The U.S. ramen scene is booming—and it’s about to get even more exciting with the arrival of one of Tokyo’s hottest noodle gurus, Ivan Orkin. The New York native—who earned serious food cred in Japan at his two Ivan Ramen restaurants—is returning to his roots, bringing two outposts of his cult brand to Manhattan. Here, Orkin, whose first cookbook is out this month, gives us the lowdown on the soup that made him famous.
Q: How did you break into the Tokyo dining scene?
A: It was a crazy idea for a white guy from New York to open a ramen restaurant there. But in Japan, people respect passion and a good work ethic, and I think that came across. Also, when I started, making your own noodles was very uncommon, and I decided to do mine in house.
Q: What can we expect from your first U.S. venture?
A: I didn’t try to reproduce the dishes I serve in Tokyo. I’m serving Japanese comfort food with an American twist, such as a pulled-pork musubi (rice ball) with pickled-plum wasabi and roasted tomato. My favorite thing on the menu is the shoyu ramen: a blend of simple chicken soup and complex dashi broth, topped with pork belly and scallions.
Q: What’s the most important thing to know about ramen?
A: It needs to be eaten when hot—noodles suffer after standing for a few minutes, because the flavor and texture change—and slurped. You just suck it up—literally.
Ivan Orkin’s Top Tokyo Spots
69 ‘n’ Roll One: “My go-to traditional ramen spot is in Akasaka. Chef Shimazaki uses a light chicken-based stock and porcelain bowls from southern Japan that preserve the heat.” 81-4/2715-6969.
Kirakutei: “A Japanese gastropub in the suburb of Kugayama, it specializes in fish not commonly found in Tokyo. I suggest the omakase, or chef’s menu.” 81-3/3332-2919.
Sai Se Sakaba: “This standing-room-only bar in Shinjuku is known for its offal dishes. Try the grilled intestines and beef tongue in broth.” 81-3/3354-4829.