Harmony Lunch 90 King Street North Waterloo, Ontario N2J 2X4…
Kenzo Noodle House
#6A – 140 University Avenue
Ramen and gyoza for two (“with toast”): $30
* * *
Tucked into the many food joints and eateries where, of course, nothing stands out or rises above inexpensive financially-straitened student chow, is Kenzo, a small Toronto-based chain of a half-dozen or so shops.
Perhaps the only reason Kenzo is here at all is that student factor. But despite the relative blight that is the StudentLand that marks much of the central part of Waterloo, we’re glad that Kenzo is here.
Ramen is great. And Kenzo’s ramen is generally pretty good in a Waterloo Region where it is relatively difficult to find, as compared to something, say, like the more popular Vietnamese pho.
Ramen is a Sino-Japanese entry in the world culinary annals: it is hypothesized that ramen noodles are a variation of the Chinese lamian noodle, which is hand-stretched and twisted in a tour de force of athleticism and noodle-making gymnastics. Whatever linguistic origins they share, they usually make for a damn good noodle soup.
The dish is seasoned and flavoured — and subtly different — according to your sho-yu, shi-o, or miso preference. I’ve never met a ramen at Kenzo that I haven’t liked, but then the whole idea of salty pork broth excites me. Add to that some preserved egg and other fishy, wood-ear mushroomy and veggie and assorted garnishes and you can’t go wrong, really. Just drink a lot of water.
The gyoza are good. It can be pretty much a foregone conclusion that the delectable dumplings that you order as an appetizer will arrive only after you’ve been given ample time to eat about one-third of your main course bowl of ramen.
When they do come, they are big, rich and porky with a hint of sweet, chive and ginger. The wrapper was browned well but needed just a bit longer frying to crisp it up though.
The idea of “Appetizer,” as described by Kenzo, is merely an arbitrary guideline, a trope of the restaurant menu. It is, ostensibly, a figure of speech perhaps, for the kitchen.
Oh, they will tell you that the untimely and late delivery is because gyoza take so long to cook, but on at least three occasions that I ordered them they arrive well after the soup slurping begins.
Otherwise, Kenzo service is perfunctory. And that’s okay: I stress again that you go to Kenzo for the salty, tangy, porky, noodley ramen and not the service. Hey, it’s an inexpensive bowl, relatively speaking, and quite filling.
As for other dishes, don’t be fooled by the apparent allure that yakisoba is served on a sizzling-, spitting-hot cast iron plate. True, it does add a few moments of theatre, including the fluttering kombu flakes — before you tuck into merely serviceable and uneventful stir-fried vegetables and scraps of chicken. It’s not bad; it’s just that it is average.
Tonkatsu ramen, this bowl in the Hakata region-style, is well put together, hot with nicely cooked noodles, fresh scallions — and a week’s worth of sodium. But that is part of the attraction.
It must be noted that there is a rather quaint, if slightly odd and I would say studentish, amenity that is Kenzo’s “toast trolley” that sits, resplendent with Wonder-type pablum-bread and butter, ready for self-serve toast.
I haven’t quite figured out the toast-intent or to whom specifically this is directed (or who actually uses it). But it doesn’t matter, though: you come to Kenzo because a pretty decent bowl of ramen awaits in its salty-porky goodness.