For a while now there has been a big ramen craze and a bunch of new restaurants who specialize in ramen have opened up. Once, while browsing a display of digital cameras in Place Montreal Trust, the sales clerk and I were talking about my recent trip to San Francisco. I told him how I regretted not having a real digital camera and having to take pictures with my crappy phone camera. He told me about one camera he had during a trip to Japan and I asked him if he had any ramen while he was there. Right away he knew why I was asking. He knows. It's delicious. And once you have the real deal, nothing compares to it.
That's what her popular song was all about.
Anyway, I told him about my favourite spot in town, Ramen-Ya, and he said he didn't know about it. He took notes and he told me about the only place he knew which is Hakata Ramen on Stanley street. It had been six months since then and I still never took the time to check it out, so this weekend I decided to go.
Before I talk about the restaurant, there are some interesting facts about Stanley street:
- The street was named after Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby. (A.K.A. the grandfather of neckbeards) And the famous Stanley Cup was named after one of his sons, Frederick Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, also Canada's 6th Governor General.
- On this street there used to be one of the most modern indoor ice-skating rink of its time from 1862 to the 1920s. It was called the Victoria Skating Rink and it hosted the first ever Stanley Cup playoff games in 189 with the founding of the first championship ice hockey leage, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, the precursor of the NHL. Today, the location of this skating rink is nothing but an ugly brown square building for National rent-a-car.
- It was the location of one of Molson's Banks, which, for a period of time, employed Joachim Von Ribbentrop, the foreign minister of Nazi Germani during the second world war and close friend to Adolf Hitler. During his stay in Canada, Joachim Vom Ribbentrop also worked with local engineering firms on the construction of the Quebec Bridge in Quebec city. This bridge is known also for its collapse due to poor engineering and a lack of quality assurance. After its collapse, the Quebec Order of Engineers was created for the protection of the public and to preserve the credibility of engineers. Rumor has it that the pinky finger ring given to everyone who graduates from an engineering program is made from the very metal of that bridge. (That statement is false by the way. Trust me, I'm an engineer.) Joachim Von Ribbentrop did all this before the second world war, of course. When war was declared and Canada got engaged in the fight against Germany, he left and went back to his country to serve under the Nazi regime. He was later hung after the war when he was found guilty of crimes against humanity during the Nuremburg trials.
- Stanley street used to be Montreal's gay village during the 1970's. A couple of bars called Le Mystique and Truxx were local hot spots in the gay community. They were raided several times by police on shady made up grounds and many people were arrested for all the wrong reasons, which lead to riots from the gay community. Their voices were heard and later that year, Quebec added into their charter of human rights that it was illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation, thus making Quebec the first place in North America to protect homosexual's rights in this manner. Eventually, the gay village relocated further east to its current location on Sainte-Catherine between Berri street and Papineau, but Stanley street remains hallowed grounds for the gay community.
Man, I should really do more research like this. This is turning out to be very interesting! At first I just wanted to talk about the Victoria skating rink, but my research led to so much more. I mean, wow! And it's pretty interesting to learn about this place being the old gay village and how a movement that started there lead to improve equal rights for homosexuals. Especially right now as the United States are debating the constitutionality of same sex marriage and whether married same-sex couples should have the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples. I'm also surprised to learn about that Nazi guy. I mean, wow! Talk about history! Why don't they teach this stuff in school?
So, back to my ramen craze. The restaurant is located between René Lévesque and Sainte-Catherine, next to the famous gentlemen's club (read strip club or cabaret) Chez Parée. The entrance to the restaurant is very small and barely noticeable. The entrance is a flight of stairs and the restaurant is located on the second floor.
Inside the restaurant, it looked very nice and upscale. The decor was inspired by Japanese art, but they didn't overdo it. From the look of the place, I was already expecting some delicious good quality food.
The staff was very nice and showed me to my table, which was right next to a trio of young, very well dressed students who, from what I overheard, just came out of some kind of office party, were still in Cegep, and were discussing their plans to go to university. It was funny to hear them talk about what they thought university was like. They have no idea what's waiting for them.
I was browsing their menu and I was impressed. They have a pretty good variety of ramen dishes and a lot more. Something else that looked very interesting is their hot stone bowl dishes. Another thing I saw that I never heard of are omurice - an egg omelette stuffed with various kinds of rice, such as fried rice. They serve this with Japanese curry. There is a whole lot more on there that I could talk about, but those are the ones that stood out. To top it all, the prices were very reasonable. Most dishes cost around $10.00. I mean, that's cheap considering the look of the place, location and the type of food they serve. Usually, Japanese restaurants are pretty expensive because of their exotic side. But, not Hakata Ramen. The only let down I could find was that they didn't seem to have a choice of broth for their ramen soups. Then again, I haven't tried them all so maybe each one has its own. Oh and they also serve bubble tea, daiquiris and Japanese soft drinks, such as Ramune!
For my dinner, I first ordered a bottle of Asahi Super Dry beer and some pork dumplings, or gyoza. The dumplings were big, delicious and full of flavour. It came with a little cup of vinegar dipping sauce. It took a while to get them, but was well worth it.
I had 5 originally. I couldn't wait to eat one.
For the main course, I ordered the tonkatsu ramen, or breaded pork ramen. The soup was a little smaller than what I expected, but they made up for it by serving it with two huge, thick breaded pork chops and a small salad. The ingredients were definitely fresh and of high quality. The salad had a little vinegrette in it which was delicious. The pork was so juicy and tender. The noodles were amazing! Cooked just right and a little springy, they were some of the best I've had so far. The ingredients in the soup were definitely fresh. There was some zucchini corn, green onions, seaweed and a soft boiled egg, all sprinkled with some sesame seeds. The only bad thing I have to say about the soup was that I found was that the broth lacked some flavour. It was miso broth and I thought it was a little bland. That is too bad because the broth is what gives the soup its body. If the broth doesn't have flavour, then your soup won't taste like much. Otherwise, I definitely enjoyed my meal and I still thought that overall it was very good.
Finally, even though I was stuffed, I waited for a while before my waitress came back to pick up my empty plates. I eventually decided to go for some dessert. They have nice little Japanese desserts, but I opted for something small, so I picked the ice cream mochi. That's basically balls of ice cream wrapped in a flavoured glutinous rice paste. They had two kinds: sweet red beans and mango. When the waitress saw that I couldn't make up my mind, she offered to bring me one of each. I agreed. It was delicious. This was a great ending to a great meal.
The bill went up to $37.00 with tip. But, that's because I went all out with a beer, appetizer and dessert. Othewise, at $10 per bowl of ramen, I could've eaten there for a lot cheaper. Besides, I left the place full, satisfied and very happy. I would definitely go back there again.