Review: Tonchin “Tokyo Tonkotsu Ramen” (New York City)

Michelin-honored West 36th Street ramen spot hits most of the right notes, adding comfortable seating and nice vibe.

As you can imagine, there are many ramen offerings in Manhattan. Having previously tasted Ippudo, Momofuku, Ivan Ramen and Kame (all very good!), I was hoping for another hit. I found it at Tonchin, a Japan-sourced restaurant which describes its offerings as “Tokyo Tonkotsu Ramen.” It’s street appearance is nondescript, but walk inside and you’re greeted by a friendly hostess and three Michelin plaques (Michelin Bib Gourmand). 

Tonchin on West 36th Street. Industrial chic exterior.

Tonchin has three prior Michelin Bib Gourmand designations.

The interior is sparse, elegant and well-appointed. With no reservation at a weekday lunchtime, I sat at the bar. I immediately notice the padding on the barstool and the comfy seating at tables and booths – always a plus.

Comfortable, cozy interior.

I decided against their classic tonkotsu and ordered the smoked dashi ramen, with a base tonkotsu broth plus clams, menma, egg, smoked fish oil (with garlic), radish sprouts, tobiko and seaweed. 

I also ordered the Tsukune bun as appetizer. It had a ground chicken and pork patty, sesame seeds, karashi coleslaw, romaine and teriyaki sauce.

Outstanding Tsukune bun!

Wow! This was the best single course of a meal I had in my entire week in New York. The meat was flavorful and rich. The coleslaw had minimal dressing that complemented the meat in both taste and texture. The sauce was also restrained – delightful, and not overpowering. Perfectly constructed and delicious, it was an elegant appetizer.

This really set me up for the ramen, which arrived shortly. The appearance of the bowl was fine, and I was impressed by the tobiko. Never had fish eggs in my ramen before. The fish oil was prominent amidst the tonkotsu broth. I wondered if it might be too much, but I found the flavor of the broth-oil combo to work well together. At first, each element was a distinct flavor, but as my meal progressed and the two flavors blended, that’s when the umami synergy became apparent. 

Smoked dash ramen with clams, tobiko and fish oil

The clams were plentiful, making the accompanying discard bowl mandatory. The tobiko added a nice visual and a small crunch on a few of the spoonfuls, but not much else. The in-house noodles were fine, perfectly al dente; but given the excellence of the other elements, I wished they had a more distinct flavor (Ivan Ramen’s rye-blend noodles came to mind). The egg was well executed. Menma, crunchy. All in all, a very satisfying ramen bowl.

Tonchin’s menu also included tsukemen and a few other appetizers that piqued my interest. Their menu also includes many cocktails, sake selections, salads and a few non-ramen entrees. I initially wondered if they were trying to accomplish too much at the expense of the ramen, but this is clearly not the case. To survive in the competitive and crowded midtown NYC food scene one must suit the market’s needs and I think Tonchin does an admirable job.

Tonchin also has restaurants in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, as well as Japan. I will definitely revisit Tonchin on my next New York trip. Highly recommended.

Ramen Club 5-Star Rating:

Food:                                  4.0 stars 

Service:                              4.25 stars 

Atmosphere/Comfort:        4.25 stars

*RATINGS LEGEND*

1 star:    weak

2 stars:  just ok 

3 stars:  good      

4 stars:  very good      

5 stars:  superb or special

Is “Good Enough” Ever Good Enough?

Elements of a ramen bowl, at Ooink in Seattle.

A recent transplant to the Seattle area expresses his disappointment – so far – with the local ramen scene.

A year into my move to the Seattle area and I’m still unsatisfied, and frankly, a little disappointed. I had high expectations given the many ramen restaurants here and, like San Francisco, a thriving Asian population.

I’ve been to Yelp’s five top-rated ramen spots in town. While one of them gets high marks, with the rest I found myself using words like “serviceable,” “not bad,” and the unfortunate “good enough.”

When the term “good enough” is used, it generally implies that something meets the minimum requirements or standards, but it may not be the best or most ideal solution. It suggests adequacy rather than excellence. … a temporary solution until something better can be achieved. -says ChatGPT (abridged)

That last line is where I’m at – waiting for something better. Given my research, I’m hoping it will be Midnite Ramen, a food truck (and soon-to-be fixed location) with a lot of great buzz. But first, a quick scan of my experiences so far.

• Ramen Danbo (Capitol Hill): I’ll refer you to my earlier review from a few years back, which spoke of salty broth and limited depth of flavor among other points. Admittedly, I need to give this acclaimed chain another try. 

Tonkotsu Shoyu ramen at Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya.

• Kizuki Ramen & Isakaya (Capitol Hill): A mixed bag here, with some impressive elements and others that fell flat. The broth was a tonkotsu shoyu blend and was nice. As I’ve experienced before, it was not complex. It had a single flavor profile, but a nice one. The noodles were the star of the bowl: chewy and al dente with a distinctive flavor. The chashu felt like an afterthought; it was rubbery and not very flavorful. The egg was near perfect, and slightly runny. Menma was limp and overly cooked. The overall presentation looked like the bowl was prepared in a rush.

The “Americanized” karage chicken bun at Kizuki.

I had the karage chicken bun as an appetizer. It was OK, but seemed Americanized, as the sauce tasted like a topping for a fast food burger. Service was good and the restaurant interior is nicely modern.

Tsukemen bowl at Menya Musashi.

• Menya Musashi Tsukemen & Ramen (Capitol Hill): I was looking forward to a great tsukemen experience here. It was just fine. Broth had nice flavor. Noodles were OK, but no distinctiveness, key for a dish where the noodles are served chilled and bare. Chashu was good. All in all, it was an adequate bowl. Am I being too critical by comparing this to my experience at Tokyo’s legendary Rokurinsha and Taishoken? I will give props to the service which was super friendly and helpful. Plus the indoor-outdoor options make it a great fair-weather meal spot. It’s worth another try.

Porky goodness with garlic oil at Ooink

• Ooink (Harvard Ave): As you might deduce, at Ooink the pork is king. I really enjoyed their tonkotsu broth. It is deeply flavorful and rich. I ordered the Kotteri ramen which includes garlic oil. It was just enough of a blend to let the porky goodness shine through. Oddly, the chashu was disappointing. The slices were large and chunky, but I found mine to be lacking in richness and tenderness. Noodles were OK. Vibe is friendly but a little cramped.

My current overall favorite: Arashi Ramen.

• Arashi Ramen (Ballard): For me, this was the best of the bunch…for now at least. I’ll refer you to my previous review.

I’m not including the ramen shop where the chashu literally looked and tasted like a bland turkey slice. It has since closed.

I’ll close by saying that on a recent trip back “home” to Northern California I had some ramen at Menya Shono in San Rafael. The richness and execution of that bowl reinforced my perspective on what Seattle’s ramen lacks. I sincerely hope I get to change my mind after my next Seattle experience.