Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
"We're moving a little bit closer to Japan," says Ivan Orkin, the New York-based chef-owner of Tokyo's famed Ivan Ramen. His own New York ramen shop is slated to open later this year.
Sitting at the subterranean, yet still light and airy bar at Bassanova a week after their opening, there's a veritable supergroup of ramen chefs populating the dining room to test out their newest competition. Orkin and his crew exchange handshakes with a tableful of chefs from Ippudo.
Why the attention? "These were the first guys to really do something different with their ramen," Orkin tells us, referring to their signature green curry bowl. The dish is the best-seller at the popular original Setagaya branch of Bassanova in Tokyo, and was created when a chef from Thailand overhauled the lunch menu. The results is a bowl with the meaty richness of their signature tonkotsu broth, but the flavors of coconut milk, makrud lime, galangal, and other herbs and spices.
Chef Keizo Shimamoto, the restaurant's most recent chef has since moved on from the new location (under rather mysterious conditions), but the doors remain open under the helm of Chef Shoushin Yanaura, with a menu that currently offers only three large bowls of noodles, all for under $15.
We were dining and shooting photos as guests of the restaurant for a first look so can't offer a completely unbiased opinion on what an average diner's experience will be, but suffice it to say that these are some serious contenders in an already ramen-packed city.
The simplest bowl is their Tondaku Ramen, a tonkotsu-style long-simmered pork broth made with Berkshire hogs, served with slow-cooked pork loin chashu, ginger, cloud ear fungus, sesame, nori, and scallions, along with thin, straight noodles made by the Sun Noodle company (is anyone not using their noodles these days?).
The Tondaku Wadashi Ramen is their pork broth enhanced with a ton of dried seafood in both broth and powdered dust form. It's an Orkin-esque flourish, intended for diners who dig on the whole umami thing.
Finally, their signature Green Curry Soup comes in a thick, rich, Thai-style spiced coconut and pork broth with grilled okra, red bell peppers, pork, scallops, a big handful of fried garlic, and (oddly) some mixed mesclun greens that quickly wilt in the hot broth. It's the heartiest dish on the menu by far and comes with thicker, wavy-style noodles, also made by Sun.
The shop is only a block away from Serious Eats World Headquarters, so it'll be interesting to see how the noodles shape up once the restaurant has been open for a few months and hit its stride. You can expect a full report down the line.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.