Ichiran Ramen – Tokyo, JP


Ichiran Ramen
Roppongi GM Building, 2F
4-11-11 Roppongi, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +81 3 3796 7281

IMG_3982

Ask any visitor as they head to Japan in search of ramen, and they will likely say, if they’ve done any reasonable about of research, that Ichiran and Ippudo are the two names that pop up most frequently in English-language sources.

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Momofuku Noodle Bar – Toronto, ON


Momofuku Noodle Bar
190 University Ave
Toronto, ON
(647) 253-6225

In a recent discussion with the Foodosopher, we touched on the topic of this website, our former haunt where we used to regularly pen our thoughts on our latest eating adventures and released them to the oblivion of the internet. Was anyone still reading it? A good question. The WordPress stats seem to indicate there is still a stream of traffic coming mainly from search engines, much to my surprise. So let’s see what happens with this post, a testing of the waters so to speak…


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Kawawa Ramen – Burnaby, BC


Kawawa Ramen
4700 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 435-8577

Another of the local Vancouver area bloggers first brought Kawawa Ramen in Metropolis at Metrotown to my attention.  I can recall the post about the place next door (under the same Kawawa umbrella) had several hilarious points that are common to his style of writing and its remained one of his classic reviews filled with disappointment about his meal.  So much so that whenever he encounters a pathetic food experience, Kawawa becomes a direct reference point in how bad it really is.  All this didn’t phase me however from eventually checking it out – perhaps mainly just to join in the hilarity – and check out some of their offerings.  So here goes…

The basic ramen.  Added the hard boiled egg.  Broth was on the thicker side but rather flat in terms of flavor.  Not extremely salty, but just completely uninteresting without any depth.  I’m not sure of the exact composition of their base broth, but it can’t be something that is getting much love and attention, and a careful building of layers over extended periods of cooking time.  The noodles while drowned in the liquid were somewhat clumped together in an awkward mess, making drawing some out to eat slightly difficult.  Chalky in taste too and overdone with no bite left in them.  If you haven’t gathered by now, I’m not a huge fan.

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Motomachi Shokudo – Vancouver, BC


Motomachi Shokudo
740 Denman Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 609-0310

Total visits over the years to this west end ramen-ya is about five for me personally.  I hadn’t taken the time to properly put up a post yet since foodosophy started, but recently  I had the opportunity to meet with a visiting out-of-town friend and he suggested that we go there for some ramen, so I was happy to oblige one more time.  With the sister flagship business of Kintaro closed for the day (though peaking into the windows there, the staff was busy prepping soup stock and I could see bundles of noodles laid out on plates on the main counter), there was no need to juggle our choice.  I am well aware both have their fans and detractors, and to each his/her own.  For yours truly, after double dipping in both outlets of Daiji Mastubara’s ramen empire over the years, I’ve come to prefer the newer sister for its lighter broths and flavor combinations.

Much has been said already about the more refined and visually appealing setup in this location compared to the one just down the street.  In an image conscious city like Vancouver, I find it somewhat fitting that the usually dour and bare bones design of a noodle shop has been upgraded at Motomachi Shokudo.  On a first time visit, the differences are really noticeable, despite it being a relatively small dining area, with a few tables (including a communal one) and a bar counter to eat at.  Clientele wise, I see more females and people apparently on dates here than one would normally associate with a ramen-ya.  Stretching this impression to Japan, where its almost unfathomable to see a single woman eating by herself in such a place due to societal and cultural taboos, its even all the more “odd” to see here.

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Sanpachi – Edmonton, AB


Sanpachi
3803 Calgary Trail NW
Edmonton, AB
Tel: TBA

Gotcha!!!

Thought it was open now didn’t you?

Well, as of 10pm MST last evening, this is what the front door looked like.

Still covered up with ‘opening soon’ paper noting just the information of a local contractor doing the work inside apparently, I’m not exactly sure when the doors will open to customers as it was difficult to see through the small bit of uncovered space at the entrance in the freezing Edmonton night I might add.  With some flurries coming down, this was a quick drive by and shoot, as the trigger finger on the shutter felt like it might just fall off from the cold.

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Sanpachi – Vancouver, BC


Sanpachi
770 Bute Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 609-9938

“If you build it, they will come”. Its as if the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson from the 1989 classic film Field of Dreams is whispering all the way across the Pacific Ocean into the ears of the leadership responsible for steering the business growth of established Japanese ramen chains. First of the known bigger players, Santouka, ventured forth and established a Canadian beachhead in the burgeoning ramen battle zone situated in the west end of Robson Street.  It’s probably my favorite in town these days, but I’m   I would be curious to hear what the likes of the man behind the original true ramen-ya in Vancouver, Matsubara-san of Kintaro fame, would have to say about the growing market and resulting competition for the dollars of Vancouver “rameniacs”.  Hard to believe its been eleven years since this all began in our fair west coast city.

