The Insatiable Palate Review #30: Ivan Orkin Takes Over Momofuku Noodle Bar, Round II (East Village, New York)

One night only, they said.

July 17, 2012. The wait, in fact, became unbearable. My patience ran thin as the two hour line slowly began to resemble a horde of Asian ladies waiting for the opening of a Michael Kors Black Friday sale.

I thought I had figured it out when I figured out Pok Pok Ny and Mission Chinese Food’s system. Both restaurants open at 5:30PM for dinner so arriving at least twenty minutes before service usually guarantees you a table for four (even on Fridays and Saturdays).

 Two hours later, it was finally my turn. Sadly, when I was finally seated, the host regretfully mentioned that Ivan’s ramen was all gone. Although the Noodle Bar staff tried to make the members of our table feel better by mentioning that a variety of  Momofuku Ramen were still available, we all knew that it was less than a consolation prize. The Original Momofuku Ramen is indeed very delicious, but there was another prize to be had that night.

The wait at Ippudo (East Village) and Totto Ramen (Hell’s Kitchen) can take up to two hours on weekend nights, but Akamaru Modern and Spicy Ramen are usually available at the end of the long, arduous passage.
Damn, two hours of standing and NO Ivan Ramen left.

However, there was good news. Ivan promised to make a second voyage back to East Village and feed the hungry people who missed out the first time. Last Wednesday, Momofuku Noodle Bar closed its doors to the public and invited everyone who had patiently waited for Ivan in July.

Ivan Orkin brought four different types of ramen (all conveniently priced $16). Three out of the four noodles were similar to his offerings during the previous month with minor tweaks and changes in the ingredients.

Ivan Ramen Classic Shio: Rye Noodle, Pork Belly, Egg, Hosaki Menma

Ivan’s classic resembles some of the offerings that are available in the city. Our table was enticed by the warm slabs of pork belly, boiled eggs, and a rich meaty broth. We also noticed that generous portions of menma (fermented bamboo shoots) had graced the hot bowl, supplementing the hearty texture of the rye noodles.

Ago Dashi Hiyashi Shio: Chilled Flying Fish Dashi, Roast Tomato

The second selection was a bowl of cold noodles. Although I’m a naengmyun fiend, I suddenly turned into a sucker for Chef Ivan’s chilled noodles. The fragrant fish broth was accompanied by slabs of pork belly (I like this trend) and roasted tomatoes. The end notes of the fish dashi broth feature a clean lemony tone. It’s perfectly fitting on a clammy summer night.

Spicy Chili Mazemen: Chipotle, Eggplant Sofrito, Scallion (New)

Well this was a special surprise on the menu! If the chilled flying dashi is mul-naengmyun, the spicy chili mazemen is the bibim. Instead of pork belly, this selection featured a sweet, spicy, savory eggplant sofrito, tastes that you’d often find in elements of Korean cooking. When an eggplant tastes so rich, so meaty, it doesn’t have to be confined in a subsection of the menu for vegetarians. The chili mazemen was by far my favorite bowl of ramen that night.

The Triple Garlic Mazemen (pictured at the top) with tonkotsu, pork fat and bacon was also one of the strong crowd pleasers. I can only imagine it would be voted for meat lovers in a Japanese ramen contest. It’s extremely rich from the pork fat, by is neutralized by the strong acidity of the garlic. Solely eating just the bacon or just the garlic is either too rich or too bitter. However, the combination of the two contrasting ingredients creates a happy marriage. Put a ring on it y’all.

There will be lots of restaurant openings this fall/winter and Chef Ivan Orkin joins Chef Andrew Carmellini and Gabe Stulman who expect to open below 14th street.

Chef Ivan describes ramen as comfort food. It’s the meatloaf and mashed potatoes in a bowl, the Jewish chicken noodle soup. Although he is American, Chef Ivan has already won the hearts of Japanese ramen lovers through his light, refined creations. Do expect the lines at the ramen shop to pile by the minute when it opens in December.


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