Santouka Hokkaido Ramen on Robson, Vancouver

The last two weeks had been a blast for all of us in Vancouver, hasn’t it? Without a doubt, yesterday was the high point of the Olympic. We felt so proud of being Canadian and having hosted the world in this great sporting event. Hope the legacy now in place will lead the city to greater things in years to come. We now nervously wait for the accounts people to tally the tab!

Last Saturday was the final dress rehearsals of the Vancouver 2010 Closing Ceremony for Arkensen and Nanzaro. They received an email just the night prior informing that they need to do TWO dress rehearsals instead of one. So instead of 11:15AM to 7:00PM, they were informed that they need to stay right until 10:30PM. They sure worked hard for it … and in total secrecy too. We are actually proud that they kept it a total secret from us. We finally saw their performance on TV! But damn the guys at CTV who cut out a LARGE part of their performance to air commercials!!!! Both Arkensen and Nanzaro was so totally upset when they saw the replay last night. They practiced so hard to show the WORLD.

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After dropping the boys off for their final practice, Suanne and I thought we go to the section of downtown for lunch knowing that the western part of Robson is quiet. Indeed it was. There was lots of street parking around.

We went to Santouka, the new Ramen place that everyone is raving about the past few weeks. Apparently, Santouka is a popular chain restaurant in Japan which specializes on serving Hokkaido ramen. I think they also operate a chain in the US too.

Santouka is located just next door to Guu with Garlic on Robson Street. You might miss it because the shop front is hidden behind a bus shelter. Anyway, the address is 1690 Robson Street.

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We were surprised to learned that they had been opened only for the second day. We assumed that it was already a week since they opened. The restaurant was busy, not quite full but given it being opened for just the second day, we were impressed.

The dining area seats about 35-40 people. There are counter seats that overlooks the open kitchen which was separated by glass which we thought was good because it does not steam up the entire restaurant with the boiling broth.

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We were seated at the section in front where there is a low kidney shaped table which has a large wooden carving of a bear in the center. We like that section. The only draw back was that there is no where to hang our coats or place our bags.

Service was excellent as one expects from Japanese restaurant.

We were promptly served glasses of water with mini ice-cubes. For a restaurant this size, there were a lot of waitresses. There were four of them milling around ever ready to help when needed. So yeah, we get almost anything instantaneously and the glasses were always topped.

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Their menu came in a plastic binder and has pictures. They only have limited selection on that day. Basically we only can order from the first two pages. What a bummer.

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The other pages were items they will only serve on their grand opening day. Click on the images above to see a more legible version of the menu.

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I ordered item listed under the section that says “Limited Quantity: First Come First Serve”. I see a lot of ramen places does this “limited quantity” thing that makes people want to order that even though it is more expensive. The normal ramen is about $9 while the “limited quantity” ones are $13.

I got the Toroniku Kara Miso Ramen. It came served with a bowl of noodles in a spicy hot miso soup and a side plate with all the other ingredients including the pork jowl which is the star of this dish. First thing we did was to taste the soup … in a word, awesome. It is sesame flavoured and rich. I don’t know how to describe this better … it is not the smooth kind of broth but grainy (?).

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The noodles was equally good and tasty too. We could even eat this alone with the soup … without anything else if we want.

He he he … it was so good that the picture above even pulsates. It was a neat trick that I recently picked up from Gwilli of This Blog Has Zero Carbs (thanks Gwilli for the tutorial!).

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The best part — the pork jowl! Fatty and melts in your mouth. Yeah, I know this is not for everyone but I enjoyed this a lot. And they have quite a lot of it served too (like 8 pieces or so). This is what makes the ramen $13.

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The sides that came with the ramen included fresh scallions, cloud ears and bamboo shoots. It is better that had it on the side so that you add it just before you eat. This is so that it does not soak in the soup for too long and losing its distinctive taste in the process.

