Ginza: a ramen shop in Ottawa

Ginza Ramen (832 Somerset Street W – in Chinatown)

A dear friend messaged me one evening to let me know that she was eating a bowl of ramen at a new ramen shop. In Ottawa! At a place called Ginza.

I had seen the first Ginza shop in passing, on Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa, and in great excitement searched for a menu online. After seeing the menu online (mix of ramen, pho, vermicelli dishes, sushi, rice noodle soups, grilled foods), I figured it was your typical all-encompassing Asian restaurant…and my interest waned. But my dear friend assured me that the place that she was eating at in Chinatown served *just* ramen. And she liked it.

Ginza

The shop in Chinatown incorporates a lot of wood into its interior and has a warm feel inside. The kitchen isn’t very open to the eating area, which is key to a ramen shop so that you can watch all of the fast-paced action, and there was no hearty irashaimase from the staff to welcome patrons inside. However, the server provided courteous, friendly, and prompt service, with just the right level of attention (because nobody likes a server who hovers or forgets about you).

Ika-age with wasabi mayo
Ika-age with wasabi mayo
Chicken karaage with a wasabi mayo
Chicken karaage with a wasabi mayo

We ordered chicken and ika karaage as appetizers. Both were accompanied by a mild wasabi mayo dip. The chicken was dry and the batter was average, but not having had karaage for a while, it did hit a spot. The ika (squid) had a good crunch from being deep-fried.

Miso tonkotsu ramen with corn, char sou, bean sprouts, green onions, mushrooms, and nori
Miso tonkotsu ramen with corn, char siu, bean sprouts, green onions, mushrooms, and nori

Continuing from previous ramen adventures, which you can read about here, here, here and here, I ordered the miso ramen. Ginza has a tonkotsu base and a chicken broth base; the miso is a tonkotsu ramen. The broth was decent but the balance of flavours and textures in it doesn’t quite meet some of the better ramen bowls I’ve had elsewhere. The noodles were cooked well and the range of toppings offered in the bowl was good, but the char siu slices were thin, not the awesome wrapped kind, and not as fatty/melt-in-my-mouth as I like them.

Considering Ottawa has no other reputable ramen shop yet, the ramen at Ginza would definitely entice me to return when I have a craving. However, if I were in Toronto or Vancouver, where there are a myriad of ramen shops, I would likely go to another place.

Ginza Ramen(Chinatown) on Urbanspoon

No tip restos

Earlier this month, a restaurant that will be opening in British Columbia gained a lot of media attention by having no tips, offset by increased menu prices and wages for the staff. Servers and cooks will receive more comparable wages instead of the former getting much more due to tips, and for those restaurants who practice tip-pooling, the amount of money each staff member will make becomes much more transparent.

I remember my time living in Japan and how easy it was to become accustomed to not leaving a tip at a restaurant. The general expectation is courteous service and that is how you keep bringing customers into your restaurant, instead of what, to me, feels like an obligation here to leave at least a 10% tip, even for less than courteous service.

A tip is like a little extra thank you to acknowledge above-and-beyond service (or with today’s lowered expectations, just GOOD service). It shouldn’t be expected by anyone. And it certainly shouldn’t become a post-dinner hassle; have you ever had a server tell you that you should be tipping more!? Ridiculous.

I hope that this no-tip restaurant concept catches on in Canada as it has started to do in the United States. I wouldn’t want restaurant fare to become out of the reach, price-wise, for people as we essentially subsidize the restaurant in lieu of tips but at least you are fully aware, walking into a place (or browsing the menu online), of what you will be paying. And if the service is less than par, you can write a restaurant review on sites like yelp or urbanspoon and vow never to return, but you won’t feel obligated to leave a tip. And a clearer, perhaps more egalitarian wage structure for restaurant staff couldn’t hurt.

Another bowl of ramen in Toronto

Kenzo Ramen (Mississauga location: Burnhamthorpe Road West by Mavis Road)

Whenever I’m in Toronto, I like to try to get in at least one bowl of ramen into my itinerary.  I’d gone on a bit of a ramen adventure in Toronto during a 4.5 day trip there last February (read about it here) and though I never wrote about it, I also had some delicious ramen at Momofuku Noodle House as well. Unfortunately, when I’m staying in the suburbs, the concentration of ramen shops in the downtown area does me no good.

