MAY 24, 2014 – When you wait for a restaurant to open for more than a year, there is only so much you can manage expectations before the hype exceeds reasonable levels. With Ivan Orkin finally opening the doors to his Clinton St. flagship, we rushed in at our earliest convenience, and sampled all we could. ‘All we could’ was too much. My word of advice before I go any further: exercise discipline if you plan to make it to your finale in good enough shape to truly enjoy it.
Here’s an account of our two-person gluttony, exceeding recommended portion advice from our friendly server and suffering the bittersweet consequences…
The menu is divided into three sections before ramen: cold, crisp and warm. If you’re hungry, what you should do is order a total of 2-3 items before your ramen.
We received a very strong recommendation to start with pickled daikon xo, so we went with it and were rewarded in-kind. A mild pickle on the daikon made each strand a great canvas for the crispy, spicy xo sauce (dried shrimp and scallop chili oil), and it took great restraint not to order a second plate after our first bites.
Also from the cold section came the little gem salad with baby anchovy and parmesan crisps and a tofu garlic dressing. Big pluses in this dish included the dead-on texture of crisp, supple lettuce leaves and the lightness imparted by tofu in the dressing. My personal preference would to have been hit with more anchovy flavor as I think it would have elevated what was otherwise a tasty dish.
Next up, we jumped into the crisp section for some Japanese fried chicken or JFC, breaded chicken hearts and liver with a killer ponzu mustard dipping sauce. I love the concept and think it succeeded thanks to a star sauce and the unique cuts featured in the dish. While the double-dredging was a good call to stand up to the liver flavor, the heart was over-dredged for me. I love the texture of heart, but it’s not all that gamy and got masked in the process.
We then got sidetracked in the warm section…for a while. First to the table was the Lancaster okonomiyaki, a scrapple waffle with charred cabbage, pickled apple and maple Japanese mayo. No doubt one of the most unique dishes in the city, but perhaps lacking in a strong enough savory component to balance the toppings. Not sure why the waffle didn’t quite do the trick, but I expected it to be meatier for some reason (admittedly, scrapple isn’t pure meat so that explains a lot).
We also ordered the dirty rice with monkfish liver, lemon sofrito and plenty of scallions, intending to take it home with us rather than scarfing it down at the table. I quite enjoyed it, despite not really having any standout flavor to cling to; it’s just a really solid fried rice dish.
We didn’t actually order the braised ox tongue with beef broth and spicy mustard. We’d been sitting on the patio during a downpour under the awning and getting a bit wet in the process, so the very kind wait staff offered us some tongue for our troubles (=P). We obliged, again out of gluttonous curiosity, and loved it. That mustard packs a helluva punch, but in the right quantity with a great broth and tender strip of beef, it’s absolutely delicious.
By this point we were satiated physically, but mentally still questing for ramen. I ordered the Tokyo Shio Ramen with chicken broth, pork chashu and rye noodles (top). Knowing I would need something to cut the broth, I added roasted tomato (highly recommend you do the same). The depth of the broth and fattiness of the pork knocked me out after all the preceding courses, leaving me to question my entire ordering strategy.
The other ramen was equally good if not better – a heat-laden red chili ramen with minced pork, smashed egg and rye noodle. The thin noodles were especially useful here, giving the broth more surface to cling to, ensuring you got a steady stream of spice after each slurp.
This menu is packed with quality dishes and crowned by ramen that isn’t messing around. You’ll want to try everything (for good reason), but take it easy, be smart and recognize that you’re here to taste some outstanding and unique ramen. Or don’t and explore at your own pleasant peril.
Best Bite(s): Pickled Daikon XO, Ponzu Honey Mustard, Ox Tongue + Broth + Mustard, Roasted Tomato in Broth, Red Chili Ramen Broth