February 10th, 2009 § 6 comments

People regularly ask me to name my favorite restaurant. Maybe it’s my indecisive Libra nature, but I experience some degree anguish trying to name a favorite anything. Favorite food? Forget it. Favorite foods, plural? Maybe we can talk.

I’ve eaten at Ippudo at least a dozen times since my first visit last September. The total would be higher if I hadn’t been away much of the fall and Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I’m there, slurping up noodles, all I can think about is when I’ll be able to come back. It’s a weekly thing now.

Does this mean it’s my favorite restaurant? I’d say it’s one of my favorites, right now, and that’s about as committed a statement you’ll ever get from me on this topic.

Ippudo, in case you don’t know, is famous for ramen. Actually a chain in Japan, the Fourth avenue location is the first U.S. branch. In Japan, ramen is serious business, an object of worship, a subject of debate, a hotbed of secrecy. Chefs there develop a signature style, go to great lengths to hide their recipes, and gain devout followings. Ippudo’s founder, Shigemi Kawahara, is known in Japan as “The Ramen King.”

I can’t tell you if Ippudo serves the greatest ramen in the world, but I can tell you that it’s delicious. Because I’m prone to food ruts, I almost always order the spicy tonkotsu version. Tonkotsu is an intense, cloudy pork broth, and this one comes as hot as you like it, the red chili oil pooled on the surface. A few slices of roast Berkshire pork, scallions and cabbage complete the dish. The akamaru modern is my second choice, and miso lovers will love the nutty, mellow miso ramen.

I’ve walked right in at lunchtime, but in the evening there is always a wait. If there’s a hypo-glycemic emergency at hand, they offer a few snacks at the bar: fried shishito peppers, crispy chicken wings with a sticky black pepper glaze, pork buns, or edamame. In the dining room, the appetizer choices broaden, though this brings up my only disappointment with Ippudo: They don’t serve gyoza.

On my last visit, the couple across the table from me was served their ramen, but one of the pair had just left for the restroom. Seconds later, a concerned manager came over to ask the woman where her friend was.

“Um, he just went to the bathroom,” she replied, a little baffled by the intrusion.

“Okay, because, you know, the noodles need to be eaten,” said the manager, in a grave tone. Noodles have needs!

All of this is to say that Ippudo does not do take out. You aren’t even allowed to take your leftovers home. It’s a quality control thing. Deal with it.

Eating ramen is a two-handed affair. Hold the chopsticks in your dominant hand and the big spoon in the other, and lean forward to minimize the distance between your face and the bowl. Slurping is encouraged. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

But then, I’ve had a little practice lately.

Ippudo 65 4th Ave (at E. 10th), New York, NY,(212) 388-0088 No reservations.

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