Sunday, September 18, 2016

Takoyaki in New York

It is no secret that I love takoyaki, a kind of omelet ball that is stuffed with a tiny piece of octopus that is found all over Japan and especially in Kyoto but that is also apparently a favorite for Japanese people to cook at home for their families. I did a post on the subject in 2011, showing our friend Hitomi Kondo going through the process. I even helped in shaping the balls. Here is the almost finished product before saucing:

Nearly finished takoyaki balls
The takoyaki that Hitomi made for us, like every version that I have had until recently, was a firm ball with a firm piece of octopus inside, served with bonito flakes sprinkled on top and a special thickish sweetish sauce that resembles tonkatsu sauce. I say until recently because a couple of weeks ago I experienced a new take on takoyaki, in New York of all places. While waiting to get into Ramen Totto (see post of earlier today), I noticed Takoyaki Bar (also run by Totto) right next door, and resolved to return as soon as possible. Which I did.

Takoyaki Bar by Totto
To my surprise, the takoyaki here was very soft, almost impossible to hold with the traditional toothpicks they are served with, and had a very tender morsel of octopus inside. A wonderful new (for me) take on this iconic street dish served, as it should be, in a paper box, placed into a plastic external box.

Takoyaki Bar's takoyaki
For those squeamish about octopus (the tako in takoyaki), the restaurant makes takoyaki stuffed with bits of chicken (an oxymoron, of course). Not having any problem with octopus, I passed on this, but it does make it easier to go with a group, which might include octopodophobes.

Give it a try.

Bobby Jay

Really Good Ramen in New York

While living in Tokyo for nearly three years, I developed a love for ramen, Japanese noodle soup originally based on Chinese precedents but adapted by the Japanese and turned into a much-beloved dish that can be found all over Japan, with local variations, generally at simple restaurants or even standing counters at stations, on crowded streets and in shopping malls.

Until fairly recently, ramen was hard to find in New York, but in the last few years there has been a ramen explosion. The great Tokyo-based Ippudo, which specializes in Hakata ramen, with broth make with long-cooked pork bones, has a couple of establishments. The famous Ivan Ramen, which was created by an American ramen fanatic who spent years in Japan perfecting his craft (and has written a book on the subject), has received considerable notoriety, and less-famous ramen shops are springing up everywhere. One of the best is Jin Ramen, at 82nd and Amsterdam, and I am partial to Tabata, at Ninth Avenue and 40th Street, which is run by Malaysians who trained in Tokyo for many years and make some highly seasoned and not totally traditional versions (excellent spicy tan tan ramen).

In August I came across Totto Ramen, which has three locations (248 East 52nd, 366 West 52nd and 464 West 51st streets). I was thrilled to find that their ramen is really excellent.

Totto Ramen's extra spicy miso ramen - note big glob of sauce next to the egg
The place on West 52nd Street is unprepossessing, but always packed with eager slurpers. You wait on line, while they take your order and when you are seated, the correct noodles miraculously appear.

Totto Ramen: taking orders from waiting customers
And the noodles are worth even the considerable wait. First, the noodles are just the right texture, springy but not exactly al dente. I had extra spicy miso ramen, and the sauce was deep and rich as well as VERY spicy.

About a block away is the newest Totto Ramen, a lovely restaurant where I didn't have to wait on line, and there is room to breathe

Totto Ramen, 464 West 51st Street
The ramen is the same as at the West 52nd Street branch, and here I opted for the chicken paitan, or simple chicken ramen. Not as exciting as the spicy miso (and probably better with pork instead of chicken), but I wanted to try what is billed as the restaurant's signature dish.

Chicken paitan at Totto Ramen
If you like ramen, or don't know whether you do or not, you will be happy at Totto Ramen.

Bobby Jay