|The New York Times|
Up and down Japan, Ippudo ramen shops are renowned for their tonkotsu broth, the richest style of this noodle soup. What French fonds de veau is to veal, tonkotsu is pork.
The purest expression of tonkotsuism can now be found at the company's first extranational outpost, Ippudo NY on Fourth Avenue in the East Village, in a bowl of its flagship soup, shiromaru NY ramen.
The broth is the color of bones, with a meaty smoky, even nutty flavor. It's sparingly garnished with a little fatty pork, some sliced scallions and a few cabbage leaves: a pleasingly austere accent for such an unctuous, rich broth.
The akamaru modern ramen builds on the shiromaru template to make a bowl of noodle soup about as good as any in the city. There are the same noodles, same broth, but with more going on in the bowl. A dash of garlickly oil, a soyish splash, a few more veggies set off an umami bomb in a bowl.
Ippudo also offers miso ramen that delivers plenty of nutty, sweet miso flavor, and shoyu (soy sauce) ramen that are a tad one-note. Shoyu is like that: it will take over if you let it.
But both soups are tasty alternatives to sample on a third or fourth trip to Ippudo, after you've spent some quality time with the shiromaru and akamaru ramen soups.
As for the ramen itself, every noodle in every bowl of soup I slurped ― particularly the spagettini-size strands in the shiromaru and akamaru ― was cooked perfectly al dente. (And in a move that would make Mister Rogers proud, the machine that makes those noodles has been put on display in the basement, through a window slashed into a wall of the downstairs kitchen.)
A good number of dishes are on the menu in addition to the ramen, some of which flop, like the almost completely flavorless take on caprese salad, while others soar, like a bubbling hot pot of tofu and pork in a dark, complex, lightly spicy sauce.
As a rule, the more traditional-style dishes ― like a peculiarly appealing sweet rendition of dashimaki tamago, a rolled omelet flavored with dashi and mirin ― bested the nouveau dishes (though a special of fried shrimp with a Caesar-like mayonnaise-based dressing did impress).
Unlike most ramen shops around town, Ippudo's a looker, with a design scheme that feels like a stage set, maybe for a samurai battle in an evil shogun's futuristic fun house.
Mirrors are deployed to good and sometimes disorienting effect throughout. Oversize murals ― one huge one of Japanese calligraphy, another of Japanese warriors ― abound.
The restaurant is shaped like a horseshoe. You enter through the bar area at the top left of the U (where you cool your heels for a while waiting for a table unless you go on a weekday for lunch). Then you walk through a hallway into the main dining room, where shouting cooks work in an open kitchen, adding to the visual chaos and to the cacophony of the nu-metal music blaring through a tinny sound system. Round the corner is a narrow hallwaylike space with some extra tables: ramenya Siberia.
Siberia or not, loathsome music or (preferably) not, the soup is always on point: the noodles are always cooked right, and the tonkotsu broth is unwaveringly flavor-packed.
A "mecca" for "mouthwatering" "hand-pulled ramen" (including the "extra-flavorful" tonkotsu variety), this "groovy" East Village branch of a Japanese chain supplies "soul-warming" slurps for "light" tabs; just use your noodle and "get there early" because "extreme popularity" spells "absurd waits." (New York City Restaurants 2010)
Famed for its "silky" signature tonkotsu ramen, this "real-deal" East Village link of a Japanese chain is the latest contender for the title of "Noodle Heaven"; "inexpensive" costs and a "cool" setting make it a "force to be reckoned with", hence the "long waits." (New York City Restaurants 2009)