By Jason Kwan
Hovering at around 20 establishments, the row of restaurants and cafes on Baldwin Street is a very competitive landscape. Ryu’s Noodle Bar is a new entrant in the quickly exploding ramen market in Toronto and opened its doors in July 2013 just a hundred feet away from one of its well-known competitors, Kinton Ramen.
This bold choice in location commands the need for Ryu’s Noodle Bar to be compared and contrasted in almost every way with its rival. But I won’t do that today, as there are plenty of other reviews that go into that very analysis online.
Now let’s talk Ryu.
Taking advantage of the narrow footprint the dining space occupies, Ryu’s can seat about 30 guests through a combination of two-seater tables, and a series of counter based seating that seats six each – one with high bar stools, and one with chairs. It also caters to the popular Baldwin Street patio scene in the summers with two large picnic style tables for sidewalk dining and people watching.
The service is extremely friendly and attentive, always in control of the dining room and never looking overwhelmed, all with a smile. Light J-Pop music plays in the background to let you know it’s there without being overpowering – I even had the chance to hear a great remake of SMAP’s 2003 monster hit Sekai ni hitotsu dake no hana.
Ryu’s Noodle Bar does not serve conventional ramen, and the restaurant relishes in the fact that they are different. As with any ramen, the broth is what defines the foundation of the eating experience. Ryu’s utilizes a triple broth based of pork, chicken, and vegetable (they also have vegetarian broths available), and is significantly lighter in flavour and fat than traditional ramen. Being subtle and complex in its broth has it’s pros and cons – one could call it a lack of flavour, while one could also make the argument that it presents well thought out layers of taste. And of course, to each his/her own.
It’s in the flavoured sauces and oils that accompany each bowl of steaming ramen that is the x-factor and differentiator. The first page of the menu has very clear instructions on how to eat their ramen: 1) pick your favourite ramen; 2) pick one of the special sauces or oil; 3) add sauce/oil when half completed and enjoy.
The following menu review is based on a Friday evening visit:
• Finally! Those in love with Japanese chashu can rejoice in the 2-Kinds Cha Shu Plate ($6.25), that allows us to have chashu in two ways: lightly grilled with the right amount of fattiness, char, and smokiness, and delicately poached for ultimate smoothness. Comes with a spicy yuzu-based sauce, and XO sauce for dipping.
• The very simple Shio Ramen ($9.50), was provided with an abundance of perfectly cooked noodles, but an overload of bean sprouts, and was quite average, until the addition of the House Special XO Sauce mid-meal. This ratcheted up the flavour to a lovely level of seafood goodness.
• Based on a broth of both shiro and aka (white and red) miso, the Miso Ramen ($9.75) was surprisingly light in miso flavour until the addition of the Seasoned House Spicy Oil, which seemed to bring out the tanginess of the miso and blended extremely well with the spiced oil.
• Being a summer seasonal menu item, the Tsukemen ($11.25) is a wondrous cold noodle dish (no broth) that literally means dipping noodles. A great choice for any hot day, the Tsukemen is a very simple dish that is accompanied with a delicious sauce typically made from shoyu, rice vinegar, stock, and mirin.
Ryu’s Noodle Bar, 33 Baldwin Street
Toronto, ON M5T 1L3
Hours: Tue-Sat 11 am – 11 pm, Sun 11 am – 10 pm
Jason Kwan is a former JET who lived in Aichi Prefecture for two years.