Showing posts with label ramen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ramen. Show all posts

Ajisen Ramen (Toronto)

Let’s put it out there – I’m not a food snob. If something tastes good, happens to be inexpensive and doesn’t require waiting for then life is good. That’s somewhat how I feel about ramen restaurants - many are delicious but requires too much effort to wait around for. Yes, I’d love a bowl of satisfyingly hot noodles, but I don’t want to stand around in the cold for half an hour first.

Which is why when the Kinton Ramen line gets too long in North York, I go to Ajisen Ramen instead. Personally, I find them just as satisfying and the numerous menu options a plus as well. Some may find Ajisen’s soup milder than other chains. For me, it’s flavourful enough without being overly oily & salty and as a bonus arrives piping hot. Ajisen’s soup base is what they call “white soup”, developed in southern Japan made from boiling pork bone with other ingredients and results in a lighter milkier colour. It’s not as oily so may lack that rich fatty essence people enjoy about chicken based soups.

My husband ordered the tender rib ramen ($9.50) which actually became my favourite one. There is an ample amount of meat which has sticky pieces of tendon attached to it. As a warning, tendon is an acquired taste – some will find the gummy soft texture gross. It took me a few years to develop a liking to it and now I love the contrast between the chewy tendon and soft meat.


The protein quantity in my corn and BBQ pork ramen ($8.99) paled in comparison, with a mere three slices of the smallest and thinnest pork I’ve ever seen. Instead there was a generous handful of frozen corn and half a hard-boiled egg. Which is what I miss most about other ramen restaurants – their lovely onsen soft-boiled eggs with the vibrant yellow yolks. Sadly, you won't find it here. 


You may also find Ajisen’s noodles thinner than others. But, they were still springy and didn’t get mushy in the soup. And what I enjoy most is sprinkling the flavourful chili powder over everything. Indeed, for a true ramen connoisseur this is likely akin to pouring HP1 sauce on steak, but for a non-ramen snob it’s delicious!


Their pan fried gyoza ($4.50) was where the quality faltered dramatically. As a plus they arrive searing hot with a nice crust on the bottom. But, the wrapper is also hard and sticks together so any chance of enjoying the juices in the dumplings is gone.


In the end, Ajisen’s not the best ramen you’ll ever have. But, for the price and the table availability they’re not bad either. So, next time there’s a long wait at a competing place, give them a try. It’s certainly not the finest, but sometimes satisfying a craving earlier makes things so much better. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 5229 Yonge Street
Website: http://www.ajisen.ca/

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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!

Ajisen Ramen on Urbanspoon


Menya Iroha 麺屋いろは(Kyoto)

Location: Kyoto, Japan
Address: Kyoto Station (10th floor in "Ramen Alley")
Website: http://www.menya-iroha.com/
Type of Meal: Dinner 
 


After visiting Japan, I’ve learnt two things about the beloved bowl of ramen:

1.    In Japan, they consider these to be “Chinese” noodles as some believe it originated from China’s hand-pulled noodles, whereas in Canada, we describe ramen as “Japanese”. In reality, the more traditional Japanese noodles are soba and udon; and

2.    The different soup bases are actually linked to different regions in Japan with miso being popular in Hokkaido, tonkotsu developed in Kyushu and black (dark soy) from Toyama.

With so many regions it feels impossible to try them all. Luckily, the 10th floor of Kyoto Station consolidates eight restaurants into Ramen Koji or Ramen Alley. Most are outposts of popular ramen chains from across Japan. My husband and I ventured to the floor and found each set-up similarly – with a vending machine order system out front and a series of tables / bars seats making up the dining room.

After doing a full circle, we ended up choosing Menya Iroha as it didn’t have a line-up but still seemed busy. I’ll admit, the big poster of Iron Chef Chen also caught our eye even though we couldn’t understand what it was advertising.  Something that’s endorsed by an Iron Chef must be good right? Upon doing some research afterwards, it turns out Menya won best ramen in the Tokyo Ramen competition for the last few years with their black ramen… hence their bragging rights.

Alas, I didn’t realize this was their specialty and after purchasing a combo of ramen, rice and gyoza (¥1,150) and being asked whether I wanted “white” or “black”, I naturally went with white as I prefer salt based soup over soy.  Had I known their crown jewel was the black ramen I would have ordered it – my husband did and said it was delicious.

