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The Platt List

The triple-pork, triple-garlic mazemen at Ivan Ramen.  

The Postmillennial Asian-Fusion Boom

If the term “Asian fusion” is uttered at all these days, it’s usually by dismissive food snobs describing comically doomed experiments conducted in the kitchens of forgotten, overpriced tourist hotels. But as the influence of seminal cooks like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and that Nobu of these pork-loving times, David Chang, continues to spread throughout the land, I would respectfully argue that the dark art of fusion cooking has never been more vibrant or widespread. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you try to find a seat at the popular little East Village restaurant Tuome, where the former Eleven Madison Park chef Thomas Chen serves up his own special version of New American cuisine, shot through with what he calls “Asian influences.” In Chen’s case, this means octopus tentacles doused with brown butter and XO sauce, little log-shaped spring rolls stuffed with braised oxtail, and crispy-fried “deviled eggs” that he and his cooks delicately deconstruct (the egg white is the crispy-fried part, the deviled yolk is on top) and dab with chile oil. Invariably, some of these recipes work better than others, but whatever you do, save room for the Berkshire-pork-belly “Pig Out” for two, which Chen and his cooks flatten like some porky version of pressed duck, cut into little bonbon-size squares, and meticulously arrange on a slab of black slate with a little squirt bottle of spicy chile sauce on the side.

Every year, all sorts of new ramen options pop up around this noodle-mad town, but the one my ramen-crazed daughter, Penelope, can’t stop talking about is Ivan Ramen, which the madcap noodle master Ivan Orkin opened several months ago in a colorful double-storefront space down on Clinton Street. Orkin spent nearly a decade in Tokyo perfecting his own signature fusion creations, like the famous “four cheese” mazemen, which is made with a variety of umami-rich Italian cheeses and tastes like some strange, fiendishly addictive Japanese version of spaghetti carbonara. You’ll find it and other ramen creations on the menu at this boisterous, satisfying establishment, but be sure to sample Orkin’s other inspired, non-ramen dishes, like cooling piles of shaved daikon radish topped with a chunky, housemade XO sauce, the justly hyped okonomiyaki waffle made with Pennsylvania-style scrapple, and an excellent lemony version of Cajun dirty rice folded with rich little nuggets of monkfish liver instead of the usual chicken liver. The Platt family’s favorite new venue for classic soup dumplings in the neighborhood is The Bao, on St. Marks Place, but whenever we feel like indulging in a slap-up dumpling feast, we bundle into the car and drive out to Dumpling Galaxy on Main Street in Flushing, where it’s possible to procure 100 varieties of dumplings stuffed with unexpected fillings like mashed carrots (“These are just okay, Dad”), preserved eggs and pine nuts (“Yuck, Dad”), and ground lamb mingled with shreds of green squash or cilantro (“Delicious!”). If you’re in the market for an elaborate, New Age version of Peking duck, you’ll find it at Joe Ng and Ed Schoenfeld’s small, tastefully appointed basement restaurant Decoy, where you can complement a fat, traditionally crisped Long Island duckling with shots of duck consommé and a variety of bar snacks, including stacks of house chips made with frizzled fish skin instead of potatoes and served for the benefit of local night owls until 1:45 a.m.

There’s no Peking duck on the menu at Wilson Tang’s sophisticated little Orchard Street establishment, Fung Tu, although the former Per Se cook Jonathan Wu conducts ingenious fusion experiments with a variety of other ancient Chinatown classics, like elegantly rendered helpings of fried rice (mixed with short ribs and rhubarb when I visited), perfectly steamed bao buns (stuffed with butternut squash and shiitake mushrooms), and the lowly egg roll, which is flavored with two kinds of Mediterranean olives, among other non-Chinese ingredients, and fat strips of pork belly cooked to soft tenderness in a state-of-the-art combi oven, and comes with a small bowl of citrus-tinged mayonnaise for dipping.