The ramen boom from the last few years resulted in imho TOO MANY tonkotsu-style ramen places. Great tonkotsu was already achieved with places like Santouka, Jinya, etc. Chicken paitan was already pretty much perfected by Marutama (with an unique personal take by The Ramenman). I’ve also enjoyed the Iekei-style tonkotsu/Tokyo shoyu hybrid ramen at Yah Yah Ya and Yaguchiya. What I felt was missing from the scene was a classic Tokyo-style shoyu ramen, the kind featured in Tampopo:
(^Funny German dub)
I know clear soups aren’t popular right now, but there’s something classic, nostalgic, and minimalistic about it that appeals to me. So recently, Gyoza Paradise (on Robson and Thurlow back in the 90s, which I never heard of or went to) reopened on Broadway near Arbutus as Gyo Para with a focus on gyoza and chintan (clear broth) style ramen. I was intrigued but wanted to wait until they got their feet. I think 6 months is enough, right?
Even after four years, Marutama Ramen (moldy oldy review here) is still considered one of the top ramen places in the city. Definitely Top 5, if not Top 3. Their chicken paitan (cloudy chicken broth) ramen is still unique and well-executed. That slippery aosa seaweed (sea lettuce) has me all [insert sweaty feverish emoji here]. AND their ramen egg is still the most delicious and consistent around.
Their new third location on Main and 13th is called Marutama Gaiden and offers a different take on their chicken paitan ramen. Don’t come here expecting more of the same. Almost everything is different. Here’s my personal take on this place that we tried at the tail end of their two-week soft opening phase.
Aotoya (aka Blue Door) is a slightly dingy, Japanese homestyle hole-in-the-wall on Victoria Drive, located beside longtime institution Supreme Pizza (get a pepperoni, mushroom, and Italian sausage pizza and one of their crack-laden pastas). If you can deal with Aotoya’s sometimes slow service and slow kitchen, you’ll be rewarded with good-to-great Yōshoku-style food that’s got uniqueness and charm. For fans of places like Hi Genki.
Perhaps timed with the annual Powell Street Festival, Akiyo Tani (Campagnolo, Tojo’s) and Nathan Lowey (Refuel, Campagnolo, Campagnolo Roma) opened up Dosanko, a yōshoku-style restaurant in the (hardly Japanese nowadays) Japantown area. This space used to be Growndswell Cafe, which I had only been to for pop-up events (a “multi-sensory” film screening of Spirited Away produced by HERE THERE with food by Annabelle Choi timed to coincide with different scenes in the movie, and a Nashville “Hot Chicken Throwdown” featuring Merchants Workshop, Handtaste Ferments, and Local Omnivore. For the record, Merchants got my vote.) Dosanko have kept the existing bar, and refrained from jamming in as many tables as they could. The room feels airy and spacious. The scene outside on the street though is still typical Japantown/DTES, which adds a bit of frisson (or guilt) to your dining experience.
I tried a mere two dishes from the menu but was pleased with the solid cooking and thoughtful sourcing of ingredients. Whether you’re gonna be ok with paying the 10–25% premium over other yoshoku-type restaurants is all on you.
Big props to foodbysamson for discovering this place. Tetsu Sushi Bar (Facebook, Instagram) is my idea of a cute, perfect-in-its-own-way, neighbourhood sushi place you’d find in Japan — small (only 14 seats), run by Japanese people or people trained in Japan (itamae and server are from Osaka), serves a curated selection of fish from Japan (and presumably the best local fish too), offers some unique dishes not found elsewhere, and is too good to keep a secret. While not as practised and precise as a place like Sushi Bar Maumi (review here), it’s filling a gap — high quality neighbourhood sushi — and hits some pretty high notes.
Poutinerie Jean Talon is the newer sister restaurant of Cafe de L’Orangerie (review here) that specializes in poutine. They just had their one-year anniversary and put on some anniversary specials like $3 craft beer for a week (until May 8, 2016). That was music to my ears so I checked them out. The place was empty at 6:00, so I think this place really flies under the radar. I didn’t even know about it until I was in the area to go to Harkness & Co Butchers.
NOTE: I made a bit of an error in this review. Only the $90 omakase course contains bluefin tuna. I was confusing the red tuna with bluefin. So you can safely dine with cheaper omakase levels and avoid bluefin tuna if that is a concern to you. I’m leaving my review uncorrected below. Thanks.
NOTE #2: Another error I made was the reference to a “semi-well-known” chef. I should’ve actually said, “uber-famous chef”.
ALSO: my dining companion Moyenchow has posted her take on the dinner here. We did not “compare notes” or discuss thatmuch in-depth during the dinner, so it might be interesting for you to see the differences and similarities between our reviews.
The omakase (“chef’s choice”) experience at Sushi Bar Maumi (Facebook, Instagram) is defined as much by what it isn’t as by what it is. There’s no rolls. No aburi (torched) sushi. Not a bottle of mayonnaise in sight. There isn’t even soy sauce at the table. No children are allowed. No alcohol. Period. This is the purest and most stark example of the nigiri-focused omakase experience available in Vancouver.
Cafe de L’Orangerie specializes in yoshoku (Western style) Japanese food. If you’re into that kind of interpretation of pasta, curries, hamburg steaks, and so on, I think you’ll love Cafe de L’Orangerie.
Buckwheat soba noodles is just one of those things. Waaaay less popular than ramen or even udon, you eat a serving of it and feel hungrier than when you started! But I’ve always had a fascination with it — the simplicity that hides layers and layers of complexity. The textural eating experience of the liquids meeting solids in your mouth — amazing. How the noodles act like the shittiest sponge, forcing you to dip your cold soba into the broth then slurp up fast. I love making that noise. Somehow that combination of a plain-looking plate of noodles plus a generic-looking dipping sauce can add up to something more than the sum of its parts. I really hate that overused phrase btw…but it really is apt in this case. If you can appreciate the quiet beauty of a Three Musketeers bar, then you can appreciate buckwheat soba noodles.
Last time we had fresh, handmade (hand-assisted?) udon was during our trip to Japan waaaaay back in 2006. It was a cool, artisanal-feeling place right in Shinjuku just a few steps from our hotel. If you’re curious, it was Mentsu-Dan. It was quite memorable for a few reasons:
It was cafeteria-style, thus really casual yet the udon noodles were good quality — smooth, firm, and chewy — everything you’d want in an udon.
The guys working the udon station were young but took their job seriously. But not so seriously that they didn’t crack a smile and give us a “V” sign when I took a picture of them! (See photo below)
Lots of sides to choose from, like tempura, spicy cod roe (!), natto, onigiri, etc.
The udon was served dry for the most part*, while up to then I had only known udon noodles in soup from Japanese restaurants in Vancouver.
*EDIT: This Serious Eats article actually lists Mentsu-Dan as a recommended choice for udon in Shinjuku, and says they have both hot and cold preparations. Still don’t remember seeing the more typical big bowls of udon in soup though.
Couple pics from Mentsu-Dan to establish a baseline:
I’ve heard about fresh udon-type places in Los Angeles (that sadly we just did not have time for BOTH times we went to LA). I imagine them to be similar to Mentsu-Dan. Anyways, imagine my surprise when right on Robson St. near Bute (and down the block from Konbiniya), a new udon place opened up recently that makes their own udon and soup! It’s called Sanuki Udon!
*Before you mention Sekai Udon Bar at Metrotown, I’m ignoring any non-Japanese-run places — the same way I ignore any Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese-run “Japanese” restaurants.