The first Ootoya, a chain from Tokyo specializing in Japanese comfort food, opened in Flatiron early this summer. I went for the first time this weekend, and it was a slight disappointment. The problem? Because of Hurricane Sandy, Ootoya hasn’t been able to get their shipment of “Ootoya pork belly” from Japan. (Many items at Ootoya are sourced from their own factory and farms.) I’d had my hopes set on Buta Cinnamon, grilled pork belly with cinnamon and sugar, but it wasn’t meant to be. DAMN YOU SANDY! But in any case, I made do…
with Homemade Tofu Salad ($7) with wakame, iceberg lettuce, whitebait fish, and Ootoya wafu dressing. I know, what the what?! Tofu may not sound as exciting as pork belly, but it was the best thing I ate all night. The homemade tofu wasn’t smooth, but it was wonderfully rich and nutty. However, next time, I’ll probably order the tofu without the salad. Nothing against vegetables, but most of the main dishes come with a side salad, so the extra roughage was a little unnecessary.
They didn’t have any dishes with pork belly, but they did have pork loin, so I got it in the form of Oroshi Tonkatsu, deep-fried pork loin cutlet breaded with “Ootoya panko” and served with grated radish dressing and raw egg yolk on the side.
The Oroshi version differs from the regular tonkotsu on the menu in that instead of tonkotsu sauce, it’s accompanied with egg and radish dressing. As the waitress instructed, I mixed the egg with the dressing, and although it was nicely acidic, which works well when eating fried foods, I felt either the dressing or the pork needed more dimension. The cutlet at Ootoya is very thick and also very minimally seasoned, so you end up having to dip a lot for flavor, which then results in overly vinegary and soggy tonkotsu. Oroshi Tonkatsu is $14 by itself, or $18 if you order it as a set that includes miso soup, pickles, chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), and rice. If you’re extremely hungry, the set is worth it, especially with the chawanmushi, which was expertly cooked, delicate and smooth, although a tad heavy on the mirin.
Ootoya looks like it could be promising, but I’ll wait until the Ootoya pork has set sail from Japan for another visit. Tofu and pork loin is great, but much less so when you know you could be eating cinnamon pork belly.
8 W 18th St (b/n Broadway & 5th Ave; map)
New York, NY 10003