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What caught our attention was the fancy soup spoon. I could not figure out why it was shaped the way it was. It was not until we saw our Japanese neighbor using it. Neat design huh? The Japanese thinks about the darnest things.

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Suanne’s order is the Miso Ramen ($9). It is a dollar more expensive than Benkei ($7) and Kintaro ($8). The pork broth is seasoned with miso. It is noticeably more oily but is very flavourful and rich.

You have the option to supersize or undersize your ramen with addition or subtraction of $1.

We are no ramen expert but we enjoyed it all the same. We felt that the ramen in Kintaro and Benkei is better.

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The ramen in Santouka is pricier. Only time will tell how they will do in Vancouver. I think despite their higher prices they will do just fine because the clientele in this part of Vancouver does not think much about pricing. Btw, Santouka accepts cash only.

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Their Grand Opening is on Friday this week. They will be giving away 100 free ramens on that day. I can imagine there will be a lot of people who will be lining up. Given all the Olympic line practices (gosh, 6 hours for the zip line?) you all had the last two weeks this will be a snap for you.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka on Urbanspoon

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  1. Steve

    Thanks for sharing this. Do you know the address of this place?

    1. Ben

      Hi Steve: Santouka is just next door to Guu with Garlic. I’ll find the address and update the blog.

  2. I hate TV! They blocked out part of the Closing Ceremony which I recording. I didn’t record the “last” portion as NBC decided to plug in their TV show for an hour, and then return to the Closing Ceremony. Missed a lot of performances 🙁 but I did see the snowboard portion (which I guess your sons were in?).

    Haven’t seen such a soup spoon like that before. Yes, Santouka is in the US too- I haven’t visited them though.

  3. ed

    very cool blog, keep up the good work! 😀

  4. Christine

    Hi Ben,

    That looks great!!! Just on the side note, toriniku= chicken and kara= spicy!!! =)

  5. Ramen Man

    I just had Miso Ramen at Santouka Ramen. Anybody who is Japanese or have lived in Japan, might find the ramen mediocre. They use Instant Noodles, and the soup base was just too bland for me. The price is too much for the quality and quantity of the ramen. Santouka is a franchise from Hokkaido Japan, and I really felt they lacked the essence of a pure ramen taste and spirit. I have tried regional ramen from Hakata to Sapporo. In my opinion, an average consumer would enjoy the atmosphere. For the Ramen lovers in Vancouver, they might have a different opinion.

    Article about Ramen in Tokyo from NY Time last month.

    http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/travel/31ramen.html

    1. Ben

      Hi Ramen Man: The link was a good read. Makes me want to go to Japan instead this summer and eat at the Ganko. I am curious … between Benkei, Santouka and Kintaro, which do you like best? Ben

      1. Ramen Man

        I really like Motomachi Shokudo, which is the high-end version of Kintaro (few stores down on Denman Street). I believe it has the same owner as Kintaro. I enjoy Benkei for a good Tonkotsu Ramen, but I still think Kintaro is the king. For the last year and a half, I thought the Ramen grade went down. When I checked out Kintaro few weeks ago, they had returned back to there original taste and style. Kintaro retains the spirit of Ramen from Japan in my opinion. I enjoy the miso-ramen from there. For the people who did complain about the taste of Kintaro should give it another try because the original Kintaro taste is back!

  6. Maggie

    Re: the closing ceremonies and your sons’ participation in it, have you checked out Google’s video search and looked for clips of the portions they were in? In fact, maybe that’s something they could search for themselves. While CTV may have cut out much of their performance, maybe NBC, BBC or another network also caught some of it. The whole world was watching, and maybe part of that world saw more of their part than you did.

