Dinner Plans: Rich Ramen at Zutto

August 03, 2012 | by —JOHN VILANOVA
Photography by Mark Jenkins
| Homepage

Equal parts mess hall-inspired bistro and Japanese-style pub, Tribeca’s Zutto restaurant feels like the secret basement of an Ivy League university. Brick and wood paneling and high, dark ceilings surround wooden tables and half-banquettes, while a long, bench-style wooden table at the center of the dining room confirms the pseudo-collegial lunchroom atmosphere.

Chef Joshua Smookler’s menu embraces the informal vibe with upscale Japanese comfort food. For starters, the chuuka manjuu—steamed buns—are a solid, if slightly under-seasoned bar-style opener. Of the four bun variations, standouts were the Kobe beef with hijiki (a dark-colored sea vegetable), red onion, and chili pepper mayonnaise and the short ribs with spicy fermented cabbage and a tobanjan hot bean sauce. The buns are a nice spongy vessel for their well-balanced meats and sauces, but more spice would have been welcome.

Although Zutto has a full sushi menu, the focus here is on lounge-style bites—and ramen. Fried shishito peppers sprinkled with yuzu salt are charred to a crisp; the smell alone wakes the taste buds. They’re not too spicy, though, especially when paired with a basic lemon aioli. In the case of the ramen, options are a far cry from anything you’d find on a college campus.   

The traditional Tonkotsu Hokkaido—from the island of Kyushu—bears an earthy sweet pork-bone broth augmented with pork jowl, pickled ginger, kikurage mushrooms, and fermented bamboo shoots called menma. The Parma Karma is even sweeter, with a soybean and pork broth, Parmigiano-Reggiano, more menma, fresh grated ginger, and a karashi mayonnaise. These dishes come with spoons so large a neophyte might feel self-conscious about the accidental slurp. But at Zutto, such an offense is seen more as a sign of satisfaction. 77 Hudson St, NYC 212-233-3287

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