Location: 120, 639 5 Ave SW
Since NaNoWriMo just concluded, I’ve finally got some time to write up some reviews. I went to Shinjuku with my friend, Alex (who has been my primary food adventure buddy as of late) back on November 8 after a United Way work event.
After a really long week, it was nice just to sit down and enjoy a comforting bowl of warmth. We each ordered two appetizers in addition to our ramens. Alex got the Age Gyoza, Chicken Karaage, and the Tonkotsu Black, while I got the Takoyaki, Geso Calamari, and the Chicken Paitan Ramen.
Having grown up on a particular kind of Chinese dumplings, the flavouring in Japanese gyozas is not particularly appealing to me. I also may have been scared away from gyoza because my first experience eating them, the meat filling was almost completely raw. While Japanese gyozas don’t appeal to me in the same way Chinese dumplings do, this doesn’t mean they’re not good, but only that they will never be as good as the ones I grew up on, partly because of the nostalgia/familiarity of the ingredients, but also because of the depth of flavour I’m used to in my dumplings. Just as an aside for context, the ones I have at home are not homemade, but the best brand we’ve found are Ling Ling or Siwin dumplings at Costco and they come with a savoury soy sauce vinegar dipping sauce. Regardless of where the dumplings are from or which culture they originate, the dumpling wrapper must be thin and I prefer mine to be pan-fried rather than simply steamed. These gyoza met my requirements for a crispy exterior, but like I said, the seasoning on the inside was just a little too bland for my taste. The dipping sauce accompanying the dumplings, a chili gyoza sauce, had a strange taste to it that neither Alex nor I particularly enjoyed. The Chicken Karaage wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t great. It was sort of run of the mill fried chicken (sorry I didn’t get a good picture of it, it’s just in the bottom corner of the picture of the calamari). The batter was fairly light, but not as light as it should be. In my opinion, the best Chicken Karaage is still Gyu-Kaku’s. The sweet chili dipping sauce was also fairly ordinary; the kind you’d find from a bottle at the supermarket. Tonkotsu broth is often advertised as being the best ramen broth out there because of its smooth, richness, but I have never really enjoyed its appeal. I’ll acknowledge that it is creamy in a way you wouldn’t expect from a pork bone broth, but nothing spectacular. I know that some people would disagree and say that’s exactly what makes it so amazing, but of course, you all know, my reviews are subjective as are everyone’s tastes. The Tonkotsu Black consists of a homemade pork bone broth boiled for more than sixteen hours, topped with fresh house-made pork chashu, marinated soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, fresh green onions, and sesame seeds. The broth is made extra rich broth by the addition of a seafood based broth and contains black garlic oil with noodles, topped with wood ear mushrooms and garlic flakes. Shinjuku also offers a gluten-friendly version of this dish for those who are so inclined. I’d also like to point out that Japanese chashu is very different from Chinese style Char Siu and that, while they have very similar names, they are two different things. I point this out because the first time (many years ago), when I had ramen for the very first time, I thought that Japanese chashu and Chinese Char Siu were the same thing and ended up being very disappointed and I don’t want any other unsuspecting foodies to be fooled the way I was. Typically, I’m not a huge fan of bamboo shoots because of their particularly strong taste (that might have more to do with the fact that they have been canned than with the shoots themselves), but also, bamboo shoots contain cyanide. Another interesting fact, since wood ear mushrooms have been added to the ramen, which I might add, isn’t super common, is that wood ears are also blood thinners. Black garlic, I’ve been told, has a very unique and different taste from ordinary garlic, but I don’t think I had enough of the black garlic oil in my bite to notice a marked difference.
Like most, if not the whole meal, the Takoyaki was pretty ordinary as well. The only thing I remember was that there were a lot of bonito flakes, but they also tasted and looked more like the frozen takoyaki from a box rather than made in house. The Geso Calamari was very crunchy and it was different to have it paired with the sweet chili sauce rather than a spicy mayo, as it typically is presented. I think in this situation, I preferred the sweet chili over the spicy mayo because mayo on already deep fried food, while it is delicious, adds another level of heaviness that the sweet chili doesn’t bring. In fact, the sweet chili presents two additional flavour profiles that I feel enhanced this dish. According to Shinjuku their tori paitan ramen is a thicker, creamier chicken broth. Personally, I enjoy chicken broth because of its clarity and pure flavour. I love nothing more than a boiling bowl of chicken broth topped with green onions; simplicity at its finest. So, how does one get a creamier, thicker chicken broth you ask? Shinjuku’s answer? Add seafood broth, of course! Shinjuku’s chicken broth consists of a home-signature ramen made from a higher temperature and robust boil into a thick and cloudy chicken broth for twelve hours, topped with sous vide chicken breast chashu, marinated soft-boiled egg, green onions, and sesame seeds. Like the Tonkotsu Black, the Chicken Paitan Ramen also contains bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms, but the Chicken Paitan contains sweet corn which the Tonkotsu Black does not. I have mixed feelings about having corn in my ramen. On the one hand, corn is delicious and I’ll eat it in practically any form, but on the other, corn in a bowl of soup is so easily lost. Especially since they are more dense than the soup and sink to the bottom. What’s strange to me is that I’m perfectly okay with eating poached eggs (on eggs bennies and whatnot) and raw eggs (as in cookie dough or Orange Juliuses that I make at home), but a soft boiled egg in ramen makes my body very unhappy. I’m not sure if that’s because the eggs aren’t made fresh to order or not because I don’t even know if they are. I also take issue with the phrase “chicken breast chashu” because in my mind chashu is pork (a conception formed by the Chinese Char Siu). It definitely didn’t feel like it had been sous vided (not that I know what something that has been sous vide tastes like), but even if it had, it seems a waste to drop it into soup after all that work. Honestly, it just felt like boiled, sliced chicken breast.
Overall, Shinjuku was good, but I’m not sure that I would return here again. I’m very picky about my noodle soups and I feel like this place just didn’t measure up. Maybe it was my choice of ramen and if that’s the case, then I’m more than willing to take recommendations and try coming back here again. The service here was pretty good. The server struck a good balance between being attentive to our needs and leaving us to our conversation, which I appreciated.
I think I would rate this place, 2/5.