Critic Robert Sietsema checks out a new breakfast menu at Gotham West
For the better part of a decade Ivan Orkin was the ramen king of Tokyo, livening up what had been a plodding noodle landscape and achieving wildfire popularity. When he returned to his native New York four years ago he was greeted with huzzahs and hosannas, but one had to wonder: How would he make his mark on a ramen scene that was already splendidly diverse? Nearly every tweak imaginable seemed to have been accomplished, from "snow" ramen topped with parmesan cheese to crazy mazemen with negligible broth to ramen that tried its damnedest to be like matzoh ball soup. Well, first at pop-ups and then at a pair of permanent installations (Ivan Slurp Shop in 2013 followed by Ivan Ramen in 2014), Orkin staked out his unique noodle territory.
At the Slurp Shop he split the menu between perfect Tokyo-style ramen — offering classic shoyu and shio — and wild-ass choices like chile ramen with rye noodles and miso butter mazemen, while at his Lower East Side shop — done up like an art museum — he seemed more interested in off-the-wall apps. Well, he’s doing it again. Orkin has created a breakfast/brunch menu at the Slurp Shop, available seven days from 8 a.m. in the morning. I ran over with a couple of friends to Gotham West this past Sunday to check it out.
Ten breakfasts are available (not all of these on weekdays), falling into three broad categories: breakfast ramen, Japanese-style breakfasts, and semi-conventional American breakfasts. Curious what would constitute breakfast ramen, we tried both newly offered. One called "8AM ramen" ($13) flaunted a quirky broth composed of dashi and something that might have been Cheez Whiz, dubbed "cheese fondue" on the menu. It was salty and slightly disturbing. Into it had been dropped excellent, extra-thick noodles, a julienne of Taylor ham (nothing glamorous, just a variety of Jersey luncheon meat), and strips of scallion omelet. Interesting, though not sure I’d order it again.
The second ramen was called double dashi ($15), and as the name suggests it was saltier and fishier than usual. Which is consistent with Japanese breakfasts, which often include strong tasting fish. This bowl deployed the same thick noodles, a spongy sliced shrimp cake which didn’t taste like shrimp but was good nonetheless, and some baby bok choy. Once again interesting, but not compelling. But our breakfast really took off with a couple of other dishes that were unexpectedly great.
Our breakfast really took off with a couple of other dishes that were unexpectedly great
Toasted buckwheat and kasha pancakes ($9) sounds like some health food nut’s dream; it turned out to be an amazingly delicious short stack, served with black sesame seed butter and ginger syrup that had tendrils of fresh ginger snaking around in it. The consistency was perfect, and the flapjacks had achieved an appetizing shade of dark brown. Equally as good was a rice porridge ($9). While we expected congee, what arrived was far firmer. It was ringed with an assertive aged soy sauce and had a runny egg in the middle; shio kombu (shredded kelp), scallions, and dashi flakes on top that waved in the food court breezes; and some meat chunks in the middle not listed in the dish description.
Other breakfasts include an egg and tofu mélange with salmon roe and cream cheese, scrambled eggs with Taylor ham and Japanese toast, a traditional Japanese breakfast featuring broiled salmon, and another Japanese breakfast that also incorporates natto, the fermented bean concoction. I’m not much of a fan. So, in conclusion, share one of the ramens with friends out of curiosity, but keep the pancakes and rice porridge for yourself.