Totto Ramen: Noodles Worth Sweating Over


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This is my general policy on sweating: It’s disgusting. Don’t do it.

Well … unless there is good reason. Like, say, an awesome bowl of soup noodles.

On the hottest day of summer so far in New York, a scorching bowl of ramen seemed like an insane choice for dinner. But there we were in Midtown, just blocks away from the recently opened Totto Ramen — a new sliver of a noodle shop by the owners of Yakitori Totto, whose grilled rice balls coated with a crispy soy-sauce glaze have occupied more of my dreams than I can count. (Hey, Thomas Keller is a fan of the place, too.)

Since we were practically within sniffing distance of the new place, a visit was definitely in order …

Now, because Totto Ramen only has 16 seats, it can be a very long wait for seats at regular dinner hours. (Thankfully, this wasn’t the case just before 10 p.m. on a weeknight. Although the place was almost full, we were seated right away.)

From the moment you set foot in the restaurant, you feel like you’re in the heart of Tokyo.

Red-cheeked Japanese men, flushed from perhaps one too many ice-cold Sapporos, fill tiny seats along a narrow wooden counter.

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The view from our own seats was a little less entertaining — we found ourselves staring at two massive pots of broth.

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(A quick scan of the menu showed that the restaurant offers
ramen with two kinds of broth — a vegetarian kind made with konbu
(kelp) and a chicken-based miso version. We were relieved to find that
both are made without MSG — the ever-present umami-agent in many Asian
broths, unfortunately.)

We did, however, also have a great view of the chef whose main task was to blowtorch slices of pork belly and give them a slightly crispy exterior.

This made our meal ahead seem very, very promising.

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Your options aren’t plentiful at this place — although the menu
mentions side items like chicken wings ($4.50) and pork buns ($6.50),
none of those are available yet. We tried to order the toro mayo don
($4.50), a rice bowl topped with grilled pork ramen and yuzu citrus mayo
but were told there weren’t any more.

So, ramen it was.

The first to appear was the Totto miso ramen ($10.25), made with a chicken-based broth. The noodles were perfectly done — firm and al dente — and the mound of ground pork that topped it was sweet and savory all at once. Mixed into the slightly creamy broth, the deep flavor of the pork and its sauce infused the entire bowl.

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Just when we wondered whether anything could top the miso ramen we’d tasted, along came the Totto spicy ramen ($10.25), flavored with a giant dollop of deep-crimson oil made with garlic, onion, shrimp and scallops.

A crisp sheet of seaweed, soaked to softness in the oily broth, slender bits of scallions and thin slices of blowtorched fatty pork, were lovely accompaniments to the noodles. 

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Each bowl held little surprises.

What looked like grains of rice in the bowl of miso ramen turned out to be crunchy bits of minced radish, which added a delightful, fresh taste that helped cut the richness of the hearty broth.

“Huh, I have my own slices of pork, too,” the husband mumbled, mouth full, brow soaked, as he fished out squares of pork from the belly of his miso ramen bowl.

“Well, I have two big slices of pork and crunchy bits of pork floating about,” I countered.

I was thinking that we were about even. And then Mike made one final discovery.

“Hey, did you get an egg, too?”

There was none in my spicy ramen, alas. And what an egg it was — it wasn’t fully hard-boiled so the yolk was still slightly soft, runny and especially lovely soaked in a bit of miso broth; the egg white, not too firm.

The miso ramen, it had won.

Finally, sated and drenched in sweat, we paid up and left.

I wasn’t sure what I’d be dreaming of that night, but you know those soy sauce-basted grilled rice balls I’d mentioned before? They suddenly had some stiff competition.

Totto Ramen, 366 West 52nd Street, 212.582.0052, www.tottoramen.com 



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