Ryoji Ramen and Izakaya revisited

signrevisitedBack in March of this year, I posted my review of Toronto’s Ryoji Ramen and Izakaya.

It has been around five months since I was last at Ryoji and this past Thursday night, two friends and I decided it was time to pay them another visit. I’m afraid we were disappointed. In general, an experience at a restaurant gets broken down into three areas for me: service, food quality, and price. Unfortunately, Ryoji has deteriorated significantly in all three areas and this is how.

Service
I knew in advance of going to Ryoji this last time that our beloved Ai was no longer at Ryoji. However, previously, even though Ai was our favourite, there were many other good people who worked at Ryoji. The staff were friendly, helpful, and upbeat – and therefore, so was the vibe of the restaurant. Now, the crew that remains is noticeably different from the charm, energy, enthusiasm, and care that the people like Ai represented from before. As an izakaya, enthusiasm is king. Customers are traditionally greeted upon their arrival with a united chorus of irashaimase that ripples throughout the restaurant – it is no longer like this at Ryoji. Instead, there was silence after our server meekly called out the greeting. (Cue sliding trombone.) The service thereafter was similarly lack lustre and at times, even off-putting.

Food quality
A far cry from the quality of food Ryoji served before. We ordered the gyoza, takoyaki, and tondo tonkotsu special ramen. The gyoza were thick, deep fried, and bubbly – more similar to a crispy wonton than the traditional pan fried dumplings we were expecting. That said, they tasted fine. (But then, so do my frozen $3 bags of dumplings from my local Chinese grocer.) Our staple takoyaki order was nearly exclusively flour and potato and contained almost no octopus. They tasted okay, but the quality was noticeably different than the last time we were in. And finally, the most disappointing of all was the ramen. How to I say this? It was not good. Don’t get me wrong, it was not bad either. It’s just that it was no longer good. The pork was dry, the broth over-salted, the egg was missing (although when we asked, we were able to get the eggs back) and the noodles did not taste like ramen noodles. Instead, they tasted a lot like wonton noodles. Again with the wonton theme! Of course, there is nothing wrong with wonton noodles – we love wonton noodles – but wonton noodles are not the same as ramen noodles. And when you are out for ramen paying for ramen, you expect ramen – especially not the kind that leaves a funny aftertaste in your mouth. Not good.

Price
The prices are more or less the same as before – around $10-12 for a bowl of ramen. There are also options now for mini bowls for around $6-9. That said, price is heavily swayed by value. And value is dependent on the quality of an experience as a whole. So now, in light of how far the service has deteriorated along with the food quality and considering all the other fantastic options for ramen in the city for around the same price (or less), I cannot recommend Ryoji Ramen and Izakaya anymore.

I’m sorry Toronto ramen friends. We’ll have to go elsewhere… and it seems many others feel the same way as the restaurant sat nearly empty on a Thursday night, compared to the packed tables it enjoyed regularly earlier this year any day of the week. I sincerely hope they improve again – I guess only more time will tell.

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Ryoji: Ramen is so hot right now

ryoji

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

takoyaki

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. Continue reading