New York native and Japanophile chef Ivan Orkin oversees a buzzy and burgeoning international noodle empire, with outlets of his Ivan Ramen (multiple locations) shops in Japan and New York.
Although he’s known for incorporating elements of Eastern and Western cuisines, he’s quick to warn against labeling his cooking. “I never really made a conscious effort to create these types of mash-ups,” he tells the Voice. “In my life, I flow from my American culture and my adopted Japanese cultures effortlessly.”
And he’s already gifted our city with a bevy of quirky and flavor-packed combinations, including chilled lemon salt-broth ramen spiked with briny crab salad and a breakfast ramen with ham and eggs dunked in cheddar dashi at his midtown Slurp Shop. In his pursuit of deliciousness, Orkin’s become a sort of mad-scientist-meets-culinary-anthropologist, exploring regional specialties and updating them with his particular brand of ingenuity.
On the Lower East Side, Orkin smothers fried tofu with miso-mushroom chili and yellow mustard. There’s also the Lancaster okonomiyaki, a waffled version of the Japanese pancake made with Pennsylvania’s own mystery meat, scrapple, and New Orleans–style dirty rice funked up with chewy nubbins of monkfish liver. “Fact is, I love scrapple and wanted to see if we could integrate it into the menu,” Orkin says of the pancake. “After several attempts, we stumbled upon the okonomiyaki.”
Orkin has launched similar specials in Tokyo, like a “Mexican Ramen” with spicy pork and guajillo chile broth. “My BLT mazemen was one of my favorites and ironically did better in Japan than when I sold it at the Clinton Street restaurant,” he says of the sandwich-inspired, soup-less noodle dish, which is packed with bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise.
Most recently, Orkin was serving two imaginative takes on vintage regional sandwiches during lunch and brunch downtown. He says he considers himself something of a sandwich enthusiast. “I’m always looking for a way to integrate them into my menus in a way that is truthful to me.”
The first — the St. Paul sandwich, made popular in St. Louis — hasn’t sold very well, so it’s since been cut from the roster. Which is a pity: The crisped-up pork egg foo young patty had a sausage-like snap to it, with bean sprouts, pickles, lettuce, togarashi mayonnaise, and a slice of heirloom tomato layered between white toast. After reading about it, he says, he just felt compelled “to see if we could put a Japanese spin on this already kooky Chinese-American mash-up.”
The other sandwich, the Herbie’s International (one of the Village Voice’s 100 Favorite Dishes), is a combination of thinly sliced Chinese-style roast pork slicked with garlic duck sauce and sandwiched between garlic bread. Orkin’s pal used to eat at the Canarsie restaurant from which the sandwich takes its name (though its birthplace is the original, now-defunct Herbie’s Restaurant of Loch Sheldrake).
Constantly innovating, Orkin is keen on teasing an upcoming Slurp Shop menu that promises to “pay homage to my love of sandwiches” using bao buns as the foundation. It’s something he already has a knack for, with his airy pastrami and daikon-coleslaw-stuffed dough pockets on Clinton Street and “breakfast buns” in midtown layered with Japanese pork sausage, scallion omelet, and yuzu hollandaise.