Showing posts with label udon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label udon. Show all posts

Zen Sanuki Udon (Toronto)



While many Japanese noodle shops are small and cozy, Zen Sanuki Udon is palatial with a spacious and airy dining area. To the point they could add more tables given they’re at capacity so quickly – pretty much every table was filled when they opened at 5:30pm. More seats shouldn’t detract from service levels: they employ a lot of staff so that food arrives at a quick clip and there’s always people standing around waiting to serve.

Speed is important when you’re selling noodles in broth. At this Zen location, their menu is based around hand-made sanuki udon from the Shikoki region, which is square-shaped and thinner compared to the cylindrical thick ones found elsewhere.

I expected springy chewy noodles, but they arrived fairly soft for udon. If anything, they tasted like the hand-pulled noodles found at the neighbouring Magic Noodle, which while not terrible is also a dime-a-dozen in the Markham area.


The ebi-ten udon ($16) allows diners to try the dashi broth made with a combination on konbu, bonito flakes, and dried baby sardines in a neutral form. Not surprisingly, there’s a rich umami flavour and it’s just salty enough without becoming overwhelming.

But then they ruined by broth by throwing in so many tempura bits that as you’re sipping the hot soup, every mouthful is filled with mushy batter. A spoonful would have been fine, but it seemed like there was equivalent tempura bits to noodles. As much as I commend chefs who use food scraps to eliminate waste, they should serve them in a separate bowl so diners can add it to broth themselves.

Bits of lemon zest adds a refreshing element to the udon, but the citrusy taste could also be strange for some customers, especially if you’re hoping for soup that’s really hearty and savoury. Who knows, perhaps it’s just something they include during the summer months to lighten everything?

The tempura was kept separate and arrived hot and crispy. While the shrimp a good size and deliciously sweet, I would have liked a light sprinkling of salt on everything as the vegetables were bland so you had to dip it into the broth, rendering the crispy crust soggy, to add flavour.


Their beef udon ($17) is like having bulgogi with udon, the meat thinly shaven and even has the same marinated sweetness. Call me a traditionalist, but it’d be much better if the beef was served in thick slices, similar to the pork shoulder cut you find with ramen.


Large portions is something you won’t find at Zen; if you don’t have a light appetite, add the $3 to upsize the bowl. Even their sides are miniscule: the kamo (duck) roast ($14) only had five slices, which is surprisingly when the actual duck udon already contains four pieces. It’s a satisfactory side, the freshly grated wasabi a lovely addition, but the actual duck could be more flavourful and less chewy.

 

With Zen’s history of serving solid Japanese cuisine, their soft noodles, over garnished broth, and puny portions is rather disappointing. Which is dangerous since udon seems to be the next “it noodle” opening across the city. With competition, there are better options, in my opinion, to tuck back a bowl.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3720 Midland Avenue

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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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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/

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - 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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Aoyama (Toronto)


In a small plaza sits two storefronts – Aoyama and Aoyama VIP. Enter to the one on the left and if you’ve made reservations, chances are you’ll be escorted back outside and into the VIP one. Yes, it’s a bit strange that they’re not connected, but when you want to expand and the opportunity arises (albeit not directly beside your existing restaurant), you need to seize the availability.

Just ordering your meal can take time if you’ve never visited. There’s a leather bound menu that already has numerous options, but then you’ll also want to sift through several laminated loose pages, and there’s even a wooden board with drawn images that gets circulated with other a la carte items.


Indeed, the cheeky wooden board drew us in to try some of their hand rolls ($3 for spicy tuna and $3.50 for spicy salmon). Having been spoiled by ones that chefs insist on handing you and having you eat right away, I did find the seaweed chewy and a bit tough to bite through. However, for the price, these are great, a pretty generous portion of fish wrapped in seaweed, although the spicy mayo needs to be spicier.


