Friday, December 5, 2008

A Long Way For Soup

65 4th Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 388-0088
3 Grains of Rice

Ok, you’ve read the blog and know I am cuckoo for Ramen noodles. I flew to Japan for a ramen fest a few months back and recently had to go to NYC for business. I went up the day before so I could grab a bowl before my lunch meeting. After a little bit of web searching, I settled on the newly opened branch of the Japanese chain Ippudo.

I arrived exactly at 11am – opening time and was not even the first person in the joint. All Japanese. So far, so good. Reassuring, but immediately I knew this was not a basic Japanese ramen joint. In Japan, Ramen is basic food – salary man stuff. In NY, ramen becomes a Zen experience. Normally I like Zen experiences, but this was a little off putting. Very nice raw wood décor, glass kitchen area, etc. But in the end, Ramen is about the soup, not the décor – which is why most Japanese ramen places look like holes in the wall. The holier, the better.

I decided to start with the Hirata buns on my brother in law’s recommendation and I have to say – for a ramen place – this place has awesome buns. These were fluffy while Japanese bao folded over onto a slice of Berkshire pork, pickled cabbage and a tangy, spicy, snappy BBQ sauce. They were as light as pillows, but made my mouth water and my lips tingle. A nice little touch of heat added to the pleasure of these little heavenly morsels of porky goodness.

Onto the soup. I order the house special – ShiroMaru Hakata Classic Ramen. It was basically a miso broth with a nice few slices of Berkshire pork, bamboo shoot slices, half a hard boiled egg, some sesame seeds and strips of nori sheets. Now, the broth makes ramen and this broth was terrific. Very rich, not overly salty and full of flavor. Not from a little packet to be sure. But the noodles were wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I have noodles like these in my cabinet back home.

They are thin, machine made, white flour noodles. They had a little bite to them but they are not the noodles I like or that I get in Japan. They are boiled, not fried and therefore add no grease or fat to the broth. They should look like this.

So, it was not a resounding success. Now don’t get me wrong. I will probably go back just for the buns – they were that good. But having had Ramen a few times in NY, I would rather hit Rai Rai Ken or Sapporo in midtown for the soup before heading back to Ippudo. It wasn’t bad – and the buns put it over the top but a ramen place should have ramen nailed and this was not to my personal preferences.