backstrEATS at a glance:
65 4th Ave (between 9th St & 10th St)
New York, NY 10003 Tel: (212) 388-0088
Neighborhood: East Village
Subway Guide: Astor Place (6), 8th St-Broadway (R, W), 3rd Ave-14th St (L)
Mon-Sat 11 am – 3:30 pm
Sun 11 am – 10:30 pm
Mon-Thu 5 pm – 11:30 pm
Fri-Sat 5 pm – 12:30 am
Atmosphere and Attire: Like a micro cosmopolitan right in the heart of NYC’s East Village, the atmosphere is boisterous and warm despite its modern chic decor. From suits to jeans, casual and dressy mingle freely.
Seating: It’s not a hole in the wall, but the seating is limited due to its popularity. The restaurant’s seating is more of a family style… with many large tables for many groups to sit together and some small private tables in the back.
Cost: Moderately expensive. Appetizers average around $8-9 with entrees (ramen) at $13-15. Drinks will be the killer though… so stick with water if you can. Soft drinks are $3 a pop (Ha!) Average alcoholic drink will be $9-10. $25-30 easy for total bill and perhaps tip.
Coke products: Yes! (I’d be so upset if they charged me $3 for Pepsi.) But NO REFILLS!
Notable things around it: Strand Bookstore, Union Square’s Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, All the lovely stores on St. Mark’s Place St.
Important Notes: There is a small shallow step to get into the restaurant for the people in wheelchairs. But the restaurant will assist you in any way they can. Inside may be a bit cramped but is manageable. I am unsure if the bathrooms are wheelchair accessible though. Call ahead if necessary! Credit Cards accepted. No reservations, take out or delivery.
Some people’s food cravings are effected by their moods. For me, it’s the weather. It will be a warm summer’s eve and all I yearn for is a slightly burnt plump sausage with a bit of hot mustard and diced onions. (Ok.. and a little bit of ketchup too. I know the entire population of Chicago’s hot dog lovers are throwing buns at their computer screens right now. Sue me. I grew up with ketchup on my dog.)
Fall to early winter is by far my favorite weather and thus my favorite food season. The sky is painted a brilliant hue of blue that appears almost animated. The crispness of the air rejuvenates you while the sun warms and relaxes you. This time of year makes me yearn for the hot street foods that I happily experienced when I was in Korea. Strolling down the street flanked by Ginko trees, I would be stopped by the various aromas from the food stalls that served hot odeng/eomuk (fishcake) soup, ramen, and steamed dumplings. Mmmm… that’s what I wanted on a particularly beautiful afternoon in NYC: a nice hot bowl of noodles, more particularly ramen. I read and researched. I tabulated and weighed the options. In the end, I made my journey to the kingdom of Shigemi Kawahara, the Ramen King.
In what is claimed to be the oldest city in Japan, Hakata Ippudo first opened in the Daimyo District of Chuo Ward in Fukuoka city on October 16th, 1985 by Mr. Shigemi Kawahara. It was not Kawahara’s first restaurant endeavor, but the state of the Kyushu ramen industry proved unstable during the opening of his first ramen noodle shop. He promptly named the restaurant Ippudo, which translates to ‘one wind hall’. He hoped that the restaurant would bring about the winds of change and revolutionize the era… of ramen. The first Ippudo restaurant was very small with only 10 seats to start. But like any successful business, they grew into over 50 restaurants in Japan with two international outposts, one in New York and the other in Singapore. With its success, Ippudo became apart of the Chikaranomoto Company founded on October 30th, 1986 with Kawahara as the president. With the motto, “Keep changing to remain unchanged”, Ippudo still strives to come up with new innovative ways to keep their customers hungry for more.
Located in one of the more popular districts for food, Ippudo nestles comfortably in the East Village quite close to Union Square. There are many side stores, funky cafés and shopping opportunities in this area. If you’re brave enough to deal with the crowds, the farmer’s market is a must try and one of my favorite Saturday activities. Tons of local farmers and artists flog their ware in Union Square. There are lots of samples too! Ippudo is also close to one of my favorite places in New York, Strand Bookstore. You can spend countless hours in this famous used bookstore with its 18 miles of books. They have great books at unbeatable prices that are usually in top condition! The location is great in my book!
Ambiance and Service:
I’ll be honest. I will wait for good food. Granted, I don’t think I would wait for more than 4 hours… (after all I am hungry when I go on these food adventures) but I always make an effort to come before the usual lunch rush or during the normal “slow” periods of the restaurant (i.e. Monday afternoons). It was a Saturday when I went to Ippudo but I figured that since it was 2:40 p.m. it wouldn’t be as long of a wait as all the reviews declared it would be. To my surprise, my “Table for one. Bar seating is fine.” was replied with “It’s a 20-30 minute wait, is that ok?” I nodded and took a seat among the giddy couples, groups of business men, and fellow foodies waiting.
