A taste of
He's the "crazy American" who dared to open a ramen joint in Japan. Join the New York-based chef and restaurateur as he revisits favorite Tokyo haunts.
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“When the plane was landing, I remember I had a real feeling of coming home, which I thought was strange but it was a really strong emotion.”
“Everything was so clean and organized and efficient, everybody was so helpful and kind…I was in love immediately.”
Thus began his enduring love affair with Tokyo, and a life-changing passion for ramen.
Go ahead, take a bite
A DAILY MASTERPIECE
For one of the most dynamic, densely populated cities in the world, there’s a sense of zen that pervades the everyday.
At Shinjuku station, Tokyo’s busiest hub, witness an urban symphony: a state-of-the-art complex occasionally punctuated with animé, tiny schoolchildren hand in hand, salarymen eating noodles at record speed at ramen stands, trains punctual to the second, a crush of commuters somehow mindful of personal space … it’s a daily masterpiece.
“Tokyo is constantly evolving, more than any place I’ve ever been to.”
“Everybody thinks Japan is expensive. I'll say, ‘Are you crazy? It’s half the price of New York,’” exclaims Orkin.
“You can have a white table cloth 3-course meal for $15 in Tokyo; and for 80 bucks, you can eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant for lunch.” He recommends Cuisine[s] Michel Troisgros in Shinjuku for beautiful French cuisine featuring Japanese ingredients.
Orkin relishes fancy “washoku” restaurants as much as back alley izakayas or sushi expeditions in Tsukiji. He still drools at the memory of Tenho, a hole-in-the-wall that serves the best gyoza he’s ever tasted.
“For the restaurant to be open for over 20 years, and sells only two kinds of dumplings… that’s crazy from an American point of view.”
After a serendipitous trip back to Japan sparked a fascination with ramen, Orkin decided to open his own restaurant in Setagaya, Tokyo.
He boldly jumped into the fray with his own revolutionary tomato-infused broth and handcrafted noodles, a gamble that would propel him from a gaijin rookie curiosity to ramen celebrity.
And in his intimate, 10-seater restaurant, he learned all about making diners happy.
Japan’s fanatical obsession with ramen has spawned commercial stands and avant-garde counters galore. At the modern Mensho, Ramen master Tomoharu Shono’s approach is so artisanal and intellectual, Orkin likens it to an “almost crazy religious experience you’re having with ramen.”
For a classic bowl, Orkin suggests Harukiya Ogikubo, an 18-seater diner that has been serving its famed version of “Tokyo-style” ramen with its unique nishiboshi (dried sardine) broth since 1949.
“It’s considered the place that the Itami Juzo used as his inspiration for Tampopo,” tips Orkin.
“You can start your trip at a five-hundred-year-old temple, and then go to the fanciest French restaurant or a little funky alley to get some chicken on skewers, with cold sake in tiny little glasses. And then you can go to a public bathhouse and have a soak—it is like bouncing back and forth between old-fashioned and the modern.”
BEST EUROPEAN CUISINE IN THE WORLD
The Japanese have an uncanny knack for pursuing something they're passionate about and taking it to the next level. “I find this particularly true when it comes to non-Japanese cuisine in Tokyo.”
"The Japanese do western dishes and wrap them in Japanese-ness, so it's very tasty." Case in point: L’Effervescence, where Shinobu Namae infuses exquisite French cuisine with an esoteric Japanese touch for an ethereal experience.
To make the best of your experience at 29 Rôtie, get your Japanese concierge to make a reservation.
IN BETWEEN EATS
“I personally think Japan’s department stores are the best in the world.”
Orkin’s own favorite “depaato” (department store) is the sprawling Isetan in Shinjuku.
“Every trip, I go to the basement food arcade, there’s just all kinds of things to eat and taste—they have chocolate rooms, sausage bars, a whisky tasting counter… Every single time I go, I’m amazed.”
Image courtesy of Jean-Paul Hévin, Isetan Department Store
Who says Tokyo is just about shopping and eating?
At least once a year, Orkin goes to the Kabuki-za (kabuki theater) in Ginza to watch a traditional Japanese dance-drama.
“I encourage everyone who has never been to Kabuki, to go see it. Get the ¥10,000-¥12,000 ticket, sit close, and it’s beautiful.”
THE UMAMI OF TOKYO
For all its diverse attractions, it’s the undercurrent of cooperation that gives you the real flavor of the place. “I think Tokyo is everything crazy, all kind of little surprises and kindness.”
Orkin has since moved back to New York, taking his restaurant Ivan Ramen with him, but still craves the hyper yet harmonious Tokyo vibe. “It’s possibly the best place to visit in the whole world.”
Tokyo celebrates the uniqueness of the city through the launch of its powerful new logo and slogan: “Tokyo Tokyo – Old meets New.” An outlook and design that reinforces the striking mix of rich heritage and traditions across the city, dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868), with modern, cutting-edge innovation and culture that manifests within Tokyo today.