Ryoji Ramen & Izakaya (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 690 College Street
Website: http://www.ryojiofcanada.com/
Type of Meal: Dinner



Toronto’s love for Japanese food continues with another ramen house/izakaya on College. Ryoji is the first North American offshoot of an Okinawa chain and proclaims itself as the first Okinawan-style izakya in Toronto. When my friend heard about a special tasting menu being offered ($26 with taxes and gratuities included), we thought it’d be a great opportunity to see how Ryoji would differ from all the competition.

Esthetically, Ryoji is much larger than other izakayas boasting a prominent store front and spacious interior. A mirrored ceiling cleverly gives the illusion of high ceilings so makes the dining area seem larger than reality. Ryoji also has two large tables (one by the entrance and another near the kitchen) that offers great eating areas for big groups. The one by the kitchen has a much better view, in my opinion, and was where our tasting was held for the evening.



To begin, we were offered a choice of hot or cold sake or a non-alcoholic drink. Sake was the popular choice and I got the cold one which was fairly smooth and easy going. The portion sizes were impressive, enough for about two and a half shot glasses. 



The first dish was a cold appetizer consisting of Ji-MaMi, pickled vegetables and cucumber wasabi. The Ji-MaMi was quite interesting, a peanut tofu with a smooth texture and a consistency between silken tofu and buffalo mozzarella. The tofu didn’t have the typical bean taste but not quite peanut either, most of its flavour came from the thick sweet sauce and was quite enjoyable. Although the cucumbers appeared to be lightly blanched in salted water, the addition of freshly grated wasabi added a nice contrast to make an otherwise simple ingredient interesting.



Next, were slices of sashimi - lean tuna and mackerel – and were good, with the mackerel being one of the better ones I’ve tasted (slight smokiness and very tender). But, what made the sashimi different were the dipping sauces – an emulsified soy sauce (akin to foam), matcha salt and sumiso sauce (a thick sweet miso glaze). I loved the various blends that could be used to complement each of the fishes. My favourite combinations were the soy foam & wasabi with tuna and the sumiso sauce with mackerel.



Skewers of chicken and beef yakatori arrived next with more freshly grated wasabi. I’m quite happy that everything arrives with wasabi and the beef really required it as was fairly bland. Maybe it was just the cut of meat received as certain more marbled cubes were an improvement. On the other hand, the chicken was much better, likely aided by a liberal brush of teriyaki sauce and pieces of skin laid in between each cube to add flavour and keep the meat tender.



Normally, I’d say you can’t go wrong with a platter of deep fried food. However, my first bite of the fried ball was a disappointment. I was expecting it to be takoyaki (a deep fried octopus ball) but it was closer to fried mashed potatoes with a small piece of octopus inside; the texture was too soft and overall wasn’t hot enough. The shrimp coated in a miso mayonnaise and tartar sauce was decent, but a bit heavily battered for my liking.  Surprisingly, the best part of the dish was the zucchini fritters which had a nice dusting of garlic powder and parmesan cheese mixed into the batter and served with a cool tangy sour cream dip. I would have definitely preferred more of those.  



One of the most anticipated dishes of the night, by my friend, was the miso braised pork belly. Having been slowly cooked for four hours, it arrived tender with the fat melting away without being overly heavy. It may be shocking, but I’m not a huge fan of pork belly (perhaps its why I don’t enjoy bacon), and the piece I received was just too fat for my preference. Even so, I enjoyed its flavours and admittedly found it to be one of the nicer non-crispy pork bellies eaten; thus, if you enjoy fatty meats I sense you’ll love it.  



Last to arrive were pieces of albacore tuna (?) and scallop sushi. The tuna appeared to have been marinated to ponzu making it very flavourful (accented by the crunch of soaked red onions), but made the fish’s texture a tad rubbery. Remarkably, the scallop was more of my fancy; Ryoji chopped up the scallops and mixed it with Miracle Whip (?) so that it was well flavoured and helped to mask any strange textures. The crisp piece of nori wrapped around it also rounded out the sushi nicely.



On a subsequent visit, my husband and I were in the area and stopped by for a drink. We were in luck and ventured in on Thursday when Ryoji offers pints of Sapporo for only $5. While enjoying our drinks, we started talking to Matt Knight, Ryoji’s friendly bartender, who introduced us to an amazingly crisp sake “Morning Dew”, made from mountain water and newly imported into Canada. 



For a place that is imported from Japan, Ryoji is surprisingly “un-Japanese” – top 40 blares from the speakers, the staff is notably diverse and there’s no screaming entrances & exits (thank you!). But, it still offers diners a chance to enjoy something different – the peanut tofu is definitely worth a try. All things considered, I’d say it’s one of the better izakaya’s I’ve been to - no crazy line-ups, I believe takes reservations and above all provides the ability to actually hear your fellow diners. It’s a place that’s just a bit more refined and for that I like it.   

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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