Delving into the history of Sanpachi is an interesting read.  Starting in that ramen hotbed of Sapporo back in 1987, its stretched to now approximately 70 outlets throughout Japan and as well as overseas (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan).  Progressive it seems in their business model as well, by offering “gift packs” of its popular miso and shoyu variants through an online store.  The sole founder (and current CEO) is fiercely proud of the original and unique taste of their ramen, and has expanded this love of ramen and keen dedication into a motto that serves to remind their entire network of stores and staff of their purpose.  Loosely translated, I would say in English this would be “Warmly Satisfied in Both your Stomach and Heart”.   Yeah, that didn’t come out well, but I think you get the point.

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Q Go Ramen – Vancouver, BC


Q Go Ramen
1443 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-9916

This long weekend has been a poor one for me in terms of “cheating” with bad eating habits.  Friday night was an extended dinner at an izakaya (albeit, I held back on the booze), which was followed up by a lunchtime of ramen – not exactly the most healthiest back-to-back eating to do.  In actuality, this meal was a backup to another one that was sought out initially – which we’ll get to eventually I think – but the rain check turned out to be a nearby replacement.  To expand, it was decent, just not outstanding.  I’ll explain in more detail below.

Q Go Ramen in the Fairview neighborhood is just a short walk from the busy Granville x West Broadway intersection, and is a recent opening that I’d driven by and wanted to check out firsthand.  The extreme popularity of Japanese ramen and the growth this genre has experienced in the greater Vancouver area is clearly noticeable, though I’m beginning to worry about some saturation in some areas and a lowering of the bar so to speak in terms of the quality of the offerings.  Early thoughts discovered on the local Japanese language boards concerning this place were not strong (conversely, the English forums out there are overwhelmingly positive), so I entered with some subdued expectations and it turns out, matched what I was anticipating.

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Shoryumen – Richmond, BC


Shoryumen Noodle House
7100 Elmbridge Way
Richmond, BC

It has been a while since I was last in this area of Richmond. In fact, my main purpose of driving out there was for other reasons and I just happened to come across this hijacked car park that is now devoted to three separate food trailers and is chain-link fenced off in its own little private prison yard.  I’m curious to see if there is any further expansion or perhaps a more properly cordoned off area, perhaps with some increased commercial sponsorship to make this more than just a stand-and-eat attraction.  If anyone can do it, its those astute, savvy, well-monied Chinese business people who have made Richmond a well known foodie destination.

Of the trio of stands currently occupying this space, the one serving up the most familiar (to most) food is perhaps Shoryumen.  Quick and easy Japanese soup noodles.  With all of the competition in the Vancouver area for ramen being prepared in more proper environments, I had my serious doubts that anything remotely adequate could be made out of the back of a trailer.

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Ramen Santouka – Vancouver, BC


Ramen Santouka
1690 Robson St
Vancouver, BC
(604) 681-8121

I had to dig deep into my computer hard drive to make this an almost all-cellphone picture post. 🙂

The Shibuya (Tokyo, Japan) outlet of Santouka was the site of my first taste of this delicious tonkotsu-shio base ramen originating out of the northern island of Hokkaido.  The distinct mini-ume that sits in the middle of the bowl will always remain in my mind, as the signature topping at Santouka.

As I’d already touched on the history and background of this popular Japanese ramen chain when I visited one of their non-Japan based outlets in Hong Kong, I’ll skip that here.  Instead, I’ll mention that for this newly opened Vancouver location, I saw clear indications on the job posting boards in Vancouver for Japanese ex-pats mentioning Santouka coming here as far back as last summer.  So I knew that they would eventually be here and I anxiously awaited where they might end up setting up shop.

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Miki Japanese Ramen – Burnaby, BC


Miki Japanese Ramen
5212 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 430-8999

My discovery of more and more places featuring ramen on their menu, or that alone as their offering to hungry customers, reminds me of how strong an influence that both an internationally-minded local populace and the success of a market leader in that genre (e.g. Kintaro) can have on drawing in more and more contenders (and some would say pretenders).  While the Robson+Denman area of downtown Vancouver is gradually become its own ramen gekisenku (literally, you could translate this to something like “competitive ramen battle zone”), with sightings and rumors of Ramen Santouka setting up shop apparently near Guu with Garlic, and Benkei Ramen apparently set to open a second location on Robson. Other places are striking out on their own in other parts of the city or surrounding areas. Case in point, this new ramen joint discovered while on a drive through Kingsway, which is calling itself Miki Japanese Ramen.

Stepping inside during a weekday lunch hour, I was greeted by an oddly pronounced blast of the Japanese greeting for “welcome” by a young female server.  There was a pair of older ladies already eating and having a deep conversation, but otherwise the place was empty.  After perusing the menu booklet that was brought to my table, I settled on trying the Negi Shio Ramen, figuring it would give me the best insight into their basic broth.  What came out was a very “cloudy” and oil-heavy soup.  It felt like a large amount of canola oil or something had been poorly integrated into a very dense chicken broth.  It simply tasted impure or artificially-created, that is the best way that I can describe it.  The topping of finely sliced scallions were sweet but did little to drive my attention away from the soup.

