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Isshin chef Masafumi preps miso ramen
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Tan-tan ramen with pork belly scores.
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Poutine’s got curried gravy.
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Sayaka Maezono serves Alexander Vuong and Amanda Chan at Ramen Isshin.
RAMEN ISSHIN (421 College, at Bathurst, 416-367-4013, ramenisshin.com) Complete meals for $18 per person, including tax, tip and a mug of green tea. Average main $10. Open Monday to Thursday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 2 am, Sunday 11:30 am to 10 pm. Closed some holidays. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
A couple of doors down from Sneaky Dee's and open till 2 am weekends, Ramen Isshin is ideally situated for late-night carb-loading.
What better way to kill a hangover before it even kicks in than with chef Koji Zenimaru's signature tan-tan ramen ($10.25), a large ceramic bowl of al dente house-made noodles in long-simmered tonkotsu broth, spiked with smoky miso tare and finished with garlic chives, wilted bok choy and both nuggets of minced pork and fatty slices of blow-torched cha shu pork belly? Chef suggests you add the black sesame seeds that give the soup its name halfway through to "enhance your experience," but most add them right off the top.
His roasted garlic ramen ($8.95) finds that same creamy pork broth now augmented with rich house-made shoyu and dressed with raw scallions, bamboo shoots, toasted seaweed, more pork belly and halves of partially poached eggs marinated in sweet mirin. A generous splash of garlic oil makes an after-dinner shot of mouthwash de rigueur.
Of the eight varieties of ramen available, two are not only vegetarian, but vegan to boot, our favourite the fat-free version simply layered with shoots, seaweed and meaty sautéed mushrooms ($9.80). We prefer to add a side of cha shu ($2) because we roll that way.
Unlike nearly every other ramen resto around, the short lineup of starters is not to be ignored, no surprise when you learn that Zenimaru's also in charge of the kitchen at the wildly creative Kingyo in Cabbagetown.
Nuggets of crisply battered and unusually moist chicken karage sided with lemony mayo ($4.80) almost make us forgive steaming mugs of green tea ($1) complete with tea bags. Though the menu insists that chef's irreverent take on poutine ($5.20) comes topped with cheese curds as well as Japanese-style curried gravy and a chiffonade of green onion, we can't taste the curds. Looks like fries with tofu to us.
But don't leave without an order of takoyaki ($4.20), five fab fritters laced with tender octopus and pickled ginger straight from the fryer and garnished with dried bonita flakes that wiggle in reaction to the heat like worms on a wet sidewalk. You'll know they're ready to eat when the tuna stops dancing.