I don’t think udon gets as much recognition or respect as ramen when it comes to the Japanese noodles. Ramen has definitely had a coming of age in the past 10 or so years with so many ramen shops popping up across the United States and more than a few Japanese chains, like Ippudo and Ichiran, conquering the globe. Don’t get me wrong, I love ramen, but I equally enjoy udon. It just depends on my mood, because both are noodles are different. What I’ve noticed though is you rarely find a stand alone udon restaurant like you would ramen. It tends to be on menus of restaurants that serve a variety of Japanese dishes like tempura and sushi, so as a result it is rarely outstanding. In fact, the only place that I’ve found that serves truly “hit the spot” delicious udon is Fukada in Irvine. Seriously, it’s a located in a generic looking strip mall in the heart of suburban Orange County, but there are people already lining before the restaurant opens and guaranteed wait times averaging 30+ minutes. Anyways, so when I saw one of my friends visit TsuruTonTan in NYC, I had to make my way there to check it out.
It has quite the extensive menu with udons spanning the spectrum of the traditional seafood-based clear broths to richer, creamier broths. There is also a healthy selection of appetizers and donburi’s as well. Although, it doesn’t exclusively serve udon, it’s still one of the few places I’ve seen put such a focus on udon. I ended up stopping by for lunch and even though I had gone to work out at Barry’s Bootcamp in the morning, I still wasn’t able to order that much.
I started with these Spicy Tuna Cones which were quite tasty. The cones were made of a crispier, thicker wonton like cone, almost like a deep-fried tortilla. Each was filled with an avocado puree and spicy tuna. It was a very latin take on a Japanese dish and although I appreciated the fusion aspect, I only really enjoyed the spicy tuna and left each cone half eaten.
I was so torn between going down the classic road and ordering a more traditional udon like the Nabeyaki, but in the end, I was seduced by the Mentaiko Cream Udon. My siblings will mock me for always going for creamy, but it was the mentaiko part that I really appealed to me. The broth was definitely richer, but it wasn’t as heavy as you would expect. There was an interesting depth of flavor to the broth and the udon noodles were firm and chewy.
The price tag for each bowl started at about $14 for your basic chicken udon and went up to $24 for the udon with uni, so this was definitely not an inexpensive restaurant. However, it’s worth noting that for the same price, they offer a complimentary upgrade of extra noodles. I kind of think it’s just a marketing ploy though. Although it might be hard to tell from the picture above, they serve the udon in a ginormous-sized bowl and considering the price, one could argue that the price already bakes in the extra noodles. I imagine it’s just the carb-conscious diner who would turn down the “complimentary upgrade”. Something else to keep in mind, especially for those it turns out the restaurant doesn’t do take out and therefore, has no “to go” containers. It was unfortunate how much food I had to leave behind.
Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the food here, and I wouldn’t mind coming by to try some of their other udons. There is quite the variety of different udons so I would suggest coming here with a bunch of people and trying a bunch of different ones. That would be the ideal strategy!
TsuruTonTan Udon Noodle Brasserie
21 E. 16th St.
New York, NY 10003
PAFO Ratings for TsuruTonTan Udon Noodle Brasserie:
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 3½ stars
Overall rating 3½ stars