Ivan Orkin guides us through Tokyo's intense dining scene
- Last Updated: 5:26 PM, February 10, 2012
- Posted: 3:04 PM, January 23, 2012
Ivan Orkin, one of Tokyo’s most celebrated ramen chefs, still has a 718 phone number. He grew up on Long Island, cooked at Mesa Grill and Lutece, lived in Park Slope and now spends lots of time in Westchester with his family. And he plans to open a restaurant in New York within the year.
But for now, he’s having a good time being huge in Japan. When we asked Muneki Mizutani, editor of Tokyo food magazine Dancyu, how he knows Orkin, he says, “Everyone knows Ivan. He’s famous.”
There are, after all, thousands of Tokyo ramen shops, but there aren’t many chatty white dudes stirring the pot. But even more than that, there are thousands of Tokyo ramen shops, and most of them aren’t great. Orkin’s two Ivan Ramen eateries (in Roka-koen and Kyodo) offer deeply satisfying bowls with tender fatty pork, thin toothsome noodles, a perfectly runny egg and a rich broth that’s the soul of the dish. Orkin’s standard soup suits the traditional Japanese palate well. It includes a mix of chicken stock and dashi, a seaweed-heavy base that’s all about umami.
But Orkin, a chef who likes to play around and who spends a lot of time reading and thinking about what restaurants all over the world are doing, enjoys riffing on ramen, too. He’s made a Mexican ramen, using chilies for his base, that he’s quite proud of. He’s created limited-edition instant ramen for convenience stores including Circle K. And he’s playing around with a pork fat ramen. “No soup, just fat,” he says. “I’m getting ready for New York!”
In the meantime, though, he’s the ideal guide to dining around Tokyo. And while he makes great recommendations, eats with us and even takes us to a coffee shop where he starts talking to the proprietor about Stumptown, he also emphasizes that Tokyo is so vast that nobody has anything close to a comprehensive list of where to eat. Even the chain restaurants are good here, he says, and exploring on your own is a big part of the fun. This is a man who will wake up on his day off and then take a 45-minute train ride to try a bowl of curry he’s heard about.
We absorb his advice and philosophy as we eat around Tokyo for a week. Here are our highlights:
The Shangri-La hotel, towering above Tokyo Station in the high-rent Marunouchi district, can make you feel like you’re floating on top of the world. The rooms, with $10,000 beds actually designed to make you feel like you’re floating, are on the top 11 floors of a 37-story building. We dine on the 29th floor at Nadaman, an outpost of a fine-dining chain (not at all an oxymoron in Tokyo) where we eat sea urchin chawanmushi egg custard and almost absurdly delicate wagyu beef.