During the weekend, Aoyama offers a “sushi set upgraded weekend special” ($125) that comes with a more sushi and luxurious appetizers, compared to their regular option. To begin, there’s a sharing platter of small eats containing chawanmushi (a savoury egg custard), lobster tempura, yakitori skewers, other small nibbles, and a pot of seafood consommé.   


Normally, chawanmushi is served hot. At Aoyama, it’s cold so ends up being denser and almost the consistency of a savoury flan. The temperature and jellied soup takes some getting used to, but it tasted good, the dashi (?) flavours seeping through. Finishing it with a teacup of the umami-filled seafood consommé is a nice combination.

Plump pieces of lobster tempura is dressed with the all-colour-no-heat spicy mayo. Nonetheless, the lobster was cooked nicely, it just needed a bit of salt or something else to dip it into. Surrounding the dish were pods of dry edamame and tempura burdock root that was cold but tasty to nibble on.

What makes yakitori skewers delicious is when they’re hot off the grill and you can smell and taste the smoky caramelized glaze. In the platter, the chicken and scallion yakitori were cold (having been brought over from the other store) so the chicken became hard and the sauce congealed and lumpy. Really, Aoyama should consider replacing these with a starter that doesn’t need to be hot.

Something to consider when you make a reservation: what is important about the meal for you? Is it hot food or a comfortable sitting environment? While the VIP room is spacious and has an ambiance of a brightly lit piano lounge, there isn’t a kitchen so food is transported over in a non-insulated metal container arriving lukewarm to cold. To get the best of both worlds, you’ll want to order cold items when sitting in the VIP area.

Luckily, the huge plate of sushi that’s part of the set menu can withstand the frigid journey. That evening, it contained two types of tuna, the fattier toro and the regular blue fin variety; sweet soft pieces of unagi (barbequed eel); surprisingly clean pieces of aji (horse mackerel) that’s further topped with tons of ginger and green onions; tried and true kampachi,  salmon, and salmon maki; a decent take on tamago (egg) that had the flavours but not the lovely layers; as well as generous portions of hotate (Hokkaido scallop), ebi (raw shrimp), and uni (sea urchin).


In terms of the sushi rice, something I’ve really started to learn to enjoy, it had a great consistency but needs more vinegar and could benefit from being warmer. The rice is an important element to get right given it’s such an integral part of sushi.

Since the set meal lacked vegetables, an order of the wakame salad ($6), ice berg lettuce tossed in a creamy sesame dressing and topped with a sweet seaweed salad, was welcomed and helped add that freshness we were craving.


Off the a la carte menu, the seafood zousui ($18), a Japanese-style congee, was beckoning during the cold winter night. Pieces of shrimp, salmon, crab, a fair-sized scallop and various mushrooms gave the dish a lovely sweet seafood essence.


The rice sits at the bottom of a clear seafood broth, rather than being boiled for hours so that the grains combine with the soup, so you’re able to taste just the soup and then also have it with the soft rice. Indeed, the broth is king and despite being tepid had a warming property to it. If there was more seasoning and the seafood was added near the end of the process (so it doesn’t become rubbery) it’d be even better.

A bowl of tempura udon ($13) also seemed like a good choice. While the broth is rather run-of-the-mill, it was at least hotter than all the other dishes and the noodles chewy and springy. Something about ending the meal with a hot bowl of soup really suits me.


The VIP room was so comfortable that after two hours we still wanted to stay. A round of desserts helped extend the experience a little longer.


Deciding on the black sesame mochi ice cream ($4.30), it arrived two to an order. The small ping pong sized mochi needed a few minutes to rest as at the beginning it was tough to cut through. A thin chewy layer of glutinous rice flour pastry encapsulates plenty of ice cream. While it was pretty, the dessert lacked sesame flavour and tasted more like vanilla ice cream. For real black sesame ice cream you’ll want to stick with the ice cream with red bean paste ($4.50) combination.


Once the store between Aoyama and Aoyama VIP vacates, they can finally combine everything into one continuous restaurant. At that point, patrons finally won’t need to decide between quality of food or atmosphere. Until then, choose carefully.  

