Full disclosure: I've now eaten more pig's feet these past few weeks than I've ever had in my life. I mean, I love swine, and offal of all sorts, but clearly I'm no afeetcianado. That said, if ever there was place to get a quick education on the subject, it's the new Hakata Tonton, where nearly every one the 40 or so dishes features piggie peds.
Wait... is this an even remotely viable idea for a restaurant? Well, I've been twice, and though it was early, this small, dreary space (the only nod to any sort of decor is a plastic-encased prosciutto lying flat in the windowsill) was surprisingly full. Even more striking: most tables were taken by groups of young women. This still puzzles me. Not that women aren't as adventurous eaters as men, but the fe/male ratio here was probably 3:1. I mean, seriously... girls night out at the pig's feet place? Could it be the free packages of pantyhose (in three different shades!) offered in the bathroom? The free Q-tips? The fact that pig's feet are, apparently, extremely high in collagen, and some claim that if you eat just a half a pound of feet meat a day, you'll look younger in no time (then why so many already-young women?)?
Anyway, the menu is pretty much all under-$10 small plates, although for those more fancy occasions you can indulge in one of two tasting menu options. Yes, they take their pig's feet—Tonsoku, in Japanese—very, very seriously here. I tried six dishes in two visits, with decidedly mixed results. A good introduction to the genre for me was the Tonsoku "simply grilled with salt," a hacked-up foot's worth of the gelatinous, sticky, sweet, sumptuous meat, all given a nice flavor boost by some wonderful yuzu paste—intense, acidic, spicy, salty—served on the side. If you're looking for something a little less visibly porcine, Himi's Tonsoku Gyoza is excellent: six fat dumplings fried to a crisp on the outside, rich and meaty on the inside, and also served with that terrific yuzu.
Decent, too, was my bowl of sliced up Tonsoku marinated in Ponzu, the citrusy sauce pairing nicely with the fatty meat, although I thought there were far too many too-raw onions tossed in to bulk up the serving. One of the very few feetless options here is Oreilles du Cochon, or pig's ears, swimming in a vinegar soy sauce. It's also the only item on the menu listed in French, but that's neither here nor there. And no matter how you say it, this is not a dish for the timid: the mouthfeel score on these babies is about a negative-4, all crunchy cartilage and mushy meat.
If you're in a hurry, stay away from the Tonsoku Japanese Style Paella, which arrives without warning in an elaborate stove-like apparatus, to be cooked at the table. My server forbids me from opening the lid before the sterno burns itself out, "about 5 to 10 minutes." Twenty-five minutes later I still have no paella on my plate... and when the flame finally does go out, I'm greeted by a disappointing, bland stew of rice and mushrooms with maybe a couple of tiny slivers of pork. Also not worth the effort is the Deep Fried Tonksoku "Kara Age", which is sadly without flavor, though most certainly not without bone.
Hakata Tonton is located on Grove Street, just west of 7th Avenue. Both (week)nights I went the hostess/server looked concerned that I didn't have a reservation, even though it was before 6:30 and there were several empty tables. Both nights, however, the place was almost full by the time I felt. Clearly there's something slightly culty going on here.