Kazoku Ramen

Ever since I had to say goodbye to the love of my life (i.e. gluten), I’ve had to make do with poor substitutes and laughable facsimiles. The gluten free landscape has become more bountiful as of late, but the realm of wheat-free ramen has been fairly disappointing. So, when I learned that Kazoku Ramen, a restaurant close to my new place of employment, offered gluten free noodles, I was desperate to give it a try. Edmonton has been raving about its ramen restaurants for the past year and I’d automatically assumed that my allergy would exclude me from indulging myself–thankfully, I was wrong.

Kazoku is a new restaurant located in Mayfield/Meadowlark in west Edmonton. They’ve been open since October 2015 but I hadn’t heard much about them, other than from Cindy’s review on Let’s Om Nom. Of course, moving to the west end for work gave me ample reason to browse the list of restaurants in the area–thus, my first visit to Kazoku.

The restaurant is cozy but with plenty of table space and featuring an adorable wall painting of a godzilla chewing on a piece of narutomaki. The menu is brief but well-stocked, featuring a handful of traditional Japanese appetizers (think gyoza and edamame), tempura, ramen bowls, curry, and rice bowls. The server was a little quick on the draw, asking us what we wanted less than one minute after handing us the menus, but I assume that’s because lunchtime at Kazoku brings in the hoard of regulars, each one knowing exactly what they’ll have that day. We needed a little longer to decide, finally settling on the gluten-free miso ramen with pork shoulder char siu and the Japanese char siu rice bowl. (Note: the miso ramen is the only soup that’s gluten-free. While they have gluten free noodles, the soup base for most ramen bowls includes soy. Celiacs should also note that the char siu marinade may include trace amounts of gluten, so this restaurant is much more suited to those who are gluten intolerant.) 

Miso ramen noodle bowl

For only $13, you get a huge bowl filled with delicious soup, noodles, delightfully salty meat, and all the fixings: a half soft-boiled egg, shredded nori, bamboo shoots, corn, toasted sesame, green onion, and narutomaki. Kazoku prides themselves on including fresh ingredients in all of their dishes, including hand-picked pork, free range chicken, and locally grown produce–and it shows. The flavours are amazing. My miso ramen, despite having a smaller portion of noodles than normal (thanks, gluten-free), was excellent. I couldn’t help but finish the bowl, even with the possible risk of me falling asleep at my desk afterwards.

Japanese char siu rice bowl

The restaurant does, however, close on Tuesdays–holding inconsistent weekly hours is just one of the things smaller, independent restaurants tend to do. When I showed up there on a Tuesday at lunch, it was entirely my fault for not checking the hours beforehand. That still didn’t keep me from being disappointed that I wouldn’t get an excellent bowl of ramen that day (though I have learned my lesson since then).

In any case, if you’re in the area or feel like making the trek to the west end, I recommend you swing by Kazoku, say hello to the naruto-nibbling godzilla, and sit down to a steaming bowl of delicious ramen.

Kazoku Ramen
16518 100 Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5Y 4Y2
(780) 483-0448

3.5/5

Volcano Restaurant

Volcano is in a great location for those living south of Whyte Avenue–easily accessible by Calgary Trail and Gateway Boulevard, the restaurant offers both Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine in a well-decorated, spacious building. The combination of Asian flavour offerings is unusual but not unheard-of in our city, where one can get Korean short ribs at many Japanese restaurants, or enjoy a Pad Thai served up alongside a Curry Laksa.

When we arrived at the event, we were greeted with a glass of prosecco and given a chance to grab a seat at one of the many tables. The food samplings were laid out in platters: sushi, sashimi, and maki on one side of the table, short ribs, spring rolls, and pork chops on the other. The divide was interesting but not unwelcome–it’s nice to be able to pair cool raw fish with a cooked item or two.

I took a little bit of everything, grabbed a sake caesar, and sat down with my plate of goodies. Everything was good, although the short ribs will always come up tops for me. The tuna sashimi was light and fluffy, as it should be, and the unagi maki was filled with flavour.

We were lucky enough to witness the ribbon cutting ceremony, introduced by Ingrid Schifer de Dennis from Schif and the City and followed by a brief speech from the owner of Volcano. The event also had a photo booth set up by Mojo Photo, which was a great way to document the occasion (other than the usual flurry of tweets and food photos, of course).

I haven’t had a chance to try the full menu yet, but I’d rate Volcano as a tasty, reliable Japanese/Vietnamese restaurant based on my experience at the grand opening. I don’t feel like I can give it a fair rating until I dine there on a regular night, so my apologies for not including the usual wine glass ratings at the end of this post.

The prices are in the mid- to high-range for a sushi restaurant, so I’d estimate prices to be around $40-50 per person for sushi (depending on how much you can eat) and around $15-20 per person for Vietnamese. They also offer a variety of Western and Chinese dishes, including brunch omelettes and chicken stir fry. The menu on the website doesn’t appear to be working at the moment, but you can view their full offering on SkipTheDishes.ca.

Volcano Edmonton
4226 Gateway Blvd.
Edmonton, AB T6K 7J1
(780) 756-2218

SUSHI TRAIN

As my coworker so eloquently put it, “Chew chew! Climb aboard the Sushi Train!”

