On a lazy Monday evening my manly manpanion and I found ourselves hungering for the taste of pork cooked on a grill, Korean style, so off to Roppongi’s Tontaro we trotted. Tontaro’s unique selling point, in addition to succulent samgyeopsal, is glass-plate cooking surfaces, which are a bright contrast to typical Korean grills.
The smiling pig on Tontaro’s sign greeted us like an old friend. The owner recognized us from previous trips and bade us a hearty "Good evening!" He speaks English quite well and is always happy to chat when we visit. English menus are offered to all who look like they may have trouble with Japanese.
There are three main meal options, all including meat, Korean sides, lettuce leaves, garlic and onions. Option 1 is the simple Bara Bara set with thick pork slices. Option 2 is the Tsuke Bara set of thin pork slices marinated in a sweet sauce. Option 3 is the Korai Ninjin set where the thin pork slices are dipped in a Korean Ginseng sauce before frying. Each is plenty for one person and in the \1,000 range. You can add accompaniments to your meal if you wish, such as rice and salad. Having once tried the big Course menu of meat PLUS salad, fried rice, and a sweet-and-spicy pork dish (quite a lot for only two people), we shared a more manageable order of Tsuke Bara and Koira Ninjin on this occasion.
After placing our order, the waiter returned with drinks and the little starter items. He next brought out the glass plate and began heating it up on the little gas stove at our table. Pavlovian reactions reached their peak when he finally brought out the meat! First up was the Tsuke Bara. He dipped the pork in a sweet marinade and then laid the strips on the hot glass. Onions and garlic were added around the sizzling meat. Our waiter left us for a few minutes and then came back with his scissors ready to cut the pork strips into smaller bite-size pieces. When they were ready, he pushed the pieces towards the sides of the glass and urged us to "DIG IN!"
I do not need to be told twice. I grabbed a piece of lettuce, dipped a couple of pork slices into the sesame oil, layered them onto the lettuce, added garlic, onions, kimchee, spicy rock salt, miso paste, and then gathered the sides of the leaf to form a bundle which I promptly bit into with glee. The meat was tender with a slight sweetness, and the dashes of sesame oil and miso brought out the marinade even more.
We were very impressed with our selection and quickly wolfed down (get it?) the rest of the pork with ease. Next up, after the cooking surface was cleaned with ice cubes (a surprisingly engaging display), our Korai Ninjin pork began sizzling away in front of us. This time the meat was dipped in a Korean ginseng sauce before cooking. The meat was incredibly tender with a slightly tangy taste. My stomach loved me and my tastebuds wanted to settle down and live there.
Tontaro is a simple restaurant with around 12 tables that seat 4-5 people each. There is no decor other than some fairy lights and Christmas garlands on the windows. There is a nice TV screen that plays music DVDs. We have been treated to ABBA, J-Pop, K-Pop and a concert by Tokyo Ska Paradise on our visits there. The music is unobtrusive, but fun to have in the background.
After eating, we took time to enjoy the music, finished off our drinks and were just about to leave when our waiter brought us a little present (for being regulars?): celery sticks with a dipping sauce of mayonnaise and chili paste. Not being a fan of celery I was a little dubious, but the owner informed us that is was a special variety that had no smell (until you cook it) and so for the first time in my life I was able to eat celery! It was a lovely way to end our delicious meal.
We settled our bill, got our free Chuppa Chup lollipops and said a fond "see you soon" to Tontaro and its staff. If you ever find yourself at Roppongi Crossing and fancy some affordable pork on a glass plate, head along Gaien-Higashi Dori in the direction of Tokyo Tower. The restaurant is on the left, about 350m from Roppongi Dori.