Having been use to the smaller bowls of noodles served previously, we were surprised with the large size presented to us about ten minutes later. Topped with tons of Japanese scallions, bamboo shoots, a soft boiled egg, two slices of pork, three dried shrimp and a sheet of nori there was a lot of food to get through. The noodles are thinner & softer and the broth more watery than the springy noodle with thick soup combination I’ve become accustomed to in Toronto. I personally prefer the noodles to be more al dante, but enjoyed the broth as it wasn’t as heavy so I could have more of it with the ramen. The slices of pork were marbled to a bacon like consistency and so tender that it just flaked off. If only everything was hotter this would have been one of the better bowls I’ve had in my life. 

Alas, I only had a bite of the rice as I couldn’t even finish the noodles. Luckily, I wasn’t missing much as it’s pretty average - sticky rice with sprinkles of sesame seeds and very hard pieces of dried seaweed. After adding some broth into a spoon with the rice and seaweed it did help rehydrate things and make it more appetizing. 
The gyozas also needed more heat. But, I still loved the lightness of the wrapper and flavourful crust on the bottom; these wrapper didn’t get hard and rubbery as some can get once it’s been sitting out for a while. The simple pork and chive filling was pretty tame so a bit of soy sauce and chili oil was needed to give it the right flavour.

Menya Iroha’s dining space is quite small but has a fair number of counters and four top tables, each equipped with a pitcher of ice water and condiments. If you are looking for a quick and inexpensive meal, this is the place for you. We were in and out in less than half an hour and couldn't finish our meal with their hefty portion sizes. For the price it was a great quality and very satisfying. If you can’t make it to Japan, Menya also has an outpost in LA which may be a bit easier to get to.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

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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!

CLOSED: Ryu's Noodle Bar (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 33 Baldwin Street
Website: http://www.ryusnoodlebar.com/
Type of Meal: Dinner



Baldwin Village just keeps getting more diverse with every visit making me want to go back for more. For this occasion, my friends and I checked out another Toronto Common event - the Tokyo cafe style ramen tasting at Ryus Noodle Bar for $20.

There’s not much to say about Ryu’s interior – it’s small and sparse, has a fair amount of seating and decent enough conditions. Before the ramen came out we each got a platter containing various meats with sauces, gyozas and a chicken sunomono salad. Essentially, a condensed portion of items normally offered on their regular menu – the meat platter and gyozas priced at $15.75 and $4.95, respectively.


We were treated to sous-vide beef & chicken and slow simmered pork belly. Indeed the beef had a beautiful pink centre while not a speck of blood thanks to the tempered water bath it was cooked in. Yet, the meat itself was a tad tough and not as tender as you’d expect. The chicken was nicely cooked but the star was the pork belly (or cha shu) which had a decent flavour even without any sauces. Otherwise, on the side were XO sauce, sweet & spicy ginger paste, yuzu pepper paste and truffle oil allowing us to personalize what we wanted with each meat. For me all were a delight with the exception of the truffle oil; although it smells very aromatic it really didn’t add much to any of the meats.

The middle bowl contained a pork and a vegetable gyoza, both had thin wrappers and a fair amount of filling. Juicy on the inside and a nice developed crust on the outside, they were what you’d hope for with pan fried dumplings.

Lastly, the chicken sunomono salad was filled with chunks of sous-vide chicken and thick seaweed. Conceivably it was due to having so much of the sauces accompanying the meat but I found the salad itself quite bland, especially the chicken. However, with the condiments on the side I was able to flavour it myself and possibly Ryu’s didn’t care to highlight this dish given it’s not a part of their regular menu.

Onto the main event. In succession a miniature bowl of each noodle (typically $10 a bowl) was brought out and to begin the traditional shio ramen. Immediately what stuck out was Ryu’s soup, it is thick and intensely flavoured! Ryu boasts that dried various seafood (scallop, shrimp, clam, cuttlefish and bonito) are boiled for 50 hours to develop this umami filled broth. You can definitely taste the essence and thankfully wasn’t salty at all - just enough to balance against the thick springy noodles, white fungus, bamboo shoots and meat accompanying the ramen.


Although the shio was good, my favourite was their new cold noodle salad that will be offered in the summer months. Although not the most beautiful looking, the taste is delicious. Cold al dante noodles are tossed within a sweet & spicy sesame sauce, topped with more pork, chicken and crunchy black fungus. The sauce hits you in succession – first the sweetness, then the nuttiness and finally ending with a hit of heat. I can see this being a hit during the hot months when hot steaming broth isn’t appealing.


The edamame potage noodle arrived next, another summer addition. In this cold version the noodles are sitting in a thick tofu milk with blended edamame giving it some texture and a beautiful light green colour.  One for the vegetarians it simply contains sweet corn and white fungus. For me, the natural sweetness of the corn and edamame almost made it seem like dessert (yet still having a bit of a savoury element). Although light and refreshing at first, as I ate more of it the taste became a bit flat. I’d suggest offering it in small portions as an ending or marketing it as a “healthy” choice for those who’d rather watch calories than indulge in taste.




