Our trip to Ivan Ramen begins en route as the restaurant is tucked away in the Lower East Side of the city that never sleeps. The LES serves as a trendy spot for bars and restaurants such as Mr. Purple or Pig and Khao. You can feel the energy as you walk through the historic streets. We made the trip past the colorful graffiti murals to explore one of the more popular ramen places in New York, Ivan Ramen.
Ivan Ramen is no ordinary ramen bar. As you enter, you’re swarmed by eccentric pop imagery that complements the Lower East Side. It reminds me of a Lichtenstein piece of artwork that emulates old comic books with splashes of color. In the back, you can see a beautiful blue mural with starry night feels that envelops the outdoor seating area.
These days, the menu is online and very unique. All of the dishes are accompanied by a video which describes the dish and ingredients as well as discussing the allergens. There are many that come to ramen restaurants without knowing the difference between a shio or a shoyu ramen. The video descriptions did an excellent job at showing and telling customers such differences. It felt like a very modern approach and really helped guide the choices we made.
The aesthetic of the tonkotsu ramen was simple yet pleasing. It had the makings of a very balanced dish with the right splashes of color in all the right places. The broth appeared creamy and oily which definitely wet my whistle. The toppings were placed in just the right places and the egg was cooked just slightly more than I would have liked.
Dipping my spoon into the broth, I could barely wait to taste its richness. Perhaps my expectations were too high, as the broth had a difficult time meeting them. Don’t get me wrong, the broth was very good, but was, perhaps, missing hints of creaminess that I taste in many similar, local competitors.
I usually prefer thicker, firmer, al dente ramen noodles; yet, there was something about the thin, wavy, somen that contrasted my expectations of tonkotsu ramen that I really enjoyed. The deliciously chewy texture complemented the soft, creamy fats from the broth. They complemented the pork broth nicely as a welcome contrast to the creamy broth.
I was also pleasantly surprised with the pork chashu, as my experience has shown it easy to overcook or under season. Fortunately, Ivan Ramen cooked the ramen perfectly such that it fell to pieces in my chopsticks. The pieces were deliciously tender with just the right fat content. The only downside to the chashu was the marinade or seasoning that was used. It fell sort of flat beyond what it absorbed from the pork broth. Additional flavors could have elevated the pork chashu to perfection.
Overall, I found the dish to be one of the most balanced ramens I’ve experienced. If you’re looking for a unique ramen bar with an eccentric atmosphere, then Ivan Ramen may be for you.
Bonus: We also had the chance to taste the tsukumen ramen as well as Ivan’s interpretation of karaage (follow us on Instagram for pics). The tsukumen was essentially a seafood bisque broth that was rich and creamy. The noodles were thick and chewy and did excellent at absorbing the creamy broth. The karaage was a very interesting take served with a house-made ranch dressing. It used a vinegar base to lend some sourness to every bite. The ranch accompaniment helped cut the tang and complemented it very well. I would highly recommend both dishes.