Hakata Tonton

Japan is a small island country, but within it lies a rich variety of cuisine. As odd as it sounds, despite growing up in Japan, I never got a chance to delve into or explore the many different faces of Japanese cuisine. I was always longing for “foreign” dishes that to me, were exotic and exciting. Now that I live in the US there’s a reversal of perspective—Japanese food has become my “longing,” to discover the many dishes each region has to offer.

For instance, take Hakata in Fukuoka prefecture, located in the southern region of Kyushu Japan. Hakata is widely known for their specialty ramen and also their ever popular “motsu nabe.” Motsu nabe is a Hakata-style hot pot that usually consists of either beef or pork intestines and a variety of vegetables simmered in a delicious broth. Yes, disgusting to some but for the adventurous, it’s a delightful and delicious discovery!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t fly out to Japan, but we did find a restaurant that serves a delicious spread of Hakata-style specialty dishes. Hakata Tonton located in the West Village on the corner of Christopher Street and 7th Avenue has brought to New York authentic Kyushu Japanese soul food. As described in their about page, some of these dishes may seem “strange to the eye, but are delicious renditions of the food made famous in Hakata, Japan.”

The main eating area is very small, but there is another secret entrance just around the block that takes you to the back where there is more space for seating. It was there that we were seated at a nice cozy corner and were offered steaming hot roll of wet towels to cleanse and warm up our hands. As we had done some research before, we were ready to order immediately. To start off we got three appetizers, the Foie Gras Inari Sushi, TONTON Famous Homemade Gyoza, and their Garlic Fried Rice. The inari sushi, sticky rice wrapped in sweet fried tofu skin, was topped off with a beautiful foie gras steak, which was melt-in-your mouth tender and oddly enough, paired well with the sweetness of the rice and tofu skin. The gyoza was served on a sizzling hot cast iron plate, perfectly crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. But the garlic fried rice might have been one of the best things there. Made with pork tonsoku (pork feet!), egg, and plenty of garlic aroma, the dish was topped off with scallion and fragrant cilantro. Finally for the star of the show, the Hakata Tonton Hot Pot that included their special collagen broth (beautifying for the skin!) tofu, chicken, dumplings, cabbage, chives, spinach, Berkshire pork belly, and pork feet. There was no heavy pork smell, the broth was clean and spicy, and surprisingly very light. We made sure to leave a bit of soup, vegetables, and meat for the rice bibimbap, which was the perfect finish to our meal.

We recommend making a reservation in advance and coming to Hakata Tonton famished! Trying a variety of dishes and exploring their menu will insure you get the full experience of Hakata cuisine this special restaurant has to offer.

Hakata Tonton
61 Grove St, New York, NY 10014
(212) 242-3699
www.tontonnyc.com

Karczma

It’s the middle of December, and what better way to kick off the holiday season with some hearty wintry dishes? Naomi and I wanted to try something warm and comforting, but a little bit different than our usual Asian cuisine routine. We decided to head over to Karczma (kar-cz-ma), a restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that serves some solid Polish cuisine.

When you first enter Karczma, you’ll note the interior is outlined with wood work–imagine a cabin in the woods with a fireplace glow. Locals and family alike were enjoying the warm atmosphere of this very cozy restaurant. We started with a White Borstch that came in a thick bread bowl along with a plate of mashed potatoes on the side, sprinkled with thick chunks of bacon. The soup itself had a warm smokey taste, giving it a depth and complexity that immediately warmed up our tastebuds.

Unlike Greenpoint, there wasn’t an abundance of Polish food where we grew up in Tokyo, so we were both very excited to try as many things as possible. We went with the Plate of Polish Specialties (pictured above), which constituted a lot of everything–stuffed cabbage, a fragrant hunter’s stew, crispy potato pancakes, Polish kielbasa (sausage), and finally, three perogis . A thing to note when ordering, these portions lean slightly on the large side. We ended up leaving with some leftovers for lunch!

Karczma
136 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222
karczmabrooklyn.com