Staff gather at Toki Underground to school themselves on dishes in advance of the restaurant’s recent Chinese New Year pop-up. Photographs by Erik Uecke.
“We want people to know we’re a real restaurant,” says Toki Underground chef-owner Erik Bruner-Yang, perched on one of the ramen shop’s signature stools. Given the eatery’s tendencies towards hour-plus-long waits and a menu packed with foodie bait—pork cheeks, goat-centric specials, sparkling sake on tap—it’s clear that Toki is, indeed, a very real restaurant. But once in a while it’s good to pull out all the stops and flex different culinary muscles, and that’s where the Toki pop-ups come in.
Bruner-Yang and his crew haven’t gone pop-up crazy—there’ve only been a few—but it’s worth keeping your eye out for them and reserving early. (The two most recent dinners have sold out within four hours of being announced.) Meals like this are a chance both to catch heavy hitters like the Source’s Scott Drewno or Eddie Huang of Bao House in Manhattan playing outside their own kitchens, and to test out something different from a familiar restaurant. Bruner-Yang says the next pop-up will be in March, possibly focused on another popular soup dish: pho.
This past Tuesday, chef Thang Le was recruited from in-house for prix-fixe Chinese New Year meal. Drawing on experience gathered during stints at Iggy’s in Singapore and Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York, Le switched from dishing up ramen to an eight-course menu themed around traditional New Year’s ingredients said to bring prosperity and good fortune. Check out the slideshow for food-porny pics of every course.