The one bad thing about having tried Ippudo ramen in New York City is that no ramen experience in Chicago will ever be the same again. That is, until Ippudo decides to open a branch in Chicago. We are hopeful.
We touched down at La Guardia airport at 9pm on a Friday, got into our town car service and headed straight to our hotel to check-in. By 10:30pm, we arrived at Ippudo. Not surprisingly, we were told it was about an hour wait for our table. The bar was bopping and people were gathered all around the counter top with their drinks while also waiting to be seated.
Standing at the bar with our drinks in hand wasn't at all a bad idea as we were entertained by the very ramen-like atmosphere of Ippudo. Uncooked squares of ramen noodle were encased at the counter top. The only thing that separated our drinks (and hands) from the ramen noodle was a layer of protective glass. Hanging on the red wall was a myriad of ramen bowls with different colors and designs. To pass time, we ended up trying to guess which bowl was the other person's favorite.
My choice of Ippudo nigori sake was definitely an excellent start. Unlike other nigori (unfiltered sake) I've tasted, this particular Ippudo nigori had a mildly sweet taste to it. I really liked the slight hint of sweet surprise in the nigori at Ippudo. Staying true the characteristics of an unfiltered sake, my nigori had tiny bits of sediments at each sip. Another winning aspect was how Ippudo served my sake, which was the correct way of serving sake. My sake glass was placed in a square box and as the bartender poured my sake from the bottle into my glass, she let the sake fill the glass to the brim and then continued pouring and letting extra sake flow into the black box. That, according to a friend who once owned a Japanese restaurant, is a sign of generosity in Japanese culture. The person, whom the sake is served to, is supposed to drink up the sake that has flowed and collected inside the square box after the glass of sake is finished. T, of course, got the Sapporo beer.
The ramen at Ippudo was mind blowing, and I say this with no intention of exaggeration. The tonkatsu-flavored (pork) broth of the Akamaru ramen was so intensely flavorful that I didn't want my ramen journey to end. The flavor was deep and smooth but not salty. It came topped with a dollop of reddish miso paste, thin chasiu pork slices, scallions, sesame mushroons, and garlic oil. For an added charge, I opted for the nitamago which a soft boiled egg which was prepared to perfection: solid egg white, but runny yolk. The noodle were slippery, smooth, thin, and floury.
As a sign of how much T loved his Kasane ramen that was on special, he slurped up all his noodles and before I even noticed it he was already signalling the server to place an extra order of noodle to add to the remaining broth. You can do that at Ippudo by mentioning to the server that you would like kae-dama, and to which several minutes latre she will bring you an extra plate of noodles to put in the remaining broth in the bowl. The broth was a combination of tonkatsu (pork) and chicken base, flavored with black garlic oil.
I still think about the tako wasabi. The petite bowl of raw octopus was addictive with its fresh wasabi root flavor. Although tako is commonly served as sushi, they are always somewhat cooked in texture at Japanese restaurants. At Ippudo, the tako wasabi dish is unique because it comes with raw octopus. It was slippery and a little chewy but we loved every bit of it. After a meal, each table is served complimentary green tea.
For now, we continue to be hopeful that Ippudo opens a branch in Chicago. If not, the next time we fly to Manhattan, we'd be sure to make Ippudo our first stop after the airport and hotel, again.
65 Fourth Ave
New York, NY 10003
New York, NY 10003