Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Just when you thought that you've tried 90% of the Ramen places in Toronto (and no, I'm not going to go to Momofuku if I went to the one in NYC), a new one pops up...

My boyfriend and I arrived at Isshin's doorstep earlier than expected, on a cold and rainy Saturday. I was standing around silently cursing to myself for my poor choice of attire (I thought the combination of my favourite plaid flannel from Aritzia + a hoodie + my favourite leather jacket would suffice); shivering ever so often waiting to go inside. 15 minutes felt like an eternity, and there weren't many shops around the area to occupy our time with. Fortunately, the Isshin staff had taped their menu on the window, which made the anticipation that much more exciting (or excruciating, since I still had to wait?)

**If you ever do plan on going, please note that their lunch special only occurs during the week!

I think I was on an adventurous streak, because I didn't want to go with the usual Shoyu or Shio Ramen. I saw that they designated their brand symbol to signify recommended choices, so I mentally chose one of the bowls they recommended as I finally headed inside.

The restaurant itself was pretty spacious with lush dark furniture and standard lighting. I would say that Raijin's amount of space is comparable to this, although I still have yet to venture into the back area of the latter. As we were the first ones to arrive, it was pretty quiet. They had only one waitress working that day (I'm not sure about the number of cooks, as the staff would be in the kitchen at the back) so the common Japanese greeting exchanges amongst workers weren't heard. But that's okay. I'm here more for the food if anything.

Even though it's a Saturday, my boyfriend and I still ordered essentially what is the Lunch Special because I was curious what their Takoyaki tasted like and my boyfriend, the Chicken Karaage (of course).

There were about 3 pieces of Chicken Karaage with dipping sauce for $4.80. I think it's a bit pricey for the amount of pieces offered, so at this point you're pretty much paying for the quality of them (which wasn't bad at all — crispy, juicy and not too greasy).

I don't normally order an appetizer for myself to go with my ramen, but I'll make an exception to this one. The last time I had legit Takoyaki was at Guu, about a year ago. I've had the misfortune of having an unintentionally salty version at Bubbletease this year, so that may have attributed to my decision to order here (or just my affinity to balls of fried octopus?).

These guys came out fresh and hot. I made the mistake of eating one right away, haha. So aside from practically burning my mouth with the first one, I did enjoy them. They were a good mixture of savoury, chewy and delightful with a slight crunchiness due to their shell. They were also kind of filling too, since there were five of them and it's fried food. Not bad for $4.20 though.

As for the main course, I ordered their Red Miso Ramen, with less salt and an additional marinated egg. 

This dish blew me out of the water, hands down. With other ramen bowls (except for Raijin's clear chicken broth based bowls), most are rich, creamy/fatty(?) and full of pork flavour. This one... it's wasn't super rich, and definitely not creamy. It was reminiscent of the way my mom cooks her tomato, beef and potato soup back at home but not exactly either. 

The Red Miso broth had a plethora of vegetables, from carrot bits, bean sprouts, green onion, black wood ear mushrooms and chives. This added to the broth flavour and subdued the pork essence, which I appreciated (not that I don't like pork broth, but I find it particularly appropriate for this bowl). 

As for the pork, it was very soft and easy to chew. Not an overwhelming pork taste, but with enough flavour. I approve.

*Has a Ratatouille moment*

What's interesting about the ramen noodles themselves is that they weren't just savoury; they had a slight tinge of sweetness to it unlike any other. My boyfriend picked up from his bowl first, but it's more apparent in mine. 

My boyfriend opted for the Tonkotsu Shoyu "Roasted Garlic" Ramen, with less salt and an additional topping of sesame seeds.

I didn't have the whole bowl of his ramen, but he chose a more traditional/run-of-the-mill flavour. I don't recall the Garlic Oil flavouring jumping out to me, though that could also be due to my own ramen bowl taking up most of my sensory attention :P

One distinctive quality about Isshin (aside from their special recommendations being is that for their sesame seed topping, you have the option of grinding them. Often times additional toppings just come in a bowl and that's it, no extra effort or interaction from the customer. This gesture also adds plus points in consideration, as grinding ingredients tends to bring out more of the flavour into whatever mixture they're added to. 

They're also quite generous with their extra noodles too. It was essentially another half a bowl, which made it worthwhile.

Both my boyfriend and I were quite satiated to say the least.

I immediately raved about this place to Jem, so I'm excited to go again, see his reaction(s) to my recommendations and possibly try their other bowls :)

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