A few Monday’s ago, “Monk”, “Jazzy” and I were celebrating Monkeypalooza 2010. You might be asking yourself; what the hell is Monkeypalooza, that sounds like fun, how do I get involved and why haven’t I heard of it? Well it’s a monkey inspired holiday, I invented back in the day, during the inspired courtship of my future bride, long before marriage, kids, responsibilities and middle-aged headaches. “Oh the salad days of yesteryear”. In years past, Monkeypalooza was a 7 day, over-the-top extravaganza, but in recent times, I’ve “reduced it down” to a one day event, centering around March the 7th. For this year’s Monkeypalooza, “Monk” decided to dress “Jazzy” up in her Old Navy monkey suit, we headed downtown to check out the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery and do a little Robson Street shopping. Before all the festivities got under way, we needed a little sustenance and we decided to check out the brand new Hokkaido Ramen Santouka. [1690 Robson St., Vancouver, (604) 681-8121]
When we got to the restaurant, there was a bit of a line up. I had to take an important call, during which I lost track of “Monk” and “Jazzy” for a few minutes and by the time I was finished, “Monk” had procured us a seat at the communal table. The room was simple, brand new and very fitting for a ramen shop. We perused the menu, noticed all the items that were not available, debated the concept/pricing/execution of a soft-boiled egg, decided rather quickly and eventually ordered, after having to flag down a puzzled looking server. I don’t know why she did not want to take our order; maybe she was scared of my aggressive blonde faux-hawk, maybe she was frightened by the cute little monkey in the baby stroller. I don’t know. There were quite a few interesting items on the menu, but since the restaurant was brand new, a lot of the items were not available and still only imaginary. When we finally made contact with a server, we ordered a bowl of miso cha shu ramen and a shoyu ramen combo, which includes a small ikura don, half of a hard-boiled egg and some Japanese pickles.
In a few minutes, my bowl of ramen arrived first and as I was fumbling with my iPhone trying to “snap one off”, “Monk’s” order arrived. Unfortunately, they sent some spicy concoction (it looked pretty tasty) and since “Monk” has a relatively low tolerance for spicy food, she sent it back. As I tucked into my bowl of noodles, my first impression was very favorable. The broth was very tasty and rich (perfectly seasoned for my palate, thus likely salty for most), the pork was delicious and the temperature of the soup was completely satisfactory (though the menu suggested that proper ramen should not have piping hot soup). The actual noodles had a nice texture, though I don’t think they were house made. Overall, I thought the portion was a touch small and not the best value, especially when you have to add-on all the extra toppings. Though the soup was very tasty, it was also remarkably fatty and greasy. Please, I understand fat and the importance of fat. Yes, “fat means flavor”, “pork fat rules” and I am a big proponent of the “controlled use of fat”. In most cases, “absolutement”, a little pork fat or duck fat raises the unctuous/flavor quotient up a few notches, but excessive liquified fat, floating on top of soup is a little overkill and unnecessary. In fact, I find it overwhelming, unappealing and palate killing. Before “Monk’s” replacement bowl of noodles arrived, she started in on the ikura don. It was a bowl of rice with sliced omelette egg, some kaiware sprouts and ikura. “Monk” thought it was OK, though she does not really have a deep appreciation for salmon roe. I thought the rice was cooked nicely, the ikura was very fresh and tasty and I liked the little ikura don a lot as a traditional accompaniment to a bowl of ramen. When “Monk” finally started in on her bowl of shoyu ramen, she seemed to enjoy it; she commented on the plethora of pork in her bowl. I tasted hers and found it rather bland in comparison to the miso, but the noodles were nice, the pork was tasty and overall, I came to a very similar conclusion on both bowls of noodles.
Issue and concerns; I realize that there is a “communication breakdown” at many of the ethnic restaurants we like to frequent. To help matters, I tend to speak rather slowly, pronounce my words extra clearly, I don’t have an accent (American drawl don’t count) and I tend to point to the things I order, if I feel there might be an English deficiency. It’s such a pain in the ass to get the wrong order, I’m tired of “Led Zeppelin repeats” (communication breakdown) and it’s uncomfortable to eat my meal when my partner has nothing in front of her. I also have an issue with the value or “perceived value” at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka. Though, I think it’s the tastiest bowl of ramen I’ve had in quite some time, I find myself comparing it to the shops around the corner and across the street. There is decent ramen nearby, which have much more generous portions and though I’m a firm believer in “quality over quantity” and “getting what you pay for”, please, give me a couple more chopsticks full of noodles. Apart from the overly fatty soup, I’m looking forward to returning to Hokkaido Ramen Santouka (that’s a mouthful) and trying some more of the menu. I hope they fine tune a few of their quirky service issues by my next visit and I’ll try to be less intimidating.
On my chef’s night out scale, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka receives 3/5 SOB (slices of bacon).