Photos: Ivan Ramen is finally opening May 9 on the LES
Noodle sorcerer Ivan Orkin debuts—finally!—his first full-service NYC restaurant, serving new ramen bowls and small plates
Fri Apr 25 2014
Ivan Orkin at Ivan Ramen
Ivan Orkin has never been one to play by the rule book: The brash, Yiddish-tongued Long Islander first built food-world fame not in his native New York, but 6,000 miles away in Tokyo, where, without any training in the tradition, he stirred up the city's devout ramen congregation with his light, silky slurp bowls in 2007. Fast-forward seven years, two Japanese locations—along with Gotham West Market breakout star Slurp Shop—and critical props in two hemispheres, and Orkin is finally ready to launch his first stand-alone U.S. restaurant, a narrow slip of a ramen-ya on the Lower East Side. "I run four restaurants," Orkin says, "but this is my spot. This is my flagship."
The vibrant 45-seat parlor tangles the noodle virtuoso's all-American roots and Japanophile leanings: A chrome-edged counter and vinyl stools recall old-line diners, blond-wood banquettes look plucked from a late-night izakaya, and a massive papier-mâché mural in front features a kaleidoscope of Dolly Parton, John Wayne, waving lucky cats and Technicolor geishas.
The menu follows culture-crossing suit: "I've got my feet planted in both cultures, cuisines and languages," Orkin says. Along with his seminal rye-flour ramen noodles (in both shio and shoyu varieties), there's four-cheese mazemen, like ramen gone Kraft, and fried chicken hearts—double-dredged à la KFC—with ponzu honey mustard. The downtown spot won't serve rice bowls—you'll have to shoulder up to Hell's Kitchen for that smoked-whitefish donburi—but it does offer composed small plates, like preserved hen eggs and braised ox tongue.
"It's a youthful food and a youthful neighborhood," Orkin says of his new home base, and he hopes to take advantage of that liveliness with a 25-seat backyard, fitted with a massive tiled mosaic boasting the Kewpie mayo mascot, a giant squid and a spilling bowl of noodles. Spilt milk is nothing to cry over, but a lost bowl of Orkin's superb ramen would definitely warrant a tear or two. 25 Clinton St between E Houston and Stanton Sts (no phone yet)
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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)