Ramen up north. Or: An izakaya that doesn’t serve alcohol?

Ramen (Japanese soup noodles) is one of the many things that I have begun liking only recently. Growing up, I never was a big fan of ramen, and the closest thing I ever come to liking ramen-style food is the instant noodles you get in Indonesia. But thanks to the power of influence of WW (as well as trying to make her happy), I’m glad to say that I now quite enjoy this salty delicacy. It provides a nice warm meal in what is normally a very cold country. However I have to say that being a recent convert doesn’t preclude me from being rather picky with my noodles. And I’m glad to say that I found a decent ramen place in New Kennedy Square. So along with Ilpunji Sushi House, that makes TWO rather nice places that I like to go eat at in this godforsaken ugly mall (I’m sorry, I really, REALLY cannot get past how shitty the building looks like).

Almost as shitty as this. But only just. --- from ajklijs.wordpress.com/

Meh, close enough. — from ajklijs.wordpress.com/

Walking in, you’ll be quite surprised to see how new and rather fresh the whole restaurant looks like. While it won’t win points for decor originality or innovation, the whole place feels quite bright and recently renovated, a nice change from the awkward and dingy place of the many other places in this mall. They even have a little private section (something I’m seeing more and more of in newer restaurants) for a small birthday party or gathering. Nice touch. We were seated quite promptly and got a cozy booth seat. This place really does feel spacious, and I appreciate that the owners didn’t go down the route that many Chinese owners usually go for: that of aggressively trying to cram as many tables as possible into a finitely small space (this must be some sort of sporting competition in China/HK that they carry over to Canada, some of them must be real pros at it). The result is that the whole place feels a bit more quiet than many of the other Chinese-owned ramen places that I’ve been to in the ‘burbs.

It was quiet, alright.

It was quiet, alright.

We ordered two very simple and straightforward items: the tonkotsu ramen (essentially a pork bone broth-based ramen) and the spicy ramen (which is very similar to the former, just with more BURN). Before I go on though, I must make a note that they serve stone pot rices here, which I did try in a previous visit, and it was delicious. The only problem I had (which, really, is the whole point of the dish) is that the pot really kept the rice extremely hot, so even half an hour into my meal, I was still huffing and puffing my every scoop of rice in a way reminiscent of the big bad wolf in front of a brick house.

Yep. That's practically me --- from themightymrbilly.blogspot.com

Yep. That’s practically me — from themightymrbilly.blogspot.com

I have to say, when the food came, it looked wonderful and just like how ramens should look like. Big steaming bowls of goodness, with oodles of stuff inside, and perhaps most importantly, large slices of chashu (pork) in them. After eating them though, I found them to be in the solid-but-not spectacular variety. The noodles were a bit overcooked (or maybe I just like my ramen a little al dente), and though the tonkotsu broth was rich, it was a bit more on the salty side. For those who say that ramen broths should be salty, I would actually agree with you, but I usually prefer a little bit of depth in my broth, so that the flavours are a bit more complex. Case in point would be the excellent ramen at Niwatei Ramen in J-Town, however invisible the place may be. Still, the overall dish was not bad, even if the chashu was also not as sweet (yep, you read that right) as Niwatei’s.

Pictured: the regular ramen. Not pictured: me blowing vigorously at the spicy one.

Pictured: the regular ramen. Not pictured: me blowing vigorously at the spicy one.

The spicy ramen, on the other hand, we’ve also had a brief encounter before. We kind of knew what to expect, and thus we sheepishly asked them to reduce the spice level a bit.As a Southeast Asian, you have no idea how much it hurt my pride to say that. But I vividly recall how burning the whole thing was the last time we ordered. This time, the kitchen staff complied with our request and toned down the chili pepper content. The result was a ramen that was similar like the tonkotsu variety, but with more heat. This actually gave the dish the added depth in flavour I was looking for, and I definitely liked this one better than the other dish. The reduced spice made it more manageable (and also made me NOT have to have a glass of milk handy) without losing its “kick”.

Overall, I would recommend this place. It’s not the best ramen out there, but it’s still very good, and certainly on par (if not better) than the massively overrated Kenzo Ramen places that prop up all over the city like a bad case of acne. The place has taken some heat for claiming itself an izakaya (which essentially means small bar) but not serving alcohol due to its pending license application. But as I don’t really drink, this fact has about as much relevance to me as Miley Cyrus does to the world of sensible people. A very good place, but definitely not one of those “must go” places.

–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!

Raku Ramen & Izakaya

8360 Kennedy Road

Markham, ON L3R 9W4

(905) 477 3828


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