Lastly, a hot spicy miso ramen which flooded our mouths with a mix of chili and spices. Using a spicy bean paste the broth had a real depth to it – although personally too spicy for me to really drink on its own. Yet, when combined with the chewy noodles, diced tofu and minced pork it was delicious. If you like the Chinese dan dan noodles or the Korean ja jang myeon, you’ll likely also like this offering.


To end, a miniature mason jar containing Rieko's Japanese style creme brulee. There’s a thin layer of brulee made from large crystals of raw sugar, some still intact adding a crunchiness to the dessert. The custard is cool and creamy with a nice vanilla flavour to it. All in all, not a bad way to end the meal.


Overall, the ramen tasting was quite enjoyable and I love trying different types of noodles so you never actually get sick of having too much of the same thing. Perhaps Ryu should offer it as an ongoing menu item (or even just a cold and hot offering) as I’m sure it’s something other customers would love to try.



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!

Ryus Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Touhenboku Ramen (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 261 Queen Street West
Type of Meal: Dinner 

As the weather starts dipping lower, the opportunity for bowls of hot soupy noodles is welcomed once again.  Luckily for us, another new option has just opened up so that the lineups will hopefully lessen if not cease. Touhenboku differentiates itself by offering a chicken soup base, perfect for those who have previously shied away from eating ramen due to the pork components.

Right away what makes this place great is their accommodating friendly service.  Sure, at competitors you’re always greeted in cheerful unison but at Touhenboku they never try to force you to wait outside (ahem Kinton) and actually talk to their customers.  From the hostess to the owner/manager (?) they reached out to ask us how we were doing, kept us informed about our position in line and ensured we were being satisfied. These little touches really add to the experience and somehow make waiting bearable (we went at about 7pm on a weeknight and were seated in approximately twenty minutes).

Their main offering is ramen ($10.50) with the following choices:
  • Soup base: white (regular chicken), red (spicy), black (garlic infused) or light (calmed down version of white)
  • Meat: lean pork, rich pork or chicken
  • Noodle width: thin or thick
  • Salt preference: shio (sea salt) or shoyu (soy sauce)

Being my first visit, I went with the white, lean pork, thin noodles and shio flavoured ramen. The base is very different and is much like condensed chicken soup; not only is it rich but there’s a creamy smooth texture to it.  Normally, the richness comes from oil, however, in Touhenboku’s case I think it’s likely from the collagen off of chicken cartilage as you get the silkiness without seeing a layer of oil on top. My first few tastes were heavenly but soon it became too much and the saltiness became overwhelming. I certainly enjoyed the soup but need to opt for the “light” version next time.  If you generally find ramen too salty, do yourself a favour and just order the light to begin with.


The noodles are slightly softer than competitors likely on account to them making them fresh in house.  Overall, these weren’t too bad but its doughiness probably added to the fullness of the meal as the thick soup just clung onto the noodles! The meat does need some improvement and in my opinion the worse of the bunch.  Maybe it’s because I went with the lean version but it was pretty dry and tasteless.  My friends that ordered the rich version felt it was much better and to be honest didn’t really have that much fat on it anyways. But, the half of soft boiled egg that sat upon everything was amazing – I loved the fully cooked exterior and creamy yolk.

Sharing with a friend, I also had the opportunity to try the black and thick noodles version. To be honest, any difference between thin and thick is pretty slight so both were good to me.  You certainly could taste the garlic in the broth but what made it nice was they used a garlic oil/liquid rather than pieces of garlic so it wasn’t too in your face.  I even liked the small touches like the black noodles coming in a bowl with a black stripe (the red has a red stripe) making it easier for the servers to distinguish.

We decided to share the karaage ($4.50) which was great with the dark chicken meat being very tender.  The crispy coating wasn’t overly battered and was lightly salted so that it went well with the flavourful ramen.  Sometimes I find karaage very heavy but Touhenboku’s version was lighter tasting, which could also be on account of it not drowning in mayo.

Sadly, the gyoza ($4.50) was not as successful.  The wrapper was hard and pork filling dense and dry.  Some scallions or green vegetables are needed in the filling to give it some juice and the wrappers definitely need to be reformulated to allow them to become thinner. Additionally, there was either a thin layer of oil on the dumplings or in the soy sauce making it impossible for the sauce to actually stick onto the gyoza – we had to resort to biting into it and then pouring some into the middle.

