You have probably seen him on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Ivan Ramen lived up to the hype in the bitter cold that has plagued New York City and much of the northeast during the past few months. When Chef’s Table showcased this restaurant in my home city, it was a no brainer to head to the Lower East Side to investigate, especially considering my love of ramen.
On one cold morning in late December, I headed to Clinton Street. It was frigid to the point I feared of frostbite. My breath surrounded me in a cloud of smoke from the minute I left the Delancey Street subway stop. Fortunately, the walk to Ivan Ramen was short from the station.
I arrived about ten minutes before it opened. It was a good thing I did because a line had already formed outside the front door. I was surprised. On a random weekday between Christmas and New Years, I would not expect many people to be craving ramen at this particular time and place. Clearly the restaurant was serious about the 12:30 PM opening time, refusing to let anyone in early, even in the bitter cold. When about ten or so people filed in behind me, I wondered whether I would even get a good seat given that I was a party of one. When they finally opened their doors, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bar in front of the kitchen. Dining solo is always best done at a bar.
The “bartender” behind the counter, along with any wait and cook staff that saw me, immediately greeted me as I sat down. The ambience felt like a serious ramen house. From the colorful artwork on the walls to the murals above the kitchen (pictured in the featured image above), everything fit in place. For all I know, I could have been in Japan. A few other solo diners sat next to me at the bar, making me feel even more at home.
I opted for water, even though I was on a “staycation.” Take a look at their beer menu though – it looked excellent (wild microbrews that you don’t offer see).
I purposely did not eat a big breakfast because I planned to feast here for lunch. When the waiter asked what I wanted, I was ready with a starter and a ramen selection already chosen. Being a pro diner, I researched the menu before arriving. The steamed pork buns were speaking to me already, with their soy-mushroom glaze and pickled daikon. And they did not disappoint, as you can probably tell from the picture below. You get two of them, which is probably intended for two people, but I devoured both of the soft, savory pork buns without issue. They literally melted in my mouth, perfectly balancing salty and sweet flavors. The pork buns only made me crave for more.
Next came the main event. The primary purpose for coming to Ivan Ramen was to taste the ramen that made this Jewish New Yorker famous in Japan. Of all people, and the Netflix Chef’s Table episode did a fantastic job telling this tale, a non-Asian Jewish guy beat the Japanese at their own game. He gained critical acclaim in Japan to the point that lines formed around the block for his ramen. Ivan might as well be hailed the ramen king of NYC for accomplishing that feat alone. And similar to the lusciously delicious pork buns, his ramen did not disappoint.
I ordered the Tokyo Shio Ramen. The bartender recommended that I add roasted tomatoes to accentuate the flavors even more. Even if it was a restaurant ploy to entice me into paying more, I could care less. The tomatoes were amazing. But let me start with the broth.
It was salty, but not overpowering. Immediately warming my soul on this cold New York City day (which seriously dropped well below freezing), it boosted my energy and peaked my awareness. A brief feeling of ecstasy overcame me with each slurp from the spoon. Aside from the optional roasted tomatoes, the standard Tokyo Shio Ramen includes: sea salts, dashi and chicken broth, pork belly, soft egg, enoki mushrooms, and rye noodles. This amalgamation of ingredients created a party in my bowl that I did not want to leave. Rotating between my soupspoon and chopsticks, I went from the broth to the noodles, the broth to the egg, the broth to the pork belly, and a little bit of everything in between. The balance and intensity of the flavors lived up to the hype.
While I do not think I would wait for hours outside in the cold to eat his ramen (like some of the diners behind me did), Ivan definitely treated me well. This restaurant makes the ramen in mass, and for a fairly reasonable price, albeit a high one for tourists from cheaper locales. I would definitely return, perhaps trying the shoyu or spicy red chili ramen during my next round. But I will definitely be reordering the pork buns.
So if you find yourself cold and in need of good soup in New York City, head to Clinton St. in the Lower East Side. Sit at the bar if your party is small, soak in the ambience, and get lost in some gratifying and mouth-watering ramen.