65 4th Avenue
New York, NY 10003-5220
The New York City arrival of the Hakata style Ramen temple, Ippudo, really signified to me the just how wide spread the ramen invasion was in North America. While ramen had been gaining in popularity on the West Coast for quite some time, especially in Asian strongholds like Los Angeles, San Jose, and Vancouver, it didnt seem to have the wide spread appeal that sushi did. Even with something like David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, it could be written off as an anomaly. Not anymore – thankfully, it looks ramen is here to stay.
Ippudo is a ramen chain started by Shigemi Kawahara, the “Ramen King” of Japan. King or not, he has definitely been credited with many advances, and pushing the envelope with the art of ramen – a modern, yet traditional approach to ramen. Each Ippudo location takes advantage of regional differences and produces a slightly different variation of their ramen – offered in addition to their traditional tonkotsu offering. In New York, that offering is the Akamaru Modern.
For more details on Hakata style ramen, please see Shokutsu’s description in his Menya review.
Once you get in, usually taking 30-90 minutes these days, you’ll be seated in a modern, understated environment. It is comfortable, and far larger than Kawahara’s original 10 seater in Fukuoka.
There is a diverse variety of appetizers available – a lot more than the traditional gyoza offerings. While many sound appetizing, to be honest, I’ve only tried the one. Hirata BBQ pork buns. Chinese steam bun meets house made chasu, sauce, with a touch of lettuce and mayo. These are amazing. While steep in price, they are worth every penny. Many people prefer Momofuku’s, but I like these better. The chasu is cooked perfectly, fat rendered gelatinous, and extremely flavourful. Not too sweet, they have a very well balanced flavour – earthy, sweet, unctuous.
The aforementioned Akamaru Modern is Ippudo’s adaptation of their traditional Hakata Ramen offering for the New York market. Their somewhat mild, and “cleaner” tonkotsu soup, hakata style noodles, a dollop of rich chili paste, chasu, miso paste, fragrant garlic oil, cabbage, onions, kikurage, and scallions. It offers a wonderful broth – with their signature light touch on the richness of a traditional tonkotsu broth. I actually prefer a slightly richer broth, but this is definitely more easily eaten, and likely much healthier than the very rick tonkotsu broths i prefer. The chasu is a great blend of berkshire fat and meat – great texture and flavour the accentuates the experience without getting lost in the bowl. The noodles are very good as well – they may lack a bit of bite i’ve noticed with most Hakata noodles, but these had a good blend of toothsome, with a touch of chewiness. The lack of bite and flour-like texture are a common complaint, and is discernible – but I’m not enough of an expert to appreciate the differences, and like these noodles just fine.
Ippudo offers Kaedama with all of their ramen. Since I can’t describe it any better than rameniac, (rameniac.com), I’ll use his words to explain it:
Kaedama means “extra noodles” in Japanese. Ordering kaedama is a pasttime that originated with the Hakata style of ramen, in which portion sizes are traditionally smaller.
Since I’ve never mastered getting all the noodles and soup finished at the same time, I usually run out of noodles. Kaedama is a great offering for people like me.
I’ve also had their traditional offering, the Akamaru Hakata Classic. It comes with a poached egg, beni shoga, sesame, and scallions. While i love the poached egg, I have to say, out of the two, I definitely prefer the Modern. The classic uses the same broth, which lacks some of the richness and depth the Modern has put back in the lighter broth by adding sauce, garlic, and the miso. It is still a great bowl of ramen though.
All told, if you are a ramen fan, then Ippudo is worth a visit. Like pizza, everyone has a different preference for what they like, which can change day to day. They offer a very solid foundation with their light-medium tonkotsu broth – still loaded with flavour, but without the rich, fatty depth of a more traditional tonkotsu broth. The noodles are good, and the toppings are top notch – fresh, tasty, and well proportioned. Even if your preferences are for different ramen styles, you’ll still enjoy Ippudo. And really, any establishment that puts that kind of care and attention to detail into their food deserves a visit – and hopefully, raises the bar for other ramenya to follow. All hail the king in NYC – Ippudo.