DISCLAIMER: Please take this review with a grain of shio. I wouldn’t even consider it a real review because it was Gyoza Bar’s grand opening and things there will definitely change and get tweaked and hopefully improved as time goes on and they develop their rhythm. Take this as a snapshot of the night and their food at that particular point in time. All opinions are still my brutally honest opinions of what we were served though, so read on and come to your own conclusions.
Gyoza Bar + Ramen is the latest “concept” from the Aburi line of restaurants which include Miku and Minami. In a nutshell, elevated food with a twist and a price tag to match. They’ve done sushi, now Gyoza Bar is their take on gyoza and ramen.
Gyoza Bar is located on Pender near Seymour, right beside Burger King (!) and Malone’s Urban Wankery. The space used to be the Tunnel Nightclub. The location is an interesting choice because there isn’t much of note in the immediate vicinity, foodwise. It’ll be interesting to see if the location helps or hurts them. The international student crowd in this area probably can’t afford to eat here that often.
I usually don’t go to grand openings and would rather wait at least a couple weeks for things to smooth out but I was quite excited to try their take on gyoza and ramen after seeing pics of their cast iron gyoza on Facebook.
The main (dinner) menu. This place does gyoza, but also ramen. And apps. And small plates. And plated mains. And desserts. The small plates in particular don’t seem very Asian.
The lunch menu brings in “handheld” items like Cajun Shrimp Po’ Boy and Vegetable Flatbread. I’m all about THAT ONE GOOD THING, but evidently most people still think that MORE IS BETTER.
People were tweeting and instagramming the hell out of that sign. I do like it. It must’ve been a pain in the ass to carve all those little fiddly distressed edges though.
The lineup mere minutes before grand opening.
Finally we’re in, and my mood was one of tentative excitement. People started ordering cocktails right away, keeping the bartender busy.
Frankly the beer list sucks, especially if you know that they could’ve done a lot better. Goro + Gun in Calgary has the best beer list of any Japanese restaurant in Western Canada, and it makes me a bit sad that Calgary is kicking our ass in that department. Phillips is good, Parallel 49 stuff is good, Howe Sound is ok, Red Racer is good, but the rest lacks imagination. They also don’t list serving sizes, which nowadays is a bit of a no-no. How are you supposed to judge if the $7.50 P49 seasonal is a good deal if you don’t know if you’re getting 14, 16 or 20oz?
I like seeing this option on menus.
We had to try their signature item, the Teppan Gyoza, which is gyoza cooked on a round cast iron pan they call an “imono”. AFAIK the specialty gyoza are not cooked in an imono and are plated more like what you’d see in a modern fine dining restaurant.
Eater Vancouver’s Top 10 Try Before You Die Ramen list by trusted local blogger Christina (Food: It Is More) includes the Kaisen Tomato ramen, so we had to try that too. We also got the Tamari-Shoyu Tonkotsu ramen as a baseline to compare with other tonkotsu ramen in town.
After ordering, I was entranced by this for a few moments. The flame was actually a couple inches higher but one of the staff noticed that it was burning a bit out of control so she came by and jiggled it a bit to get it down to a more reasonable level. In fact, all of the staff were going out of their way to be courteous and communicative.
About 10 minutes into grand opening and the front desk has a lineup. They were all very friendly, pleasant and smiling — which is what all restaurants need, I don’t care how elite you think you are…Nicli could stand to take it down a notch or three.
Funny that they chose Red Race ISA. It’s probably their most inspired choice of beer to include on their menu. I had the same beer when we went to that Twice on Sundays ramen pop-up. It’s mild enough to work with light flavours but also interesting enough to stand up to more robust stuff like meaty gyozas.
Exposed brick from the original walls plus lots of wood. Great view of the open kitchen. They even put in a window on the back part of the kitchen so you can see where they make the noodles as you walk to the washrooms (which have a shared communal sink setup).
Hmmm…they do takeout too. I wonder how they pack up the ramen for takeout?
Fraser Valley Pork Teppan Gyoza with spicy rayu soy (left) and umami garlic soy (right). This was the 7 piece serving for $8 which seems like an ok deal.
This lacy, crispy runoff was what I was pining for after seeing preview pics of their teppan gyoza. That part was gooooood.
