Friday, July 17, 2009

Great Find: Ippudo's Unforgettable Pork Belly

Last night, Book Babe and I went to Ippudo, the Japanese ramen chain that opened a while back on 4th Ave and 10th St. In the past, the long lines snaking around the side of the entrance deterred me, but last night, at 6 pm, we were able to get in without a wait. Check out this bar made out of ramen noodles. What a hoot!

First off, I have to say I had a minor celebrity sighting -- Govind Armstrong, celebrity chef and owner of Table 8 - walked past me - he's hard to miss with his streaming dreadlocks- and if he's eating there, you know it's got to be good.

Okay, so the decor wasn't quite what I expected. Ippudo's stylish, but it's doesn't feel very minimalist or natural, the way you expect Japanese restaurants to be. It's loud and crazy and kinda rock and roll.We were sat at this sort of fake-fire-pit-bar thing, at the back of which was mirrored glass, which I was facing straight on. It was quite distracting. Here's a photo:The noise in the place also gets a bit crazy, with all the ramen guys shouting "Irashaiiii!!" every time someone enters the dining room and a pretty large dining room full of chatter, but the service is fast and friendly, and most importantly the food is good.

We started with the Hirata Buns, slabs of succulent melt-in-your mouth pork belly and some lettuce and sweet sauce that complements the salty pork perfectly, all slipped into a mantou bun.

Now for the ramen. As far as ramen places go, Ippudo's difference is their tonkastsu broth, made by slowly boiling pork bones, giving it a rich, almost nutty texture. Their handmade ramen noodles are thin and light, not like the greasy, plump curly kind you get freeze-dried in the supermarket. It takes a moment to get used to, but once you're a few bites in, your taste buds are doing a happy dance.

I had the classic choice - the Shiromaru, and Book Babe had the Akamaru Modern. Both come with a couple slices of that wonderful pork belly that was also in the buns. I had half a boiled egg and some pickled ginger in mine. The Modern had some cabbage, I think, but the main difference between the two is the Modern has a squirt of "special sauce" - maybe the same special sauce in the buns? - and some oil and miso paste, giving it a richer flavor and creamier texture. But the Shiromaru was perfect for me that night, as I wanted something lighter.

But that pork - boy, I couldn't get it off my mind. I'm definitely going back.

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