My guest has ever tried ramen before, when I asked she listed “Mr. Noodle” as her closest reference. So I searched for the most impressive ramen place to take her to, for her first taste. “The Ramen Butcher” is one of the newer kids in the block, serving a good food trend growing increasingly popular in Vancouver. Customers stood in a lengthy line when they first opened for business and they were still waiting for their bowls of ramen now. But with shorter wait times.
The area we were in is slowly being revitalized with such trendy restaurants, such as this one. It’s exterior really stood out against its surroundings. All shiny and new with glass, in a neighbourhood of brick and worn down awnings. You could look it from every angle, and with each it had they sterile white feeling to it.
This was the old home of “East of Main Cafe” and they kept a lot of the decor in their new reincarnation. I have never been, but my guest has and she recalled the most of the fixturing being the same. The tables, chairs, and the booths. Including larger share tables and high stools for you to eat and go with connivence. A similar experience from what I remembered during my trip to Japan.
My guest liked “East of Main Cafe, and reflected fondly on the window feature on the wall. It was created to look like a window with your reflection staring back at you. She found it interesting how they barely changed anything. To all the above they added decorative elements like framed photos, a chalkboard drawing of pig cuts; and metal, plastic, and wooden pig figurines scattered around the room. It was a small yet spacious room that had an echo to it. The hollow feeling came from the exposed cement and the visible ceiling ducts. It had a warehouse feel to it. A theme continued on with the use of nails on their title feature and worn crates as shelves. The word “RAMEN” spelled out in nails on a board, it hung above the bar and greeted you from your entry at the entrance. The bar faced the kitchen with a view of their kitchen operations.
And above it all soared origami cranes. They also came with the space, but now they made a little more sense given their heritage.
According to their website, their ramen snd everything else on their menu is made by hand daily. They pride themselves on having the freshest and most authentic ramen in all of North America. They do this by bringing the most current and popular tonkotsu ramen flavours directly from Japan. And their chefs are even trained in Japan. I was psyched, now just to choose which ramen I wanted.
Ramen flavours are classified by colour. Each shade equals different ingredients in the same mix. Each starts off with the classic broth and builds upon it. Red has spicy garlic paste, with you choosing your preferred level of spiciness. The black is roasted garlic oil. Green was a more accurate colour description with the use of fresh basil paste. And orange included miso infused ground pork. For those who need to tone down the rich flavours, there is the same fresh ramen noodles with chicken broth instead, and even one vegetable based broth for the vegetarian noodle fans. And if you want more toppings you could build and customize your bowl with additional ingredients: a lightly marinated egg, bean sprouts, green onion, marinated pork in fat or lean cuts, and seaweed.
For the first timer I suggested the “classic”. It is their signature tonkotsu, pork broth simmered and enjoyed with their in house made noodles. I also suggested that she add the marinated egg for a dollar more. It’s worth it, I wanted two myself. The perfect gently boiled egg with a half runny and half firm yolk at its centre. The classic ramen also came with brown seaweed, red pickles, and green onions. You also had your choice between lean or fatty pork, we both went for one of each. The fatty cut was as expected, rubbery yet tender all in one bite. The lean pork was a little tougher, as expected. Though it easy tore from the grain. Both well prepared, flavourful cuts of pork that only further soften in the broth they sat in.
I had the “Tsukemen”. The menu hooked me in with its use of “world renowed”. Apparently this was also “Kazuo Yamagishi’s house made thick cold noodle in special dipping soup”. The noodles were kept separate to maintain their chewy texture. They were thicker and therefore more starcher than the stringy ones used in the ramen above. When ready for a bite you dipped cold noodle in to warm broth, though you had to eat fast as the broth cooled fast. Not that it wasn’t good in room temperature, it was just better hot, like regular ramen is. But the process of scooping, dunking, then dragging ramen to your mouth was work. It took lot of effort to move the noodles from one bowl to the other. This broth had a slightly fisher taste to it. In the mix was also green onions, a whole medium boiled egg, bamboo shoots, and my choice or lean or fatty pork.
We would have liked the gyozas first, but they came after our portion of noodles. Which makes sense considering the noodles and broth are made in the beginning of the day and just heated and assembled to order. These were the spicy gyozas, which were made with fresh ingredients and completed with an on the spot fry job. Each, a regular pork gyoza, topped with their spicy garlic paste. Delicious. Each was full of flavour, but mostly from the chunky paste. Only a bit on the spicy side, and not enough to mask the excellent flavouring in the gyoza shell or its filling.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
It was good ramen. I came in with high expectation: knowing the attention they garnered when they first opened, the breath of experience noticeable in their cooking, and all the praise they have been getting for the above. They did not disappoint. To date, my new favourite place for ramen. Not bland, not too rich, just right. I certainly recommend giving the “Tsukemen” a try. Don’t deny your cravings.