Good pork, whether it's bacon or whole roast pig, always whets our appetite. So when we heard of Hakata Tonton, a new Japanese spot specializing in pork, we couldn't wait to head to the West Village.
What sets Hakata Tonton apart from the city's ever-growing roster of porcine temples is a cultlike devotion to feet. Save for dessert and a few other dishes, the menu's all about pig feet, or tonsoku. It’s as if chef/owner Himi Okajima watched the Bubba scene in Forrest Gump one day and replaced all mention of the word shrimp with pigs feet. Tonsoku carbonara, tonsoku rice ball, tonsoku consommé, sweet and sour pork with tonsoku. You get the idea.
The reasoning behind Okajima's foot fetish is simple: collagen. Prior to Hakata Tonton's opening there was much well-placed buzz equating eating pigs feet with a day of beauty at a high-end spa. As we ogled a plastic-wrapped prosciutto sitting in the front window, the girl working the counter told us that eating tonsaku had helped clear up her skin and made her hair shinier. We’ve read conflicting reports about the effectiveness of ingesting collagen, as opposed to injecting it. Nevertheless, we’re always emboldened when we hear pork praised for its salutary effects, particularly when its Berkshire.
We would have liked to have tried the Tonsoku Hot Pot, a specialty from the restaurant's name sake city of Hakata, but we were dining solo. Rather than sample the aforementioned fusiony items, we took a purist approach. First up was oreilles du cochon (left), or pig ears in a vinegar soy marinade. One bite of the slippery bits of skin and the layer of palate coating goo underneath drove home the restaurant's collagen theme. Much as we like pig ears, this dish wasn't to our taste, but we soldiered through, envisioning sporting a Fabio-like mane. Next was the sake infused grilled tonsoku. Somehow ferrying pig foot bones to our mouth with chopsticks and slurping the savory meat and, ahem, collagen-bearing bits didn't exactly scream beauty treatment. Not that we had a problem stripping every last knuckle and joint clean of porky goodness.
We also had the Tonsoku Gyoza. These were quite simply the best pork feet gyoza to cross our lips. And not just because they were the first. Instead of the standard crescent-shaped dumplings, these were tubes filled with ground tonsuko, which thankfully lacked the viscuous texture of the other dishes we sampled.
It remains to be seen whether enough tonsaku was ingested to render our skin suppler. As winter approaches we may well return with a gang and try the hot pot. Our motives are only partly informed by vanity. Gothamist can't wait to belt out Bessie Smith's "Gimme a Pig Foot and a Bottle of Beer," once Hakata Tonton obtains a liquor license.
Hakata Tonton, 61 Grove St., 212-242-3699