New York City already has a ton of ramen shops but you don’t often see a place that focuses on udon, another popular Japanese noodle dish characterized by thicker noodles and broths with more moderate flavor compared to ramen. When a popular chain in Japan decided to open its first U.S. outpost in the space that previously had the acclaimed Union Square Café (which has since moved to another location), I was somewhat intrigued. I’ve always been more of a ramen person than an udon person since I preferred thinner noodles and liked the flavor of ramen broth a bit more, but in the case of Tsurutontan, this chain also offered a lot of unique dishes such as the signature one with mentaiko (salted roe used frequently in Japanese cuisine) caviar, all in humongous bowls. Since the shop opened last summer, though, it had been constantly packed with crowds so I was waiting for the hype to die down in order to avoid waiting for hours outside. I think that time has finally come; I was able to book a table in early Saturday dinner time online about only a couple of days in advance. So did this place live up to the hype? My girlfriend and I overall liked the experience here and the udon dishes that I had tried were certainly delicious.
What immediately caught our eyes on the visit was how large the range of udon selections is on the menu. You’ll see more standard ones with beef, chicken, duck or shrimp tempura, or other more adventurous selections that employ sukiyaki or curry style. I even saw dishes that had truffle crème or chicken parm as the “broth”! Obviously, it’s important to know what you’re eating from this vast menu, and we were glad that both of our dishes were successful. The signature mentaiko udon with egg dropped broth was a perfect antidote to a chilly winter; I really enjoyed the aromatic broth that had nice balance of flavor without any hint of overpowering seasoning. My girlfriend also thoroughly enjoyed the curry deluxe udon dish as well, served with shrimp tempura, pork cutlet and beef inside the delicious curry that also wasn’t overly heavy or salty to our delight. In addition, the firmness of noodles for both dishes was more or less spot on such that the noodles didn’t feel overly starchy. Even though the size of each bowl looked pretty intimidating at first, I’m happy to report and my girlfriend and I nearly finished the entire thing! We also had some starters before the udons came in but I wouldn’t recommend stuffing yourselves with these. Cucumber salad and sukiyaki beef buns were serviceable but I found the seared salmon sashimi with ikura caviar, garlic chips, chives and ponzu to be a little too citrusy for my taste.
As noted above, getting a reservation at Tsurutontan has become more manageable, and you’ll even have a much better chance than last year in snagging a walk-in spot (there is a large communal table at the subterranean area of the restaurant). It’s a typical Japanese casual food joint atmosphere like Ippudo. A glass of beer or a small bottle of hot sake should be a great complement to your meal. Lately, Manhattan has seen a lot of influx from popular food chains in Asia, and I find Tsurutontan to be a welcome addition to the scene with its unique offerings of udon dishes.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 7.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 21 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003
Telephone: (212) 989-1000