Ivan Orkin is a Jewish New Yorker who fell in love with Japan and conquered their ramen world. He has been an intriguing source of inspiration to me since moving to New York last year. His brightly coloured instagram feed is lovely to follow, full of tempting dishes and smiling faces. I saw him answer questions on a panel once, where his warmth and enthusiasm were immediately likeable. And he gives me hope because despite his success he didn't become a chef at the age of sixteen, having known his calling since birth. He went to Tokyo after college, trained as a chef in the US, went back to Tokyo and his career took shape over time. Since he opened his restaurant in May last year I have been wanting to visit and last night we finally did.
Unlike his Tokyo and Chelsea Market ramen shops where noodles dominate and a few rice bowls feature, at Ivan Ramen there is also a short menu of dishes that read like reinterpreted Western plates. For instance 'Tofu Coney Island', which our waitress described as Ivan's take on the Coney Island hot dog, but vegetarian. Having not seen similar sounding dishes before we ordered as many as we could.
Pickled daikon XO reminded me I've been wanting to try making my own OX sauce. The shredded sweet pickled daikon paired wonderfully well with its oily, fried OX topping. The latter was milder and crunchier than store bought versions from Hong Kong, tasting less of seafood and more of sesame and garlic.
Kyuri pickles. The Persian cucumbers cleverly smashed and sliced to absorb more of its piquant spicy, salty and sour marinade.
Scallop crudo with pickled shiso, ikura and ponzu. This was a special. Having been spoiled by sparkling fresh scallops in Hokkaido at the beginning of the year these just weren't able to compare. Likewise the salmon roe tasted quite bland, unlike the soy sauce and dashi seasoned ikura I brought home from my trip.
Mushrooms casino. Genius. Thinly sliced oyster mushrooms reminiscent of al dente pappardelle, both in appearance and mouthfeel, topped with breadcrumbs, bacon and tiny clams and grilled. The slippery mushrooms, nutty bacon and chewy clams lifted with a showering of spring onion. We wished our crumbs could have been crunchier and the dish overall less drenched in oil, but it was delicious.
Ivan Ramen "Caprese". The only duff note in our opinion. The shio koji marinated tofu had none of the saltiness I was expecting, tasting bland with a firm texture that reminded me more of hippy food than Asian cuisine. The combination of bonito flakes, brunello tomatoes and shaved sweet onions was a good one but lacked acidity and lift. The deep fried steamed buns too soaked in oil to warrant eating more than one. This was sent off to be doggy bagged in favour of trying another starter.
Thank goodness we didn't miss ordering the Braised Beef Tongue. Soft strips of tongue, seared and served in a marmite-y beef broth, with a smear of nose fizzingly hot Japanese mustard, not unlike Colman's English. Fab.
Finally triple pork triple garlic mazeman. Less soupy ramen and more unctuous roasted garlic and piggy tonkotsu glazed chewy whole wheat noodles. Shards of bacon, slivers of sweet garlic, shredded spring onions and a slab of soft roasted pork. You get the picture.
Rather than dessert I had a delightfully pink Prickly Panda cocktail made with prickly pear, mint and ginger puree that was sweet and refreshing.
Thank you Ivan.
Ivan Ramen 25 Clinton St New York, NY Tel: 646 678-3859