Last time, our hero Kintaro demonstrated its prowess in serving up big tasty bowls of cheese ramen, spicy garlic ramen and shio ramen. Now, an old foe steps back into alibi:OE’s blogging ring to duel it out! Who will win? Will Kintaro reign in its delicious variations on ramen? Or will Santouka beat Kintaro down by overwhelming my tastebuds?
Seriously. There should be a battle-alternative noodle-shop fighting manga, if there isn’t already.
Anyway, my urge to try Santouka was fulfilled not too soon after my visit to Kintaro. Ari and I decided to check out Santouka after a chilly church morn and we found the place crowded, with a short line forming outside. After checking out the other nearby food locations briefly, we decided we might as well wait for a table to open up at Santouka.
Within ten minutes or so we were given two seats and menus at a large communal table. The inside of Santouka is really nice: modern, airy and chic, it feels more like an upscale sushi place than a noodle shop. Our waiter was really cheerful and efficient. This time there was no choice in the type of soup or meat offered, so Ari and I ordered quickly and our food came in no time at all.
Ari ordered the miso ramen (8.95) and let me try out the broth. Mmm. I could taste the miso paste, which blended so well with the pork bone broth. The other components were similar to my own bowl: fatty pork slices, bamboo shoots, green onions, nori, sesame seeds, and a thin slice of naruto (fish).
To keep the comparison simple I ordered a shio ramen (8.95), as I did last time at Kintaro. The pork bone broth was really different from the one used in Ari’s miso ramen; I’d say this broth was almost creamy. While the rest of the ingredients were pretty similar, the real kicker that I enjoyed was the umeboshi, the Japanese sour plum served on the centre. Eaten first, this tiny sour fruit stimulates the appetite (in Chinese, we say 開胃) and prepares one to eat. Mmm-nom. The umeboshi really did the trick and I gobbled my food down in as ladylike a manner as my upbringing would permit (I hope you’re proud, Mum). The pork was really delicious, consisting of alternating thin layers of fat and pork. In fact, it was the perfect combination of meat, seeing as there wasn’t enough fat to warrant tearing it off and there was enough meat to justify eating the piece without worrying about the fat in between.
The food was ridiculously tasty. The biggest complaint that Ari and I both had, however, was that both soups were too salty; after some time we couldn’t really drink any more of the soup because the salt was just too much. ‘Twas only after we were getting up to pay our bill that we found out we could have asked for reduced salt. Oh bother. Nevertheless, we left very full and satisfied.
Having eaten at both Santouka and Kintaro, here are my conclusions on the winners of each aspect:
Atmosphere: Tie (depends on what you prefer).
If you’re looking for something more modern and airy, Santouka’s your restaurant. If, however, you want an experience that feels like it could be very authentic, Kintaro’s the place to be. Both restaurants seem to be entirely Japanese-run and have friendly and helpful staff.
Compared to Kintaro, however, Santouka’s staff excel by just a bit more. Both places were equally busy on the occasions that I visited but the staff at Santouka avoided making me feel rushed; customers were not chased out or offered their bill right when they were done eating, as was the case at Kintaro.
Kintaro edged Santouka out by just a bit, seeing as the shio ramen I ordered at Kintaro was 1$ cheaper than Santouka. And yet…
… Santouka’s portions filled me up a good deal more than Kintaro’s did. This still causes me some confusion, especially as the bowls at Santouka are much smaller than Kintaro.
And of course, the most important factor…
Now I do think Kintaro has something real good going on. Really good. And I still stick by what I said: Santouka’s soup was a little too salty for my taste. But the umeboshi, the delicious broth and the marbled pork were undeniably good, and I think the fact that the food felt more satisfying than the bowl I had at Kintaro really swayed my vote in this decision. Plus, seeing as I can ask for reduced salt in my broth next time, I’m going to have a wicked good bowl and love its perfection.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
1690 Robson St
Vancouver, BC V6G1C7
Pros: Cheerful and speedy service, airy and clean locale and om-nom-nommy food make this a great choice for ramen.
Cons: Unless you really crave sodium, you’ll probably have to ask for reduced salt. Prices are a tad higher here than they are at other nearby ramen shops (*ahem*KINTARO*cough*) but they’re not sky-high-mad.
I chose Santouka over Kintaro. Yep. Really though, both places are great and I think it’s only fair that you try both for yourself too, dear reader.
ごちそうさまでした. Thank you for the meal, Santouka.