Ippudo Ramen in Berkeley

by foodhoe on July 28, 2017

2015 Shattuck Ave. (at University), Berkeley | website

If you haven’t heard, Ippudo Ramen is opening its first west coast location today in downtown Berkeley. These are exciting times for local ramen enthusiasts who have waited two years to welcome the 70th location of the global chain, so expect long lines!  I was lucky to be invited to a media preview earlier this week where we were introduced to the Ippudo brand and philosophy, got to meet some key staff while hanging out in the vibrant and modern restaurant, learn about sake, tour the kitchen and sample some of the menu.  Ippudo began over 30 years ago in Fukuoka, Japan (a small island in the south) by Shigemi Kawahara who wanted to introduce the world to his carefully crafted authentic Hakata style tonkotsu ramen in a elegant and modern restaurant.  He was crowned Ramen King in 2005 and holds a place in the Ramen Hall of Fame after winning the championship 3 times consecutively between 1997-2000 on a Japanese TV program.  His company Chikaranomoto has partnered with the Panda Restaurant Group (known for Panda Express) and is on a fast track to continue expansion around the world.

The word zuzutto (onomatopoeia for the sound of slurping in Japanese) is blazoned across the pillars throughout the dining room to encourage you to slurp your noodles loudly. According to Asian customs you should slurp when you eat a bowl of noodles, which serves to cool the noodles so you can eat them faster before they get soggy, it opens up the taste buds and tells the chef that you are enjoying the food. It is the sound of satisfaction and it just looks like you are eating something really delicious (which you are). The framed artwork along the back wall are towels, shirts and aprons that are actual uniforms used by staff across the globe.

We learned that there are 4 types of sake and sampled each: Nigori – mild & gentle, Dassai 50 – fragrant & luxurious, Hakkaisan Honjozo – clean & crisp, Tengumai Juneau – classic & aged. The restaurant has 8 different brands of sake for you to choose from.

We had a fun exercise where they walked us through the different components that go into making a bowl of noodles. The red bowl contained the basic fatty pork broth that has been cooked for 18 hours which can be augmented with clarified lard, finely chopped pork backfat, black garlic oil that is fantastically aromatic with charred garlic and onions, and a magic sauce (tare) that was mysteriously savory and flavorful. The chef wouldn’t tell us more, so we only know it is magical and really adds flavor and complexity to the broth…

We got to tour the kitchen which is outfitted for making the best possible bowl of noodles. They have a hot water bath to keep the bowls at 172 degrees to ensure that each serving is perfect.

The noodles are made in-house in a temperature controlled room full of noodle making contraptions where the noodles are cut and then rest overnight.

The noodles are Hakata style, which means they are straight and thin with low water content.

They are cooked in boiling water for less than a minute to produce an al dente texture that pairs well with the steaming hot pork-based broth.  When you order your noodles you can specify soft (yawa), firm (kata) and very firm (bari kata).  Ippudo says the firmer the better.

Each bowl comes topped with slices of pork belly chashu, bean sprouts, sesame, slices of kikurage mushrooms (also known as wood or cloud ear fungus, they are dried and reconstituted and provide a satisfying crunch) and scallions. A soft-boiled seasoned egg, extra chashu and/or nori (seaweed) can be added for additional cost.  This is the Shiromaru, a bowl of classic Hakata-style ramen, soothing and full of creamy rich and pure flavors ($14).  The egg was perfectly cooked so that the yolk was dark golden and custardy, recommended!

I loved the Akamaru, which is a more bold translation made with the rich tonkotsu broth enhanced with a scoop of Ippudo’s secret umami dama miso paste, and a puddle of the fragrant black garlic oil ($14). You can see the pieces of pork backfat and rich globules of fat are floating on the surface like a delicious oil slick.  A refined, modern-style ramen.

This is what it looked like after I mixed everything together… gorgeous isn’t it?  It’s rich and complex and so good that if you still have some broth left after  you finish your noodles, you can order more noodles (kaedama) for $2 to add to your bowl.  I preferred to keep sipping that madly delicious soup…

Here’s the spicy Karaka, made with original tonkotsu broth with an added kick of hot spices, black garlic oil and magic sauce ($16).

The noodles were thin and straight, very unlike the curly noodles served at most noodle shops, which I felt made them more slurpable.  I did not see the actual menu, but hear that there is a shoyu option that is not tonkotsu based, perhaps for a vegetarian option.

Appetizers include tender steamed buns filled with thick slices of rich jiggly pork belly, chicken, or a vegetarian version made with velvety eggplant and mushrooms that are lightly battered and fried then coated with a sweet and spicy sauce that offered a surprisingly fresh combination of textures and flavors.  The buns were finished with an iceberg lettuce leaf and a squeeze of kewpie mayonnaise.  There was also a fresh green salad of spring mix topped with paper thin tendrils of carrots and bell pepper, and a generous handful of crunchy fried burdock root lightly tossed with a creamy soy dressing, a refreshing salad of sliced cucumber drizzled with their signature spicy sesame oil dressing and sprinkled with crushed roasted sesame.

Sticky spicy chicken wings coated in Ippudo’s special black pepper sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

I’d just get the ramen on your first visit because you want to enjoy the entire bowl of noodles and then order kaedama to prolong the moment…  Order the buns if you must, the pork belly and veggie were as good as you could imagine, and the marinated cucumber added a refreshing healthy element to the meal.

Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Carolyn Jung August 3, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Wow, those are some impressive looking bowls of ramen. And the noodles are very intriguing. Like you described, they definitely look poker-straight, which is so different from the usual ramen noodles elsewhere. So I hear the wait this past weekend was something like 90 minutes in line. Would you say it’s worth that kind of wait? 😉


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