After TWO AND A HALF HOURS, we are finally inside the restaurant! (Occasionally, servers would come out with free cans of green tea and politely thank everyone for waiting, which was appreciated.)
Upon entering, the staff greets you with a cheerful "irasshaimase," a Japanese welcoming custom which you may have been exposed to by some well-intended 80's movie sushi scene, and which feels a world away from the typical "college aloof" Berkeley vibe. To us, Ippudo's irasshaimase showed that even though Ippudo is becoming an international icon, the trendy ramen spot is also still fully attached to its Japanese roots and culture. A very good sign, which portends excellence for our upcoming meal of traditional Japanese ramen soup.
Ippudo has four bowls from which you may choose, after choosing your style of broth (for broths see below). You may choose a basic bowl (with noodles, pork belly, bean spouts, mushrooms, and scallions), tomago (which has all of the above, plus a boiled egg), chashu (all of the above, plus extra sliced pork), or special (which has all of the above, plus both egg and extra pork). The shoyu ramen features a fish based broth, as opposed to the tonkatsu options above, and is only available in one bowl style. Full Menu here: http://ippudo-us.com/pdf/Ippudo_Berkley%20Menu_food.pdf
For our introductory meal at Ippudo, we both went for the Spicy Special - yes, extra flavor please, and with all the extras!
Ippudo simmers their broth for 20 hours achieve the well developed flavors of the pork fat, bone marrow, and caramelized aromatics, as well as its famous milky texture. While Ippudo does not feature the most aromatic nor the most umami of all broths we have tried, its spicy tonkatsu was perfectly balanced and delicious.
Quick public health tip: beware, food adventurers, as ALL ramen is packed with insane amounts of sodium, and not to be approached without consideration and planning for this fact. (Be sure to try to run a 5k before hand, or at least have a low salt day, and then prepared to desalinate over the next few days after!!) So be wary of drinking all of the amazingly delicious broth it due to its sodium content. If you can't help yourself, make sure to hydrate plenty afterward.
The soup noodles in ramen tend to be thin noodles, either straight or wavy. Ippudo's house made thin noodles were just slightly thinner than what we were used to, and delicious. What is fun about Ippudo is that they let you choose the firmness from soft to medium to firm - "yawa, futsu, kata, or bari kata". We opted for "kata" this time around.
Next time, Michael would stick with the kata firm noodles which had a great hearty mouth feel and chewiness (firmer than "al dente," but since the noodles are fresh they are not crunchy like an undercooked dry noodle would be - just nice and meaty), while Cygridh would opt for the "futsu" or maybe even "yawa", which is what most readers will be more used to. Cygridh was also not expecting this thin of noodle (pretty close to angel hair thin). We have, however, had this thin noodle before at a Japanese chain ramen shop Ajisen, which is our favorite one-$ ramen, at Westfield mall.
In keeping with its observation of authentic Japanese tradition, Ippudo also offers the "kaedama". Thus, if you let your server know "kaedama, please" just before you finish your first serving of noodles, your ramen chef will bring out a second serving of noodles for you for $2.00. (This was very tempting, but by the time we got there, we could not eat another bite. We must also apologize, we were way too stuffed to try any red bean or lychee ice cream for dessert.)
All in all, we found Ippudo's fare to meet expectations of expertly prepared ramen, earning it a well-deserved spot in our Top Three Bay Area Ramen List!
(For all those who are curious, our Top Three list goes:
#1) Mensho Ramen, San Francisco $$$
#2) Katana Ya, San Francisco $$
#3) Ippudo Berkeley $$$$
Feel free to comment with your faves, and let us know where to go next!)
We cannot go further without mentioning our affordable air carrier who made this all happen: Wow! Air. (No, we are not famous enough to be paid or sponsored. They have no knlowledge or approval of this 100% post.) Below is a list, in order, of our collected thoughts on Wow. (Spoiler alert. The good outweighs and precedes the bad, so it's worth reading til the end.)
#1. Cheap fares!! Our round trip tickets to Paris were under $500 each, Including taxes. In the end, we unexpectedly had to pay for a bag (which added $75 each way), but that still brings the tickets to $570 each including the bag (one free carry on and one free personal item each allow for a briefcase and a backpack, duffle and a purse, or what have you), so I call it a win compared to $1400 each. The savings of $1600.00 more than covered the "duelling 3 Michelin resraurant" post yet to come... so, thanks, Wow!.
#2 Wow! has such clean, spacious planes. The seats are comfortable and there is a ton of legroom. Our one compliant about the comfort level was that they blast the A.C. at a frigid 18 degrees F (so it felt) and do not provide blankets. Bring a coat to stay warm.
#3 they fly from limited airports in the US., but dozens of great international destinations are available. (If you are on east or west coast, you are in luck.)
#4 flights are Always through Iceland. Wow! Air is a young Icelandic airline. They service all flights through Keflavik. The Keflavic airport is stunning in its cleanliness and design.
Moreover, short or long stop overs in Iceland are possible with this arrangement (i.e., add a Bonus city to your vacation or hit the Nordic spa which provides a shuttle to and from the airport.)
With the Blue Lagoon, northern lights, and tons of gorgeous waterfalls to offer, Iceland looks amazingly beautiful and Reyevik seems quite fun for partiers. Not to mention, Icelandic yogurt will change your conception of how great yogurt can be!
#5 NO SERVICES INCLUDED.
Okay it must be said. In consideration of all the above, you get only outlets on the plane. So, if you preloaded your tablet with films and shows to bingewatch, good for you! Otherwise, prepare for a Loooong meditation. There is no Wi-Fi. There are no movies. There are no screens. You do get an in flight magazine and a shopping catalogue, but they do not take 8 hours to read...
Oh, also water costs, no snacks, no free coffee or treats of any kind.
Word of warning: if you don't know what's up, your wow flight from Sf could be an 8 hour, thirsty, hungry, freezing ordeal as well as incredibly boring. However, it doesn't have to be!
Solution: come prepared. Books, tablets, a laptop or pen and paper, or some other form of stimulation are recommended, along with food, drinks, and a blanket or coat. (These are good ideas for any flight actually, since preparation is the key to good travels!)
Little known fact: they only change the guard at Buckingham Palace every other day (which, sadly, was not the day we went). And, in any event, not in the rain (which, sadly, was the day we went).
Sadly, this one didn't work out.
[Insert photo essay here, next time... in the mean time here are some photos of the unchanged guard, a disappointed crowd, and a statue.]
We arrived in London by nightfall via Eurostar and checked into our hotel. Having such precious little time to enjoy here, we elected to first acquaint ourselves with the city with a 90 minute double decker bus tour called "London by Night." (This was on a well-received tip from my barbor, who suggested a hop on hop off as literally the very first thing to do in any overwhelming new city, to get the lay of the land before branching out into the areas you wish to explore further.)