There was enough to entertain my eyes as well as my nose while I waited. In the “courtyard” of Kawahara’s kingdom, a giant fiery orb hovers over the bartender’s island where customers enjoy a pre-lunch/dinner drink. Kudos to the designer who thought of this layout. Behind the island is one of the many eye catching aspects of Ippudo’s interior. The wall of bowls. Like a foodie’s work of art, the bowls are hung in rows of varying sizes and colors and supported by a strikingly red background.
The host finally called my name and led me down a short hallway and to my surprised announced my arrival. True story. Now, I’m not fluent in Japanese… only knowing a few phrases from Japanese films I used to watch when I was young. My host shouted something in Japanese and everyone from the kitchen staff to the servers chimed in “irashaimase“, which means welcome.
The interior is gorgeous. Wood and stone are the main theme with red,black, and white accents. My favorite decorative piece of Ippudo was the bamboo “tree” in the middle of the restaurant. It actually reminded me of a bamboo tea whisk that they used in Japanese tea ceremonies. Except the ends of this “whisk” were not connected. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the entire interior in the restaurant as my seat was at the bar in front of the chefs. But the view was just as entertaining.
Despite the chaos of lunch rush, my host was extremely polite. He pulled out my chair and help me into it. Score one for chivalry. From my seat, I watched the chefs rush back and forth with hot pans and sharp knives like a well choreographed dance. Most of them were dressed in I ♥ Ramen t-shirts, which I thought was awesome. On the left of me was the head chef pouring hot noodles into various bowls with his assistant mixing the noodles into the broth with long, bright red chopsticks. Servers stood in front waiting to garnish each bowl. The chef would nod to signify that the bowl was ready at which the server would once again say something in Japanese and the entire crew would chime something back. (I really should have asked what they were saying.) Now, if you’re the type of person who likes a very quiet place to eat… Ippudo probably would not suit you on a busy day. But I will say that despite the constant stream of noise from the servers to the kitchen… I was able to enjoy an odd calming peace.
While I observed the sight happily, there was a gentle tap on my shoulder. As I turned, I was greeted with my server’s million dollar smile. I must take a second and say she is the best server I have encountered thus far on the east coast. I know I am unable to speak about the general service in one visit, however, all the runners of the food, the host, and the servers were super polite and very friendly. Each recommendation my server gave me was gold and I really hope that I have the pleasure of seeing her again on my next visit.
Buns. How I love thee. Let me count the ways. 24/7. 365. The “Hirata Buns” have a beautifully large piece of Berkshire pork belly with Asian mayo for a little twang and a sauce that added a very faint, spicy afterglow. The pork was tender and had just the right amount of fat to melt away in my mouth. All the ingredients were caught in the embrace of a fluffy white bun. It wasn’t like many pork buns I have tasted before. Most of them were on a slightly sweeter side. But, I really liked the change of pace. $8 is a little on the pricey side for these gems. Seeing how I was thoroughly distraught when I finished them, I would still definitely recommend getting them at least once.
For the main course, my server chose the Akamaru Modern. The description ”‘The original tonkotsu’ soup noodle with Ippudo’s special sauce, pork belly chashu, cabbage, kikurage, scallions, miso paste & fragrant garlic oil” seemed a bit of an understatement when she brought out the beautiful red bowl.
The broth was lovely and rich. The combination of the garlic oil and the miso paste just melded into a symphony of flavors. It was savory and hearty and definitely worth slurping my ramen loudly. Japanese etiquette, you know. If you’re not slurping, you’re being offensive to the chef. The noodles were perfectly cooked as well with just enough firmness to not become soggy in the hot broth. Bravo, your highness, bravo.
I decided to splurge that lovely day. I ordered mascarpone cheese and ice cream for dessert. In a word, B-E-A-UTIFUL. A delicate green tea ice cream, cylindrically shaped, was topped with mascarpone cheese, crushed pistachios, and chocolate shavings. All placed on top of a sweet trail of honey.
With a full belly and the giddiness one feels after great food, I took my leave of Kawahara’s kingdom. But before I left, I asked my server if she could tell me one thing that she feels was unique to Ippudo compared to all the other restaurants. She replied that Ippudo strives to get the best of everything, including hand selecting the managers and head chef from Japan and bringing them over to the United States. She points to the head chef who cheerfully waved at me with a ramen colander in hand. I smiled and gave a short bow to both of them. As all the servers and kitchen staff shouted their “goodbyes and thank yous”, I thought of how wonderful this food experience has been.
Damn. I should have taken a picture with the chef.
Until next time, lovely people, Eat On <3Tags: Berkshire Pork, East Village, food, Ippudo, New York, Noodles, Ramen, restaurants, Shigemi Kawahara, Slurp, Tonkotsu