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Review Recap: Ippudo

BruniBetting was put to pasture just in time. Our once-fabled ability to foretell Frank Bruni’s restaurant ratings has gone astray. For the second week in a row, the lame-duck critic has confounded us—this time with a one-star review of Ippudo.

The review finds our critic “Worshipping at the Altar of Ramen.” At first, it reads distinctly like the two-star rave we were expecting:

At Ippudo in the East Village, which is where many of the most devoted ramen fans practice their devotion, I would sometimes look up from my ramen and realize that I hadn’t acknowledged my companions for several minutes, and had in fact forgotten that they were there.

With ramen like Ippudo’s at its finest, who needs conversation? For that matter, who needs company?

Ippudo opened early last year, but seems to become even more popular and fashionable every month. Ippudo, Ippudo, Ippudo: lately, acquaintances mention it all the time, usually in order to crow that they’ve just been. It’s an insider’s favorite, enjoying its gastronome-darling moment.

In the end, he has just enough complaints to take Ippudo into the Land of the One:

Ippudo doesn’t take reservations, and that’s one of several annoyances. In the end there are challenges to the ramen bliss here. There are complications and compromises that you have to edit out of the experience…

Pork is a useful compass for navigating Ippudo’s menu, which goes beyond ramen to an array of small and medium-size plates. If a dish centers or pivots on pork — the meaty, fatty, glorious Samurai ribs, for example — consider it. If it doesn’t, beware. There’s remarkable unevenness here, exemplified by the shockingly fishy black cod I had one night…

There’s unevenness even to the ramen, in which the slices of pork can be tender or tough, and in which the noodles can be just a tad too soft. With the turnover and bustle at Ippudo, consistency is clearly a challenge.

The crowd management could be better — warmer. During lunch on a recent day, nearly a dozen of us waited around the bar up front for an open table, but Ippudo hadn’t bothered to deploy a single bartender or dispatch a single server to see if we wanted a drink or, say, a glass of water. Service on the whole varies, alternately relaxed and rushed, friendly and aloof.

On the whole, though, this is one of those infrequent one-star reviews that is actually meant as a compliment. The trouble with Bruni is that, at least 2/3rds of the time, a star by itself is an insult. In Bruni’s starry universe, it’s tough to find the one-star reviews that are actually positive recommendations—like this one—because they get lost in a sea of mediocrity.

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