A pretty extensive dessert menu was available but sadly on the night of our visit only three were actually on hand.  The restaurant prides themselves by offering Japanese desserts made by a pastry chef from a Japanese Hotel.  Nonetheless, the chiffon cake ($5.50) we had was pretty lackluster and store bought tasting.  The cake was airy and light but lacked any flavours (even some vanilla bean would be nice), while the whipped cream came out of a can and the glaze just drizzles of syrup.

In the end, I liked their ramen (but likely will opt for the light, rich pork option next time).  But, what really makes me want to go back is Touhenboku’s friendly all female staff (at least on the evening we visited).  I heard Tonhenboku sometimes means a person who pretends not to understand to get their way.  So, maybe the gyozas need work and the desserts aren’t as great as they claim, as long as the ramen is good and people keep coming back, isn’t that all that matters anyways?
Overall mark - 7 out of 10


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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!

Touhenboku Ramen on Urbanspoon

Santouka Ramen (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 91 Dundas Street East
Website: http://www.santouka.co.jp/en/index.html
Type of Meal: Dinner

The Santouka in Toronto is part of a large Japanese franchise with locations throughout Japan, Asia and North America. When my friend told me about the place, I was excited to try this "authentic" ramen restaurant. But, we were unsuccessful in the fall as the line was too long.  Luckily, during our second attempt we were finally got in after waiting for approx. 15 minutes.

If you can’t eat pork, you shouldn’t come here.  The broth is pork based and flavoured with a choice of:
  • Shio - salt
  • Shoyu - soy sauce
  • Miso - fermented soybean paste
  • Spicy miso

I opted for their signature dish the Toroniku Ramen ($15.95) in a miso soup base. The star of the dish is not the noodles, but rather the cha siu (roast pork) that accompanies it. Made from the jowl (cheeks) of the pig, the meat is very tender and delicate in flavour.  Some have described it to resemble the texture of seared fatty tuna; I wouldn’t say they are identical, but is the closest description of its consistency.  Unlike pork belly, there's only a thin layer of fat covering the meat so it is also quite lean.



Any healthiness in the meat is negated by the broth where a sheen of oil covers the surface.  The lard has an added benefit of retaining heat in the broth – the soup was wonderfully hot when it arrived and pretty much stayed that way for most of the meal.  But, it really didn’t add much in terms of taste and the oiliness was a bit off-putting.  The menu claims you can customize the amount of lard used in the soup, next time I’m going to get them to skip it.  Santouka’s soup was richer than most.  But, at the end was still just very salty broth.  Perhaps it’s because I ordered the miso version, which is such an over powering ingredient.  Next time, I will opt for the shio form and hope the essence of the boiled pork bone and seaweed will stand out more.

The noodles were good – perfect thickness (not too thin or thick), cooked so that it was al dente and still had the “springy” texture I expect.

Overall, each individual component of the dish was good.  But, I only wished there was a contrast of something crispy and bright to offset the heaviness of all the ingredients.  Escorting the dish of cha siu were sticks of bamboo shoots and what could be black fungus.  But, both of these items were well cooked and had the similar soggy texture and salty taste.  The one glimmer of hope was the handful of chopped green onions, which I happily added to my noodles to attempt to balance the greasiness and brighten up the flavours.

If you're feeling hungry, Santouka offers a combination plate, which consists of a regular sized bowl of ramen, small bowl of rice and half a hard-boiled egg. My friend ordered the pork miso and chicken rice combination ($15.50) and I got to sample a few bites of the rice. The texture and taste reminded me of stir-fried glutinous rice that you can get at Chinese dim sum restaurants, except without the bits of chopped mushrooms and sausage.  Maybe it’s because I had the rice after drinking the salty soup, but I found it bland. In the end, it was average, not really something that goes well with ramen.

Like most noodle places, seating consists of a mixture of stools along a counter and small closely laid out tables.  At this visit, we were seated at the counter where we got to peer into the kitchen; but, there really wasn’t that much activity going on.




The view from our table

The service is certainly fast - within five minutes of sitting down our order was taken and as soon as the last person laid down their chopsticks, bowls were whisked away and the bill presented. But, this is what gets turnover happening and the line moving. 

Overall, Santouka’s ramen was good, but not worth the wait.  I will eventually go back and try a different broth combination, but will likely not return until the line disappears.  Luckily, a plethora of ramen shops have sprung up across Toronto over the last year, so the waiting may end soon.


Overall mark - 7 out of 10


Like the blog? You can now follow me on twitter for notifications - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog

____________________________
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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Santouka Ramen on Urbanspoon