UPDATE (November 23, 2013): I returned to Ryoji with some friends recently, and have posted an update on this original restaurant review.
In the last six months, Toronto has seen a surge of new ramen establishments open their doors. For me, it’s been a welcome occurrence since I adore noodle soups of all kinds with ramen being no exception. My hubby and I haven’t completed the full circuit and visited them all yet, but so far, Ryoji Ramen & Izakaya has taken its place as one of our favourite restaurants in the city… and has become a staple place we go to on a regular basis. The establishment itself is a part of the larger Japanese-based Okinawa business founded by Ryoji Kinjo in 1988. Toronto is the first to have a location outside of Japan.
So why do we love it so much. Three main reasons:
- The atmosphere is fantastic. Fun, eclectic, well-designed, and spacious. There is a dining nook to suit every preference – communal harvest table dining, smaller two or four tops, bar-side under a swath of colourful ryuku glass lights, or comfy lounge-style by a wall of lamps. What’s also great is that compared to many of its ramen counterparts, it’s relatively large and doesn’t require the same kind of lining-up and waiting that many of the other ones do. Not to say I wouldn’t wait in line, I would and do, but sometimes, I like being able to walk in and get seated relatively quickly.
- One word: Ai. Our favourite server… and so far, the only server we’ve ever had (by our request). We love her. She’s an absolute darling – attentive, helpful, knowledgeable, and sweet. She’s my favourite. I’ve told her so.
- The food. It’s Okinawa-style ramen and food and it’s delicious.
This last time we went, we ordered a couple of starters: takoyaki (a snack that wraps minced or diced octopus in deep fried wheat flour), the daily sashimi, and sea bass miso yaki (grilled sea bass).
The takoyaki is a no brainer for us. Topped with takoyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, seaweed, pickled daikon strips, and bonito shavings – the ball-shaped snacks are delicious. Careful when taking your first bite. They’re hot.
The daily sashimi this time was salmon, tuna, and mackerel. It always comes with three dipping options: a soy mousse, cracked pepper and salt, and a sweet miso sauce. Combined with the fresh daikon and watercress, the bite-sized morsels of fish have incredible flavour.
Our last starter was the sea bass miso yaki. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this last option – but we felt compelled to try it. We weren’t disappointed. The sea bass was positively fluffy. The flakes of flesh fell off the fish, sweetened and salted slightly with the citrus miso sauce. The bass comes accompanied by some leafy sauteed greens and pickled daikon to cleanse your pallet afterwards.
And of course, the main course. What we came for… the ramen. The first ramen I ever had at Ryoji was the Okoto-Aji “RYOJI” – pictured below on the left. It comes with extra slices of chashu (grilled pork belly), a seasoned hard boiled egg, and dried seaweed. I always get extra bamboo shoots on the side. It’s delicious. The broth is a pork bone based broth and claims to be “rich and flavourful”. It is. Ryoji also has a chicken and pork based broth as well as a vegetarian option.
The second ramen pictured here is what my hubby first ordered and fell in love with. I tried it myself this time, and loved it also. I opted not to get an extra egg this time, although got my usual bamboo shoot side. It is also the Okoto-Aji style ramen, but with a spicy miso broth: Okoto-Aji Kara miso. This ramen has fantastic flavour – it’s not overly spicy – but just a little extra kick to it than the regular broth.
For the noodles themselves, there are three main ways you can have them cooked: soft, regular, or hard. Hard is the equivalent of al dente. We generally prefer the noodles cooked hard, but it’s entirely personal preference.
When you’re done your bowl of ramen, you have the option of getting more noodles in your broth: Kae Dama. It’s only $1.50 more to get extra noodles… well worth it for the hungry belly. We’ve never gotten extra noodles – we end up eating so much upfront, but it’s a great option to have.
Maybe next time!