There may be more ramen restaurants than you can shake a chopstick at in New York nowadays, but that didn’t seem to keep residents from eagerly anticipating the heralded debut of Ivan Ramen on the Lower East Side, which finally opened, after many stops and starts, in May. Owned by native New Yorker and self -proclaimed “white Jewish guy,” Ivan Orkin, who catapulted to fame in Tokyo after opening two wildly successful and respected ramen-yas (an unprecedented accomplishment for a foreigner), Ivan Ramen represents his first stand-alone venture back in the States (Slurp Shop, his outpost at Gotham West Market, launched in November).
And as expected, Orkin’s ramen bowls are unimpeachable, boasting springy, house-made rye or whole wheat noodles, and ordered in one of six succulent variations, from classic Shio or Shoyu, to Spicy Red Chili, to two mazemen (brothless) options, such as the intensely savory Triple Pork Triple Garlic to the supremely rich, Spaghetti Carbonara-esque Four Cheese. So perhaps the real shocker at Ivan Ramen is discovering that you can actually build a pretty great meal without going the noodle route at all.
A sizable list of small plates, listed under ‘Cold,’ ‘Crisp’ and ‘Warm’ are unfailingly inventive and delightful (provided you’ve got an open mind and eager stomach when it comes to seldom-used cuts of meat). Order the cheekily named “JFC,” and you’ll receive a plate of — no, not breasts, legs and thighs — double-dredged chicken hearts and livers, accompanied by a ponzu-spiked honey mustard for dipping. The massive, eggy, bonito flake and kewpie-topped pancake known as Okonomiyaki, a popular street snack in Japan, is constructed out of a dense block of Pennsylvania Scrapple at Ivan Ramen, compressed on a waffle iron and garnished with charred cabbage, pickled apple and maple kewpie (we expect this dish to be especially desirable come fall). And the mysteriously monikered “Tofu Coney Island” is thankfully not a plank of bean curd disguised as a good old Nathan’s wiener, but rather a gleefully gloppy, Japanified version of chili cheese fries, crunchy yet creamy lozenges of tofu blanketed in miso mushroom chili, fresh chopped scallions, and bright squiggles of tangy yellow mustard (score one for the vegetarians!)
Ivan’s eponymous ramen will assuredly gain our steadfast allegiance once the weather cools, but while summer is still in full swing, we can’t think of anything more satisfying than a cold bottle of Sapporo and a plate of tofu fries.