…although they are careful to warn you to keep enough broth or you don’t get your extra noodles (shades of soup Nazi)…she ate so much she was groaning in the car.

  6. I have been twice, and I plan to make it a regular stop on my quest for more pork fat in my diet. Those buns really are good. The Kae-dama is a great deal, but the portion I tried was a bit undercooked. When they put the noodles into the initial serving of ramen, the broth is so hot that it continues to cook the noodles. But when they serve an additional portion, the broth has cooled enough to requitre that the extra noodles be a bit more cooked, and their kitchen hasn’t mastered that.

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