Inside D.C. entertainment

Toki Underground pops up for Chinese New Year

January 19, 2012 - 12:36 PM
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Toki Underground (Fickr/TPWP)

If you're craving curry chicken hakata ramen early next week, you won't find any at Toki Underground. The Taiwanese ramen house is turning its digs into a pop-up space for Toki chef Thang Le and Scott Drewno of the Source, in celebration of Chinese New Year.  

Toki will close on Monday, the first day of the New Year, in preparation for Tuesday and Wednesday's reservation-only dinners, where there will be no ramen to be found. In China, the New Year is a two-week-long party commencing with the Lantern Festival. "You're not supposed to work because it'll sweep away the good luck of the year," Le says over coffee at Peregrine Espresso in Logan Circle. 

Le, a former chef at Momofuku Noodle Bar, Iggy's in Singapore, Komi, and Hank's Oyster Bar, will cook Tuesday night. He says his evening sold out in 45 minutes, hours before Drewno's, to his surprise. "We're going to do courses that outline the traditional food for New Year's," he says, as he’s ruminating over how he's going to limit the slicing in his dishes. New Year dishes are traditionally served whole so an entire family can share — slicing would represent a severing of that unity.  

Le's dinner will represent blessings and good fortune for the Year of the Dragon. A whole fish, meant to share, represents unity and leftover's signify not going hungry the rest of the year, noodles for strength, scallops for good fortune because it was thought they resemble Chinese coins, pig's tongue, a symbol of profit, and spring rolls, a representation of gold bars. 

Drewno’s dinner on Wednesday night will be “an elevated version of what you’re actually supposed to eat for Chinese New Year,” says Bruner-Yang. “With better ingredients, at a higher level, so I think it’s what he already does at Source.”  

"We do the same shit every day, so it's nice to change it up," Bruner-Yang says. "Our goal for the year is to kind of get away from being a noodle shop."

There might not be any dancing dragons at this celebration, but Toki will be handing out red envelopes to guests.  

Reservations for the dinner sold out days ago, and an open wait list is long enough to fill up pop-ups for two more nights. If you're not one of the lucky, don't despair. Toki Underground plans on holding a 10-day pop-up shop at LivingSocial headquarters in Chinatown, in March. They’ll be serving pho, in a city whose urban core is seriously lacking the Vietnamese noodle dish, you should probably get on the wait list now.

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