Hello everyone! We are back with another ramen quest and also a new *Instagram account*. Check us out and follow us @aramenquest! Our good friend Matt joined us this time on our outing to Ichiran, a new ramen spot in Bushwick off of the Morgan Ave stop on the L.
This is Ichiran’s first location in the United States. From the outside, it looks like a factory, which makes sense because the noodles are made onsite. Above all, Ichiran’s “flavor concentration booths” differentiate it from every other ramen shop in New York City that we’ve visited. The booths are intended to create a very private dining experience. You fill out the menu with your choices for broth intensity, noodle hardness, and others. After pressing a button, a staff member takes your menu. A few minutes later, the screen in front of you rolls up and someone presents you with your ramen exactly how you ordered it. It may sound strange, but this type of intensely private dining experience is relatively common in Japan as a way to maximize spatial and personal efficiency. While a cool and novel concept, we thought it was odd that they would have this feature at a Brooklyn location. Couldn’t it do better in a denser part of the city like the Financial District, especially considering the potential clientele and ability to afford the meal (which we’ll touch on later)?
We opted for table service instead of the flavor concentration booths since we were a group and wanted to compare our ramen. The staff was friendly, accommodating, and seemingly very committed to making the experience feel authentic. For example, the servers announced customers’ arrivals and said certain phrases in Japanese when dropping off food. We found the large number of servers a bit strange given the size of the dining room and the fact that it wasn’t very busy when we went. Maybe since this location of Ichiran is new, they’re still working out the kinks and training people.
The ramen itself really impressed us. Each of us customized the flavor intensity (amount of dashi) and fattiness of our soup differently. I opted for a rich broth while Matt and Sophia went with the normal level of dashi. Sophia ordered a less fatty broth, I ordered mine normal, and Matt had his slightly more fatty. The broth itself was delicious. It had a great porky flavor and excellent depth. There was also an interestingly satisfying sweetness and malty flavor to it. The most notable thing was that we could actually taste the difference between the varying combinations of dashi and fat in our respective bowls. It was really great how the same base broth and dashi can be customized to make a lighter broth (perhaps for a warmer day) or a really rich bowl of comfort food. It’s rare that places in the city allow you to do this, and even rarer when the difference is as noticeable and impacts your experience.
Our opinion was split on the noodles. Sophia and Matt enjoyed the noodles. Matt commented that he liked them even though he generally prefers thicker, wavier ramen noodles. He reasoned it was because the Ichiran noodles were delicate, springy, and conveyed a lot of the broth’s flavor. Sophia agreed that they served as a really nice complement to the soup in terms of texture, chewiness, and thickness. I thought they were a little too starchy and flour-y, although I agreed that they were cooked well and retained their springiness throughout the meal. While we all ordered kae damas (extra servings of noodles), we were disappointed at how long they took to make them. Kae damas should be a priority at any ramen restaurant. The person ordering the extra noodles is implicitly saying that they like your food enough to order more of it. They also have rapidly-cooling soup in front of them, so you want to get the noodles out as quickly as possible. It took some time for each kae dama order to come out when it should have been ready in a matter of seconds (a minute at most). At the end of the day, this is not a huge deal, but it is definite knock against the service. Hopefully, the staff can work to improve this as they build more experience.
We did not have any other food besides our ramen. There’s actually not much else to order on the menu! You can choose the amount of scallions, chashu, and hiden no tare (spicy red sauce) you want. The spicy paste was really nice and had a good kick to it. The chashu was less impressive – we thought it was thin and not extremely flavorful. It did soak up some flavor from the broth but it would be much better if it was thicker or had more seasoning.
As much as we liked it, the location and price may discourage many people from going. Ichiran is one of the restaurants that is part of the no-tip trend so a normal bowl without any addition is almost $20. This price can be especially expensive because the same bowl in Japanese and Hong Kong locations is about $7. While the final price between the two restaurants may not be that different when tax and tip are accounted for, it still feels like you are paying a lot for a bowl. The location also may be inconvenient. Although it’s close to a subway stop and other popular restaurants like Roberta’s, it can be pretty far out for many folks.
Ichiran is a much better than average option for ramen if you are in Brooklyn. Its unique dining system, delicious soup and devotion to authenticity make it a great experience. We really liked the ordering system because it was easy to understand made things simple. However, the price, lack of other food options, location, and certain aspects of the food and service knock it down a notch. We given Ichiran a solid three and a half stars out of five.