For a long time, Ton Ton was the biggest tease of Ponce City Market. We were promised Guy Wong’s ramen and yakitori joint back in August of 2015. Then, it was going to come around March, but that date, too, came and went with no noodles.
Well, Ton Ton is here at last, though it’s but a teenage version of its future self. With no liquor license yet, there’s only fancy fizz to drink like Maine Root fair trade soda and Bruce Cost jasmine tea ginger ale.
The English signage still hasn’t arrived, so a red banner beckons in Japanese that’s mysterious to most.
And the yakitori — skewers of chicken, beef, pork belly and bacon-wrapped mochi — have not yet been unveiled.
“We wanted to focus on the core first, the ramen,” Wong explained, “and get it to where we want it to be.”
Well, let me tell you where I want to be throughout the coming winter: in Ton Ton’s spare, rustic wood-plank dining nook, hunched over many a massive bowl of Wong’s springy, crinkly noodles. They were worth the wait.
Let’s start with the broth, whose fragrant, rich steam seems to permeate your pores and saturate your soul. You might not be able to resist hoisting your bowl to take a greedy slurp. The action even has its own hashtag on Wong’s Instagram account: #bowltoface.
In the Hakata Tonkotsu Classic, the broth is derived from pork bones, and its richness practically coats your spoon, with ample help from poppy, oily, sweet butter garlic corn. (This stuff also can be ordered as a “bomb” on the side, and you absolutely should get it and toss it with abandon into any and all of Ton Ton’s dishes.)
The soup’s earthy warmth is compounded by juicy bamboo and wood-ear mushrooms, the fresh, nose-tickling crunch of scallions, the toastiness of sesame seeds and those irresistible noodles that amiably absorb all these flavors.
Much of that same deliciousness swims in the tori shoyu broth. The soy sauce-spiked chicken soup is velvety and golden, heavier on flavor than salt. It’s sweet and sleepy comfort food, which impels me to direct you to an admonition on the Ton Ton menu.
“For the best ramen, eat quickly!” it says. “Must eat right away! Do not wait for others!”
That decree is absolutely correct, and I’m going to add my own: “Must order the chili paste bomb! It’s completely transforming and costs only 95 cents.”
The “bomb” — a dollop of a thick, coral-colored elixir — is indeed an explosion of blooming heat. Stir it bit by bit into your soup until you’re just short of blowing smoke out of your ears. That way, you can still taste all the paste’s notes of Szechuan and habanero peppers, garlic and sesame.
In both the tonkotsu and shoyu ramen, there are two elements that are disappointing on their own, even though they do contribute to the lovely layering of flavors. A thin slice of chashu (braised pork belly) is more tough and gamy than it needs to be. It feels like a chore to gnaw bites off the large round, with not enough porky payoff. And, while the soft-boiled egg is a picturesque little island floating in the steaming soup, in no time it’s overcooked into a rubbery raft.
This same oozy egg is nested in a brothless bundle of ramen called Invincible Dan Dan Mazemen, and here it’s a revelation — creamy and unctuous and easily mashed into the noodles, which are heaped atop a shallow pool of Szechuan chili oil and dotted with savory and toothsome clusters of ground pork. Also tucked into the tangle are salty soybeans that crunch between the molars and cool cucumber batons, which counteract all the spice. Without soup to slurp, it’s really not appropriate to #bowltoface these Dan Dan, but, oh, I was tempted.
Now, there are starters — let’s call them ramen’s little sisters — and they’re perfectly nice except for the fact that they could fill you up more than is optimal before you bury yourself in your ramen bowl.
The tebasaki wings are crisp and greasy and drizzled with a sweet-and-sour glaze. Pork-stuffed gyoza are mild, tender little pillows. Most impressive is a huge mound of wakame salad — emerald green and brightly sea-scented, with the unexpected pleasure of a few hidden chili flakes. So many seaweed salads feel like ocean-funky ribbons plopped into a bowl. This one is so sprightly and fresh, I couldn’t get enough.
Which is pretty much the theme of Atlantans and Guy Wong. Already obsessed with his Miso Izakaya and Le Fat, we’ve pushed him for more. But, it’s good that this chef has not allowed his ramen to be rushed.
He’s given the same care to Ton Ton’s operation, which feels both briskly professional and relaxed. Nobody’s hurrying you through your noodle-slurping here. That last #bowltomouth gulp, after all, is a point of honor, and few ramen bowls are worthy of it. Wong’s most definitely are.
Ton Ton11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, noon-8 p.m. Sundays. 675 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. 404-883-3507, tontonramen.com.