Hakata Tonton,61 Grove St, 212-242-3699 Price range: $16-28 Rating: 2L's
Himi Okajima, chef at Hakata Tonton in Greenwich Village, claims to have discovered the fountain of youth. It’s an ingredient that (he claims) makes skin supple, eyes bright, teeth white and probably helps your sex life. What is this miracle of modern science, you ask? You guessed it: Pig’s feet, or tonsoku in Japanese.
It’s all about collagen and cartilage, and since Shark Fin is too pricey for New Yorkers’ wallets, pig foot it is. Served in a nondescript space at Grove Street and Seventh, with yellow walls unadorned and the former sushi bar underutilized, it’s an unexpected choice for such high-concept grub.
Grub, I will add, that ranges from delicious to pernicious. Himi’s Special Salad ($10) was a delicious item. A surprisingly deconstructed salad, it was loaded with par-cooked vegetables, nearly uncut. Two full carrot halves, two jumbo spears of asparagus and Brussels sprouts were just a few of the additions. The choice of miso or French dressings was nice, and both were so sprightly, either one worked. Best of all was a thorough cloaking with serrano-esque ham slices. That was perhaps the best dish and our only one that did not require a pig being dependent on a wheelchair for the rest of its life.
The next items, which we munched on while enjoying our BYOB beer (Kirin), didn’t scream “foot” either. Crab Cream Croquetas ($7) and Tonsoku Gyoza ($7) both had an unexpected blandness, though chock full of “pied à la jambon” squish.
The unadulterated Tonsoku, simply grilled with salt ($6) seemed necessary to order. Necessary for my review, that is. Please don’t. It lacked either the intense or subtle flavors worthy of it being a star. Other than some crunchy skin, it was a chewing chore nibbling through semisolid fat, soft cartilage and bone.
Best were those times when tonsoku was treated as — gasp — a mere ingredient. In a spicy cold Korean noodle dish ($8) and with fried rice and garlic ($8), the tonsoku was right at home, lending a luscious mouthfeel that made both dishes better, and a subtle, permeating pork essence, rebalancing flavors without rewriting history.
They also had great (Japanese-fluent) service, a gift of Pez at the end of the meal and the most amazingly overstocked free bathroom I’ve ever seen outside of a private club — they had: two perfumes, emery boards, bar soap, liquid soap, mouth wash, cotton swabs and five kinds of hosiery. Still, the next morning, I remembered little of note about the food, my skin didn’t look appreciably clearer, and my new pantyhose had a run.