Saturday, October 4, 2008

Japanese noodle lunches

The other day I walked over to 10th St and 4th Ave to try Ippudo, which calls itself a Japanese Ramen-noodle Brasserie. It seems to get a lot of good reviews online so I decided it was worth a try during lunchtime. The space is nice and the seating consists of bar (in front of open kitchen), booths, or big communal tables. The music is a little louder than "just in the background" as I would like.

As for the food, the lunch set was $16 and consisted of a bowl of ramen (I chose the classic pork broth and sliced pork) which is $13 by itself and a salad and a bowl of rice (with cod roe, pork, or vegetables to choose from) for the extra $3. This probably is a personal opinion thing, but I was just not a fan of the noodles. They were very thin (think Cantonese noodles, the type with wonton noodles) and didn't have much bite. The broth was excellent but the sliced pork was ordinary. The best thing was in fact the extra pork belly topping, which at $3 for 2 pieces is probably the best deal on the menu as other toppings include extra sliced pork, flavored egg, or tandoori chicken (I don't get tandoori anything from a place without a tandoor oven on premises). Adding the belly pieces and pouring the sauce and fat to the broth and noodles definitely brought it up a notch for me. By the way, an order of extra noodles costs $2. Overall I liked it, but I wouldn't rate it as high as what I've seen online. I really miss Chikubu's Friday lunch ramen. Too bad the owner had to go back to Japan.

There is another Japanese noodle lunch around that area that I do rave about and that is Sobaya on 9th St and 3rd Ave. There are a lot of choices for lunch but I usually go with the the rice and noodles set, which is a small bowl of rice (with many choices of toppings from grated yam to eel to tuna steak) and noodles of your choice (hot or cold soba or udon) with a couple small portions of appetizers. My favorite is the tuna steak don, with nicely seared tuna in a flavorful garlic soy sauce and the cold soba. This costs $18.50 but is well worth it. To kick it up another notch, I usually order a tempura appetizer which is not on the menu (in fact, I've had a waitress there give me attitude about it not being on the menu). In my opinion it's a great bargain, as for $6 you get three shrimp and two vegetable tempura (usually a leaf and a pepper, but I frequently ask for substitutes). Even at whatever local cheap Japanese joint near you it'll usually cost you more than that for much worse tempura.

To top it all off and make it even more outrageously decadent, you can go right across the street to Max Brenner for some chocolate. I prefer an iced chocolate. Not the smoothie or whatever crushed ice drink they serve, but you can get the employee (is a hot chocolate maker also a barista?) there to make you a hot chocolate and shake it up with just enough ice to cool it and it's a great sweet treat that doesn't feel as heavy.

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