Raku (Toronto)

Right after my first bite of Raku’s udon noodles, I knew I would be back within a month. It didn’t matter that summer was approaching or that the appetizers were merely satisfactory, that bowl of hot comforting broth and silky chewy noodles was something special.

For my first visit, I kept it simple with the nameko ($16) where it arrives with a clear refreshing broth that’s still richly flavoured so it’s like you’re sipping on consommé. The bits of delicate Nagasaki nameko mushrooms were perfectly paired with the soup and I finished it to the last drop.

Adding on a poached egg ($2), it arrives on the side to keep it from cooking more but also means it’s absolutely cold. I threw it back into the hot soup to attempt to warm it up a bit, but at least it was done quite nicely where the insides were solid but still has a bit of runniness to it.

But, it’s the noodles… oh that udon … that makes me realize I should have added an extra serving to the bowl ($3). While most udon is cylindrical, these are oval. Maybe it’s something to do with this slightly flattened shape, but it has such a lovely silky texture while still incorporating a chewiness that’s retained to the last bite.

The broth is also amazing and what makes Raku different is that with so many options, the soup actually varies as well. Having a sip of my friend’s bowl, the niku ($20) is salty and beefy complementing the short ribs and tripe. It’s one you’ll like if you enjoy Shanghai braised beef noodles.

On a follow-up visit, I went completely in the other direction with the kani ankake ($26) where the broth is made of a thickened egg drop soup with pieces of crab strewn throughout. It’s a bowl for those who are sensitive to salt as I found it much blander than the other soups. I was really hoping for something savoury but all the toppings – spinach, scallions, and even the crab – were also rather tepidly flavoured.

Maybe it was the mochi ($4) I added to the bowl… it just sounded so intriguing that I had to try it! The two large rectangles of rice cake were soft and sticky, but really doesn’t go with this soup. I can see it working really well with the tan tan noodles: topping one of the cubes with my friend’s spicy miso pork really helped to give it a much needed saltiness.

Raku also offers a great selection of appetizers to tide you over as the noodles arrive. Of course, there’s the traditional gyozas ($8). The wrapper is nice and thin and arrives with a lovely crust. However, both the vegetable and pork ones are too delicate for my liking. The vegetable filling is made from micro finely shredded vegetables that would be better if they incorporated some meaty mushrooms. Meanwhile, the pork was forgettable and needed something (chives or scallions) to give it pizzazz.

Truthfully, it could be the ordering of the apps, since after having a piece of the chewy smoked atsugiri bacon ($8) anything could taste bland. While at first I thought it was strange to eat… literally, it’s thick slivers of well roasted slightly sweet bacon. Washing it down with a sip of Sapporo I understand the appeal – it goes remarkably well with the bubbly cold bitterness of beer.

For something lighter, their chicken tatsuta-age ($8) is very lightly battered, a bit crispy, but mostly juicy and tender. Or opt for cubes of agedashi tofu ($7), which are so light and pillowy that it almost feels like having a savoury marshmallow. It could use a bit more textual contrast as the generous layer of bonito flakes are also quite soft. At least it’s well flavoured sitting in plenty of sweet soy and garnished with scallions.

The yaki nasu ($8) is such an interesting starter: a thick slice of eggplant with a raw quail egg on top. Slice into the soft vegetable to allow the egg to meld into the hot eggplant and and spicy miso pork in the centre. This appetizer was not what I expected from deep fried eggplant, but delicious and really grew on me with each bite.

Raku continues to intrigue and delight with each visit. With their extensive menu, I feel like there’s still so many things to try. Will I ever get to the don buri or cold udon?! Those will be a hard, as their bowls of steaming chewy noodles are just way too delicious to pass up. 

Overall mark - 9 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 456 Queen Street West
 Website: http://rakunyc.com/

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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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