Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Toki Underground

Toki Underground is a hip new ramen noodle shop in the consistently growing Atlas District of H St. NE.  Featuring a fun and casual menu of Taiwanese-Korean-Japanese fusion noodle dishes and dumplings, Toki Underground also boasts some great music and art work, as well as nods to Japanese anime and games. Closest Metro is Union Station.

November 2011: On this chilly Fall evening, I was craving pho (pronounced "fuh") and Keith suggested we go to Toki instead for pho's cousin, ramen (pronounced "rahm-yen").  Chef Yang creates tasty warm noodle dishes using recipes he learned at the Hakata Ramen Shop in Taipei combined with influences from his mother and grandparents.  Each dish is composed of many ingredients, but Yang welcomes advisement of any dietary concerns and will tweak the dish accordingly.  Since the opening earlier this year, Toki has been very popular and coupled with the small dining area, we anticipated a long wait.  However, we were seated right away and there was only a 15 minute wait.  By the time we left the wait was up to 45 minutes - still not as bad as the common 2 hour long waits.

I loved the skater-punk aesthetic that includes a killer sound track, graffiti-like paint job, skateboards as decor, and vintage Japanese pinball machine built into the bar tops.  The place is small, referencing authentic Asian noodle shops, yet strategically laid out so as you don't feel like you're on top of each other.  Our "server" (the guy behind the bar) informed us of the night's specials and one in particular stood out - the 36 hour roasted pork belly with crispy pork skins.  We ordered it along with some chicken dumplings to start and then we each picked a ramen for our entree.  Keith thought the pork belly was a.maz.ing - super flavorful and one of the best pieces he's ever had.  The roasted flavor was also very prominent in the brussel sprouts.  It was nice to see kimchi on the menu as well (my mother would be so happy!), yet I skipped the pickled goods this round.  My noodle broth was very fragrant and uniquely comforting with the sesame oil undertones.  Keith enjoyed his broth too, as it was more rich and deeper in flavor from the pork and egg. I am glad I skipped the drinks and saved room for dessert - the bento box was super cute as it was in the shape of a little cartoon rabbit.  Overall, the atmosphere was fun, super friendly, and laid-back.  We really enjoyed our visit and Keith who is usually more critical than me, quickly announced he would want to come back regularly.

December 2012:  It had been a while since I've visited Toki, and they have had continued success over the year.  According to the early predictions by the ancient Mayans, the world was to end on this cold first day of winter. So where would I want to have my final feast? At Toki Underground of course!  I made a reservation a couple weeks in advance on CityEats, which is a smart move in order to avoid the 2 hour wait. The menu had not changed much since my first visit, but they did have a couple new specials.  But first we ordered drinks - a Tokyo Black beer for Keith and the Super Duper Car for me made of Armagnac V.S., Domaine Du Canton, lemon juice, and Shiso Lemongrass Simple Syrup.  My drink was delightful, strong and hit the spot.

To start, we ordered the seafood dumplings that had a delicate wrapper with a flavorful filling of chopped seafood.  My tongue immediately picked up the spicy sauce and the whole combination woke my taste buds.  I was ready for a bowl of ramen.  This time I chose the classic with a side of the karaage special.  Karaage (pronounced "kah-rah-ah-geh") is the Japanese version of fried chicken. After being marinated in soy sauce, ginger and garlic, the two-bite nuggets of chicken are dredged in potato starch and deep fried until crisp. Absolutely delicious.  Keith chose the red miso ramen with chashu pork cheek and the house-made sriracha known as endorphine sauce.  Both broths were incredibly rich in flavor from the tonkatsu base, pulled pork, and creamy egg.  The perfect remedy for any slight hint of a cold and the perfect final meal. New items we ate listed below the dashed lines.  (Since I am writing this the very next morning, it is safe to say the Mayans got it wrong. Oh well, just another excuse for me to return to Toki again!)

January 2014: It's another #SnowDay here is DC, with up to 9 inches accumulation anticipated.  Before the snow fall got too heavy, Keith wanted to get ramen at Toki.  We headed out for lunch just as the snow began to fall.  Luckily, not too many others had our same idea so we got a prime seat in front of the window to continue watching the snow flurries.  First up, we ordered the seafood dumplings again.  They were super fresh and delicate with lump crab meat and shrimp filling.  Watching the wet roads outside really made my craving for ramen soar, so I ordered the Vegetarian with soybean paste infused broth, Tonkotsu noodles, root vegetables (the radish was delicious), tofu, pickled vegetables, Chinese broccoli, and nori and topped with karaage.  I know it is strange to get the vegetarian soup and then add fried chicken on top - but hey, I'm strange like that.  This is, after all, what Micky eats...  Keith ordered the Classic with added pork belly and a side of his favorite endorphine sauce.  The spicy sauce really adds an extra dimension to the broth.  The nice portion of pork belly was tender, and added a great charred flavor.  It was more porky and less bacony than other versions he's add, and overall Keith enjoyed it very much.  We had a great lunch at Toki and filled up our bellies with warm soup before heading back home in the snow.

Total Rating: 4.7
Food: 5; Price: 4; Service: 5; Ambience: 5; Accessibility: 3
What Micky Eats...

What I ate:
Chicken Dumplings
pan-fried and filled with ginger, garlic, scallions,
napa cabbage, house spice mixture, topped with Toki tare sauce

Masumi Vegetarian
soybean paste infused Tonkotsu noodle soup with seasonal vegetables
red pickled ginger, sesame, scallions, nori

Dessert Bento Box
pineapple cake, black sesame candy, ginger macaron, green tea cookie
Seafood Dumplings
pan-fried and filled with ginger, garlic, scallions,
napa cabbage, house spice mixture, topped with Toki tare sauce

Toki Hakata Classic with Kaarage
Tonkotsu noodle soup with pork loin chashu, seasonal vegetables,
 half-boiled egg, red pickled ginger, sesame, scallions, nori
with a side of Japanese Fried Chicken
Vegetarian with Karaage
soybean paste infused Tonkotsu noodle soup with root vegetables,
tofu, pickled vegetables, Chinese broccoli, nori
topped with fried chicken

Plus Keith ate:
36 Hour Pork Belly with Chicaronnes
and roasted brussel sprouts

Toki Hakata Classic
Tonkotsu noodle soup with pork loin chashu, seasonal vegetables,
 half-boiled egg, red pickled ginger, sesame, scallions, nori
Red Miso with Chashu Pork Cheek
Soybean paste infused Tonkotsu triple stock with chasu pulled pork,
soft egg, red pickled ginger, sesame, scallions, nori
Toki Hakata Classic with Pork Belly
Tonkotsu noodle soup with pork loin chashu, seasonal vegetables,
 half-boiled egg, red pickled ginger, sesame, scallions, nori
with added pork belly and endorphine sauce

Toki Underground on Urbanspoon

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