This time, I thought I’d lucked out. Kenzo Ramen, which I had yet to try, has 5 locations in the Toronto area, including in the suburban city of Mississauga. We arrived there just past 6pm on a weekday to find a good-sized but fairly empty restaurant (score!?). I should note that by the time we left, all of the tables were full. We walked in to Irashaimase (welcome)…a good start. We ordered takoyaki as an appetizer (at an expensive $8.99 for 6 pieces), and a tonkotsu ramen and a tonkotsu miso ramen (both bowls are $10.95 each).

Takoyaki
Takoyaki

The takoyaki were a decent size but again, pricey for (a) what you get and (b) what it entails.

Tonkotsu Ramen
Tonkotsu Ramen
Tonkotsu Miso Ramen
Tonkotsu Miso Ramen

I expect tonkotsu broth to be rich, flavourful, and hearty. It should taste like pork. The charsiu (BBQ pork) at a really good place is wrapped, not just a piece of pork, and should melt in your mouth. I did not enjoy the tonkotsu broth at Kenzo, neither in flavour nor in richness, and the charsiu at other ramen places in Toronto is much better (though the flavour at Kenzo was decent). Unfortunately, despite not having eaten a bowl of ramen in over 6 months (read: we were ramen-hungry), we did not feel satiated by this ramen.

Sigh.

It also took a while for our dishes to make their way to our table, despite there not being too many customers ahead of us.

Kenzo Ramen on Urbanspoon

Lovely Sunday Lunch

I had heard many-a-time about a very lovely Sunday lunch spot at a duck farm near Plantaganet, Ontario. A place where they feed you the vegetables that they grow in their garden and the ducks that they raise on their farm. A quiet haven off a two-lane highway about a 45 minute drive from downtown Ottawa. It was only recently that I finally made it out to Mariposa Farm to enjoy a meal.

Mariposa Farm (6468 County Road 17, Plantaganet, Ontario)

The Farm
The Farm
Large plant markers!
Large plant markers!
Welcome to Sunday Lunch at Mariposa Farm!
Welcome to Sunday Lunch at Mariposa Farm!

They change their menu every Sunday and for $45 plus tax/gratuities, you get a well-sized three-course meal: starter, entree, dessert. There is also homemade bread with soybean oil, and self-serve tea and coffee.

The cozy dining room
The cozy dining room
The view out the window
The view out the window

They provide three different options for each of the parts of the meal so it’s a semi-set meal. There was no vegetarian option for the entree…lucky for me, I’m not a vegetarian! Instead, I opted for their duck confit, which was absolutely amazing! Not to mention it came on one of my favourite fall vegetables: delicata squash!

One of the choices of starters: head cheese with a fruit puree, black radishes, mustard seeds, and some toast.
One of the choices of starters: head cheese with a fruit puree, black radishes, mustard seeds, and some toast.
Duck confit on a bed of buckwheat, delicata squash, celerium, and pears.
Duck confit on a bed of buckwheat, delicata squash, celerium, and pears.
A selection of local cheeses with oatmeal cookies
A selection of local cheeses with oatmeal cookies
A peach tart with raspberry sauce and a dollop of whipped cream
A peach tart with raspberry sauce and a dollop of whipped cream

It’s a lovely place if you’re looking for a special meal in a relaxing setting, friendly hosts, delicious food (albeit not very vegetarian-friendly), and something a little different from your city restaurant. I’ve not yet heard one person walk away from Mariposa Farm dissatisfied.
Mari Posa Farms on Urbanspoon

A mini Vegas in Canada

Growing up in western Canada, I remember seeing commercials on TV for Niagara Falls, Ontario. I’ve heard the story about the lady who went over the Falls in a barrel, I’ve seen photos and videos trying to represent the grandeur of this natural wonder…but I finally got to experience it all for myself on a recent trip to the mini Las Vegas in Canada (because that’s what Clifton Hills feels like).

Clifton Hills
Clifton Hills
The railroad to...?
The railroad to…?
Canadian Falls
Canadian Falls
American Falls
American Falls

Being a tourism-based area, one could easily find their wallet a load lighter after visiting all of the tourist attractions, riding carnival rides, having meals, and buying souvenirs. I quite enjoyed just walking around, taking in the cheesy-ness of the main tourist areas. The Maid of the Mist, which is a boat ride that takes you quite close to both the Canadian and American Niagara Falls, was well worth the experience. For this trip, we had decided to stay on the Canadian side and after visually comparing the other Falls-related activities that one could partake in, we decided to forgo all of the Canadian activities in favour of one day visiting the American side to walk down by the Falls or out onto the Observation Deck. It looked much more worth the experience on the American side, after all.

