Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A chance encounter with ramen

I spent last weekend in Toronto with a friend, and much delicious food was consumed. We kicked things off Friday night with luscious burgers from Big Smoke, balanced that out on Saturday with vegan lunch bowls from Kupfert and Kim, and by Saturday night we were ready for our main event: tacos and grilled corn at La Carnita, followed by fancy soft-serve from Sweet Jesus.

Except that the wait at La Carnita was at least an hour, and lest we be tempted to flip dinner and dessert, the lineup for Sweet Jesus was out the door, around the corner and halfway down the block. My friend said she'd never seen anything like it. Fortunately, she knows her city well, and tossed out a terrific backup suggestion: walk over to Momofuku Noodle Bar for ramen?

We did, praying that it would not be packed to the gills, and lo and behold it was not. We were offered seats at a long communal table immediately. We pulled up a scrap of bench and ordered two bowls of the house special Momofuku ramen and an okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancake) to split.

The Toronto outpost of New York chef David Chang's Momofuku empire opened in 2012 to great fanfare, but I had not yet been fortunate enough to try it out. It's sort of three restaurants and a bar all in one; the noodle bar takes up the first floor, while the bar and fancier restos are upstairs. I didn't mind hanging out at entry level, because the space, while simply furnished, was clean and open and very pleasing to be in, and the staff were friendly and welcoming.

Oh, the food? It was fantastic. Really delicious from first bite to last. The deep bowls of noodles and broth arrived gorgeously garnished with a hunk of pork belly and a shredding of shoulder meat, as well as sheets of nori, shaved green onions, slices of fish cake, and a trembling six-minute egg which we tore apart and mixed in to lend further creaminess to the already-rich broth. We dug in and were mostly silent for the next few minutes, except for slurping and possibly some moaning (from me). I don't know if they make their own noodles (I doubt it) but these were chewy and had excellent flavour, and I say that noting that the noodles are usually my least favourite part. (I'm in it for the broth, I am.) All in all it was an incredibly satisfying bowl of goodness, and I would go back and eat it again tonight if I could.

The okonomiyaki was new to my dining companion, and she loved it as much as I did. This thick pancake had no discernible cabbage, so I think it leaned towards the Kansai/Osaka school rather than the Hiroshima. Adorned with diced yam, bonito flakes, Japanese mayo, and otafuku sauce, the gorgeous thing disappeared as fast as we could maneuver it into our mouths with chopsticks.

We coudn't resist sampling the house-made soft serve ice cream for dessert, to make up for missing out on Sweet Jesus. Lucky us, this stuff was amazing. Modeled on Momofuku Milk Bar's famous desserts, the two flavours on offer were cereal milk and "crack pie," a sort of butterscotchy thing. We shared a swirl of both, topped with sweet-salty cornflake crumbs. The ice cream managed to be both rich and ethereal, and as a lover of salt with my sweets, let me tell you, those cornflakes sealed the deal.

We left after less than an hour in situ, which was fine - ramen's not a food to linger over. I would love to go back and sample all the snacky things on the menu over a glass of wine or a cocktail sometime, but our Saturday night dinner was exactly what we wanted it to be, and then some.

I didn't even miss the tacos.


Charles Larabie said...

Drool.....And to think I walked right by it the day before.....on the way to the Rex for jazz and (good) pub food. Like I always say, save something for the next visit.

Chrisann R said...

Hi Alison! It's Chris L's friend, from martini night at The Buzz. I just wanted to let you know that I found you, and I love your blog!! :-) Any ideas where I can get okonomiyaki in Ottawa?!?!

Alison said...

Thanks Chrisann! I'm thrilled you enjoy the blog.

Sadly I have not found anywhere here that makes okonomiyaki since this one tiny Japanese place in Barrhaven closed down a few years ago. I always look for it on the menu at sushi places but no joy. I'm going to have to learn to make it myself, I think! If I do, it will turn up here.