By now, it’s a common dinner conversation amongst Washingtonians, well worn by any of us who call ourselves food lovers in this city: your personal breathless recounting of “that time I went to Toki Underground, and just how long it took me to get the seat, but how cool the interior design was, and the drinks were awesome, and the ramen was absolutely to die for, and ZOMG let me tell you about it one more time.”
Much like Dupont’s Little Serow, Toki’s ubiquitous hype (see: newly acquired spot on Washingtonian Top 100, recent visits by celebrities as varied as Ferran Adria and Neil Patrick Harris) mixed with its no-reservation policy and small seat count results in wait times that are in enumerated in the hours, not minutes.
And still we all, desperate to have some of that magical broth and noodles that taste like they’re spun out of angel hair, will trek out to H Street for this pilgrimage.
Could I Interest You in Taan?
But what if I told you that there was a noodle bar, within walking distance of Borderstan, that not only rivals the venerable Toki with its ramen bowls, but also features more seats and includes an upstairs space where you can sit and wait for your table? Could I interest you in Taan Noodles?
What’s curious about Taan is that the restaurant’s 18th and Columbia sits (1817 Columbia Road NW) within a city block of another recent noodle bar opening: Sakuramen. Unlike this traditional Japanese neighbor, Taan fits in decor-wise with current restaurant trends, namely rustic and refurbished farmhouse. To wit, all of the restaurant’s decorations from the antique cash register and red doors on the wall behind the bar to the mason jars and crates on wooden shelves hammered into the exposed brick come from an estate in West Virginia.
Seating consists of an eight-seat bar to the left of the restaurant with a series of two-top and four-top high tables in the front and right side of the restaurant. In the rear of the restaurant is a set of stairs to a second floor landing, the aforementioned overflow space where you can wait. It looks like a nice casual lounge, like the upstairs of a cozy independent bookstore.
On this trip, our group varies our options: my vegetarian girlfriend obviously goes for the vegetarian ramen, while I go with the Maze-Men, which can best be described as “throw everything in the bowl” soup. The former is a beet-based soup, with tomato, charred corn, purple potato, baby carrots, shichimi, basil oil, beet pickles, and a yuzu creme fraiche. The beet flavor is forward on this dish, so non-beet lovers should beware. Still, I don’t want to sell it short: the vegetables were solid, the tomato and corn particularly surprising and refreshing, and the whole bowl a very flavorful veggie option for a dish traditionally based on meat.
Mine, like I said, was an everything-but-the-sink dish: pork belly, duck confit, chicken confit, pickled cucumber, tomato, charred corn, scallions, woodear mushrooms, mustard greens, chilies, nori and egg yolk. Curiously, the one thing it does not come with is broth; instead, it’s intentionally given a small amount that wets the whole thing, but makes it a little less than a soup.
Still, there are many brilliant things to love about this dish: the deliciously seared pork belly, the brilliant nuggets of charred corn, the mustard greens that make me want to eat just them forever. In fact, it’s these components that are the basis of the Triple Stock Ramen, the dish that our dining companions had loved so much the previous time they went that they convinced us to go. If the Triple Stock’s pork belly, corn, and greens are as delicious as the ones I had, then it’ll likely become my go-to option on future trips.
So, if you want the deliciousness of Toki without the wait, are jonesing for some takeout ramen or if you simply want a fun new place to head to on the fringes of our beautiful Borderstan, head up to Taan.