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 2766 Victoria Park Avenue

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - 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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:



Crazy Don (Toronto)

If you’re starving and deep-fried pork products don’t faze you, Crazy Don may satisfy the hunger. Their combos offer the crispy donkatsu with either bacon kimchi fried rice or udon (both $15.95), a reasonable price for the ample portions. Aside from the main, the meal also comes with passable miso soup and a selection of crispy banchan (vegetarian side dishes)


The namesake pork cutlet could be better: ideally served on a cooling rack so the bottom doesn’t touch the plate and become mushy; more seasoning is required so that the only flavour doesn’t stem from the thickened Worcestershire sauce; and the meat cut thinner so it’s not as chewy.    


As for what to pair it with? It’s hard to go wrong with bacon kimchi fried rice – smoky bacon and spicy fermented cabbage goes so well with rice. The side isn’t even greasy, likely the bacon fat used in lieu of oil.


However, I prefer a bowl of udon; it doesn’t feel as heavy and the hot salty katsuobushi broth a nice respite against the dry cutlet. The bulgogi version arrives unadorned with beef, but push to the bottom and you’ll find a few slices of the thinly sliced meat. The meagre protein didn’t bother me too much, since there was already a fair sized donkatsu to get through. What I did find odd was the uncooked Shanhai bok choy on top – luckily the soup is scalding hot so a few minutes in the bowl helped wilt the vegetable. Thankfully, Crazy Don doesn’t skimp on the noodles, which are lightly cooked so they stay chewy throughout the meal.


In lieu of the donkatsu, LA kalbi ribs ($18.95 with fried rice or $19.95 with udon) can also accompany combos. While it doesn’t quite have the smoky barbequed taste normally found at Korean restaurants, it’s nonetheless tender and flavourful.


Out of the two proteins, I found the kalbi was better executed than the donkatsu. Who knows, maybe Crazy Don should consider rebranding itself Crazy Kal instead.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 5175 Yonge Street


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - 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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


Crazy Don Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

MeNami Udon House & Sake Bar (Toronto)

MeNami

Most good noodles should have a springy quality to it, at least in my books. I prefer my pasta al dante, wonton noodles still with give and udon chewy despite its thick doughy properties. The large green door and Vegas style name tag may not traditional characteristics of a noodle joint, but MeNami Udon and Sake Bar certainly offers an impressive bowl of sanuki udon, despite the buzzy atmosphere.   
Forget the vacuum packed versions you find in the frozen or dry good areas of Asian supermarkets, MeNami makes their fresh in-house with a special machine imported from Japan and Chef Kevin Shin spending a good deal of time in Kagawa, Japan learning the recipe and technique to reproduce it in Toronto (with a few tweaks to meet our climate).

To sample the noodle in its most neutral form, have a plate of the tsuke udon ($7.95), the cool noodles served with a sweet soy, ginger, daikon and onion concoction for dipping. It goes particularly well with the beef tataki ($12), the thin slices of lightly seared beef spiked with a lively jalapeno basil and karashi-su miso, complimenting the plainer noodles.


Being a versatile starch, there are tons of other styles on MeNami’s menu. The spicy pork udon ($11) uses slivers of the meat with a chili mixture that when mixed into the broth provides a good level of heat.


For something richer, the mentaiko cream sauce ($12) is a dish that an Italian nonna would even like. The sauce is not unlike alfredo, with the marinated fish roe adding a gentle briny essence to it. The spicy tomato oil has no bark once it’s mixed into the heavy sauce and I love the hint of freshness the finely chopped green onion and shiso leaves provide.


The curry udon with shrimp tempura ($11) has such a deep rich Japanese style curry and an aroma that lets you know it’s on the way. On top, hot and crunchy pieces of shrimp and yam tempura can make it into a meal.  


