61 Grove St (between 7th Ave and and Bleecker St, West Village)
Fatty Kat Eats: Avocado Tofu, Tonton Famous Homemade Gyoza, Hakata Tonton Hot Pot, Black Sesame Ice Cream, Strawberry Ice Cream
Hakata Tonton easily goes unnoticed save for the steamy windows. Titanic, anybody? And yes, I mean that steamy sex scene in the car. However, the only thing missing from that scene was Hakata Tonton's hot pot! New York's Japanese folk congregate here during the winter, which is a good sign for the rest of us. It just takes 1 month to get a reservation...
On this particular visit (my second), the 4 of us may have enjoyed ourselves a little too much. Our raucous laughter, questionable antics and general happiness were too much for the place. Lesson learned. Shhh! @mtlarocca @jieyes @jdt262
Despite our issues with volume, the food was generally pretty good although not worth the month-long wait. We started with the beautifully plated Atlantic Salmon Carpaccio. I loved the crunchy bits and microgreens for contrast, but the citrus dressing was a touch too sweet. Salmon roe for the win!
This green goo right here was probably my favorite dish of the night. While the Avocado Tofu resembled the v-word (think...hangover), it most certainly did not taste that way. This "Japanese guacamole" was incredibly creamy thanks to Mr. Mayonnaise. The silky tofu tasted fresh and served as the perfect canvas for the avocado and soy sauce. If you're one of those weirdos that love tofu (me too), you must try this! Go light on the soy sauce.
Almost famous? The Tonton Famous Homemade Gyoza were delicious and fried beautifully. They weren't wrapped in the usual gyoza way--a shape that reminds me of Kim Kardashian's ungodly butt. These little nuggets looked more like spring rolls but were indeed dumplings. While the gyoza hit the spot, I didn't think they were deserving of the "famous" title. Honestly, my mom would put these to shame.
Before dinner, I'd read good things about the Snow Crab Croquettes in a few different places. The verdict? These were beautiful on the outside and totally weird on the inside. The fried parts tasted great (of course), but the dense and gooey filling did nothing for us. I hardly tasted any trace of crab either. My friend put it perfectly: seafood and croquettes should not mate.
This mound of scallions was the beginning of our hot pot adventure. Apparently, hot pot is a specialty of Hakata, Japan. It was my first time trying Hakata Tonton Hot Pot versus Japan's more well-known sukiyaki. The rich collagen broth bubbled and bubbled until all the cabbage, dumplings, pork belly and pig's feet melted into each other.
Little by little, our hot pot dwindled in size to a more manageable state, and our server added in some of that amazing silky tofu. To be honest, I couldn't tell the pig's feet from the collagen or the pork belly. Everything tasted delicious. The broth had a kick to it and seemed like a distant cousin of Korean kimchi-jjigae.
And then our server added instant ramen. WTF? This must be what real Japanese people do, because it's so far fetched, I just have to believe it. Firstly, no one can deny the deliciousness that is instant ramen, especially not David Chang. But why not use fresh noodles, or at least less processed noodles? It remains a mystery to me, but a guilty pleasure for all.
It didn't seem like there was much going on here in terms of dessert, but I needed something sweet to come full circle. Black Sesame Ice Cream = multiple foodgasms. I don't know where they get it, or if they make it themselves, but this stuff is sent from the heavens above. The creme brulee was just an innocent bystander in all this icy madness.
Same deal with the Mochi and Strawberry Ice Cream. Ice cream won, hands down. However, fresh mochi would have been a game changer.
Hakata Tonton is very good. Not great. There are few Japanese hot pot joints in the city, and this must be one of the best. I think this place is definitely worth a try--dinner and handwarmer in one!