Ivan Orkin and his noodles.
Ivan plates up a bowl of whole wheat ramen for the last course of the dinner.
Braised pork belly with umeboshi
The pork belly is braised chashu style in a sweet soy sauce and served with a umeboshi (pickled plum) and wasabi puree and a little cup of sweet tare for dipping. This exact dish won't appear on his menu, but Ivan does a similar dish with sushi rice wrapped in nori and topped with pulled pork and the same umeboshi. "This dish and that dish are basically the same thing. I just needed something I could serve as an hors d'oeuvre," says Ivan.
Ivan's version of deviled eggs are made by combining thousand year eggs—eggs that are cured in ashes and salt underground for 100 days—with regular egg yolks. "These are inspired by a dish I used to eat at an izakaya in Tokyo," Ivan explains. "It was a slice of thousand year egg with a slice of tofu and a slice of tomato." In his version, the tomato shows up in the form of a powder, which mimics the paprika on a traditional deviled egg.
Deviled eggs, plated
The eggs are finished with katsuobushi, smoked dried bonito.
Pickled herring sushi
Oshi-zushi is a style of sushi developed in Osaka in which the fish—usually lightly pickled mackerel—is pressed onto the rice in a bamboo box. Ivan's version uses herring pickled in wine, a nod to his Jewish background. "I put the pickled onions directly into the sushi rice," says Ivan. The whole thing gets topped with wasabi-coated sesame seeds. I asked him how they're made. His response: "Ha! We buy them. Some things are better left to the masters."
Ivan and crew
David Poran on the left, Ivan Orkin in the center, and Mike Bergemann—the Chef-to-be at the new restaurant—on the right.
Dressing the salad
The first course is an almost literal interpretation of the classic iceberg with ginger-carrot dressing salad that Japanese restaurants so love to serve. "It's a really specific taste memory for me," says Ivan. "We tried experimenting with watercress, romaine, other lettuces, but nothing tastes like iceberg." Ivan Ramen is planning on bringing iceberg back. I, for one, am looking forward to the day I can eat the much-maligned lettuce without getting disapproving glances from foodie-types.
The finished salad. The dressing is made with cooked carrots and ginger pureed to an almost soup-like consistency before being tossed with iceberg and grated carrots. Poached shrimp are added ("I'm a James Beard kind of guy when it comes to shrimp," says David Poran. "Nothing but salt water to cook them."), then the salad is topped with red onions pickled in dashi and vinegar.
The second course is braised tongue. "I love tongue. I would eat it every day," says Ivan. I believe him.
Adding the broth
The tongue is served with some of its cooking liquid.
Lots of tongue
This is what plating tongue for 74 looks like.
The dish is super simple—cubes of tender braised tongue, a bit of the broth, black pepper, sansho pepper (the Japanese version of Sichuan peppercorns), scallions, and Japanese mustard, which is as hot as real English mustard, but with a touch of sweetness.
The noodles for this dish are made with a combination of whole wheat and regular flour, which gives them a slightly more robust texture than a standard ramen noodle.
Ready for the pot
Because ramen has such a short lifespan—five minutes after it's cooked it'll be noticeably softer—the logistics of cooking 74 portions simultaneously are a little tricky.
Three big pots
Ivan and his two sous chefs man the ramen stations, cooking up a little over a dozen batches at a time, using makeshift strainers to lift the noodles as they finish cooking. It takes 2 1/2 minutes.
Straining the noodles
Without ramen baskets at the event space, Ivan resorts to using a tamis to lift the noodles out of the pot, and a large colander to drain them. He lifts the colander with both hands and violently shakes it downward in a motion designed to remove all excess water from the noodles—you don't want to water down the broth!
The dish is Ivan's signature Three Pork Three Garlic Mazemen. Rather than a soupy broth-style ramen, these noodles are instead sauced with an ultra rich, thick, pork broth along with bits of crumbled bacon, almost in the style of an Italian pasta dish.
Lots of hands
Plenty of help in the kitchen tonight with Ivan's staff supplemented by cooks from the French Culinary Institute. The bowls are completed assembly line-style and passed down for serving.
"This is the greatest stuff in the world," says Ivan about the pickled garlic that finishes his ramen. "I might open up a restaurant that serves only this one day." Ivan makes the point that he's never been unhappy with anything that he serves—because he (and sometimes his wife) is relentless about throwing out anything that doesn't meet his exacting standards—but he's most proud of this recipe.
Ready to serve
A server picks up bowls of ramen to be whisked to the table. Once the noodles come out of the water there's no time to lose.
The finished ramen
Pickled garlic, fresh garlic, and roasted garlic combined with pork broth, braised pork belly, "hog schmaltz," and smoked bacon coat the noodles, which are topped with a bean sprout and scallion salad, slices of pickled garlic, and a sprinkling of powdered katsuobushi.
Dessert—an item which was prepared for this dinner but will not appear on the opening menu at the restaurant—was a chocolate ganache with yuzu gelée and a matcha whipped cream.
The dessert gets topped with crumbled Oreos and pretzels. Ivan has no compunction about using store-bought ingredients to good effect.