If you enjoy sweet and salty combinations, the black sesame puree udon with beef ($15) should hit the spot. For me, it took some time to warm up to the idea of dressing the udon with the black sesame soup (gee ma woo) that’s found in dessert houses. Perhaps, if the beef wasn’t bulgogi (also sweet) but rather something that’s more savoury, I would have liked it better.


The kitsune udon ($9) has an appropriate balanced sweet and salty quality, where the large fluffy piece of aburaage (deep fried tofu) is marinated in a honeyed sauce that softly permeates into the broth.  


MeNami serves more than just udon (although to visit and not haves noodles is a waste of time), offering tons of tasty izakaya options. If you’re not allergic to seafood, get the deep fried ika ($7). After having it at their media event, I had two orders of the dish on a return visit with friends. Mongo ika is in reality cuttlefish; at MeNami pillowy soft and just ever so lightly dusted with nori speckled flour. The cool dipping soy was the only thing saving me from completely scalding my tongue as I couldn’t wait to tuck into the fresh-from-the-fryer dish.


Another crowd pleaser was the corn kakiage ($5), a fritter of sweet chewy kernels with a honey butter mayonnaise for dipping. The deep fried eggplant ($6) was also pretty good once you reach the vegetable hidden amongst the deep fried yam slivers.


The oven roasted yam salad ($8) smells heavenly with cubes of caramelized yams tossed with kasha. It’s rather hearty for a salad, sitting on a bed of spring mix and grape tomatoes, garnished with pickled and deep fried onions.


Surprisingly, for a dish that sounds heavy, the convection roasted pork belly ($11) was so well rendered that it wasn’t fatty tasting at all. Each slice has been rubbed in a dry spice having a Cajun twinge to it; the dish reminds me of bo ssam as you wrap the pork with pickled onion and spring mix.


For something lighter, the albacore tuna tataki ($12) is good, the meaty thick slices of fish dressed simply with wasabi, soy sauce, green onion and green onion oil.


If you’re only going to do one raw fish plate, try the smoked salmon with parsnip sauce ($10) instead, the fish is salted, torched, and flavoured with a smoke gun giving it the oaky essence of smoked salmon but the texture of sashimi.


Their larger “one pot” dishes, kept warm on a burner, is great for sharing. The sukiyaki ($24) had a decent portion of shaved beef and tons of earthy mushrooms (enoki, shitake and oyster) in the slightly sweet broth. It was good, but I still have my heart set on trying the oden, which was sold out during our visit.


MeNami wouldn’t be called a sake bar without a menu sporting a sizeable collection. Some are available by the glass ($5.50 to $28.80) and others by the bottle ($11 - $130); something from every price point. I was just glad to see they had the Mio sparkling sake ($26), which is fast becoming my favourite easy going drink.


The restaurant has some interesting cocktails as well. The Kir in Tokyo ($11) a relatively strong mix of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, chambord and cold sake.



At their media event, they served a fantastic sundae – the mere sight of the Pocky biscuits stuck in the matcha ice cream excited the inner child in me. Every layer presented another taste and texture with crunchy cereal, soft sweetened red beans and whipped cream. Although it's currently not part of their regular menu, I've been advised they are considering expanding on the ingredients and offering a rendition of it.

Just be warned, if you’re visiting with more than two people, get a reservation. Trying to make sense of how staff choose to sit walk-ins amongst reserved tables can be a frustrating ordeal; and no, attempting to work out the logistics for them with recommendations on how to situate the tables will only confuse them further. MeNami, please hire a front-of-the-house manager!

Nonetheless, the mere fact that I returned just weeks after gorging on so many dishes at their media event, should be a testament to how much I enjoy their creations. So with a reservation in hand, I will return to the restaurant.      

Overall mark - 8 out of 10
Disclaimer: Tasting of dishes in the post were from attending MeNami's media night (where they were complimentary) and on a return visit (paid for). Rest assured, as noted in the mission statement, I will always provide my honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 5469 Yonge Street

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - 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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


MeNami Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato