I stayed in Nelson for the week, there for work and given a food allowance I fully intended on taking advantage of. $100 for each day, not including my drinks. I would pay out of pocket first and collect my receipts for reimbursement later. So, the desire to max out my $100 quota brought me to Red Light Ramen for my second stop of the evening, and a more fulsome meal. It came recommended by the server from the cocktail bar I visited before.
I came in with my expectations adjusted, reading from the menu their disclaimer, announcing that they are a non-traditional Japanese restaurant from the onset. Where they have steered away from traditional ramen, they have pushed forward in their goal of sourcing their food directly from the farmers, in order to funnel support back into their economy, driving seasonal and organic sales. They pride themselves on hormone and antibiotic free animal products and Oceanwise seafood. And their concise menu spoke to this: couple of gyozas, a few salads, and essentially 3 types of ramen done in variations. This focus gave me faith in their product, with boiling things down to the best to feed their customers.
Reading it on the drink menu and wanting to continue fostering my buzz, I ordered their Bourbon and bones. I was drawn to the unique pairing, layering a shot of bourbon with a chase of Red Light’s house made 24 hour broth, in your choice of chicken or pork. I went pork for the richest possibility, and this combo was exactly as I expected it to be. Sharp bourbon washed away with flavourful, even more belly warming broth. The latter feels like a beverage you throw back, when served in such a cup. Although, in hindsight I should have ordered the chicken over the pork as I would have more pork broth in my noodles below.
Considering that the kitchen is not run by Japanese or Chinese dumpling folders, they are proud of and should boast that their gyozas are handmade. I got the pork option stuffed with a ground pork, jicama, sake, cilantro, scallion, shallot, mushroom, tamari, and rice vinegar filling. It was full of flavour, but not necessarily a cohesive one. Spicy, peppery, salty. A little much in its own with a strong herbaceous-ness I could not mute out. Not something I need repeating.
As of the ramen, I was intrigued by their use of butternut squash to thicken their broth. Mixed with pork this is their Butternut Miso Pork. Pork bone broth, caramelized squash and miso broth, slow cooked pork belly chashu. Each of their ramen bowls uses traditional wheat and alkaline water noodles, and contains a sous vide free-range egg, enoki mushrooms, scallion, pickled ginger, fried onion, wakame seaweed and micro greens.
Despite the pork fat and the gristle on the pork belly chunk, the serving ate lean. You could taste the quality of the ingredients. Tender toppings that melt: the gently boiled egg, the slightly firm squash, and the succulent pork belly. The curve ball of pickled ginger and the not usually seen wilted cabbage and fresh watercress for garnish added bits of freshness. This was a very well-conceived bowl and really delicious for what it was, but I still couldn’t help but compare it to traditional ramen, so left feeling like something was lacking.
So immediately planned a return trip to try more, and get a better shake of the place. My second visit was for lunch, back to try their other ramen broth option: the tan tan, without the thickening butternut squash.
The Tantan Pork features their 24hr pork bone broth, traditional wheat ramen noodle, Korean style sesame chili oil, slow cooked pork belly chashu, soft boiled shoyu egg, enoki mushrooms, scallion, pickled ginger, fried onion and wakame.
This was another visually stunning bowl made even better looking in the natural light of day. Same consistent quality as my first dinner, but now enjoyed on their spacious back-alley patio. I still found the toppings the highlight and the pickled ginger out of sorts, as a distracting palate cleanser. Despite the menu listing Korean style chilli oil, the bowl had no heat. And I wanted more seasoning for the “tan tan” title to be used. I also could have used more salt in the broth to fully flavour the noodles. So upon reflection would recommend the miso butternut squash instead, as the one I preferred out of the two.
And this time around more than just a shot and broth, I also sipped with one of their cocktails. As is the case with their food, the cocktails too are made with quality ingredients, ethically and locally sourced when possible. With premium spirits, freshly squeezed citrus, fresh juices, house made syrups and cordials you are paying more for their quality. The menu even warns you that they are strong.
I ordered the La Luna, as it came recommended as the most visually appealing of their cocktails, and I can see why with the unique garnishes and contrasting colours. The bonus was it contained an interesting assortment of traditional Chinese flavours and I was curious to see the bar’s interpretation of it. Jasmine green tea infused gin, grapefruit, yuzu, toasted jasmine tea, soda h2o, and matcha salt rim. It had a strong, in your face yuzu flavour to it, given extra bitterness from the tea and the matcha. A great option for those who want it fruity but not sweet.
In closing, this is a fun spot for tasty Asian fusion, come with your expectations set to not be disappointed. A great option for non-traditional ramen, and the only one for ramen in Nelson.
Red Light Ramen
308 Herridge Ln, Nelson, BC V1L 6G5, Canada