Good Slurps

By Rupert Vaughan |

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The Slurping Turtle (TST) is a Japanese noodle shop and bincho bar, attempting to recreate Chef Takashi’s Japanese childhood culinary experience. It is a sleek room – a room that you might expect to see in Tokyo – with clean lines, direct lighting, two bars (one with a bartender and one at the open kitchen), and both high and low top seating. The high top seating is all communal. There are a couple of giant murals of Takashi’s childhood on the walls, and otherwise the room is pretty sleek and modern looking.

I have learned that most Asian cuisine is grounded in a sense of balance in all things – a balance of flavors, ingredients, textures, and even colors. Many western chefs seem now to be cribbing or at least riffing off these ideas, and diners like me are picking up on its benefits to the meal experience. It is with this sense of balance in mind that I approach my experiences at TST.

First, the place is called The Slurping Turtle, so obviously you have to try the noodle soup, right? Yes, you do, but which one? I believe there are six; I have tried three. The tastiest is the Tonkotsu with its silky (read rich) broth; the most balanced is the Miso Ramen; and the simple, healthy but still delicious choice is the Soba (also offered with tempura if you do not want to be simple or healthy!). At around $14/soup, you can add a nice selection of sake, draught beer, hot, and iced tea and you are cruising, right?

Wrong, there is so much more than just noodle soup here. The bincho is a dizzying array of two or three bite morsels of charcoal grilled scrumptiousness. If you can imagine it, they are probably grilling it back there on their giant hibachi, including lots of vegetarian options. Stars for me have been the salmon, the eel, the king oyster mushroom, and the chicken thigh. Some come glazed with salty, sweet, or sour sauce; most come with a nice dipping sauce; and all are addictive. Even at only $3 to $8 each, you can easily rack up quite a tab munching these, but they are great with a large group.

There are also sushi, sashimi, and hot and cold “Tapas” – which I assume is the Japanese word for the Spanish word for appetizer tastings. My favorite is the octopus salad – at around $10, it’s the perfect balance of fish and soy umami, rice vinegar acid, seaweed firmness, octopus chew (without being rubbery), cucumber crunch, and a hint of chili heat. The sashimi specials never seem to change – they are good, but once is enough. The pork belly snack is perennially popular, with pork belly grilled and glazed in caramel with a tiny side of pickles and tiny side of greens. I think that one pretty much explains itself.

One caveat I must make is that this place has been packed every time I have been. Good for them, but sometimes not so good for you. There can be waits, and they do not accept reservations for parties less than 5. Also, if you do not like communal dining you may need to wait longer for one of the private tables to open up. The service can be spotty – I give them one good, one average, and one poor over the three times I have dined – but it always so darn busy that I cannot really fault the servers. The food comes out fast and efficiently, and simple things like water glasses are always filled. But if you need a server in between courses for a question or a special request, they were hard to find two out of the three times I was there.

All in all this is a great spot for casual “slurping” as Takashi likes to call dining at TST, with many options from which to choose. Now that winter is on its way, I am sure there will be a few more “slurp stops” for hot “dashi” and noodles in my future.

The Slurping Turtle
116 W. Hubbard Street
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 464-0466