Continuing on my Ramen kick I have visited several ramen shops in Toronto and decided to provide my assessments.
1. Kenzo Ramen – Kenzo is one of the earliest ramen shops in the city and I’ve been to Kenzo several time and at several locations. Personally, I prefer the one on Yonge street North of Finch ave. It’s a little smaller and feels more like a Japanese ramen shop to me.
Kenzo’s ramen is standard. Not mind-blowing but not terrible either. The noodles are a good consistency but the broth lacks kick. It’s salty but there is no subtlety in the flavours or nuances that make you think of other Japanese delights. That being said with two new locations they obviously have appeal.
What Kenzo does have, I am pleased to say, is takoyaki (octopus balls). The takoyaki at Kenzo is easily comparable to anything in Japan. My only criticism is the minimal bento flakes, although that is probably to appeal to a Western market. Kenzo also has the best gyoza in the city hands-down. I am pretty sure they make the dumplings themselves and unlike many “Japanese” restaurants they do not deep-fry them. The gyoza are pan-fried and then steamed so they are like pot-stickers, which is the way proper gyoza are supposed to be made.
2. Santouka Hokkaido Ramen - Santouka is one of the better Ramen shops in the city. I have been here twice and enjoyed the Shoyu Ramen both times. Their noodles are great, chewy and have a delightful flavour. The cha-shu, pork meat, was very well done and melted in my mouth. I found the broth to be a bit salty but it’s cold outside so I can’t complain too much. What I can complain about though is the serving size and the wait. While I can excuse the wait, that comes from being relatively new and near the Dundas area. Hopefully over time this will die down and you will not have to stand in the cold for an hour any more.
The one issue I cannot excuse is the size. Ramen is supposed to be a meal that fills you up. If I am still hungry after Ramen, there is an issue. The funny thing is I would argue that Santouka has some of the best toppings, fermented bamboo shoots (washed so they’re mild), jelly ear mushrooms, fish cake and spring onions which are great accompaniment to the noodles. There just isn’t enough noodles.
3. Kinton Ramen – I went to Kinton last night and I was impressed and disappointed at the same time. I was impressed with cha-shu (pork belly) and the karaage but I was disappointed with the noodles and the broth. I will start with the good. The pork was grilled with a torch. Let me repeat that. The pork was grilled with a kitchen torch. Everything that is good about braising meat with the tasty addition of barbecue! The flavour of the meat was excellent and something I will adopt in my own Ramen. However, I ended up overdoing the whole pork thing as I had ordered the sho-yu ramen plus the additional shoulder pork; so my advice is take it easy on the pork. The other good thing was the chicken karaage, which was almost on par with the chicken my husband makes (he makes orgasmic chicken karaage). Big chunks of chicken, a creamy tartar-esque sauce piping hot without being oily or fatty.
I am not sure if the brilliant meat and chicken offset the ramen in a negative way, but I found the noodles to be more like Chinese noodles than ramen noodles. They were not as chewy as they should have been and were almost hard. The broth was in comparison to the pork and chicken was bland and tasteless. It lacked any aromatics. From my own experimentation, I expect there to be hints of onion, ginger, garlic and even a waft of wasabi in broth. This soup lacked that. The broth should be able to stand on it’s own as a soup. Despite these negatives, Kinton was priced well and the servings were a good size.
4. Momofuku Ramen - This is ramen for rich people. I have been here several times because it is close to work, and each time been disappointed but for different reasons. The first time I went, I was early because I wanted to beat the lunch rush. I was there two minutes before they open and the girl just shook her head through the glass door at me, rather than letting me sit down and read the menu she was going to make me stand there until the official opening time. I just left. Clearly I was not going to line up for an empty restaurant.
The second time I went I actually made it in, but went right after work to beat the dinner rush. I ordered the Ramen and the Seven Spice Sour Slushie which in my opinion was awful. The slushie, not the ramen. The ramen at Momofuku is what I would consider the fundamental ramen. It has broth, noodles, pork, onion, nori, fish cake, egg and bamboo shoots. At $14 for the bowl it was a bit pricey for my taste, but the whole package is overall satisfying. I left full which is great, but the sticker shock after tax and tip was a bit much.
The third time I went the ramen didn’t seem the same as when I went the first time. I know there cannot be progress without deviation from the norm, but I had brought people to try the Momofuku ramen and it wasn’t the same as the first time I had it.
5. Sansoutei Ramen - Hands down the best ramen I have had in Toronto. Similar to Kinton the cha-shu is twice cooked, although rather than torched it is grilled, enhancing the flavour which is a nice touch. The Tonkotsu broth was rich and creamy with a deep pork flavour. Over the pork flavour there is hints of other flavour including what I believe to be wasabi. The noodles are chewy like good ramen should be and it comes with eggs and wood ear.
If I had one complaint (and it goes for all the ramen in Toronto) it would be the lack of sesame. One of the more delightful features of Japanese ramen is that there is a jar of roasted sesame which you grind with a handle. I would like that to be an option at restaurants.