Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 91 Dundas Street East
Time of visit: Dinner on a Friday in February
The Santouka in Toronto is part of a large Japanese franchise with locations throughout Japan, Asia and North America. When my friend told me about the place, I was excited to try this "authentic" ramen restaurant. But, we were unsuccessful in the fall as the line was too long. Luckily, during our second attempt we were finally got in after waiting for approx. 15 minutes.
If you can’t eat pork, you shouldn’t come here. The broth is pork based and flavoured with a choice of:
- Shio - salt
- Shoyu - soy sauce
- Miso - fermented soybean paste
- Spicy miso
I opted for their signature dish the Toroniku Ramen ($15.95) in a miso soup base. The star of the dish is not the noodles, but rather the cha siu (roast pork) that accompanies it. Made from the jowl (cheeks) of the pig, the meat is very tender and delicate in flavour. Some have described it to resemble the texture of seared fatty tuna; I wouldn’t say they are identical, but is the closest description of its consistency. Unlike pork belly, there's only a thin layer of fat covering the meat so it is also quite lean.
Any healthiness in the meat is negated by the broth where a sheen of oil covers the surface. The lard has an added benefit of retaining heat in the broth – the soup was wonderfully hot when it arrived and pretty much stayed that way for most of the meal. But, it really didn’t add much in terms of taste and the oiliness was a bit off-putting. The menu claims you can customize the amount of lard used in the soup, next time I’m going to get them to skip it. Santouka’s soup was richer than most. But, at the end was still just very salty broth. Perhaps it’s because I ordered the miso version, which is such an over powering ingredient. Next time, I will opt for the shio form and hope the essence of the boiled pork bone and seaweed will stand out more.
The noodles were good – perfect thickness (not too thin or thick), cooked so that it was al dente and still had the “springy” texture I expect.
Overall, each individual component of the dish was good. But, I only wished there was a contrast of something crispy and bright to offset the heaviness of all the ingredients. Escorting the dish of cha siu were sticks of bamboo shoots and what could be black fungus. But, both of these items were well cooked and had the similar soggy texture and salty taste. The one glimmer of hope was the handful of chopped green onions, which I happily added to my noodles to attempt to balance the greasiness and brighten up the flavours.
If you're feeling hungry, Santouka offers a combination plate, which consists of a regular sized bowl of ramen, small bowl of rice and half a hard-boiled egg. My friend ordered the pork miso and chicken rice combination ($15.50) and I got to sample a few bites of the rice. The texture and taste reminded me of stir-fried glutinous rice that you can get at Chinese dim sum restaurants, except without the bits of chopped mushrooms and sausage. Maybe it’s because I had the rice after drinking the salty soup, but I found it bland. In the end, it was average, not really something that goes well with ramen.
Like most noodle places, seating consists of a mixture of stools along a counter and small closely laid out tables. At this visit, we were seated at the counter where we got to peer into the kitchen; but, there really wasn’t that much activity going on.
The view from our table
The service is certainly fast - within five minutes of sitting down our order was taken and as soon as the last person laid down their chopsticks, bowls were whisked away and the bill presented. But, this is what gets turnover happening and the line moving.
Overall, Santouka’s ramen was good, but not worth the wait. I will eventually go back and try a different broth combination, but will likely not return until the line disappears. Luckily, a plethora of ramen shops have sprung up across Toronto over the last year, so the waiting may end soon.
Overall mark - 7 out of 10
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Gastro World's Grading System
- Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
- 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
- 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
- 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
- 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
- 10 - absolute perfection!