Pete Wells Judges Ivan Ramen


"“The mazemens, a form Mr. Orkin has mastered more fully than anyone in the city, justify the price," said wells.

This week, restaurant critic Pete Wells of the New York Times journeyed to the city’s Lower East Side and chef Ivan Orkin’s Ivan Ramen, recently opened in May of this year. The critic obviously enjoys the Japanese food-boom happening across the nation and the subsequent dishes being created as loving odes to pork, as he opens his review with “Years from now, when PBS runs its six-part documentary about David Chang, Roy Choi and the other American chefs who over the last decade have cracked open Asian cooking traditions and hosed down the pieces with pork fat, I hope an episode will be devoted to the triple pork triple garlic mazemen at Ivan Ramen.”

Wells then launches into a description of said episode, complete with camera pans and lines for the narrator and of course, a healthy dose of his signature self-deprecating humor. When he finally returns his attention to the restaurant and food at hand, he has positive things to say about the non-ramen dishes he is served, all possessing a trademark Orkin twist, “a whacked-out vegetarian chili dog with fried tofu in place of the frank, a rich and intense stew of mushrooms and miso as the chili, and a squiggly line of American yellow mustard…[I]t’s a joke that tastes great. That was true for the "JFC," too: deep-fried chicken hearts and livers with a honey-mustard sauce that tasted similar enough to the traditional McNugget garnish to make me laugh, and different enough (sharper, stronger and enriched with ponzu) to make me want more.”

As mentioned before, Wells really enjoys the abundance of pork creations that celebrity chefs have churned out as their cuisine has risen in popularity, and he calls attention to some of the recent history in this genre of dining by making a comparison of Orkin’s “Triple Pork Triple Garlic Mazemen” to David Chang’s  Momofuku pork bun with the line, “It was like a summation of all the lard-wallowing and umami-slinging that had rippled through American food since the first drop of grease ran down the chin of the first customer who tried a Momofuku pork bun.” Later, he summates his feelings toward this chef’s treatment of the rich ingredient with the admission, “The pork tended to disappear as quickly as it arrived.”

The one bone he picked with Orkin and Ivan Ramen was price, though he grants that “Value is a sticky issue with ramen. Because it is served in a minute and eaten almost as quickly, it seems to call for fast-food prices. It takes more than a minute to prepare, though, particularly at Ivan Ramen, where the noodles are made in the kitchen…The broths are painstakingly simmered.” Wells still isn’t thrilled with Orkin’s business philosophy, and chastised the chef for a decision that appears to force the guests to pay more than the original represented sticker price for the best bowl of ramen the restaurant serves, “Servers at Ivan Ramen are always pushing add-on garnishes for the noodles for an extra $2 or $3. ‘All our ramens are improved by an egg,’ we were told one night. If Mr. Orkin thinks his ramen is better with an egg, he should put an egg on it, and charge accordingly.” His biggest blow, however, is delivered towards the very end, as he criticizes Orkin’s execution of some of the dishes on Ivan Ramen’s menu as acceptable  justification for their steep pricing: “The mazemens, a form Mr. Orkin has mastered more fully than anyone in the city, justify the price. (The red-hot cold mazemen, dressed with salty, spicy sesame and accessorized with two prawns, should settle any doubts.)” However, he notes, “The soup ramens do not, at least not yet.”


Kate Kolenda is the Restaurant/City Guide Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @BeefWerky and @theconversant.