Instagram

Follow Me!

FOOD & WINE

Hakata TonTon: An authenic Japanese experience in New York City

June 30, 2015
Foie Gras Inari Sushi, a piece of perfectly seared foie gras on top of a fried rice roll
Entrance to Hakata TonTon

Entrance to Hakata TonTon

The regional cuisine of Hakata TonTon transports adventurous diners to the Hakata area of Japan.  

Hakata TonTon is one of those hidden New York City gems that you would probably never find on your own—unless someone led you to the door. Although it is only a few steps away from the very popular Big Gay Ice Cream on the corner (where the line often winds around the corner on a summer evening), the restaurant entrance is inauspicious except for the red lantern hanging outside.

Bar area at the back of the room

Bar area at the back of the dining  room

Kitsch pig decor

Kitsch pig decor

The one-room restaurant is a few steps up from the street on the first floor of a brick-faced West Village tenement. The dining area is about the size of an average living room—with seating for only 32 people. Although the space is small, the tables are nicely spaced.

One side of the dining room

One side of the dining room

Our son (and restaurant Sherpa) helped guide us through an extensive dinner menu, which was an exotic departure from the traditional Japanese fare we were used to. We were the only non-Asian patrons that evening.

What is PigPig?

The menu at Hakata TonTon features different hot pots (vegetables and/or meats served tableside on gas stoves), various preparations of pigs’ feet, and many other dishes.

When we asked about the restaurant’s name, our spunky waitress explained that the style of cooking at Hakata TonTon was typical of the Hakata region of Japan (near Mount Fuji). Then she giggled and told us that “TonTon” could loosely be translated as “PigPig.” Tiny red symbols (pig snouts) point out all the dishes on the menu containing pigs’ feet (sometimes called trotters).

The friendly wait staff wore whimsical black aprons with emoticon-like images that read: “I love pig.” Although we had seen lots of pig dishes and pig decor in the South, this was a first for us in a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan.

One of our waitstaff "team"

One of our waitstaff “team”

Our son said that the Yamakasa tasting menu (which includes five cold or hot plates, a huge hot pot for two, and a special dessert, all priced at $46 per person for a minimum of two people) was delicious but simply too much food for most humans. Instead, he encouraged us to share a variety of individual plates. What great advice!

The dishes were perfectly sized so we could savor many different tastes and textures. We ordered the following hot and cold plates:

Avocado tofu with wasabi and soy sauce

Avocado tofu with wasabi and soy sauce

TonTon Famous Homemade Gyoza

TonTon Famous Homemade Gyoza

Atlantic salmon carpaccio w/mesclun, black tobiko and chive, lemon dressing

Marinated salmon carpaccio w/avocado paste and wasabi leaf

Foie Gras Inari Sushi, a piece of perfectly seared foie gras on top of a fried rice roll

Foie Gras Inari Sushi, perfectly seared foie gras on top of a fried rice roll

Deconstructed pork belly buns, served with a spicy mustard sauce

Deconstructed slow-cooked pork belly buns, served with spicy mustard sauce

Okonomi-Yaki Pan Cake pork tonsoku, cabbage, red pickled ginger, scallions & konjak, okonomi sauce, a scallion pancake rolled around ground pork

Crispy Pan Cake Roll with mildly spicy ground pork

Skewered pork belly

Skewered pork belly

Grilled port Tonsuku w/scallions and Ponzu sauce

Grilled pork Tonsoku (pigs’ feet) w/scallions and Ponzu sauce

It was truly amazing how such an array of delicacies could  come out of such a tiny kitchen.

We didn’t succumb to the temptation of black sesame ice cream dessert because we couldn’t finish everything we ordered. Each mouth-watering dish was unique, and all were perfectly prepared and beautifully presented. The service was gracious, attentive and warm. As is typical in Japan, the menu noted there was a no-tipping policy at the restaurant because wait staff were paid decent wages.

With a small bottle of cold sake and a glass of Prosecco, the bill totaled about $45 per person. Without alcohol, it would have been about $10 less per person. There were no extra charges for tea.

Bottom Line

Hakata TonTon isn’t for fussy eaters who might have a hard time with an unconventional menu. However, if you are an adventurous foodie, you’ll fall in love with this taste of authentic regional Japanese cooking served in a whimsical and inviting setting at very fair prices.

