A meal at Ichiran — the popular ramen chain from Japan that recently opened its first ever U.S. location — is filled with a boggling number of decisions, according to Pete Wells. For the Times critic however, those questions are easy to answer after a few visits. Sit in a private booth over a table, say yes to scallions, opt for the free portion of cha-shu, and order noodles firm but not “extra firm.” This formula has perfected Wells’ ramen order at Ichiran, leaving the critic to deem it one of the better ramen spots in the city. He writes:
All these decisions would be pointless, of course, if the ramen were not very good. It is. Whether you will prefer it to the majestically potent tonkotsu at Mu Ramen or the memorably savory one at Ippudo, I can’t say. But it is rounded and substantial, moving across the mouth with the glide and density of extralight coffee. The flavor is very porky without any of the unnerving butcher-shop note that creeps into some tonkotsus. I was never served a bowl that was less than painfully hot, which is the ideal.
There is a second dish on the menu (a pork belly appetizer), as well as an almond-tofu pudding with matcha for dessert. Still, Wells rather order a second helping of Ichiran’s not-too-firm noodles as he sits inside one of the restaurant’s isolated booths and practices his slurp.
On an earlier visit, Wells had an awkward encounter in one of those booths: “One night, just after I sat down, the screen went up, and a hand stretched toward me. Without thinking, I held out mine, and we shook.” He quips: “Had I broken ramen protocol? Was this like reaching over the front seat of a car to give an Uber driver a neck rub?” One star.