A while back, Jenkins and I were invited to the grand opening of Benkei Ramen’s E. 5th Avenue location. Not only did we have an opportunity to sample the noodles, we were also invited to take a tour of the kitchen.
After we arrived, we found out that Benkei had invited a few food bloggers but it looked like they tried to time the arrivals so that the restaurant didn’t get too crowded. I really appreciated this as there have been several times where I’ve been to openings and the crowds made the experience less enjoyable than it should have been. Before we started sampling the food, those of us who had arrived trooped into the kitchen for a tour. I had assumed that the kitchen was the area we could see from behind the bar but that turned out to be the staging area for the dishes that were coming through.
The back kitchen was actually where all the soup bases and gyoza were created. Our host explained to us that the 5th Ave location was going to be the test kitchen where the head chef was located and where he would test out his new soup base creations. I was impressed to see the large vats of soup in the back and also got to see the char siu making station in the corner.
We also got to view a demo of gyoza being made. It looked to be a fairly straight forward process and followed the same steps I take when I help my mom with making Chinese dumplings. We were invited to try making some gyoza ourselves but we were all a bit shy.
Finally, it was time to sample the food. First came a selection of pork and shrimp gyoza. I actually preferred the pork version because it seemed to have more flavour than the shrimp version. The gyoza skin was slightly chewy and it was cooked just right.
First, we tried the spicy miso ramen. The broth was not overly spicy and the noodles came with minced pork, chives, and bamboo shoots. The noodles themselves were cooked perfectly and really picked up the nutty saltiness in the broth. The bamboo flavour was quite overwhelming and I couldn’t taste the minced pork very much.
Next was the Shio ramen. You could really taste the pork flavour in the broth itself but I would have liked for the broth to be a little more rich. I found it to be a bit on the watery side, similar to my visit at the Thurlow location when I last tried this dish. As with the spicy miso, the noodles were perfectly cooked and the bean sprouts provided a nice crunch. The char siu was tasty and very similar to the Chinese version.
Since we had the spicy version already, we also ordered the regular miso noodles. You could really taste the nutty flavour in the miso broth especially since it was not masked by the spiciness in the other version. I liked this version more than the shio version and also liked the toppings of char siu and bean sprouts more than in the spicy miso. It would be nice if you could combine the toppings in this version with the spicy broth in the spicy miso.
I was starting to get pretty full at this point but Jenkins wanted to try the creamy chicken ramen. I found the soup base for this too rich and creamy for my taste but Jenkins liked the different flavour the chicken imparted in this version when compared to the other pork noodles.
By this point, we were quite full but we were convinced to stay a little while longer so we could try the char siu rice. In Benkei’s regular menu, I believe the rice is molded into onigiri but the rice was served to us in a bowl. The pieces of char siu were cut up in tiny pieces and distributed throughout the rice but I found the flavours for this to be a little bland. Perhaps I was a bit full at this point so I was just tired of eating in general but I would have liked the rice to be more salty.
I should note that since it was a grand opening event, the food was all complimentary and as expected, the service was excellent. I’m not sure how representative this is compared to a regular visit for this location but the flavours seemed to be on par with the Thurlow location although portion sizes seemed to be slightly bigger during this event. I did enjoy the visit though and was happy to have been given the opportunity to pretty much try everything on the menu. At least now I know which noodles I prefer for my next visit here. I was also intrigued by the fact that Benkei will be trying out additional flavours at this location so will be back to check that out too.
43 East 5th Avenue, Vancouver