Most of the restaurants on Netflix’s Chef’s Table are prohibitively expensive, hard to get a reservation at, or both. Ivan Ramen, however, is neither. Ivan Orkin, featured on the third season of Chef’s Table, has a background story that makes you want to eat his homemade rye noodles and give him a hug. I won’t give any spoilers, but his narrative takes a turn that had Jason and I both tearing up.
The first Ivan Ramen opened in Japan in 2006, and Orkin tells the story of trying to gain acceptance and customers as an American Jewish man selling ramen in the birthplace of the cuisine. Orkin’s experience of being visited by a top Japanese food critic is as riveting and heartwarming as Ratatouille, minus all the rats.
Now, Ivan Ramen has two iterations stateside in NYC, the OG Ivan Ramen on Clinton Street, and an Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop on 11th Avenue. Jason and I visited the flagship location during our mid-tax season NYC visit, and we were so excited to attend our first food show restaurant.
Japanese Fried Chicken
Toasted garlic caramel, togarashi, shiso ranch
This app was slightly spicy from the togarashi (chili powder), and light and crispy. We loved this appetizer so much--it might have been the favorite for the table of the whole night!
Maitake mushrooms, white soy-koji dip
This was money in the bank. Orkin found a way to make mushrooms decadent in this light breading. What’s koji? Why, that’s a fungus that’s used to ferment lots of Japanese food, including the soybeans used to make soy sauce.
Wasabi buttermilk, bulldog sauce, bonito
These were delicious, according to the guys. They pounced on the them so hard I don’t even recall trying one. Maybe next time?
Orkin’s ramen is distinctive for its homemade rye noodles, as most ramens are made with wheat or rice noodles. Ivan Ramen offers both versions, but the rye noodles were a standout: tangy, chewy, and satisfying.
Tokyo Shio Ramen
Sea salts, dashi + chicken broth, pork belly, soft egg, enoki mushrooms, rye noodles
Another unique element to Orkin’s ramen is his recommendation to add a roasted tomato to any ramen, which, having tried it, I would go so far as to say you should add two.
Dashi, by the way, is a staple Japanese broth flavored with seaweed and fermented fish--it is all umami, all the time.
Triple Pork Triple Garlic Mazemen
Tonkotsu broth, pork belly two ways, whole wheat noodles
The flavor in this dish is out of control, but with pork and garlic x three, how could it be anything but amazing? This option was perfect for Jason, who is not the biggest fan of ramen (or any soups), as the mazeman has only a minimal amount of broth, just enough to coat the noodles.
Rich chicken broth, minced chicken, egg yolk, shio kombu, rye noodles
Our server told us that when Orkin visits the restaurant, this is the dish he usually orders, other than the traditional shio ramen. Both of our dining companions, Andrew and Vishnu ordered this, and they gave it high marks. What’s shio kombu, you might ask? I certainly did--it’s dried seaweed flavored with mirin, soy sauce, and sugar.
There was no dessert on the menu! In the immortal words of Cathy: ACK!
It’s okay though, as Ivan Ramen is located only blocks away from a location of our very favorite shaved ice spot--Snowdays!
The best thing at Snowdays is their Yeti Tracks--blueberry Oreo shaved ice! It’s a dream come true.
The menu offers a selection of beer, sake, and sake cocktails. It was a cool and rainy night, so we split a couple of carafes of their only hot sake, which was warming and stood up to the flavorful dishes.
Any other night, Jason probably would have opted for one of the tasty-sounding nonalcoholic options, like an Ivan Palmer (iced barley tea with yuzu lemonade) or a lychee soda.
Ivan Ramen has a buzzing, exciting atmosphere. The kitchen is open, so you can see the chefs at work, and all of the patrons are happily slurping their ramen, as depicted in the awesome Nathan Fox comic strip that hangs above the bar area. Just like the chef himself, Ivan Ramen doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, and that lends to a fun and relaxed dining atmosphere.
The only awkward part is the layout of the single-person bathroom--the line forms (and there will definitely be a line with only one stall) in between the bar area and the outside patio, so that area is packed with diners waiting and servers and other patrons trying to get through to the patio.
Jewish Japanese Hospitality:
Our server was awesome--he gave us excellent recommendations and was super patient while we took forever to order, and again when we hung around for a long while camping at the table with our sake and catching up with Andrew and Vishnu. The hostesses were also super chill and sat us before our whole party arrived (shh, don’t tell).
When you dine with Party Suh, you get two carafes of sake; Why is it not socially acceptable to slurp all soups like ramen?; Where is the restaurant with the Japanese guy making blintzes?; Chef’s Table really makes you weigh the decision of staying in bed and being comfy, or trekking downstairs for a snack; Do you think ramen is on Cathy’s summer diet plan?; ACK!