Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Japanese on 9th St.- From Gross to Great...Otafuko and Ippudo NY.

I hope you're not expecting a new post every night. That's pressure I don't need in my life right now. Even if you did, tomorrow night is Kol Nidre, the first night of Yom Kippur, and I have a lot of atoning to do. Seriously. I'll be back Thursday once the book is closed and hopefully I'll be written down for a healthy and prosperous year.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest let's discuss 9th Street in the East Village, aka Little Tokyo. I've been a denizen of 9th Street since the mid-90's when Bobbito ran Footworks in the basement between 1st and 2nd Ave. Back then the Japanese occupation was there but limited, now it's in full force.

The destination was Ippudo located on 4th Ave. between 9th and 10th Streets, a ramen noodle chain in Japan that recently opened their first shop on American soil. Coming from 2nd Ave. we passed this tiny hole in the wall called Otafuko. Literally the size of a closet. Apparently their specialty is Takoyaki, fried octopus balls.

Think munchkins filled with a gooey liquid and chunks of octopus covered in mayo, a sweet sauce and fish shavings. Yeah, they were disgusting with a capital D-I-S-G-U-S-T-I-N-G. One bite was more than enough but I had to take another just to make sure my taste buds weren't bugging. They weren't but I was. If anybody likes them, please explain your reasons. I can't find one redeeming quality, unless you include the gross out factor for cool points. And I ain't trying to be cool anymore.

Luckily what was to follow would make those octopus balls a distant memory. As you enter Ippudo, the bar is on the right and the hostess is straight ahead. There was about a 15-20 minute wait on a Friday night around 7pm. Not a problem when there's a 2 for 1 beer special till 8pm. The Asahi and Yebisu made the wait enjoyable.

The dining room is a rotund area with the kitchen around part of it. There are several large community tables with booths along the wall. We were placed at one of the large tables with some other slurpers. It's all good. The family that slurps together stays together. True Story.

Hot towels came and then we put the game face on. Aside from a particular version of ramen we weren't sure what to order as a starter. The overly cheerful waiter suggested the Salty Pork (I'm not sure if I remember that correctly, but I'm pretty sure that's what it was.) Who were we to say no, so we obliged and also ordered the Shiomaru NY ramen, one with Berkshire pork and the other with Chashu, incredibly tender BBQed pork belly.

The Salty Pork could make the Kosherest of the Kosher dabble in the swine. Thinly sliced pork belly with scallions and red onion with a very pleasant semi-sweet sauce. Lovely pink meat with glistening stripes of fat. I highly recommend this dish.

The main attraction was the Shiomaru NY ramen noodles. Served in a tonkotsu broth traditionally made from pork bones, the liquid took on the color of the bone. The ramen was accompanied by scallions and sliced cabbage and topped with the porky pork. I hope all this pork talk doesn't put me in bad standings with the man up top. As mentioned, one bowl had Berkshire pork (the middle pic) and the other had chashu (the bottom pic). Both cuts of pig were incredibly tender and delicious. The broth was perfectly flavored and the spaghetti sized ramen was cooked just right.

This was my first experience at a NYC ramen shop, so I have no comparison, but Ippudo would appear to be in the upper echelon. (I ate at Sapporo on 49th and 7th the other day and it was very disappointing.) The tastes and flavors were fresh and in abundance. While I've heard some say the $13 bowl of noodles is pricey, I'll let you be the judge. I know I'll have no problem dropping $13 again and again and again.

Ippudo NY
65 4th Ave. betw. 9th and 10th Sts.
New York, NY 10003

Mon - Thurs 11am - 4pm, 5pm - 12am
Fri - Sat 11am - 4 pm, 5pm - 1am
Sun 11am - 11pm

If you're feeling octopussy...

236 E 9th St. betw. 2nd and 3rd Ave.
New York, NY 10003-7503
(212) 353-8503
Mon - Fri 1pm-10pm
Sat - Sun 12pm-11pm

The 6 train to Astor Place or the N/R to 8th Street will leave you close to both places.


FN said...

I am not even going to try to defend Takoyaki. I will just say this, I tried em in Tokyo this summer with a asian cutie by my side. Try em that way if you can -it may change your mind.

Glad to find some BX food recommendations, good stuff.

HowFresh said...

FN, I can imagine that lessening the blow, especially if she was eating them, naked. If I'm ever out there I'll try this method. I'm amazed Otafuko has repeat customers.

Good looks. Need to give the forgotten borough some love.