Ramen Sanpachi -
Sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow. You have to submit to the situation and let it lead you to new and unexpected experiences. With a lot of things in life, that’s exactly my attitude. But I’m different when it comes to food and dining out. I’ve become so obsessed with food over the years that I have to plan every meal out beforehand, and I even have to have a contingency list of places to visit if my original plan falls through. Before I visit a restaurant – if I have some spare time on my hands – I would always check out online reviews of the restaurant and visit its website or facebook page to have a look at its menu. It has gotten to the point that almost none of my meals are spontaneous, and I must admit that it has somewhat dampened the excitement of the experience that comes with trying out a new restaurant.
Today my wife and I took the kids shopping in gastown since school was out extra early. We had planned to leave the downtown area right before rush hour so that we could make our ways back across the bridge by dinnertime. I thought that I would fire up the grill in the backyard and put on a few steaks for dinner.
But one discount led to another and before we even realized it, 6:30 PM crept up upon us. My son started to complain that he was hungry, and we decided to try to find a place for dinner as we made our way back to west van in our car.
The route I took had us taking several restaurant-barren streets until we hit Robson, which was a comparative restaurant gold mine. There were restaurants left and right, but parking spots were a little hard to come by on a Friday evening.
Once the kids saw the sign for Earls, they both insisted that we had to eat there. Since we really didn’t have any other ideas on where to go, I told the kids that we could have dinner at Earls if there was a parking space nearby. Sure enough, I found a parking space right below the restaurant once I made a right turn onto Bute from Robson.
The parking space also happens to be right in front of Sanpachi Ramen. Both my wife and I looked at each other when we saw the restaurant. We knew that we had to go there. It was a restaurant that we have not tried before, and one that would probably be much easier on our wallets (after an afternoon of shopping, not spending too much on dinner was high on our list of priorities). So we told the kids in no uncertain terms that we were dining at the restaurant and that it was their only option. Neither complained. They were actually also glad that we were trying out a new restaurant.
So, for the first time in a long time, we walked into the restaurant without any prior research into the type of food it served or whether it was any good at all.
My first impressions of the restaurant were definitely favourable. Its interior looked larger than Motomachi Shokudo’s interior and it was definitely not as spartanly furnished as Kintaro.
It also looked like it was almost as popular as Santouka (we did visit on a Friday night, so it’s probably not a fair comparison) and it seemed to a have more varied menu than Benkei.
We started with an order of Gyoza.
The gyoza was pretty average-tasting. One side of the skin was fried to a potsticker-like crispiness, but the other two sides of the skin were a little bit too over-fried and had a very dry and slightly tough texture. The filling was supermarket-gyoza like. It was pretty devoid of meat flavours, with the flavours of the vegetables playing a more prominent role. The filling also had a pretty mushy texture, which indicated that they had been previously frozen.
I had the Tonkotsu Ramen.
The first thing that I noticed when I received my bowl of ramen was how little of everything there was. The soup, noodles, and all of the other ingredients barely took up half of the bowl. The was inconsistent with my wife’s bowl, which was at least 70% filled. My daughter’s bowl was the most substantial; the ingredients filled up almost 85% of her bowl.
The tonkotsu broth was very rich and unnaturally thick. I felt that the soup was artificially thickened either by the addition of starch or by adding the thick, flour-ladden water that the noddles were cooked in.
I was able to detect the unctuousness of pork bone and pork fat from the soup, but I thought that it was not oily enough. I like oiliness in a tonkotsu soup for two reasons. First, I think that it adds another dimension of richness to the broth. Secondly, it allows heat to be sealed into the soup. Without much oil, the soup I got today was lukewarm.
The noodles served by Sanpachi were curly yellow ramen noodles, which I have to admit are not my favorite kind of ramen noodles. But they were surprisingly good. There were neither mushy nor sticky. They instead had both a bitey and a teeth-bouncing texture that was a cross between sanuki udon and al dente pasta. As far as curly yellow ramen noodles go, they were pretty enjoyable. But I still was not able to finish all of my ramen because of my natural aversion towards yellow curly ramen noodles.
The slices of chasu pork included in my bowl of ramen were slightly above average. I was able to detect some flavours while eating the pork, but they were not amazing flavours. The most pronounced flavour I got was ginger, and I thought a strong ginger flavour was a little out of place in a slice of ramen chasu pork. The pork was not as fatty as the slices of pork in the ramen from places like Kintaro, but the lean slices of pork were as tender as the fattier cuts of pork at other places. They required almost no effort to bite off and were very easy to chew and break down with my teeth.
I also liked that the slices of pork were warm. They were much better than the cold slices of pork that I got at Kintaro.
My wife ordered the Spicy Ramen.
My wife also liked the texture of the noodles and she finished all of her noodles. She thought that the meat was average-tasting, but she did like the fact that it was lean instead of fatty. She commented that her soup tasted nothing like a ramen soup, and that it wasn’t spicy enough. I took a sip of her soup and was also surprised at its non-ramen-like flavours. It tasted more like the flavour of the spicy beef oil that resided on top of a bowl of Taiwanese beef noodles than the flavour of ramen broth.
My daughter got the Miso Ramen.
My daughter ordered this bowl of ramen thinking that the soup would not be spicy – which is usually the case with miso ramen – but she said that the broth was spicy in her throat when she drank it. I had a taste of it and did detect a very tiny hint of spiciness. Unlike my bowl of tonkotsu ramen and my wife’s bowl of spicy ramen, there were a lot of vegetables included in my daughter’s bowl. Since my daughter loves vegetables more than meat or starch, she was more than pleased with the generous amount of vegetables included in her bowl. She finished all of the vegetables and about three-quarters of the soup, but she left about 60% of the noodles in her bowl.
My son went with the Chicken Karaage and a bowl of white rice.
My son really liked the deep fried chicken and finished the entire order of it (except for the piece I stole from his plate). I could see why he liked it from the piece that I had. The skin was crunchy and not greasy while the the meat inside was juicy. The only complaint I had was that the chicken was not salted at all. It was so bland that I had to make use of the salt shaker on the table to give the piece of chicken a little bit of saltiness. The lack of saltiness was actually perfectly suited for my son because we didn’t want him to get used to eating too much sodium.
So how did this go-with-the-flow, unplanned, and unresearched dining experience go? It went ok, I guess. It certainly wasn’t disgustingly bad, but it also wasn’t amazingly good. It was acceptable and pretty average. I thought that the ramen we had today was better than the ramen at Kintaro and equal in quality to the ramen at Benkei. It wasn’t as good as the ramen at Santouka or Motomachi Shokudo, but I didn’t expect it to be. It was at least good enough that I would not hesitate in partaking in another unplanned dining experience…just as long as I have heard of or read a review of the restaurant before.