Edmonton’s newest rotation sushi bar restaurant, Sushi Train, opened its doors on July 12th in a modest location by MacEwan University on 104 Street. The premise is simple: the chef makes a variety of different kinds of sushi and places them on a conveyor belt using different coloured plates. The plates reflect the price (blue = $3.50; red = $4.50; green = $5.50; black = $6.50) and each one is placed within a time slot on the conveyor belt so that you can tell how fresh everything is–for example, if you arrived at 12:30pm, a dish situated behind the 10-20 marker will have been made between 12:10pm and 12:20pm.

It’s a unique concept for Edmonton, but kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) is a pretty standard style of restaurant in Japan. Edmonton has seen train-style sushi restaurants before (Sakura in WEM), but they don’t seem to last. Due to the nature of how they serve food, kaiten-zushi requires a steady stream of customers during opening hours to avoid waste–too few customers, and food will have to be tossed. Too many, and the chef/kitchen will be overwhelmed.

It’s a delicate balance, much like the one between fish and rice on a perfectly made piece of sushi.

Luckily, MacEwan is home to a number of hungry students, including sushi fanatics, so Sushi Train certainly has a chance.

There aren’t many seats, since most are placed around the rotating bar, but luckily it wasn’t that busy when we arrived for lunch. It’s a really fun experience waiting to see what the chef will place on the belt next and there’s the nail-biting few minutes when you see something you want that’s just out of reach. Will it come around again? Will someone snap it up before it makes it to you?

As for taste, I was satisfied. The sushi was fresh (as we could see) and there were a number of options to choose from. Octopus balls, red snapper, crispy California rolls, gyoza, and much more. The quality isn’t quite the same as Kyoto or Mikado, but it’s still very good. A solid choice for sushi, in my opinion.

Price-wise, I could see a meal at Sushi Train getting very expensive, very quickly. For lunch, I tried five different dishes (2-4 pieces per plate, depending on what I ordered) and my total came to about $23, with no drinks other than water and green tea. A whole dinner at Sushi Train could easily get up to $50 per person, so be wary of those plates.

All in all, I’d definitely recommend this place, especially if you’ve never tried a kaiten-zushi before. The crispy California rolls are worth a visit alone!

Sushi Train
10725 104 Ave NW
Edmonton, Alberta
(587) 521-7788 

 3.5/5

HAKONE JAPANESE CUISINE

There are, unfortunately, very few options for sushi on the North side of Edmonton. Sure, there are Tokyo Expresses and Mt. Fujis galore, but they’re a cheap alternative to the good stuff. We might not have West or East Coast quality sushi in our landlocked city, but there are still some excellent Japanese restaurants throughout Edmonton.

Hakone Japanese Cuisine is neither terrible nor great – it sits entirely in the middle. It’s average.

The restaurant is located in the most unusual of places, squeezed between a Money Mart and a nail salon, just a stone’s throw away from 127 Street’s Lucky Supermarket. We’d never have known it was there if we hadn’t happened to drive past it once several months ago. We made note of it and made a point to eat there recently.

Hakone’s interior is cute, clean, and simply decorated. There are only a few tables because the space is quite small, but it’s intimate and pretty. I was immediately hopeful.

My hope ebbed slightly when the young server came over to drop off some menus. There wasn’t a hint of a smile on her face and she seemed irritated that we’d come in to eat – it had just turned 5 and the restaurant was empty. She left us with the menus for a few minutes while we browsed.

Hakone’s menu isn’t extensive, but it’s fair. There are the regular maki, sushi, and sashimi options, along with some great-looking bento boxes. The prices were on par with Kyoto/Mikado, so I expected everything to be of the same quality.

When we were ready to order, we were told they were out of the Dragon Eye roll which, from what I’ve seen, is one of their most popular items. They didn’t have Clamato juice for a sake caesar (I’m not sure they actually carry it on a regular basis), so I resigned myself to a bottle of hot sake, which was great. The waitress said that she didn’t think they had any crab for the crabstick sushi, but didn’t come back to confirm.

We ordered miso soup, two half-orders of salmon and tuna sashimi, rainbow rolls, and a bento box with chicken teriyaki and sushi. The maki were pretty good and the bento box was extremely generous. Both of those items were satisfying.

The sashimi, though, wasn’t great. Both the salmon and tuna were chewy and cut really thickly; while eating them, I kept thinking of Japonais Bistro’s pillowy-light tuna sashimi with longing. I’ve had much worse, don’t get me wrong – at least Hakone’s sashimi wasn’t frozen – but it was average at best.

Halfway through our meals, the server brought over my crab sushi, which I hadn’t known to expect. Throughout the course of our dinner, the service actually became friendlier (we got a smile), which I thought was weird until I noticed that there were, at that point, several other tables in the restaurant.

At the end of the day, the meal, including 10 oz of hot sake, cost about $90. In my opinion, this was too pricey for average sushi, indifferent service, and a menu that wasn’t complete. We ordered a lot of food, so I understand why the bill was so high. When I think of spending almost $100 on Japanese food, though, our average experience at Hakone means that this likely won’t be my go-to sushi restaurant in the future, even if it is on the North side.

Hakone Japanese Cuisine
13907 127 Street
Edmonton, AB T5L 4Y5
(780) 761-3006

2/5