Maenam – Vancouver, BC


Maenam Thai
1938 w 4th Ave
Vancouver, BC V6J1M5
(604) 730-5579

I have high hopes for Maenam. The chef here is Angus An who used to run the late, lamented Gastropod at this location. He was known for inventive dishes that bordered on molecular. Gastropod was critically acclaimed, but I speculate that it didn’t resonate with the much of Vancouver dining public.

Sometime in the past year, the Gastropod team decided to cut their losses and switch to a new format: high-value (not necessarily “budget”) “authentic” Thai food. Finally, I thought, real Thai food in Vancouver –  a city desperately lacking in this great cuisine. Knowing that Angus An worked at London’s Nahm under Australian Thai cuisine expert David Thompson and also knowing that he is married to a Thai, the promise of authenticity should be easy to keep. Angus An (from my own experiences dining at Gastropod) is an exacting, fastidious chef and would go to great lengths to procure the right ingredients and use the proper techniques.

maenam4

The first time I visited Maenam, I was less than wowed. The menu looked very ordinary – listing only the usual suspects. On sampling the food, I thought that the Thai flavours were muted and compromised. (I am, however, happy to note that things are trending up as of late.)

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G-Men Ramen – Richmond, BC


G-Men Ramen
#1101-3778 Sexsmith Road
Richmond, BC
(778) 296-3779

December 2009 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Yes, another ramen post from yours truly.  I suppose its become my staple and fallback.  And if you have not guessed by now, my preferred comfort and post-drinking meal.  Old Tokyo habits never die…

G-Men Ramen opened in March of this year to some fanfare given its backing from the Gyoza King Group – operators of the famous Gyoza King joint in downtown Vancouver, as well as Nan Chu in Richmond and Gyoza King’s Robston Street neighbour, Chico Coffee & Dessert Bar.  Creating their latest enterprise as a ramen offering and in the heavily Asian population of Richmond sounded like a smart decision, given this demographic’s tastes for noodles.  I decided though to give it a few months leeway and smooth out its operations before visiting.

As noted on the operating hours sign posted at the front entrance, you will be in for a surprise if you come mid-week and find it closed.  Actually, my first visit on a weekend afternoon resulted in a seriously disappointing announcement by one of the servers that they had RUN OUT OF SOUP!  A serious violation of the ramen-ya‘s code of honour and no doubt a black mark on their record for true rameniacs.  Despite her plea to come in and try one of their non-soup noodle dishes or other items, I declined and pledged to come back.

On each of the three occasions that I’ve come here so far, there has been a lineup or active wait list to get in.  I’d say an average of about 15-20 minutes.  Even when its been brutally hot outside (plus 30), the string of people exists, much to my amazement.

Though not pictured above, on my last visit I noticed that there was a hand written mark next to the four ramen options now, noting that the Tonkotsu (in reality a Tonkotsu Shoyu) and the Miso (Tonkotsu broth) were only available in the evening, and the other two (chicken-based broths of Shoyu and Shio) could only be had for lunch.  I suppose that is their solution to minimizing their soup stock supply run outs.  I’m hoping they resolve that and allow for all four options at all times of day, and never run out.

As one would hope in a ramen-ya, there is a counter bar here (four stools), plus table seating for at least another 25 behinds.  Only with the bar, it doesn’t give you full viewing access to a food prep station behind the counter, like you get at say Kintaro.  Instead, the kitchen area is further back and behind a barrier wall, with only a small cut out window where you can see the master in the kitchen.

Design-wise, it’s clear the developers are going with a retro theme, of Showa-era Japan.  Much like what you see at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum.  Overall, it has that outdoor stand-type of feel (yatai) that reflects the roots of ramen.  The hand picked driftwood adorning the windows are also apparently the manager’s personal design touch.  The from-a-previous-time Japanese motorcycles placed in the window and outside the front door, are also some nice aesthetic touches to complete the theme.

Once inside and seated, upon seeing the old school television program playing on the flatscreen above the counter bar, I made the connection as well as the play on words with the place’s name.  You see, G-Men, is derived from the G in Gyoza and the Japanese word for noodles (e.g. men).  And one of the most popular televisions shows of the mid ’70s in Japan was a cop drama called G-Men 75. The owner must clearly be a fan of that bit of pop culture and of that time in Japan’s modern history.

As some readers might have caught on, there’s been a rush of hiyashi chuka dishes in Vancouver this summer.  G-Men was not left out of this trend as they had a separate menu sheet displaying their version.  It was a bit unorthodox in terms of its toppings, and quite plentiful.

So much so that they overwhelmed the noodles that were completely hidden from view when the plate was brought out to the table.  The fried garlic chips were very much something I hadn’t seen before on this dish, but they added a nice crunch to the otherwise mainly soft textured toppings.  The flavored sauce was a soy/rice vinegar mixture, though for my tastes the soy sauce could have been stronger. All in all, I’m holding a favorable opinion of it, though wasn’t totally blown away.

Lastly, the Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen.  Off the top, I have to say this is my current ramen favorite in town, when it comes to the kotteri (heavy) type.  An even balance with the shoyu base cuts the heaviness of the pork broth, resulting in a more fluid soup.  The thin slices of chashu, of which there were too, nice and rich and fatty.  I’ve sampled it twice now and can guarantee I will be back for a third and more.

Sure, the other broths beckon, as well as the more izakaya-like donburi.

The thing I noticed at our table and scanning the bowls of nearby dinners, is that G-Men gets it right with the careful allocation of thicker noodles to the likes of the Tonkotsu Shoyu and Miso broths, and a thinner strand for the Shio and Hiyashi Chuka.

Finally, a look at the gyoza.  Being the backbone of the group company that runs the place, I was slightly taken back by the lack of oomph I got from these morsels.  They were so-so, nothing to write home about, and frankly I think my homemade ones taste better. 🙂  I wish they had come out in a more timely manner though, as they came out at virtually the end of the meal, when the noodle dishes were almost all gone.

Still a few things to work out is what I get from my multiple visits here.  The constant flow of customers probably doesn’t quite enable them to take it easy and re-group easily and the servers are doing their best.  Perhaps the kitchen could use some more help in cranking out the bowls as well.

On another note, I am still kind of amused by the way locals here take in their ramen.  I’ve never seen such a leisurely group of customers, taking their time well after a meal to sit around and chat even though they can see people clamoring at the front door.  You see, ramen to me is fast food.  Order, get it, eat it, leave.   And do it all quickly.  Say what you will about the danger of wolfing down a steaming bowl of soup, but to allow others to partake a solid ramen, is something you have to acknowledge.  I’m thinking a few times eating in really popular ramen-ya where waiting customers are literally standing right behind you waiting to get a seat, is what’s needed to entice the crowd to speed things up, especially when there is a lineup.   Oh well, rant over. 🙂

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