Over the past week, I’ve been in New York on business. I know I don’t talk about my actual day job on this blog, and that’s not going to change here, but I will say that it was a long, grueling, but ultimately rewarding few days. However, that’s not all that happened. I decided that while I was back in the city, I would eat as much ramen as possible. Although I didn’t get anywhere near the amount I wanted, and I didn’t get to the noodle shops I really wanted to, I did have some phenomenal ramen while in the Big Apple.
The very first place I hit was Ivan Ramen, which was a short six blocks from my hotel (and the one place I ate more than any other due to time and location). I was staying at the 60 Hotel Lower East Side, so there were plenty of options, but Ivan was absolutely at the top of my list.
My awesome hotel room
After seeing Ivan Orkin on David Chang’s show, I immediately bought his book, and have been cooking from it ever since. So, as soon as I was off the plane and packed into my room, I headed straight for Ivan Ramen. I got myself a Kirin and opted for the classic Shoyu, which I see as the staple of any good noodle shop. I’d heard and read different things about Ivan’s ramen: it was classic, but definitely not Japanese. It uses rye noodles. It’s not for everyone. Well, I needed to decide for myself.
It was, in fact, a much more classic Shoyu Ramen than I’d expected, and it was absolutely delicious. The broth was more robust than I expect out of a Shoyu, but it worked. The noodles slurped perfectly. It was one of the single best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had in the US. It was even better than a few I’ve had in Japan. Having hit a high right on the first day, I knew I’d be back for the Tonkotsu Mazemen, but that came later.
My second ramen actually came from the hotel itself. My co-workers didn’t want to veer too far from the hotel because we had an early morning meeting. So, we hit the in-hotel Sushi bar. To my surprise, they had a Tonkotsu on the menu! Simply labeled “Pork Ramen,” it was surprisingly good.
The egg was decent, and the fish cakes were a nice surprise. The Chashu itself was slightly underwhelming, but the broth was really good! Funnily enough, they used packaged Sun noodles, the owners of the well known Ramen Lab, which was the next place on my list. I was happy with the dish – it wasn’t my best bowl of ramen, but it was certainly a pleasant surprise.
The next morning I grabbed Ivan Ramen‘s “Breakfast Ramen,” which is described as “dashi and cheddar broth, crispy bacon, scallion omelet, thick whole wheat noodle.” It was surprisingly good, but not my favorite. Apologies, I didn’t get a picture. It’s worth a try just for being one of the most unique bowls of Ramen I’ve ever had, but I would understand if some didn’t like it. I did.
It was okay. The broth had a nice kick to it I didn’t mind – I’m usually not a big fan of spicy ramen, but this hit nicely. My friend Sun informed me that she doesn’t particularly like that place, and I trust her opinion – she’s Korean. But she did admit she’d never tried the base, classic Korean Ramen. The egg was a bit overcooked, there was too much spinach and the noodles were nothing to write home about, but the pork belly was absolutely phenomenal. I could eat that all day. I’d recommend it as a basic lunch possibility if you need something quickly and can’t find anything else closer.
After a day of creative brainstorming, I got back to the hotel room. I decided to order myself some room service, but the aforementioned “Pork Ramen” was not available. So, I called and asked, “Can I have pork ramen?” The dude replied, “Sure, I don’t see why not…” 30 minutes later:
My very first Ramen room service, which somehow, made it so much more delicious. They even served the seaweed on a separate platter so I could dip and chew on it. It was awesome. I watched some Halloween horror movies (Seed of Chucky, sadly, followed by Child’s Play – backwards, huh?) and nodded off to sleep.
The next morning, I had more breakfast ramen (why not?) and had another day of crazy work brainstorming. Finally, the work week came to an end, and we were on our own to fend for ourselves food-wise. So, I figured I’d try out The Ramen Lab.
The Ramen Lab is a really cool concept restaurant: there is a bar with limited space and a brand new chef each month. This month, there was a Hawaiian chef with Hawaiian ramen. I was so excited to try it, so I got there at 6:00 (The Ramen Lab only serves 5-10pm). And it was closed. My number one choice and it was closed. So, it was back to Ivan with me, where I had my single favorite meal of the entire trip: the Triple Pork Triple Garlic Mazemen.
Mazemen differs from a traditional ramen in that the broth is thicker and there is less of it. It’s more like a dipping sauce. Ivan’s Tonkotsu Mazemen had a TON of delicious pork belly in it, along with bacon cooked to perfection. If you’re in NY, or there on business or pleasure, do yourself a favor and get a bowl of this. It’s meat-tastic, flavorful, and delicious.
On my last day, several hours before I had to go to LaGuardia to catch my flight, I came up with a little map/trek to a couple of toy and video game stores I wanted to hit.
I started at G – my hotel, 60 LES. From there, I traveled to:
B – My Plastic Heart – a cool toy store with little plastic doo-dads – think those little collectible toys you can get in boxes where you don’t know what they are until after you’ve opened them. I got Mia two little unicorns. She loves them.
C – 8 Bit and Up Videogames – a retro gaming store I use to hit on St. Marks before it moved. It’s still a well organized dank little basement, which I love. I picked up a copy of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete while I was there.
D – Toy Tokyo – this had to be my favorite stop. There were literally hundreds of Godzilla toys to choose from. I couldn’t pick one, and I was already running low on funds, so I picked up a few trinkets for myself and the kids: a wind-up Robbie the Robot, a Kirby pocketbook, a Kiki (from Kiki’s Delivery Service) figurine, and two mini Godzillas for myself.
E – Dinosaur Hill – a cute toy store of the kids variety (no collectibles for 30 year old man children here), but some really nice stuff. I got Mia a gorgeous silk cape which she has been wearing a lot, and I got Declan a draw-back taxi cab, a new favorite.
F is where Momofuku is, but I decided to skip it because I was already running late and I’ve been there many times.
So, I cut down 9th back to 1st ave and continued back toward the hotel. On my way back, I stumbled across a little hole in the wall with a single simple sign: “Hot Ramen! Shoyu!” How could I resist?
The place was empty, save the sole proprietor, an elderly Japanese man who sat me at the bar looking out over the street and went back into the kitchen. All I had to say to him was, “Shoyu,” and he was off. It came out about 5 minutes later:
It was the single best Shoyu I had while I was in NY, and it was a total fluke. The name of the place was Cho-Ko, and I had never heard of it. Being a big fan of hole-in-the-wall Ramen digs, this was an especially pleasant way to end my short trip back to my old stomping ground in NYC. I miss it a lot, but I know I can always visit, should I have a hankering.
It was a blast getting to try some new variations on Ramen, and it even gave me some new ideas I’ll share in my next post. Until then, happy slurping!