Another shot of the teppan gyoza before we attacked it. Somewhat clumsy execution but understandable with a brand new restaurant. It was a bit like seeing fast food burger advertisements with their photos of pristine, idealized burgers then seeing the real thing in person. Actually eating these gyoza was a bit difficult without tearing the wrapper 🙁 The wrapping is admirably thin but needs a bit more resiliency.
The “local barley fed pork” tastes great but I could’ve used a bit more juiciness. It’s a delicate balance…having meatiness and juiciness but encasing it in a thin yet strong wrapper that holds the goodness inside until the moment you put it into your mouth. Nothing sadder than seeing already torn-up gyoza arriving at your table (slight exaggeration).
Those crispy bits are the best part!
Next up, some specialty gyoza: Miso Short Rib + Jalapeno-Soy Glaze with feta (cow’s milk), cherries, mushrooms and zucchini. Whereas with the pork teppan gyoza I felt like “yes, I am eating gyoza”, I didn’t feel like I was eating gyoza when I ate this short rib one. I had to use knife and fork in order to get all the bits into one mouthful, which really changes the experience of eating gyoza. At one point I thought, “wow, this is next-level gyoza!” but later on felt it didn’t seem right to call this gyoza at all. The filling was that really tender braised short rib texture, almost like pulled beef. All the flavours were great and worked together but I could not reconcile this in my mind as being in the same category as all my previous gyoza and potsticker experience. I’m really happy to see them pushing the boundaries, but is this gyoza? Is this a better gyoza?
Time for ramen! Kaisen Tomato ramen in a tomato-saffron broth with mussels, clams, prawns, scallops and sous-vide “chicken char siu”. I wouldn’t even call the chicken “char siu” (chashu), it was simply chicken breast cooked sous-vide style. It was amazingly tender and moist…a superlative experience which highlighted the purity of the taste of white chicken meat. But there was no simmering in soy sauce involved so don’t think of it as chashu made with chicken instead of pork.
The seafood was fresh-tasting and cooked perfectly. The prawns burst in my mouth with that slight crunch when prawns are cooked just so.
The broth deserves special mention as well. It’s basically a fantastic bouillabaisse with an amazing richness and complexity. If I wasn’t feeling stuffed, I would’ve drank the whole thing.
The ramen is served in these strange but wonderful wormhole vortex bowls. They’re a bit of a mindf**k because it’s hard to judge the portion size when it arrives at your table. The actual amount of noodles and broth is quite substantial. These awesome bowls are designed by local artist Hide Ebina. Big thumbs up for these bowls.
Gyoza Bar makes their noodles in-house. The texture is firm and stands up well in the soup, especially if you’re a slow eater. However, I had a nagging feeling that while the texture is great, the actual flavour of the noodles themselves is kind of empty. I didn’t notice it with the Kaisen Tomato ramen because the bowl as a whole is so rich, complex and flavourful, but I noticed it when I tried the next bowl, the tonkotsu:
Tamari-Shoyu Tonkotsu ramen with bonus whole egg (thanks!). The menu said “Aburi Pork Char Siu” so I was expecting more of a charred surface like the aburi sushi at Miku etc. I didn’t get much of it, or maybe it got lost when the slices sit in the soup… The pork itself was at the same time tender and tough. The actual meat (looks like pork shoulder) was tender but the connective tissue throughout was still rubbery and hard to chew through. Again, something I hope they tweak and improve. The bamboo shoots were just ok. I’ve had better, more interesting bamboo shoots elsewhere.
They DID nail the egg though!
We wanted to try a dessert but alas no room, so we got the bill:
Studying the pictures afterwards, I was choked to see that they added an 18% auto-gratuity, even though we were only a table of two. The server didn’t say anything about it and there was no mention of it on the menu. So I ended up tipping another 20% on top of that by mistake. That hurts. I felt stupid for not noticing. Our server was beyond helpful though, so I can’t fault her for it.
I’m in no rush to go back. I’d like to see them smoothing out the cooking of the delicate gyozas, which I’m sure will come with time and experience. The tomato ramen is amazing but way different from what you might know as ramen. It doesn’t replace my current faves though, so I still have room in my heart and stomach for Taishoken, Santouka, Marutama, etc.