So after more than 10 months since we first heard of their imminent arrival, the day finally came- Ippudo Ramen finally opened in NYC. I was first in line to get in and there was a Japanese camera crew on hand capturing the event, so maybe I’ll be on the Japanese evening news or something. As we entered we were boisterously greeted by every single staff member on the way to our seats, exactly like the restaurants in Japan we’ve been to. Very cool. I was with Rog and Lisa and we were led to one end of a long communal table near the open kitchen. Here was the view from our seats, with the camera crew peering into the kitchen:
I ordered two apps- a boneless fried chicken dish and a pork belly dish. The chunks of fried chicken were slightly sweet but not cloyingly so and was served with a salad featuring some julienned daikon. It was good, but nothing special considering the gourmet angle they were going for; not something I’d order again. The braised pork belly and daikon was a little better, but hey, it’s pork belly so how can you go wrong:
As our apps were being served, I spotted So-kun, the sushi trainee from Hajime, at another table and invited him to join us. As we were tucking into our apps, So was served his ramen. Within a minute, we had his verdict, “Better than Setagaya!”. Wow, bold statement! Now I couldn’t wait to see for myself. We finished our apps and our big bowls of ramen were promptly served. I ordered the Akamaru ramen pictured here:
The magic in Ippudo Ramen is in its soup. The moment you take your first sip the first thing you think is “wow, this is rich”. The soup has an almost milky texture, with very deep pork flavor and a heavy mouth-coating richness. It’s so delicious and so rich it almost tastes like it must be bad for you. The Akamaru is seasoned with a reddish sauce which adds extra dimensions of umami along with pleasant undertones of garlic. The pork slices were perfect- moist and fatty. The noodles themselves were very thin and perfectly cooked, staying separate and providing just enough firmness to the tooth so that chewing them felt substantial and satisfying. I really loved the whole composition and finished the entire bowl down to the very last drop of soup.
Meanwhile, Rog ordered the Shiromaru Classic, pictured here:
As you can pretty much tell by looking, it is the same, but without the Akamaru’s red sauce. The result is a much purer flavor of pork and the green vegetables within. The word that comes to mind is subtle, but it just seems completely incorrect to use that word when describing something that is still so unctuous. But somehow it’s true. Yes, when you lean over the bowl, you instantly get a huge, heady whiff of porky aroma, and yes, it’s still got the same incredibly rich mouth-feel as the Akamaru. But somehow, there are deeper pork nuances that you get in this Shiromaru, and the veggies in the soup have a much brighter character too. I liked it so much I ordered a bowl of Shiromaru after I finished my Akamaru. And yes, I finished that down to the last drop as well.
I really can’t decide whether I preferred the bolder Akamaru or the more restrained Shiromaru. While they both begin with the exact same pork broth, it’s amazing how different they become with the addition of that “special secret red sauce”. They are in fact so different that I think I like them equally well and it really depends what I’m in the mood for. And as for the next obvious question- which is better between Ippudo and Setagaya? Well, I think that gets the same answer too, because the styles are so different it’s really not a sensible comparison. If you’re in the mood for something really hearty, Setagaya can’t hold a candle to Ippudo. But if you’re feeling something a bit lighter, Ippudo can’t compete because that’s not what they’re about. One thing that is a real shame is that Ippudo didn’t open three months ago because this type of soup is absolutely perfect winter time food. And I think ultimately that’s how my ramen habits will be dictated- Ippudo for cold-weather months and Setagaya the rest of the year.