Most ramen joints are strutting their stuff right now. Neck in neck with tacos, ramen was the top trend in the GTA in 2013. Large windows showcasing the interior cramped quarters have become the norm for these eateries, so I was intrigued when I hit Kenzo noodle house on Dundas street over lunch. Blinds cover the windows below a modest red sign and a logo of a rather mean looking dude with his arms crossed. It seemed a bit taboo. Swinging open the door, I felt a little like Anthony Bourdain on CNN’s Parts Unknown until I quickly realized the blinds were likely there to keep out the sun and not to hide something forbidden. The decor was plain; in fact almost run down. A combination of tables and booths line the walls which are covered with aged pictures advertising Matcha tea smoothies. The creepy white ceramic cat which features in the majority of Asian restaurants stared and waved at me with that look I don’t quite trust.
A pleasant waitress came by quickly with a glass of water a handed me a menu which looked like it had been dropped in a puddle and then used as a origami medium to create that creepy white cat or some other creature. It consisted of a number of ramen bowls, categorized into basic, hot, cuisine and tonkotsu. There were also a few interesting sides including a breaded pork chop, gyoza and octopus balls. As usual, I ordered the gyoza dumplings and opted for the tonkotsu ramen. You have the option of three levels of spice, so I ordered the middle intensity. The soup was out in minutes, served on a tray with shichimi and pepper. It was a pretty soup, topped with finely slice scallions, bok choy, bamboo shoots, roasted pork, egg and a fishcake. The broth was a vibrant, milky white contrasted by specks of red indicated that some heat would ensue. It had a balanced taste with a bite (definitely don’t go level 2 if you don’t like spice) that didn’t overpower the dish. In fact, there was no prevailing flavour which made for a nice base. The liberal use of scallions really helped the soup and the other ingredients, including the noodles, were cooked properly.
Unlike the other ramen houses I have been to, the Gyoza came after the soup. I choose an order of three as opposed to the full order. When they arrived I realized why there were blinds were on the windows. They were housing Gyozilla, the largest Japanese dumpling I have seen in a restaurant. I felt feeble as I lifted my puny chopsticks to battle my pork filled foe. Although a little greasy, they popped with flavour, especially when coupled with the tangy sauce on the side. I eventually won the battle, but it took three or four bites each to do so.
Kenzo is like a B movie, offering one of the largest cast of ramen bowls in the downtown core. While other ramen houses have fancy decors and lines out the door, Kenzo is modest in appearance and appears to have a devoted following (there was a steady stream of people the whole time I was there). Relatively speaking, it’s almost unmentioned on urbanspoon. After conquering Gyozilla in an epic battle, I did feel a bit like Anthony Bourdain in a Walter Mitty sort of way. Having seen the octopus balls at another table, I’d come back for the sequel, this time turning my attention to Oodako, the giant cephalopod which ravished villages in the B movie classic King Kong vs Godzilla. My chopsticks are ready.