With an hour still to go before the doors opened, a line of about 50 deep had already formed along the 1st Avenue sidewalk leading to Momofuku Noodle Bar. “Good, I’m not the only crazy person here,” I chuckled to the man in red. “Oh no, those guys in the front were here since noon, ” he replied.
Truthfully, I had kind of hoped for this situation. I knew that anyone who would stand in line for a bowl of noodle soup on a sweltering summer afternoon was probably someone who could relate well to my ramen obsession.
But we weren’t here for David Chang’s standard Momofuku fare. This evening was the New York coming out party for Ivan Orkin of Tokyo’s Ivan Ramen and Ivan Ramen Plus. The best analogy I can come up with is that this is the ramen equivalent of The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. There’s a twist (and shout?), though. Ivan is a Long Island-native transplant to Japan, where he trained to become a ramen chef and serves up fresh interpretations of classics like shio (salt) ramen to a local crowd probably unaware of the Jewish comfort food influence lurking in their bowls (think rye flour in the noodles and schmaltz in the broth). The fact that Ivan is one of the few foreign ramen chefs in Japan, period, is something that distinguishes his profile there, yet this is dwarfed by the fact that he just makes amazingly good food. In the not distant future, New Yorkers will be blessed with a permanent Orkin outpost, as Ivan is in the midst of preparations to open his newest location here in the city.
First things first, though. While a Sapporo or Kirin generally goes well with most any ramen, I figured I had already dehydrated too much for a real beer, so opted for something PG rated.
I made it in for the first seating. I tried my best to ignore the faces peering in through the window on my left side.
I’m pretty short, so even sitting up on a bar stool I had to try my luck with a rock concert style camera hold to capture the crowd.
And then it was there, in all of its glistening and steamy glory. The Ivan Ramen shio is a colloid of torigara and wafu dashi stocks, schmaltz and katsuobushi powder suspended in the mixture. Though simple and humble, the fresh and tender menma, juicy chashu, sliced negi and hanjuku tamago are prepared with so much care this bowl wants for no additional toppings. Did they pull it off as well as back at the Minamikarasuyama honten? I’ll be able to answer that when I go for a visit this Fall. For now, suffice it to say, this is the most thoughtful and satisfying bowl of shio I’ve had on any continent.
I was able to fire off a quick snap of the master (in the bandana) before being shooed out by the testy staff.
When I left, the line was all the way down 1st Avenue…
…around the corner…
…and down 10th Street. Something tells me Ivan won’t have any trouble getting the word out when he opens the doors on the new shop. We’ll all be eagerly waiting.