Good Eats at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

Hokkaido Ramen SantoukaLocation: 515 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.santouka.co.jp/en

After ramen disappointments at Konjiki and Kinton, I was starting to worry that a really good bowl of ramen might be impossible to find in the city.

Well, here’s Santouka, riding in to save the day.  Their ramen certainly wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was a solid bowl of noodles.  I enjoyed it.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

They specialize in tonkotsu ramen, in which pork bones have been boiled down for hours until you get a rich and creamy broth.  They have shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso, or spicy miso.  I went with shio.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

It’s a quality bowl of soup.  The broth doesn’t quite have the magical complexity that you’ll find in the best versions of this dish, but it had a rich porky flavour (without the heavy greasiness that can bog down tonkotsu ramen), and a good amount of salt that doesn’t overwhelm.

The noodles were slightly thinner than I’d like, but they have a nice chewy bite.  They’re satisfying.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

The egg is an add-on, but it’s worth shelling out the extra cash; it’s nicely seasoned and perfectly-cooked, with a gooey but — and this is the key — not runny yolk.

Above Average Ramen at Ramen Misoya

Ramen Misoya
Location
: 646 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.ramenmisoya.ca/

I don’t need a whole lot to convince me to try a new ramen joint.  Ramen Misoya is a Japanese ramen chain that’s been featured in the Michelin guide, with locations all over the world.

Michelin-featured ramen?  That’s pretty much all I need to hear.  I’m sold.

Ramen Misoya

(Though the last Michelin-adjacent ramen joint that opened in Toronto, Konjiki Ramen, was pretty disappointing.)

I ordered the gold kome special, which is a pork- and miso-based soup that comes with chasu, half an egg, ground pork, and a couple of potato wedges.

Ramen Misoya

It’s a solid bowl of ramen. The broth has a decent amount of complexity; it’s got a porky richness and a nice miso flavour, and it’s livened up by a mild gingery and garlicky bite. The level of salt is a bit too intense, but it’s otherwise above average.

The noodles were also quite satisfying, with a perfect thickness and a nice firm texture.

Ramen Misoya

The add-ins, sadly, were hit-and-miss. The egg was tasty, with a great gooey yolk.  But the chasu was so tough I could barely even bite through it, and had a vaguely gamy flavour.

The potato wedges were just weird; even if these had been perfect I’m not sure they would have worked.  And they were undercooked and crunchy, so they definitely didn’t work.

Ramen Disappointment at Kinton

Kinton RamenLocation: 4026 Confederation Parkway, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.kintonramen.com/

Over the last several years, Toronto has seen an explosion of restaurants serving ramen ( a ramenaissance, even?  No?  That’s the worst and I should delete this blog immediately?  Fair).

Despite this, Mississauga remains almost entirely sad and ramenless.  There’s Kenzo, and… that’s about it.  Kinton opening a location here is kind of a big deal.

Their grand opening is today, and to celebrate, they’re offering 50% off all of their ramen.  I showed up a few minutes after they opened, and not surprisingly, the line-up outside was intense.

Kinton Ramen

It’s a nice day, so I figured sure, why not?  It’s been a while since I’ve had the ramen at Kinton, but my recollection was that it was some of the best in the city.

About 40 minutes later, I had a steaming bowl of original shio (salt) ramen with pork.

First, the good: the noodles were great.  You can choose between thick and thin; I went with thick, and they were top-notch.  They had just the right amount of heft, with a nicely firm, springy texture.  I saw some people eating the thin noodles, and they looked way too delicate.  Thick is clearly the way to go.

Kinton Ramen

The pieces of pork were also exceptional; they were super tasty and melt-in-your-mouth tender.  And while the egg wasn’t great (it was undercooked and runny), it was also quite tasty.

Alas, great noodles and pork does not a great bowl of ramen make.

The broth — a.k.a. the heart and soul of a bowl of ramen — was lacking.  Kinton serves tonkotsu ramen, in which pork bones are boiled down for hours and hours until you get a thick, creamy broth.  And they had obviously done something right: the rich broth was indeed thick and creamy.

Kinton Ramen

But the flavour just wasn’t there.  It was bland.  It wasn’t bad at first, but the deficit of taste gets more and more blatant as you go, and by the end of the bowl I was sick of eating it.  I actually left some soup in my bowl, which I pretty much never do.  Not because I was full, but because it was getting monotonous.

The thing about a great bowl of ramen (or even just a good one) is that every mouthful seems to unlock something new; it’s like a symphony of flavours.  Meanwhile, the bowl at Kinton was more like one sad tuba.

It’s literally their first day in existence, so it’s possible that they’re just working out the kinks — but since they’re a chain with nine other locations, I have my doubts.

Scratching my Head at Konjiki Ramen

Konjiki Ramen
Location
: 5051 Yonge Street, North York
Websitehttps://konjikiramen.com/

I think ramen might just be my favourite food on the planet.  Burgers are obviously a strong contender, but there’s something about a truly great bowl of ramen that’s incomparable.

That’s why the ramen at Konjiki — a seriously acclaimed Tokyo ramen joint that has just opened their first outpost in Canada — was so disappointing.  Their specialty is ramen made with clam, shellfish, chicken and pork.  I was exceptionally excited to try it.

You can either get shio (salt) or shoyu (soy sauce); I went with shoyu, which was clearly a mistake.  The flavour was all salty soy sauce, which completely wipes out all of the nuances from the broth.

https://tastyburgers.ca/

The thing that’s so irresistible about a great bowl of ramen is how complex it is; it feels like you’re discovering something new with every mouthful.  But there was nothing new to discover here after the first slurp.  It certainly wasn’t bad, but the first sip was exactly the same as the last.

The noodles were quite good, at least, with a satisfying chewiness.  The texture was slightly off in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but that’s a minor complaint.

The chasu, on the other hand, wasn’t great.  It was super dry, and just didn’t add much to the bowl.

I also tried the gyoza (which were pork, shrimp, and cabbage dumplings) and the karaage (fried chicken), and they were both tasty, if nothing particularly mind-blowing.

Konjiki Ramen

I should also note that there were some service issues.  I was with a group of four, and two bowls of ramen came fairly quickly.  The other two took an extra fifteen minutes to arrive.  The waitress was extremely apologetic once she realized what was happening, and I got a free egg out of the deal (which was nicely cooked, with a gooey, just-barely-set yolk — but like the ramen itself, it was too salty).

Overall, not the greatest experience ever, and certainly not worth waiting for when there are several other ramen joints right nearby.