Wednesday, May 9, 2012

DC Food Tour 2012: Ramen Goes Tawainese

Me. Happy. Full of ramen.

 About once a year my brother beckons me to Washington DC intent to prove the nation’s capital is not just a sea of drab gray suits with law degrees, but a vibrant city full of gustatory pleasures just waiting to be discovered.  After about eight years of these trips, by plane, train, and automobile, I am finally starting to doubt less.  After all, he’s made his point time and again. 

This past weekend John and I met up with my brother, Paul, and his girlfriend Lisa to see what had been happening in DC since our last visit.  Our culinary tour spanned the distance from new and delicious, to old but yet to be discovered.  We started the weekend with Taiwanese ramen.  Stay tuned for full coverage over the days to come.

Toki Underground
Street view from my stool.
I was pretty sure between New York and Los Angeles I had covered the best ramen joints this side of the Pacific.  Toki Underground proved me wrong.  A seat at one of the counter stools that line the walls of this small upstairs dining room is a hot ticket in the District.  Waits easily run an hour or longer even late into the night.  When we finally settled into our chairs around eleven pm. on a Friday, the kitchen was still running at full steam. 

Plump dumplings stuffed with pork and chicken, or shredded vegetables arrived first in individual steamer baskets.  Because we could, an order of the pan-fried pork dumpling appeared as well, crisp and golden but not too greasy, a good foil for the Koshihikari Echigo Japanese rice lager John and I split to start.

Dining room, still busy at midnight.
Of course the reason to eat at Toki is the ramen.  The restaurant bills its ramen as “Taiwanese” (this is not to be confused with “Taiwan ramen”, a Chinese-Japanese hybrid native to Nagoya Japan), tonkotsu ramen modeled on what Chef Yang used to cook at Hakata Ramen in Taipei.  In the Kimchi Hakata, pork-based broth bathed a tangle of thin, toothsome noodles.  Homemade kimchi was briny and crisp though not especially spicy. However when combined with a roll of steamed seasonal greens, the vegetables cut strokes of brightness through the rich broth, a pleasant balance of flavors for what is normally a weighty dish.
Kimchi Hakata ramen at Toki Underground

For my taste, the broth could have used a bit more depth and the kimchi much more spice.  But for $1.50 I remedied that problem with a small saucer of “Endorphin Sauce”, Toki’s excellent homemade sriracha.

Noodles devoured, broth slurped, I waved my white paper napkin in defeat. Raising a glass of dry Hakushika Kuromatsu Chokara sake, John and I toasted Paul’s first food stop of the weekend.  DC Food Tour 2012 was off to an excellent start.

Stay tuned!  Next up our food foursome needs expandable pants for a visit to Thai X-ing, a barely marked home converted into family style, BYO, Thai food destination.

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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