When ramen guru Ivan Orkin was growing up on Long Island, he would often spend a day noshing his way through the Lower East Side, the neighborhood his grandfather called home a century ago. Now, he’s come full circle.
“I would come down here as a kid and go to Guss’ Pickles when it was still here, walk over to Kossar’s, head to Economy Candy and end up at Yonah Schimmel’s for a knish,” he said. His family stopped regularly at Katz’s for pastrami and Russ & Daughters for smoked fish, chocolate-covered jelly rings and bags of dried fruit. While many of Orkin’s childhood favorites remain, the LES restaurant scene has changed drastically around them in recent years, while he was away in Japan making an international name for himself with noodles.
Now, he’s becoming a part of the neighborhood’s changing culinary landscape with the May 9 opening of his hotly anticipated new restaurant, Ivan Ramen.
“I love the space and I love the neighborhood,” Orkin said last week, sitting in his nearly completed space at 25 Clinton St. “I’ve shown a deep level of commitment to the LES and I’m really excited about being here. Getting the opportunity to talk to people directly in this neighborhood is great—we want to be welcoming to everyone.”
Originally scheduled to open last summer, Orkin’s first full-service ramen shop stateside was beset by construction delays and other issues. In the meantime, last fall, he opened Slurp Shop, a ramen stand in the Gotham West Market.
Speaking at the restaurant that’s in the final throes of completion, amid the controlled chaos of construction workers, publicists and chefs, Orkin said he envisions the Clinton Street location as a community hub and has already established close connections with other restaurants in the neighborhood.
Orkin says that opening a restaurant in New York City is “a thousand times more challenging” than in Japan, where he launched two restaurants before returning home in 2011.
“Once you start opening walls and looking at plumbing and electricity, it’s very complex,” he said. “Everyone warned me New York City is a very hard place to open a business.”
The 45-seat restaurant boasts a backyard that seats 20. Outside, an elaborate handcrafted mosaic created by Bailey Cypress features a pig, chicken, fish and squid—all ingredients in Orkin’s signature ramen dishes. The restaurant’s interior features colorful collage by Claude Carril. Behind the counter, Nathan Fox’s comic-strip light-box called “The Art of the Slurp”, demonstrates how to eat ramen.
While details of the menu are yet to be finalized, Orkin said, he plans to feature cold ramen dishes for the summer.
“I eat ramen all summer long,” he said. “I think people who like ramen eat it all the time.”
He’ll start out serving his regular selection of hot noodle dishes, along with beer, wine and sake. He also plans to draw a lunch crowd. Though he still goes for smoked fish at Russ & Daughters, among other favorites, Orkin said he’s also enjoyed some of the more recent additions to the neighborhood food scene he grew up appreciating. He’s a big fan of chef Danny Bowien’s Mission Cantina and the big cups of coffee and people-watching at Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop. These days, he takes his own family to il Laboratorio del Gelato for ice cream. In 12 days, he’ll open his own doors. “I really want to be a go-to place for people in the neighborhood,” he said. “We’re looking forward to nurturing regulars and we’re really excited to be a real neighborhood spot.” Ivan Ramen, 25 Clinton St. between Houston and Stanton Streets opens May 9. Hours: 5:30 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Reservations accepted only for parties of six or more.