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Ippudo NYC – New York City, NY


Ippudo NYC
65 4th Avenue
New York, NY 10003-5220
(212) 388-0088

The New York City arrival of the Hakata style Ramen temple, Ippudo, really signified to me the just how wide spread the ramen invasion was in North America. While ramen had been gaining in popularity on the West Coast for quite some time, especially in Asian strongholds like Los Angeles, San Jose, and Vancouver, it didnt seem to have the wide spread appeal that sushi did.  Even with something like David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, it could be written off as an anomaly. Not anymore – thankfully, it looks ramen is here to stay.

Ippudo is a ramen chain started by Shigemi Kawahara, the “Ramen King” of Japan. King or not, he has definitely been credited with many advances, and pushing the envelope with the art of ramen – a modern, yet traditional approach to ramen. Each Ippudo location takes advantage of regional differences and produces a slightly different variation of their ramen – offered in addition to their traditional tonkotsu offering. In New York, that offering is the Akamaru Modern.

For more details on Hakata style ramen, please see Shokutsu’s description in his Menya review.

Once you get in, usually taking 30-90 minutes these days, you’ll be seated in a modern, understated environment. It is comfortable, and far larger than Kawahara’s original 10 seater in Fukuoka.

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Ramen Ezogiku – Honolulu, HI


Ramen Ezogiku
2420 Koa Avenue
Honolulu, HI
Tel: (808) 922-2473‎

I admit, curiosity got to me when I saw the distinctive logo hanging from the banner outside this front entrance.  For our readers familiar with Vancouver, yes, this is the same chain that operates the two outlets in the Canadian city, both on Robson Street, going by the name of  Ezogiku Noodle Cafe.

Some more background…  The Tokyo honten (main branch) of Ezogiku is a tiny ten-person counter joint, located in the college-saturated station area of Takadanobaba, and competes with many ramen-ya and inexpensive eateries for the tight student wallet.  Offering a Sapporo-style miso ramen, Ezogiku has been around for over thirty-years and claims to be one of the first to bring true Sapporo miso ramen to the Kanto region.  Forgive me, but my first and only bowl there was way back in 1997, but I can faintly recall that it was pretty decent, a mid-thickness crinkly noodle and a miso soup that was on the heavier side on the fat meter.

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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. 🙂

G-Men Ramen on Urbanspoon

Kenzo Japanese Noodle House – Burnaby, BC


Kenzo Japanese Noodle House
6907 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 522 9969

Kenzo Japanese Noodle House on Urbanspoon

September 2010 re-visit post here
<a href="December 2009 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Located in a very visible commercial building along Kingsway at the intersection with Griffiths Avenue, not far from the Middlegate Shopping Centre, Kenzo Japanese Noodle House is a pretty well known spot for those living in the area.  I am sure the commuters who utilize Kingsway daily are also very familiar with this place due the lack of obstruction from the road right into the business’s front window.

Initial impressions gained from scanning the photographed items above the cashier station/beverage case/bar led me to think that the proprieters were Korean, given the Hangul descriptors I saw for the food images (along with the English text).  As a ‘noodle house’ I was surprised to see a few non-noodle dishes displayed there, as well as in the menu booklet that I was given as I saw down.

The interior was quite clean, with the sunlight coming into the windows making for a very bright scene, even thought it was becoming close to sundown.  Around me were other tables filled with diners, from couples (young and old), a mother with her children, and two guys who were friends and out for a meal together.  The booth that I sat in had a light colored wood counter, but I thought the seats were a bit close to the table’s edge so it made for some effort in squeezing in, or is that just that my growing girth is the problem here…?

With the intent of using this visit to sample their ramen offerings, I quickly scanned the choices and asked for the SHIO RAMEN.  There were other variants such as the shoyu (soy sauce), miso and some others that had spicy elements in the broth.

Toppings were a few thin slices of pork, bamboo shoots, green onions and a full boiled egg.  The noodles were a variety I have seen in the cases of restaurant supply stores, and have bought myself in the past.  The broth was light, a chicken-stock base and had not been topped off with any oil.  How would I describe the dish overall?   Very ‘plain Jane’, it reminded me of the kind of ramen that you find in Tokyo at a small ‘mom & pop’ kind of neighborhood place, your school cafeteria, etc.  Frankly, I am able to make a better home version using store bought dried noodles (brand: Myojo Chukazanmai), adding some other ingredients to boost the soup and making a greater effort with the toppings.

For what it is, a simple dish of ramen, I suppose its not completely inedible, but if you live on the eastside and are willing to make the drive further westward to places like Menya or the popular Vancouver ramen-ya around Robson & Denman, you can get a more authentic and flavorful bowl.

Kenzo Japanese Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Toride – Tokyo, JP


Toride
Shinsencho 20-23, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, Japan 〒150-0045
+81 3 3780 4450

With the chilly weather and ongoing fog that has engulfed the west coast, it has me craving for a good bowl of ramen. Unfortunately, when it comes to ramen, my thoughts go back to Japan. No offense to the ramen operators in Vancouver, but there is just something that cannot be matched by the “real deal”. As I think about it, its not only just the difference in the taste, quality of ingredients, dedicated “masters” who put so much into their creations, but also the atmosphere that I have a yearning for on a cold winter’s night.

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