* * * Update: Ryoji Ramen restaurant in Toronto has permanently closed. * * *
It was a coincidence that the day after I watched the first episode of this PBS series, ‘The Mind of a Chef’, hosted by chef David Chang, my friend Nyla suggested we try a new Japanese Noodle House called Ryoji, which she had noticed on College Street, for our upcoming dinner together.
The program I had watched had been entirely dedicated to the subject of Ramen soup, and a look at their website, Ryoji, states that they are a place that specializes in Ramen and Izakaya, which I discovered is a ‘Japanese drinking establishment that serves food to accompany the drinks’ (thanks Wikipedia).
So, after seeing the show, the desire to try some real ramen had set in, and I was happy to go with her choice of restaurants! A bowl of hot noodle soup sounded like the perfect thing to eat on a cold winter evening.
As a committed lover of sushi, I am no stranger to Japanese restaurants (this one being my current favourite), however my experience with eating ramen was limited to those packages of dry noodles and powdered broth, that you add boiling water to and wait for five minutes before eating. I enjoyed my fair share of those through high school and university, and for the occasional work lunch at my desk, but I had never had the real thing, prepared by a chef who makes this dish their specialty.
Ramen Soup is apparently a staple in Japan, with restaurants and counters serving it all over the place. It is prepared in a variety of ways, with chefs guarding their own secret recipes, but the commonality is that a flavourful broth and ramen noodles come together in a big bowl. Ramen noodles are unique in that they are based on an alkaline formulation (they include baking soda, or an ingredient called Kansui), that will result in something that will hold up when soaked in liquid, no matter how long they’re immersed. Anyone who has just used up leftovers from their Christmas turkey dinners making turkey soup will know that regular noodles, eventually get so soft and soggy in liquid, that they eventually become an unappetizing mush. This is not so with ramen, which maintains its texture. (Note that those instant noodles referred to above are precooked ramen, that are allowed to dry out, which is why they are ready to eat after a minute in boiling water.)
When done right, the broth is steeped to perfection, over many hours. Ryoji takes 18 hours to make theirs, and they offer 3 different types.
I had checked their menu before arriving, so I knew exactly what I was going to have. I went with the soup called ‘Otoko-Aji-Kera-Miso’, which has some spicy miso paste in it, because I do love things spicy.
To drink I had some hot sake. Sake is not to everyone’s taste and it did take me a while to come to appreciate it, but now I’ve come to really enjoy it. Ryoki had a wall of kinds to choose from, but not being a connoissuer, I went the easy route with their house sake.
Nyla was not in the mood for noodles, and instead selected a series of appetizers. She had some Zucchini Fritter Tempura, Breaded Tomato Fritters, Tofu with Chili Sauce, and a side of rice. She chose a glass of Japanese beer to drink.
She also had some Creme Brulee for dessert, while I opted for a second serving of sake. (It was good, and I had a long and cold walk home ahead of me!)
We were at Ryoji on the Monday evening between Christmas and New Years, so while bustling, the place was quiet enough to allow us a nice relaxed meal, with plenty of time to have a good long talk. We needed the time to catch up because we hadn’t seen one another since June, as Nyla has been out of the country. So not only did we enjoy a delicious meal, we has a good talk in a very beautiful room. I don’t know about where you live, but Japanese restaurants here, while usually being very tidy and streamlined, don’t tend to focus on decor. Ryoji was an exception to that; it was really lovely in there. Also the staff were very friendly. All in all, it was a really good night.
While my craving for ramen done right was satisfied on that night, I am very much looking forward to going back for more!
Ryoji is located on the north side, at 690 College Street, just east of Grace Street.
Thank you for checking out my post. Here’s wishing you a great weekend.