No ordinary ramen shop, Ivan Plus stakes out its territory on the noodle frontier, exploring new styles and trends in the ramen world and offering innovative new dishes. This is the second shop from New York-born and -trained Ivan Orkin. While his first shop served as a proving ground to demonstrate that this American chef could master a traditional bowl, the "Plus" branch is more of a laboratory for experimenting with recipes and ideas. And for diners, a chance to enjoy some uniquely appealing versions of this popular dish.
The kitchen offers several distinctive styles of ramen, but the four-cheese mazemen is the one that first caught our attention and the one that keeps us coming back for more. Mazemen is a non-traditional style where sundry ingredients are piled on top of a heap of noodles and then everything is mixed together while eating, with only a minimal bit of soup provided. Mazemen, particularly a cheese-based version, would have been barely recognized as ramen ten years ago, but the style is gradually gaining in popularity.
The version here incorporates a blend of edam, mozzarella, parmesan and Hokkaido white cheeses, along with vegetables and optional toppings. The noodles are wide, flat, and a bit chewy - a good delivery platform for the thick saucelike mix on top. The massive cheesiness is balanced by a refreshing citrus note (we were told it was lemon-garlic oil), and the overall flavor is complex but much lighter than one might expect, even with a topping of extra chashu pork. Our chashu was in fact one of the highlights of the dish - it was exceptionally tender and flavorful with just the right balance of fat. When Ivan's website boasts about the high quality of the ingredients used in their ramen, this is what they're talking about.
Tsukemen (dipping noodles) are another menu option, and Ivan Plus's take on it again explores new territory. An assertively garlic-infused, soy-milk-based hot dipping sauce is paired with cold noodles and a scattering of cooked vegetables (onions, carrots). The menu also offers regular ramen bowls, and these too are fresh and creative. Orkin has developed two seafood-based soups; one is called ago-dashi, incorporating dried ago (flying fish), dried shrimps and dried scallops, while the other is built around dried bonito and shiitake mushrooms.
If you still have room, the side dish of meatball and roast tomato on rice is worth a try - the tomato in particular is fantastically flavorful. Roast tomato also comes as a noodle topping, along with onsen tamago (poached egg) and some excellent chashu. The shop itself is simple but comfortable, with one very long counter accomodating fifteen well-spaced seats. The ticket machine at the front is all in Japanese, but there are generally English-speaking staff to provide help if you need it. The shop is conveniently located on a lively shotengai about two minutes from Kyodo station on the Odakyu line.