North 53 opened its normally closed doors tonight to serve noodle lovers some much needed ramen. The Japanese noodle soup is one of my all time favourite things to eat and you can bet that I put North 53’s twitter feed on mobile notifications to make sure I got tickets to the 60-bowl event. Chef Quentin Archer is behind the meal and along with the North 53 team, tonight was his first go at serving a big crowd his tonkotsu ramen.
Before anybody asks, no, I haven’t been to Japan. Yet. September is a while away for me so my dreams of stuffing my face with ramen is a few months yet. I get my ramen throughout Edmonton, whenever I travel (yet to be blogged), and have even attempted at making a handful of bowls at home. Heck, I’ll take a course and ask a gazillion questions too. Let me tell you: it’s friggin’ hard. Not only are the alkaline noodles hard to get fully right and is downright a science, the broth and tare (seasoning sauce) can get super complex. Then there’s the whole issue of toppings (and egg!) to complete the perfect bowl. I will tip my hat to anybody who even attempts to cook ramen, let alone make more than two bowls at a time to serve to diners.
Chef Archer, or nicknamed Q, as thrown around by the staff and friends at North 53, lived in Japan for 8 months. Wanting to bring his experiences back to Edmonton, the comforting dish prompted for the pop-up on 124 Street. Tickets went on sale last week and sold out within 13 minutes. 60 bowls ($20/bowl), three seating times, Edmonton ramen-lovers’ hearts probably stopped for a bit. Mine sure did. With two tickets to the earliest seating at 5pm, I was excited for some noodles!
A Japanese-inspired cocktail and beer menu accompanied the meal — the Kiku Yuzu Sour (chrysanthemum, Kiku shot, Yuzu-Shu, citrus, sugar) one of the best I’ve drank in a long while. Sweet, refreshingly citrus, this cocktail was right up my alley. A spinach goma-ae appetizer started off our early dinner, delicious and bursting with sesame flavour.
The tonkotsu bowl came out shortly, a rich, soulful broth made of pork bones and trotters for pure pork flavour. A hint of miso was added for a layer of umami, with the bottom half of the bowl pulling together nicely from settled seasoning. The smooth, straight noodles were extruded through the kitchen’s pasta extruder, something pretty nontraditional for ramen noodles, usually pressed or rolled then cut. On the softer side, the noodles were a little off in consistency. Toppings were spot on in my bowl: my egg perfectly cooked and sprinkled with a dash of togarashi; beautiful pork, thinly sliced with the perfect amount of fat; sweet pickled radishes to cut through the broth, enoki mushrooms, corn, and nori sheets.
Talking with Q and the team, their biggest challenge were the noodles. An ambitious goal to making the noodles in-house and not quite what they were expecting, they were very open and receptive to feedback and thoughts from diners. Personally, I prefer a noodle with a little bit more chew, more elasticity and extensibility (springs or bounces back when you bite into it, toothsome), all of which are qualities in the alkaline noodle that makes me want to yank out my hair in frustration when attempting my own. There’s a picture of me out there somewhere with a blowdryer to my pasta cutter with a look of pure defeat. With more time and tweaking, their next batches of noodles will hopefully bring the team what they’re looking to perfect and if the volume can increase (a difficult feat, it’s a restaurant too you know!), that in turn would lower the night’s steep price tag.
Mad respect to the guys for making the bowls and within a short timeframe. Q hopes to do more izakaya dishes, a well-made agedashi tofu one his favourites. Speaking to North 53 owner, Kevin hopes to do a variety of pop-ups, perhaps a dimsum-themed event in the future. Grateful for the amount of ramen-love Edmonton is getting recently and talking to guys in the industry to get their take on it. I’m all for more ramen and more experimentation: more bowls drives the making of better bowls, which makes a happy Cindy!
10240 – 124 St