best of: new york city
As you may have read in Post #1, I was in NYC last weekend. So obviously since my sole purpose in this lifetime is to eat all the ramen and tell you about it, I took it as an opportunity to try out the top ramen restaurants that the city has to offer.
Ippudo NY: Okay guys full disclosure - I didn't actually go to Ippudo last weekend, only Momofuku and Totto. But I have been here twice: once in November last year and again this June. And unfortunately I had a janky ol' Blackberry then so any photos I may have had to share probably look like pixelated doo-doo. Instead please check out the Yelp gallery!
During my first visit to Ippudo, I faced a wait of about two hours, though during dinnertime hours that's not a surprise. However the thing I appreciate most about Ippudo (that the other two restaurants don't do) is they text you once your table is ready, freeing you up to kill time in other ways besides standing and listening for your name. Or, you can order a drink at the bar immediately to the right of the entrance, though that gets pretty crowded too. Once your table is ready the (what seems like) entire staff greets you in Japanese, from the chef behind the counter to the waitress whizzing by, all in unison as you're seated. Of the three it's definitely the trendier restaurant with its dimly lit, high-ceilinged interior and deliberately decorated walls.
This was one of those restaurants where I was constantly glancing over at others' plates to see what they had ordered only to get major I-Want-What-They're-Having Syndrome. But that's not to say what I had ordered wasn't good - it definitely was. It just goes to show how nearly everything I laid eyes on at Ippudo, I would have consumed. OK, I know that's not saying much coming from me, but just bear with me here. Lastly, If you get the chance to go here dear reader, you must try their appetizers.
In summary: service was speedy, staff was welcoming, and ambiance was swank. Plus they text you.
Momofuku Noodle Bar:
So I did actually go to Momofuku last weekend and I was a bit surprised to hear that it's often pitted against Ippudo as a top competitor because I honestly thought Momofuku fell short.
The wait was about an hour and a half during dinner hours - but they don't offer a texting service. We went to have first-dinner across the street at a tapas place while keeping a watchful eye on the time before migrating back over to continue our wait. The interior reminded me so much of IKEA's MALM series (in Birch Veneer, to be exact) - wooden furniture, all very crisp and modern. I found the service a bit too rushed as though the servers couldn't wait to flip my table. Food-wise, the pork buns did look delicious but did not seem to be anything outstanding. Like the IKEA inspired interior, the Momofuku menu keeps it minimalist with the four basic types of ramen options. Unfortunately, like the pork buns, the ramen itself did not do much to leave a lasting impression either.
In summary: bright, fresh interior and ultra quick service, but forgettable food.
Another hour and a half wait for Totto during peak lunchtime hours. We arrived to a restaurant slightly below street level to scrawl our names onto a clipboard and wait. The interior was a narrow hallway of a restaurant with guests and servers alike constantly squeezing past one another. Seating at the counter was a delight as the chef directly in front of us took our order from behind the counter and we literally watched him prepare our meals before our eyes. Totto had that cozy hole-in-the-wall feel to it that I always find a just a bit too cramped. And like Momofuku I found the ramen to be pretty standard - but damn can Totto prepare a soft boiled egg. However, what I did enjoy about Totto was its menu of ramen toppings, the most extensive of the three. Totto is also the least expensive of the three if budget is a deciding factor for you.
In summary: intimate experience with inexpensive and abundant menu items.
The Verdict: Ippudo NY is without a doubt the best of the three. The fact that Momofuku and Totto are fresher in my memory, yet I'm still drooling over Ippudo speaks volumes. I hate to say it, but I found Momofuku and Totto to be pretty meh. If you've been to these ramen places, let me know your thoughts below!