Noodle joints have been a huge part of the East Village dining scene since at least the early aughts—we’re in about the fourth or fifth wave of openings at this point—but tsukemen, or dipping ramen, has never really caught on in these parts. Hoping to change all that is Tomotsugu Kubo, the co-owner and head chef of the brand new TabeTomo on Avenue A, an ambitious restaurant that, among its many other appealing aspects, puts tsukemen at the forefront of the menu.
Kubo has plenty of experience with the dip-your-own-damn-noodles genre, working the kitchen at Los Angeles hotspot Tsujita, where apparently tsukemen reigns supreme and, per the press release, “waits can be up to 2 hours” for a seat. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that here in the East Village, but after a quick dinner last night from the restaurant’s limited, soft opening menu—the full slate of dishes kicks in on Monday—it seems likely that TabeTomo will be a tough table this winter.
The thing to get here, at least on your first visit, is the Tonkotsu Chasu Tsukeman. The noodles are fat and slightly wavy, cooked firm and chewy, and served at room temperature, as are the slabs of tender pork. The broth, which Kubo simmers for upwards of 60 hours, is thick, super-rich, and warm, with a layer of fat swimming on top and a pleasant, almost citrusy tang deep within. A lovely orange-yolked egg, a few greens, and a whole mess of crisp roots and sprouts add further interest. And if your soup cools down too much with all that dipping, your server will bring over a steaming-hot stone and slide it in your bowl.
Also on the soft-opening menu (which Kubo and his team will making all weekend) are a number of small dishes, such as Kakuni, which is braised pork belly; Japanese fried chicken with ponzu dipping sauce; an assortment of pickles known as Otsukemono; and Tori Kawa, strips of lightly battered, crisp-fried chicken skin (which could probably use a little more salt).
There’s also traditional Jiro-style ramen here, which arrives with everything preassembled in a single bowl, and a handful of Donburi options, including a salmon sashimi and ikura one that sounded like a good counterpoint to all that chicken and pig.
The space itself is comfortable but also has a slightly unfinished feel to it, though some of that can be attributed to the cold wind blowing right through the thin front wall of windows. There’s seating for about 30, at a J-shaped bar and tables along the raw-brick wall. Decor is pretty much non-existent, and for music… you’ll be dipping and slurping to the sounds of Post Malone, Rae Sremmurd, and Drake.
TabeTomo is located at 131 Avenue A between St. Marks Place and 9th Street. Soft opening hours are 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. (646-850-6414; tabetomonyc.com)