Ippudo serves what is arguably the best ramen in the city. But in all of my visits, I never considered that there might be other worthy options on their menu. When a friend started raving about their chicken wings, I knew I had to check out Ippudo's appetizer offerings.
We started with a plate of the Hirata Pickles ($7), sweetly pickled chunks of cauliflower, carrot, daikon, red pepper and cucumber piled artfully on the plate. These were a nice crisp start to our meal, but we were just getting started. Next up was the Ramen Noodle Salad ($8), a small portion of Ippudo's famous house-made noodles in a ginger soy sauce with a light wasabi kick. On top of the salad was a crispy fried lotus root chip, and mixed in were grape tomatoes and spheres of grapefruit jelly, which added an unexpected texture and flavor to the dish. This dish beautifully frames Ippudo's stellar noodles, and though it was a noodle dish, it was truly a salad—light and tasting of spring.
The Hirata Chicken Wings ($7) I'd heard so much about came to the table next. They're not the biggest portion, with three pieces on the plate, but these just might be the best wings in the city. Eschewing the ginger soy flavor that I was expecting, these wings are glazed in honey and lots of black pepper. They were perfectly cooked with tender flesh and a crispy skin. "I'd eat anything dipped in that sauce," a dining companion exclaimed.
We finished up with the Shrimp in Mayo Sauce ($10), a special menu item, and the Kakuni with Onsen Tamago ($10). The shrimp struck me as dressed-up junk food: four large shrimp, battered and fried, then topped with a sweet mayo dressing. A few edamame and grape tomatoes garnished the dish and made it look healthy, but they were fooling nobody.
The kakuni, meanwhile, was a stellar example of this fatty pork belly dish: three big chunks of melt-in-your-mouth pork belly served with an edamame wasabi sauce and, on the side, a runny egg cooked in a ramekin. The egg is meant to be stirred to combine the white and yolk and then either poured over the pork, or used as a dip. We opted for the pour, and the egg added a completely unnecessary but not unwelcome layer of richness to this already rich dish.
The appetizers at Ippudo are great, but they get short shrift because of the show-stopping ramen offerings. I certainly understand why; the ramen is just that good, and it's hard to eat a whole bowl of ramen and anything else on top of it. Maybe instead of a place to have a bowl to yourself, Ippudo is the type of place where you're better off sharing: a few apps and a bowl of ramen split between two or three people is certainly more appealing, now that I know what Ippudo has to offer. It'd be easy to do that and stay within a $15 per person price range at Ippudo. Once you have those wings, you won't think twice about it.
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