Ahhh, it's good to be back in Chicago. The South was nice and all, but if there's one knock against them, it's that they're sorely lacking in the Asian cuisine department. After a week in the muggy below-sea level heat, I was craving for something light, filling, and with more of an...Eastern flavor. So I grabbed a few of my buddies and headed out to Tokyo 21.
Tokyo 21's a new Japanese pub-style establishment created by the owners of Kamehachi. In fact, it actually resides in the now-closed Kamehachi restaurant building in Old Town. Make no mistake, however; walk into Tokyo 21 expecting to feast on sushi and you will be sorely disappointed. This place is the Kamehachi group's foray into bar food, with more than a few creative asian dishes on their menu. Random aside, but take a look at your server's name tag next time you go. Out of the three times I've been, I've always been served by a girl who goes by Butter.
Tokyo 21's all about bar food, and what self-respecting food blogger would leave a bar without having some wings? Tokyo 21 makes theirs with a sweet & sour citrus glaze that's topped with fresh scallions and sesame seeds.
These wings are delicious, and a lot of the credit goes to the fact that the wings are all fried to order. So they're always hot and crispy when they get to you. The sauce is pretty awesome as well, with a good kick to spice things up a bit. I don't get quite as much of the sweet & sour flavor, which is great because any more and it would remind me of nasty chinese takeout.
Next up, we tried the wackiest-sounding item on the menu: the scotch quail eggs. For those of you with no idea what that is (like us before we tried them), they're hardboiled quail eggs stuffed inside a pork & scallion meatball, topped with a soy glaze that's salty with just a little hint of sweetness. It's definitely something different to try if you've never had it before, but I thought it was pretty awesome. And I hate most hardboiled eggs. Then again, I love meatballs. It's hard to explain beyond that; guess you'll just have to try it if you're curious!
The real reason to go to Tokyo 21, however, is their ramen. Not a lot of places in Chicago sell ramen, and the ones that do are often overpriced, bland, or both. This night, I partook of the Tonkotsu variety, made with a chicken-based broth and topped with kamoboko, bamboo shoots, scallions, and of course, a nice thick slice of pork belly.
A....wait for it....mazing. Where to begin? The soup is incredibly well-seasoned, with enough of a pork flavor to it that it goes very well with the pork belly. The noodles are spot on, never too soft and mushy. But the pork belly is the star of the show, and the chef(s) at Tokyo 21 do love to cut their pork belly real fat, so if you're not into that or expecting some lean meat, you should steer away from this one. My only complaint is with the portion size; if you're expecting to fill up with just a bowl of ramen, you'd better think again. Still, the cost is slightly less than the average price for ramen in the city. Other than that though, I've found my new favorite bowl of ramen.
Winnie ordered up the Spicy Ramen, which was pretty similar to the tonkotsu except it uses ground chicken in the chicken-based broth and spices things up with hot chili oil. A better option for people expecting some lean meat to go with their noodles?
Good thing the broth was there, because the chicken was a little on the dry side. That said, the soup had a real nice kick to it as a result of the chili oil, and the soup base paired up really well with the ground chicken. It's definitely worth a try, especially if you're not as big a fan of fatty pork belly as I am. =)
For taking the podium as my new favorite ramen joint, and for providing eclectic apps and plenty of drinks to go with, Tokyo 21 earns 4.5 Cherries.