21 East 16th Street
New York, NY 10003
Contact | Online Reservation System
TsuruTonTan arrives from 1979 Osaka, Japan, to modern day New York in a sleek Union Square restaurant serving a mouthwatering assortment of udon, just in time for winter.
The variety of udon is impressive, but more awe-worthy is how the quality lives up to tradition even amid the restaurant’s very modern feel.
Mom and I visited twice within a week. The service each time was friendly. Despite its current popularity, the reservation system is straightforward, not demanding repeated calls or strange procedures like many hot restaurants in the city do. You’ll get a text reminding you of your reservation, and an accommodative grace period if you let them know you’re running late.
Our first visit touched on some of the more old-school dishes, like the original TsuruTonTan udon and curry udon. With every udon dish, you can choose between thin and traditional thick noodles. You can also upsize your portions with more noodles at no extra charge, just the mindfulness that no take-out is permitted.
The udon itself is cooked nicely, at just the right amount of chewiness, and the soups done with tremendous flavor.
For me, though, the standouts came in the less familiar. A cold udon section of the menu offered just as many options, including a must-try uni udon. Recommended with the thinner noodles, very strand is coated with a luscious layer of uni flavor.
Another unique dish was the mentaiko caviar creme udon. The first handful of bites is like nothing else, creamy udon with pops of caviar. But get the small. In fact, share this one, because it can feel a bit like slurping fettuccini alfredo sauce by the end.
I would also keep the ordering of appetizers in check. You’re better off filling up on the noodles than overloading on the starters. This isn’t to say they’re not good.
Popular ones include the spicy tuna tartare cones and uni and caviar. The cones are spicy as broadcast, though the quality of the mashed-up tuna was a little lacking. The uni and caviar was visually alluring, like a jewel box of glimmering roe and velvety uni.
For dessert, there’s a limited, but quality selection. The Lady M matcha mille crepe cake is available here, but most of the hype surrounds the water cake. It may seem like a bit of a gimmik, but it no doubt requires skill to create. The “cake” has the texture of a firm jello and a hint of sweetness, even without the syrup topping and ice cream accompaniment.
Udon is catching up with the ramen scene, but it’s still far more difficult to find a quality noodle house that focuses on this other Japanese specialty. TsuruTonTan is in front of the game, and will likely stay that way with its smart blend of tradition and modernity.