Our destination? Ippudo, the Japanese ramen import unlike any other ramen joint run in the city. For one, the space is enormous. Cavernous might be more accurate. There's nothing delicate or subtle about the decor, a high-ceilinged, mirrored, red and black monstrosity that must seat over 150 noodle-slurpers, easy.
Weird noodle sculptures and rhinestone hanging artwork abound, but, let's be honest, no one comes for the bad Asian decor. We're here for the noodles, bowls and bowls of the hand-cut variety. Ippudo's menu has grown since its inception last spring, but the focus remains: If you go, it's gotta be ramen.
So ramen it was, though we started the meal with gently fried shisito peppers that came with fresh lemons and a lemon salt for dipping. Shisito peppers are mild and you can often swallow them whole. But the spicy ones, few and far between, are considered good luck in Japanese culture. It was my good fortune, then, to encounter a piping hot little sucker, only one on a plate of ten. It was as fiery as a jalapeno. The waitress laughed and told me I'd have good luck. I could probably use it.
Then the ramen arrived, giant hot bowls filled with noodles and broth. My friend ordered a shrimp ramen special, a shrimp stock with fresh noodles garnished with shrimp and bamboo. I ordered the spicy tonkatsu ramen, filled with ground and sliced pork, a roasted pork bone broth, julienned wood's ear mushrooms, and chili paste. Traditional ramen arrives with a sesame seed grinder designed to garnish any soup with fresh ground seeds. It made the broth nutty. Fresh noodles like this are springy and toothsome, making the average eater wonder why anyone would ever settle for dried ramen sold at dollar stores for 30 cents a package.
We slurped our soups to the sorry bottoms. In Japan, it's considered appropriate and respectful to slurp and drink your last drop. Wide spoons and spoon rests are provided for such glorious slurping. The saddest part of the day was when we reached the bottoms of our bowls.
But we'll be back. Salty divine ramen like that can't keep me at bay long.
65 4th Avenue
New York, NY 10003