Flushing: Casting a Wider Net at Tong Tong Tonkatsu
"The pork is worth a try and the cod is worth several."
Tong Tong Tonkatsu,a Korean ode to the classic Japanese dish, resides in a small one story building on Northern and 147th St. Years ago this space was occupied by a cozy little pojangmacha (Korean drinking hall) that featured ridiculously cheap booze, grubby menus, terrible food and a divey atmosphere suitable for boisterous drinking followed by a nasty hangover.
The bar closed a few years back, and ownership changed hands, but the space lay unused for a several years until it was re-purposed as Tong Tong Tonkatsu. The new restaurant is clean, brightly lit, the menu is alcohol free, and the food is good—a welcome reincarnation for sure (although it wouldn't hurt if they could serve beer).
It's easy to be taken in by the pork tonkatsu. After all, ton or tong is one of the Japanese terms for pork, and restaurant's façade is decorated with a grinning cartoon pig sporting a toque—not-so-subtle hints at the house specialty. And if you try the pork katsu, you'll likely leave satisfied, although slightly perplexed as to why you came to Flushing for a fried pork cutlet that's on par with what you might find at Katsu-Hama or Curry-Ya in Manhattan. Sure the cutlet is succulent and fine, and the ultra-light and crispy panko crust makes it even finer. But ultimately, the pork gets center stage and merely delivers a straight forward performance.
On the other hand, if you're here for the Korean style curry chicken katsu ($11.99), you might leave disappointed. The pounded out chicken breast was a touch over-cooked, and the wan and sickly sweet curry sauce dissolved the satisfying crunch that the fryer worked so hard to achieve.
For a first timer, I'd suggest sampling the jungsik (combination) katsu ($13.99), a half portion of pork cutlet, a half portion of cod and a tidy pile of shrimp. All meals come with miso soup, shredded cabbage salad, and sides of pickled daikon and kimchi. Refills of each are complimentary. If it's your second time here, I would recommend sticking to the impeccably fried cod ($13.99), which is everything that a Filet O'Fish or a basket of fish and chips aspires to be. They work magic with fish, a few breadcrumbs, and hot oil. The sweet white flesh nearly melts on your tongue and the impossibly delicate panko crust holds its shape just long enough to be briefly dipped into the side of tartar sauce. Not that it even needs the sauce.
It's understandable if you've had a less than stellar meal at Tong Tong Tonkatsu in the past. Aside from the dry chicken, the fried shrimp can be unremarkable. But the pork is worth a try and the cod is worth several. After all, it's about second chances here.
Tong Tong Tonkatsu
146-17A Northern Blvd., Flushing NY 11354 (map)