61 Grove St
(between S 7th Ave & Sheridan Sq)
New York, NY 10014
We celebrated T.C.’s birthday at this small Japanese restaurant in the West Village. It has a maximum capacity of about 25 people. The seats and tables are all wooden. There is a gigantic red lantern in the middle of the restaurant. People are engaged in animated conversations but the noise level is a consistent soft humming.
We then shared the Grilled Pork Tonsoku ($7) with scallion and ponzu sauce, which was like the Ratatouille moment when critic Ego, at the end of the film, has a bite of the ratatouille for the first time. He experiences this crazy flashback to his childhood when his mother made him the homiest, tastiest ratatouille. Pork tonsoku is pork feet, something my grandmother always prepared for my mom and something my mom always prepared for me. The Hakata Tonton version is delicious. It has a very rich, chewy texture (think tendon meets fat…) and the exterior is perfectly grilled so it is slightly charred and crisp. I am thinking about going back and just ordering one of these for myself with a bowl of rice.
We also ordered the tonsoku with spicy garlic sauce, which was not as tasty as the scallion and ponzu sauce. The ponzu adds a little bit of acidity, which paired with the raw scallions, helps cut the fattiness of the pork feet. The spicy garlic sauce was good, but didn’t cut through the fat as well so I didn’t feel like I could eat as much of it.
The table also shared the Snow Crab Croquette ($8) with pork tonsoku and Japanese sweet potato paste. I only really tasted the sweet potato paste, which was nice and creamy. It’s fried. It’s good. Though, no snow crab really to be found.
LAW and I then had the Garlic Fried Rice ($9) with pork tonsoku, scallions, and cilantro. The garlic bits were fried into garlic chips, which added a really fragrant crunch to every bite of rice. I misread the menu and thought we were getting little bits of tonKATSU in our rice but was happy to have that replaced by more pig feet!
I had the rice with a mysterious green paste on the table. I smelled it and immediately knew I would like it. It is the stuff they put in the vegetable ramen at Totto – one of my faves! A little googling tells me it is Yuzu Kosho (literally “yuzu and pepper”), “a spicy Japanese sauce made from green or yellow yuzu [a citrus fruit] zest, green or red chili peppers, and salt. To me, this paste is the definition of umami. It is so fragrant and makes anything just taste 10 times better. It really gets your salivary glands going and your taste buds screaming for more.
LAW and I also shared the Grilled Miso Black Cod ($12) with spicy miso sauce. Other than the fact that the cod was probably the size of half of my palm, it was delicious. Comparable to Robataya’s. It was buttery, flakey, fatty, just the right amount of sweet and and salty flavor.
The table shared the Grilled Tonton Pork with spicy garlic sauce and yuzu miso paste ($8). This was not that great. The pork was really tough, so tough that you could see everyone awkwardly trying to bite off bite-sized pieces but needing to just stick the whole thing in their mouths (TWSS).
Another dish the restaurant is known for is the Hakata Tonton Hot Pot ($13/person). It is a specialty of Hakata, Japan, made with collagen broth, tofu, dumplings, vegetables, berkshire pork belly, and tonsoku. I didn’t order it because it was a really hot day, but ended up eating a good deal of T.C. and J.H.’s pot because the portion was pretty good and it was right in front of me. Despite the soup’s red color, it isn’t spicy at all. Doesn’t taste like the kimchi jigae I expected it to. It was a light, very fragrant broth.
Look at how much the veggie shrinks when it’s cooked!
At the end of the meal, the hot potters were given an option to have rice or ramen. They, of course, went for the ramen. LAW and I shamelessly asked for double the ramen so we could both have some. Nothing like a bowl of soup and some carbs to end a meal.