    1. Ben

      Hi Maggie: Thanks for the suggestion. We did check places like Google video, youtube and such but all of them are either only accessible to US only (for NBC) or IOC takes them down because of copyright issues. I am sure it will surface someday when they lift the embargo or when they release the Blu-ray version of it some day.
      Ben

      1. Maggie

        A similar story here but I had hoped it would be different for you. Except for the ice hockey, all we got on NBC were delayed and super edited Olympic competitions, and no foreign media streams. I couldn’t even web watch a BBC interview with a with a non-athlete because the topic was related to the Olympics. It’s pretty bad when you are only allowed to view a significant global athletic event from the perspective of your own nation’s TV broadcasters.
        It’s a good thing they don’t try to manage cuisine and restaurants in the same way or we’d be left with some pretty meager eating options, not to mention what it would do to your blog.

        1. Yes, NBC did a so-so job. Talking about athletes for two hours when they say it is the “closing ceremony” is not what the audience wants! They picked selected skaters from the exhibition gala to be broadcasted, while others were only shown on their other channel which was a premium channel. And Microsoft forced viewers to install some of their software in order to view the Olympics videos on the NBC website. Waa! I watched more from the Vancouver 2010 website than the real TV.

  7. Jenny

    Wow, another ramen place in downtown, but I guess if it’s good, then it should be here to stay. From the looks of it, the food is solid, so I will definitely try it out. Thanks for letting us know.

    Just curious and wondering which performance was Arkensen and Nanzaro in? 🙂

    1. Ben

      Arkensen and Nanzaro was with the boys and girls dressed in white and with snowboards right at the beginning of the ceremony. I earlier mentioned this … a big part of what they did was not shown on TV because CTV decided to air commercials when they were performing.

  8. Shmoo

    Tried Santouka on the weekend, as a friend had encouraged me to find out what the ramen rage was all about.

    I have absolutely nothing to compare it to, as I have very little experience with ramen. (Only a few outings to poorly-chosen places where the overall flavour profile was much like ordering a bowl of instant noodles in a restaurant.)

    I will say that the pork was very nicely prepared – soft and melt-in-your-mouthy. The broth also had a depth and richness that I could appreciate, helping me understand that restaurant-quality ramen can, and should, be elevated above thin, salty instant noodles. (Although the broth was still saltier than I would prefer.)

    My dining companion, a greater expert in all things ramen, seemed disappointed that the noodles were not as QQ as they had hoped. Also, where I found the broth pleasingly rich, my companion confided they had hoped for even richer.

    That being said, my companion had selected Santouka based on high praise they had heard, so the meal turned into a classic experiment on how expectations affect experience.

    One thing that did disappoint me was that the aji tama I had added on the side arrived with a solid, fully-cooked yolk rather than the lovely molten yolk always shown in ramen photos (including Santouka’s own menu). I was wondering if this was just a kitchen booboo, or an oddly misguided nod to my being caucasian. It wasn’t worth correcting, but I wouldn’t bother ordering an egg there again.

    1. Shmoo

      Correction: my dining companion was hoping the broth would be *less* rich. Essentially, they did not realize that Santouka specializes in the milky, marrowy kind of broth, and they were hoping a clearer broth would also be available. Me, I was looking for the rich kind of broth so I enjoyed it. 🙂

  9. grayelf

    Hey Shmoo, I’m jealous! I still haven’t made it to Santouka. If you do go back and want your noodles more QQ saying “Katane de onegai shimesu” should help . I hate soggy noodles too :-).

    1. Shmoo

      Thanks, grayelf.

      I haven’t tried the other popular shops locally, like Kintaro, so I can’t offer any comparison.

      I can say that Santouka had a line-up when we went (weekend lunch time), and is a pretty small space. So if you do go try it out, I suggest that you either budget enough time for a moderate wait, or pick a less popular arrival time than we did. 🙂

      1. grayelf

        Finally made it in to Santouka to try the toroniku ramen. For me the noodle soup took a major backseat to the luscious pork cheek but that is not to say the ramen is not quality. It is the best I’ve tried in my limited experience. I loved the pork so much that I did a drive by later to pick up two orders of it alone to go (they have a takeout minimum, hence the doubling up, which the SO appreciated!). Dang that is some amazing pig. Heading back today for a quality assurance check!

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