The restaurant has no stars (I suspect because of the setting) but is Michelin-recommended.


IF YOU GO

Hakata TonTon (The restaurant has no website but does have a Facebook page)

61 Grove Street, New York City (between Bleeker Street and Seventh Avenue)

  • Because seating is so limited, reservations are a must. You can make reservations on OpenTable.
  • Before leaving, be sure you try the Japanese toilet in the small rest room between the dining room and tiny kitchen.
  • Be prepared for a sweet little surprise as you exit the restaurant.
  • If you are pining for Big Gay ice cream afterwards, check that establishment’s closing hours. On a Monday night, they closed at 10PM.

  • Reply
    Sand In My Suitcase
    July 12, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    We have no problem with unconventional menus :-). And we love Japanese and trying out new food combinations. So Hakata TonTon would probably be a hit with us…

  • Reply
    Paula McInerney
    July 13, 2015 at 7:33 am

    I love Japanese food and as we will be in New York later in the year, am adding this to the list. Thanks for the address as well.

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    July 13, 2015 at 9:54 am

    I am not very familiar with Japanese food, but love to try different and new foods. Hakata TonTon sounds worth a visit should I ever get to New York. All the dishes you’ve shown look very tasty.

  • Reply
    Denis Gagnon
    July 13, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Thanks for allowing us to discover Hakata TonTon through your posting. We love New York City and Japanese food so Hakata TonTon is now on our list for our next stay in the Big Apple. Thanks for a great post!

  • Reply
    santafetraveler
    July 13, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Hakata TonTon is in my old stomping grounds. I would love it. Reading about your meal made my mouth water.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 13, 2015 at 5:46 pm

      You probably wouldn’t recognize the place. It is so upscale with lots of interesting shops~

  • Reply
    Suzanne Stavert
    July 14, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    I love Japanese food and I just returned from NYC! Sorry to have missed Hakata Ton Ton. Ironically my long time friend and Manhattan resident took me to Williamsburg to a very interesting and delicious Japanese Restaurant called Zenkichi. Loved your photos – I am super hungry right now.

  • Reply
    Shelley
    July 15, 2015 at 12:52 am

    We’re Japanese food fans and eat lots of it, but the food at Hakata TonTon looks unique (in a good way). Would love to try it when we visit NYC. You’ve made me hungry too!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 15, 2015 at 9:23 am

      Hope you have the chance~
      We will be returning first chance we have!

  • Reply
    Jo
    July 15, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    Hakata TonTon looks amazing. I love Japanese food and this all looks so fresh, authentic and tasty. I love the idea of Avocado tofu with wasabi and soy sauce, as I’m always after easy (sounding!)healthy things to try at home.

  • Reply
    Lois Alter Mark
    July 16, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    This sounds fantastic and I’ll have to check it out next time I head back East. Why did I ever move out of NYC?!

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    July 17, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    Hakata TonTon looks like a yummy NYC restaurant. I missed it on my visit a few weeks ago. But I did make it to Magnolia Bakery for my birthday!, and coincidentally just blogged about that today, http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/2015/07/good-eats-magnolia-bakery-nyc.html

  • Reply
    Carol Colborn
    July 17, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    I am an adventurous foodie but eating pork feet is quite ordinary for us from Asia! I would love to go to this place!

  • Reply
    Karen Warren
    July 18, 2015 at 11:58 am

    That all looks lovely! Japanese menus can be a bit confusing if you’re not used to them so it’s good that the staff are happy to advise.

  • Reply
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    July 19, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    I could graze through this menu all day and then some! How delectable! Thanks for bringing us a secret little find.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 19, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      I bet there might be a housesitting gig around the corner:-)

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    July 19, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Terrific post! This looks exactly the type of restaurant that we would adore. So many choices. I fear we might need several visits to taste all the wonderful dishes.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 19, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      I can’t wait to get back, too! I’ve been dreaming about that meal~

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    July 20, 2015 at 8:36 am

    Whenever you dream about a meal, that’s a good thing! I can’t quite get over that dish of avocado and tofu. The portions look huge, but all delicious. Can certainly see why you said it was too much food for most humans. I’d like to learn more about Japanese food and Hakata Ton Ton looks like a great place to do it.

Leave a Reply

Share
Tweet
Share
Pin
Flip