RAMEN is essentially holistic: there is a pot into which everything goes and you get a soup and noodles plus any bits and pieces leftover can be wrapped up into dumplings like gyoza or even battered and deep fried. I am not sure an environmental health officer would agree with me but from my perspective this is a summit to be aspired to…in mitigation I notice that of the six outlets operating under the name Totto, including one in Taipei, allow an hour’s closure in the afternoon to wash and clean out the pot…
The midtown incarnation between 8th and 9th is a basement with a counter and a scatter of three tables that makes Blade Runner look like Mary Poppins.Nearby at Hells Kitchen – between 9th and 10th – is a more elegant, more manga variation in which the staff collude.
Waitresses have tattoos, the boys wear head scarves and the music teeters on the edge of garage grunge. It is part of a little Tokyonana corner which also features a sake bar and a fancier fusion restaurant, but the ramen seems to be the most popular which might be to do with the prices which just about top the $10 mark which in this part of NYC can only be matched by a quarter slice of pizza or if you are drinking outside of happy hour then a glass of wine.
In both cases the central fixture is a rocket shaped casserole that reaches about chest high and in which the main business takes place… everything is cooked in this cylinder so it cannot really be described accurately as a recipe, it is a process which depending on what time you might arrive will be flavoured by whatever happens to have been dunked in it on route…in that sense it is a sum of the parts, a sum of the collective audience of diners who have ordered before you, and indeed your own contribution will subtly influence what follows. Essentially it is a riff of chicken and pork simmered slowly in stock to which other items may be added en route plus of course the noodle and vegetables.
Is this is the best ramen in new york…I have no idea, but by definition it is never the same, if it is for you then great but it may not be for her, around such conundrums new yorkans can obsess.
To underline my point I would offer up not the expected bowls of ramen of which there are eight plus variations in noodles and fillings – tick egg, tick pork, tick seaweed, tick even avocado etc and which you may struggle, unless you have a new york appetite, to finish the bowl, There is a mega variation to which includes, well everything. As the red cockerel indicates this is chicken ramen, although there is pork too.
Let us just consider a moment the char sui pork buns. In the convention of hamburgers-western-style the patty is usually room temperature where the bun may well be a few degrees warmer but not usually what you might call hot. Here the meat is belly pork and arrives what you might call piping hot, straight from the stock pot, relieved at last of its duty to contribute flavor to the mother liquid for past eight – ten hours – laid up on crisp green lettuce, squirted with mayonnaise and wrapped in a circle of what spongy dough (it is made with flower, flour? Flower, yes) …ladies and gentleman allow me to introduce you to the ramen burger, Kyoto style. Forensic food historians might postulate if this might not have pre-dated the western version, usually credited to the showgrounds of eastern usa circa 1890, where ramen shops are much much older.
Other starters might also have been fished out of the pot and wrapped like the gyoza in a softer noodle pasta or the deep fried chicken wrapped in panko crumbs, albeit I suspect here we broke the cooking harmony by importing some fresh chicken breast.
I recommend a cold beer to go with…An Indian chap at the next table was negotiating the slightly awkward challenge of taking his girlfriend’s mother out for the first time, from which you might deduce this concept is quite robust enough to deal with all manner of occasions, should the environmental health department allow for it. Both the above are in striking distance of Broadway if that is your show.
464 west 51st Street, Hell’s Kitchen New York 10019
Tottoramen.com Tel: 646 596 9056