They walked down an unassuming block in Hell's Kitchen until they came across "the place." Yes this was the place; a large "arctic entry" covering the concrete stairs descending down to the below-street level temple of ramen. This is Totto Ramen.
They waited with the rest of the crowd, mostly Asian couples but a few white faces here and there. Some spilled out onto the street, most tried to huddle inside the entryway to get some warmth from the lone heat lamp and a smell of the wafting broth that had been produced inside all day. It was the dead of winter, yet there they were, the fanatics braving the elements for a bowl of that liquid gold. The front door emblazoned with "CASH ONLY" served as a barrier between those that yearned for the taste of steaming satisfaction and those that had already attained a coveted seat.
Finally hearing their name called they were sent straight to the bar were they felt the heat of the diminutive kitchen on their frosty faces. Quickly coming to a thaw they perused the minimal menu and went straight for the kill. "Totto Spicy Ramen" they will both have they said in collusion. This was based off the original Totto Paitan Ramen a chicken and soy sauce based broth decked with scallion, onion, char sui porj and nori. The spicy version added some bean sprouts and a spicy sesame oil. In addition to the renowned ramen, Totto offered other small bites and daily specials as well.
First to come was an order of the Char Siu Bun, a fatty slice of pork belly, lettuce and tartar sauce surrounded by a white two white pillows of doughy bun. The soft texture of the bun and the pork was offset by the crisp lettuce and the acid in the sauce helped cut through the fat. There have been better versions of this, but this was a nice little bite to get the appetite going.
The real star of the show arrived in a large white porcelain bowl decked with Asian designs. The steam and smell reminded one of the wait outside a bit, when that same smell was first experienced that evening. There was a strong garlicky taste to the broth that added to the depth of flavor. The bean sprouts, onions and scallions added some nice contrasting crunchy texture and color to the umami filled broth. The nori imparted a taste of the ocean. The noodles, a perfect al dente texture and the pork belly adding heft and more umami to the broth. So simple, yet so much going on, it was a cornucopia of flavors and textures in one satisfying bowl.
Soon there was nothing in the bowl but some used chopsticks, a spoon and used napkins. The bowl was empty but their bellies were full.