Food

First Look: Toki Underground

>>Click here for a slideshow of more photos of Toki Underground.

A sign of Washington’s current dining scene: Toki Underground had a three-hour wait the first night it was open. The 23-seat ramen-and-dumpling shop makes the world of clubby steakhouses seem pretty far back in the rearview mirror.

The second-level thimble of a space is on edgy H Street, Northeast, one of the area’s fastest-growing dining neighborhoods—and a strip where there are more skinny jeans than suits. Chef/owner Erik Bruner-Yang has worked as a manager at nearby Sticky Rice and as a culinary consultant at Kushi near DC’s Mount Vernon Square. He has outfitted his own place with a punk aesthetic that includes a graffiti-like paint job, skateboards as decor, and a vintage Japanese pinball machine.

While the menu shows some overplayed trends—pork mania, cocktails with foam, milk and cookies for dessert—Bruner-Yang takes his cooking seriously. Drawing from his monthlong stint at a Taiwan noodle house, four of the five ramen bowls start with a tonkotsu broth, made by simmering pork bones more than 24 hours. The soups’ substance comes from such ingredients as pork cheek, fried chicken, noodles, and seasonally changing vegetables. A side of house-made “endorphin sauce,” a Sriracha knockoff that includes four kinds of chilies, adds heat.

Better yet are the five varieties of dumplings—served pan-fried and crispy or steamed and pillowy—whose house-made wrappers hold meat or vegetables (the pork is excellent) plus ginger, garlic, and scallions.

The scramble for stools at Toki shows no signs of slowing: On a recent Monday, all were taken by 5:45.

This article appears in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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