SF Eats: Ippudo
You might have seen it already, but Ippudo has landed in San Francisco! I didn't know anything about this famous ramen chain, but it's apparently a big hit in Japan, New York, and, as of last year, Berkeley. I was lucky enough to be invited to an event celebrating the San Francisco location's grand opening (1/28), and I even got a picture with the ramen king himself!
Although it was a private event, it was still very packed to the brim with media people (bloggers, writers, photographers, etc.). They had to have 2 rounds of eating, and the appetizers brought out at the beginning disappeared in mere minutes! There were a few things served, but I sadly only got to try the potato salad and spicy cold cucumber—both were tasty. After appetizers, there was a taiko drumming performance, a speech from Shigemi Kawahara, a breaking of the sake barrel, and, finally, RAMEN!
For the ramen, they offered the whole menu but told the attendees that noodles would not be cooked to order, and would instead be served firm for everyone. Apparently, on a regular day, you can choose the firmness of your noodles, but this worked for me since I like it a little more chewy! The only addition to the menu was a special event ramen called the Celebratory Lobster Ramen.
SADLY, my friends and I were seated in the first round of people and the last to order. We hungrily and sadly watched as bowls of ramen passed by us, never to arrive at our table. After the couple next to us got their two bowls of ramen and then a THIRD bowl, we were finally able to flag down one of the servers who went to check on what had happened to our orders. With such a big event, it could have been a little better prepared, especially since our side of the room also didn't get any of the appetizers!
We eventually got all the ramen we ordered, and, boy, did we dig in. First, we obviously had to get the celebratory lobster ramen which was exclusive to the event that night! Sadly, it looked and tasted not as great as I hoped.
I liked the noodles and how firm they were, but the broth was somewhat oily, a little too seafood-y, and the lobster was salty and overcooked. They were pretty generous with the portions though!
In addition to the lobster ramen, we tried the Karaka Spicy ramen and the Shiro Veggie ramen. The broth of the Karaka Spicy was probably the best, and I liked the marinated firm tofu that came with the veggie. Both ramens came with a thinner noodle than what we had in the lobster ramen, and, I gotta say, I really hated that noodle!
The texture of the noodle was fine, but there was a starchy, wheat flavor that really lingered in the mouth as I was eating it 😣 If the lobster ramen noodles were in the Karaka Spicy ramen, I think it would have made for a much better bowl. Here's a shot of that Shiro Veggie bowl:
Overall, I'll be a little more forgiving since it was a large crowd and the staff was new, but I'm not sure I'd go to Ippudo again. I didn't find any of the ramens that appealing for me to go back a 2nd time—especially since they are now officially open and bound to have very long lines. On the positive side, the restaurant was beautifully done with elements of earth, fire, water, and metal incorporated into it, and there's a great sake bar in the front before you enter the dining area!