Wednesday, March 14, 2012

We'd Like the Chicken Pork Buns

Akamaru Modern Ramen -- Ippudo

On the very first day that we set out on this Best Thing I Ever Ate mission, we attempted to go to Ippudo.  Thirteen months later, we have finally eaten at the place.
We've Actually Been Waiting in Line at Ippudo for That Long
When we tried to go to Ippudo last year, the wait for a table was over two hours, which is about one hour and fifty-five minutes longer than we are willing to be patient.  Since then, the popularity of the place has scared us away from trying again, despite our desire to try Claire Robinson's favorite dish to eat WITH CHOPSTICKS, the Akamaru Modern Ramen.
With Classy Bathroom Signs Like This, No Wonder the Place is So Popular
Finally, we agree to venture back to Ippudo, but only because we can both arrive at the opening time of 5:00pm and thus will be guaranteed a table.  Right?

Well, guess what?  Eating the early bird special on a rainy night in Manhattan appeals to a lot more people than we had assumed.  Considering we are almost always two of the only people in any given restaurant based on our senior citizen dining times, we find the line waiting to get into Ippudo at 5:00pm unfathomable.
Pretty Impressive Attendance for a Place with Malformed Chairs
When the doors open, we are instantly overwhelmed.  The cramped hostess/bar area is so tiny that the line has looped around in a disorganized fashion.  When we eventually reach the hostess, she takes our name and says it will be just a few minutes.  Fine.  Fine, that is, until the cheering starts.

It seems that every time a party is seated within Ippudo's dining room, the staff lets out a whooping cheer of welcome.

For the record, this practice, in our opinions, is nothing short of horrifying.
Someone Hand Us Some Wine, Stat, Or We're Not Going to Survive
When our name is called and we are escorted through the corridor of waiting whoopers, we both flinch and cower in the face of their cheering, while Vodka whines, "I really don't like that.  I REALLY DON'T LIKE THAT."  As we soon learn, Ippudo is full of such distractions throughout one's dining experience -- the whooping is near-constant, the Asian hip hop music is pumping loudly, the wall decorations are shimmering in sparkles, the busboys are popping up constantly, and it is loud loud loud.
In This Place, It's Shocking the Napkins Aren't Covered in Glitter
While deciding on our menu choices, Ginger tries to suggest an appetizer, for which Vodka shushes her.  "You need to stop talking.  I can't take one more -- what's the word?  The thing you give to babies."

"Stimulation?" Ginger (because we are clearly on the same idiotic wavelength) fills in.

"Yes!  Too much stimulation.  I can't read and listen at the same time.  This place is going to give me some kind of seizure."  We decide on the the Akamaru Modern Ramen, of course, but we are unsure whether we should include one of their "topping suggestions," the nitamango or the kakuni.

"I mean, I would say 'no' because I don't even know what those things are," Ginger says.

"Egg and pork belly," Vodka translates instantly, which causes Ginger to throw down her menu in shock.

"How did you -- ?"

"I previewed the menu this afternoon," Vodka confesses.  "Don't worry, I didn't suddenly learn to speak Japanese."
Though That Would Be One Heck of a Party Trick to Pull Out of Thin Air
We decide to forgo the toppings and stick with the plain ramen, and we have also settled on getting some form of "bun" as an appetizer.  Given the choice of pork, chicken, or shrimp, we pick chicken since there is already pork in our ramen.

After ordering our wine (which comes in two varieties -- $8 or $18.  Obviously, we went for the $8 version), Vodka, in a continuing show of stupidity, asks the waitress for the "chicken pork buns."

"Chicken buns," Ginger corrects her, which causes us both to launch into a fit of laughter over our own idiocy.  We are so distracted with our own humor that we can barely concentrate on the waitress's prattling on about why the shrimp buns are actually the better option, so before we know it, we have agreed to her persuasions, and two steamed shrimp buns have appeared before us.
"I Am Not a Shrimp, I Am a King Prawn."  Ten Points to Anyone Who Recognizes That Reference
Though we had ordered the buns almost as an afterthought, they prove to be the absolute best we have tasted -- spicy with a hint of sweetness, crunchy from the fried shrimp and lettuce, yet cushioned by the soft bun, we lap them up in seconds (and good thing we do, because the busboys are once again clearing our plates before we even get the first bites in our mouths).
Buns of Steel Shrimp
"It tastes kind of like a McDonald's chicken sandwich," Ginger observes, which in our world, is just about the highest compliment we can pay a dish. 

"No one would compare an upscale shrimp bun to a McDonald's value meal item and mean it positively except us," Vodka states.

"And that's why no one will ever understand our work," Ginger notes, as if we are food history academics rather than two dopes who just happen to know their way around a fast food menu.
Also, the Phrase "Our Work" Is Employed As If We're Ph.D. Candidates in Nonsense
As we wait for our bowl of ramen, the spastic service continues with the constant filling of our water glasses and swiping of our plates.  Additionally, a solitary bowl of noodles has arrived on our table prior to the ramen itself -- we had wanted to order the "kae-dama" (more noodles) halfway through our ramen because we thought the concept was hilarious, but our waitress has decided to cut down on our fun and bring the noodles now.

Which, of course, means we have to taste them.
Who Needs Any Stinkin' Broth Anyway?
As Vodka sticks her chopsticks into the bowl, we note that the hovering busboys are no doubt judging this behavior, murmuring to themselves, "Look at those poor girls.  They think that's ramen."
Vodka and Ginger: Keeping Idle Waitstaff Amused Since 2011
The noodles prove to be more flavorful, even without any broth or spices, than we had assumed.  The ramen itself soon arrives -- a bowl filled with miso paste, pork chashu, kikurage, scallions, garlic oil, and of course, noodles -- and we are told to stir it all together before tasting it.
So We're Not Supposed to Eat All of the Components Separately, 1950s TV Dinner-Style?
When we finally dive in, spoon and chopstick-first, we are in love.  The broth is warm and full of spice, the noodles ideally cooked, and the pork soft and supple.
Mmm Mmm Good
As we lap up ever increasing amounts of noodles at once, Vodka ends up dumping an entire spoonful directly onto her face, and the noodles then slop back into the bowl on their own.
And We Still Have So Many Noodles To Go!
"Note for the blog: don't come here on a date," Vodka states, yet our difficulty eating does not hinder our enthusiasm.  The waitress had brought us an extra bowl for divvying up the goods, which Ginger has now commandeered as part of her own ramen-assistance program.  As we reach the bottom of the bowl, we decide that against our usual contrary natures, Ippudo may just be worth the wait out the door, the frenetic service, the shiny walls, and the pounding music.

But please, Ippudo, PLEASE do away with the cheering.

Ippudo's Akamaru Modern Ramen: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

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