Charm City Cook: Toki Underground – Lives up to the hype, worth the drive, the wait
I do love this city, but sometimes, I don’t mind leaving for the night.
Especially for chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s kick-ass ramen at Toki Underground. I am – like many in Charm City – new to somewhat new to ramen. But after the beauty that was Toki-fact at Artifact Coffee back in January (I happily stood in lines around the place…) I had to see the place that had inspired Spike to partner up on that delicious pop-up.
Toki is a tiny, tiny (26 seats or so) Taiwanese joint serving up some of DC’s most delicious ramen, dumplings and more. Also, fantastic cocktails. No pretense. Just great food well worth the wait.
On an early spring (it had just snowed AGAIN four days earlier…) Friday night, my two best friends in the world – one a Parisian architect, the other a Prince George’s County police officer – and I ventured out of Baltimore in hot pursuit. We arrived at the H Street corridor, found parking in the neighborhood and headed toward the almost unmarked (Toki logo on the door it share with The Pug, its downstairs bar neighbor). We put our name on the list and headed down to The Pug for a beer.
photo by Couch Sessions
At The Pug, I was happy to see the were serving several regional beers – we ordered Union Craft Brewing’s Blackwing Lager, Mad Fox Praha Pils and Brewers Art Ozzy, my favorite beer. We enjoyed our delicious beers and it seemed that most of the people in the tiny bar were waiting to go upstairs to the even tinier restaurant.
A little while later, they texted us to say our table was ready. I wanted to run. I was so hungry. And, yes, I am a nerd and was just excited, too. So, we go take our seats and our server John was immediately on it, doing his job so well…explaining the menu, dishes, ingredients, guiding us so that we all could full enjoy it. I am a big fan of asking questions. I hate when friends say they went to a restaurant, didn’t really understand the menu and didn’t feel comfortable asking questions. I just don’t get it. Ask!
We started with fried chicken, wings, kimchi and bao buns. Pacing ourselves was key.
Then, we dove into bowls of rich, incredibly flavorful ramen. I got the classic – pulled pork, greens, egg, ginger – and I added on a few crunchy prawn heads. The soft egg added even more oomph to the bowl when I cut into it. Happy. Very happy. My friends got the kimchi ramen and Dan Dan noodles. Everyone was happy with their choices.
Still, as we slurped, we were getting full quickly and I had been told not to miss the warm chocolate chip cookies — served with miso buttercream and a glass of ice cold Trickling Springs milk – for dessert, so I’m glad we slowed down. The cookies are baked when you order them, so they come out warm and the milk being so cold? Holy dirt. Loved it. And $3.
The entire food menu was super affordable and the portions were perfect. Drinks are a little more expensive in comparison, but well worth it to me. I want to back and try more drinks, sakes and beers. I had the ‘ALT+F5′- Kappa Pisco, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, lemongrass syrup, old fashioned and orange bitters – very smooth and a nice balance of tart and sweet.
Erik – thank you for your hospitality. I will leave B’more for your place again very soon.
And…the leftovers on Saturday were amazing. I had ordered extra noodles to go and one of my backyard hens laid an egg, which I immediately poached and added to the ramen. Holy schmoly. So good.