I often hear people say that summer is their favorite season. I don’t blame them—after 8 months of snow and blizzards, the thought of double digit, above-zero temperatures and warmth from sunlight that fuels patio basking sessions sounds amazing. I, however, fall into the minority that loves winter. The only dislike comes from seeing the change that happens in the city. Just like a bear preparing to hibernate, when the weather forecast dips into the single digits (or *gasp* the negative digits!), the mood of the city becomes…icy. The sky becomes a perma-grey, precipitation turns from rain into snow and temperamental winds howl at, no ravage, your face. To get through these days and prepare for an easier transition to winter, the one beacon of light and comfort is soup. The heartier the better as every bite seeps through into my stomach and coats it with a cozy film of warmth.
Today, with the wind whipping and rain pelting, regrets of wearing weather-inappropriate clothing surfaced. As I contemplated changing my mind on winter, the soup gods answered my prayers. An invisible halo encompassed Touhenboku Ramen (261 Queen St West, Toronto; @TouhenbokuRamen) where I was invited to try out the fare. The catch? I just needed to tolerate the newly trained serving staff. So, in exchange for some authentic Japanese Ramen, I just needed to let some staff practice their newly developed serving skills. It sounded like a win-win situation and I accepted!
We (my dining partner and I) were welcomed into a small restaurant with about 10 tables and immediately greeted with a round of traditional Japanese greetings from a line of anxiously waiting servers. Our waitress, who was quick and attentive, brought us some water and explained that their soup was made with a chicken stock base. She continued to describe our options which included:
Red—Spicy chicken broth
Black – Smokey garlic chicken broth
White – Plain chicken broth
Clear – Clear chicken broth
All were topped with an egg, wood mushrooms, green onions, and char siu (BBQ) pork (Note: on Twitter seaweed is also an option). The options continued with a decision between noodle type (thick or thin) and sodium style (shoyu–soy sauce or salt).
As we waited, our waitress exercised her skills by making lively small chat. Touhenboku means blockhead, which explained the storefront sign –a happy dancing log who was balancing a bowl of ramen on his stump. In our enthusiastic conversation she explained to us that all the noodles and broth served were home-made. After speaking with the owner, who originally hails from Tokyo, he further emphasized the freshness of their ingredients by stating that the flour used for the noodles were processed especially for them to achieve the right consistency and that all ingredients were domestically sourced.
Within a few minutes our ramen was brought to the table (we opted for no meat). Both elegantly presented and equally delicious.
Red—A colour coded bowl of spicy and well-salted broth that brought a nice balance to the rich mouth-pleasing umami present. We opted for some expertly-made thick noodles that were thoroughly enjoyed. My dining partner preferred the broth to be spicier but I thought the spice level was perfect. The green onions and wood mushrooms added a nice crunchy texture to the soup to counter the soft chewy noodles. It was evident that the noodles were made with good quality ingredients and were cooked to the right texture and consistency.
Black – a smokey broth with hints of garlic and a strong but not obnoxious chicken flavour that again brought out the umami sensation. The broth itself was rich and creamy with the soft-boiled egg (nitamago) accenting both these qualities. The toppings of wood mushrooms and green onions were also present and again a welcome texture change. Although I preferred a bit more garlic and perhaps some acidity (more onions) to balance out the richness, the broth was flavourful and I preferred the thin noodles as they had better soup coating.
The only downside was that the soft boil egg and broth were more cold (egg) to lukewarm (broth) than hot. The owner assured us that our feedback would be taken into account and that both the broth and egg would be the right temperature the next time we visited. He also assured us there would also be a chicken option in addition to the char siu (BBQ pork) which are echoed on their twitter. In addition to ramen, the tweet also indicated that they would be offering a selection of gyoza (dumplings), donburi (rice bowl), karage (fried chicken), and korokke (deep-fried Japanes croquettes).
Their grand opening is slated for November 13, 2013 where they will be open until midnight according to the sign on the door. With Momofuku just down the street and Manpuku, the low key udon joint just up the street in the Grange Village, it seems like the ramen/noodle craze has no plans of slowing down in Toronto. With the long cold winter ahead of me, I plan to take full advantage of this and come back to Touhenboku Ramen to satiate my soup cravings.