New York City is experiencing a boom of Japanese restaurants in all forms, from high-end omakase temples to casual noodle shops. New Yorkers certainly don’t seem to be complaining in the ramen department, and I do need my ramen fix every once in a while. When a new ramen shop has direct roots in Japan, it is more likely to catch my attention because I implicitly assume that it must be doing something right to have been successful in a food-crazed country like Japan and now decided to expand its foothold in New York, one of the most demanding culinary cities in the world. So, did Tonchin, an outpost of a Japanese chain, deliver like the way other chains like Ichiran did when my wife Jun and I visited (https://kenscale.com/2017/03/29/ichiran/)? Unfortunately, no.
Whenever Jun describes a food that she absolutely hates during our culinary journey together, she uses the word “horrifying”, which she has used only sparingly because she is generally not a very picky eater (although she is definitely more discerning in detecting the nuances of the dishes than I ever will since she enjoys cooking and is really good at it too). After we got a bite out of the Japanese pickled cucumber, she cringed immediately and used the H-word. The cucumber, flavored with tamari shoyu (based on fermented soybeans), did give an unpleasantly funky sensation. Maybe we were supposed to have the cucumber with ramen at all times? We tried the cucumber again with the ramen bowls that we had ordered, and the funky taste still bothered us a lot. The other starter that we had, chicken tsukune buns with pickled mountain yam, was just OK; maybe the kitchen should’ve just brought out traditional skewer styles instead of the buns which didn’t have a ton of vegetables inside. We were ready to forgive these shortcomings from the starters if the ramen delivered. The bowls that we had ordered (I got classic Tokyo tonkotsu with a side of spicy sauce and Jun got the spicy tan tan) were not too bad, especially the rich broths that could serve as more than adequate hangout cures. On the other hand, I wished the noodles were a little bit more firm than what the kitchen had brought to our table, and Jun lamented that the kitchen was not generous on including a ton of vegetables to go along with the noodles and roasted pork (we would’ve loved to see some bean sprouts for instance). As Jun aptly summed it up, “I wouldn’t mind coming back if I have a really bad hangover and I need a quick ramen fix. Not sure if I want to come back to have the best ramen in the city.”
The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and the dining space was full during our meal on a Friday evening so if you are intent on checking this place, try to avoid prime times. The ramen shop has a typical modern decor and vibe designed to appeal primarily to younger crowds, Asian and non-Asian alike. There is a full bar with cocktails and sakes in either glass or bottle options (when we visited, Tonchin was offering some selections in collaboration with a new Brooklyn sake brewery and taproom called Brooklyn Kura) that you could order to complement your meal. I agree with Jun’s observation; not sure if Tonchin is at least yet a ramen destination in the city the way Totto, Ichiran or Ippudo is.
KenScale: 7.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 7.0/10)
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 7.5/10
- Ingredients: 7.0/10
- Flavor: 7.0/10
- Texture: 7.5/10
- Value: 7.5/10
Address: 13 West 36th Street, New York, NY 10018
Telephone: (646) 692-9912