W Magazine article during the play ‘Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner’
I had my little joke on friend Joe Dee when I sent my restaurant spy into SaZa Pizza without warning. He got his comeuppance when I asked for a restaurant recommendation in New York. Don’t get me wrong – I will always entrust my taste buds to Joe, the man seriously knows food, but the TWO hour wait for a table at Ippudo definitely smacked of sweet revenge. Can any food really be worth that kind of wait? I wouldn’t normally find out, but Joe did leave several reminders on my facebook page, so I had a feeling the answer was “yes”, plus there were hoards of other people waiting too.

Chefs in action at Ippudo

Why Ippudo (downtown in New York’s East Village) will allow you to make a walk-in reservation a few hours in advance, but not a phone reservation still eludes me. Don’t they know how impossible it is to get a taxi in New York City when the UN is in session, let alone two? Perhaps not, since this is the first US location for the chain by Japan’s reigning king of ramen, Shigemi Kawahara, even though it has been open for two years now.

Hirata Chicken Wings with Ippudo Black Pepper Sauce
If looks could kill, I would be dead by way of the angry glare my best friend’s hungry husband shot me when (after the first hour of waiting) I stubbornly refused to go elsewhere. Feeling a little guilty, I sprang for Hirata chicken wing appetizers which proved to be a tasty offering from the culinary Gods piquing his oral curiosity enough to stay.

Tori Karaage: crispy marinated fried chicken serves with spicy chili & sweet mayo

Famished, therefore oblivious to the ceremonial Japanese phrase (most likely translated, “look, a few more chumps that waited for two hours”) shouted as we entered the dining room, we got a little carried away ordering numerous first courses. Ippudo is no ordinary ramen noodle palace. The first hint? Specialties like Philly Cheese Steak Spring Rolls (sorry, we gobbled them up too fast for a photo), Tori Karaage above,

Beni Imo Chips: homemade red sweet potato chips with Saiko miso and mascarpone cheese,

Hirata Buns: here with pork belly that melted in your mouth,

 

… and Angel Shrimp Isobeage: skewers of ground shrimp and scallops fried with a seaweed and sesame batter dipped in wasabi mayo sauce. My light weight friends were too full after all that, but I paced myself with just a small taste of everything, determined to experience the ramen noodles made fresh daily on the premises. After all, it is what the joint is famous for!

The waiters must secretly wet themselves laughing over the western patrons struggling to come to grips with the two gangly porcelain spoons and chop sticks that accompany the huge bowls of ramen filled soup. In theory you are meant to use the chopsticks to grab some of the noodles with a chunk of meat and vegetable, twirl the noodles around, and use the smaller of the two spoons to catch any drippings underneath. The larger porcelain spoon is meant to be a table rest for the used smaller spoon in between bites.

Akamura Modern: the original tonokotsu’ soup noodle with Ippudo’s special sauce, pork belly, chashu, cabbage, kikurage, scallions, miso paste, and fragrant garlic oil

While great for parties, they have huge square tables available to accommodate large groups, Ippudo would not be my first choice for a romantic dinner for two. I couldn’t shove the rich flavorful broth, tender yet perfectly chewy noodles, and succulent Berkshire pork into my face fast enough while making a very unladylike spectacle of myself, refusing to concede chopstick defeat when the waiter politely offered me a fork.

A very full Jewels

I was too full for Kae-dama, ‘a system that offers you an extra serving of noodles. When you have almost finished your first serving of noodles, order by saying, “Kae-dama, please”. In a few minutes the server will bring you another ‘ball of noodles’, and put it in the soup. At that time, you must have enough amount of the soup in the bowl to accommodate the new noodles, that is, you shouldn’t drink much of the soup if you are going to order the Kae-dama.’ However, I did not have enough leftovers to ask for a doggy bag either, something that is apparently considered bad form in ramen noodle restaurants much to the dismay of American customers.

Matcha Brulee: green tea flavored creme brulee with gelato

Miraculously all three of us found room for dessert. My friend Swish and I were intrigued by the green tea creme brulee topped with green tea gelato. I’m sure somewhere in my twisted little brain I believed the green tea, known to aid in weight loss, would magically restrict the calories. It was excellently executed, but I remembered that I am not a big fan of green tea. The calorie restriction worked, albeit not as expected, since one bite was enough for me.

Lady M Mille Crepe Cake: crepe cake served with berry drizzle

On the other hand, I could have inhaled the Lady M mille crepe cake that Swish’s husband ordered. Still angry over my insisting we wait so long for dinner, I was thankfully only allotted one bite of the heavenly pillows of whipped cream billowing from very thin layers of moist cake with a hint of chocolate and burst of strawberry. Once satiated, he did return to his usual jovial self, and all was forgiven.

Moral of the story: Ippudo is well worth the effort, but not recommended during peak dinner hours unless you are an exceptionally patient person or live nearby so you can come in to reserve a table a few hours in advance. Dinner was delicious and very reasonably priced.

Ippudo
65 Fourth Avenue
(between 9th and 10th streets)
(212) 388-0088


What culinary adventures have you been on lately? Have you stepped outside your norm and tried something new?
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