Blueberries!

While I was in Kelowna, BC several weeks ago, I went apricot picking for the very first time in my life! I have to say, it is so much easier picking apricots than strawberries. For one, apricots grow on trees, which means they are more easily accessible from a standing position and the trees provide shade. Strawberries, as delicious as they are, grow very low to the ground in large open fields with little shade. As a side note, in high school, I worked picking strawberries for one damp morning and since then, have a huge appreciation for berry pickers. Oh yes. And apricots are much larger than strawberries…we picked over 20lb of apricots in 10 minutes! To eat tree-ripened apricots…heaven.

Unfortunately, I missed cherry picking (arriving too late in the afternoon to be allowed into the orchards) and couldn’t go blueberry picking while in BC (because BC blueberries are huge and the best of the best). However, I did eat loads of Okanagan cherries during my vacation and decided that I would try blueberry picking in Ottawa once I was back in town.

Blueberries!
Blueberries!

It doesn’t seem like there are many blueberry U-Pick farms around Ottawa but we made a trip out to the one that I did find: Canaan Blueberries. It’s about a 20 minute drive east on the highway from downtown Ottawa, beyond suburban Orleans and into the countryside. The drive is nice and takes you along the Ottawa River, and before you know it, you’ll have arrived at the farm.

I found that blueberry picking in Ottawa was more tedious than picking in Vancouver, mostly because the berries here seem to be smaller. Obviously this depends on the variety, of which Canaan has a few, but it took me about 2 hours to fill a 4 litre basket ($2.75 per lb). Nonetheless, it was a beautiful summer day to be out amongst the blueberry bushes!

Blueberry bushes
Blueberry bushes

New-ish ramen shop in Vancouver

I didn’t try any food trucks this last trip to Vancouver but I did chance upon a new ramen shop in the West End, Marutama Ramen (780 Bidwell Street). It’s a decent-sized space just off Robson Street, one block east of Denman Street where the popular Kintaro Ramen and Motomachi Shokudo are located.

Storefront of Marutama Ramen in the West End of Vancouver
Storefront of Marutama Ramen in the West End of Vancouver

This place uses a chicken broth, which they offer mild or spicy, and thinner ramen noodles, which can be cooked soft, regular, or al dente. Flipping to the backside of their menu, I noticed that this is actually a chain restaurant with other shops in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.

While you wait for your bowl of ramen, you can sip cold mugi-cha, which is a barley wheat tea commonly had in Japan, a nice touch on a hot summer day and an alternative to cold water. The service was attentive (my tea cup was quickly filled each time I emptied it…which was quite often) and friendly, all of the servers and cooks are Japanese, and the ramen was delicious. You can get a tamago ramen as well, which includes a marinated soft-boiled egg (heard that it was very tasty!).

Marutama Original Ramen $9.25
Marutama Original Ramen $9.25

I’d definitely recommend trying this place out. Good ambiance, a nice-looking space, and options to eat at the bar (best place to be in a ramen shop, in my opinion) or at tables.

Marutama Ramen on Urbanspoon

Luxury of morning hikes

It is such a luxury to – instead of sitting at a computer in an office cubicle – be able to go for light hikes in the morning through beautiful forest of coniferous trees and rivers. Hearing birds talking. Feeling the dirt trail beneath your feet. Smelling the fruity air, thanks to the ripening berries on the bushes.

Ah the beauty of a vacation in beautiful British Columbia!

You may have heard of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which is a very popular (paid) tourist attraction in North Vancouver. However, there is a little gem in the Lynn Valley neighbourhood of North Vancouver called the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge. It isn’t as long as the Capilano bridge but it feels less touristy, is still quite impressive and well-maintained, has a good network of trails surrounding it, and is free!

Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge
Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge
Ready to cross the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge? Watch out - it sways!
Ready to cross the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge? Watch out – it sways!
Beautifully clear water
Beautifully clear water
Such serenity, listening to the water pass by and wind through the trees!
Such serenity, listening to the water pass by and wind through the trees!

Just north of the Capilano Suspension Bridge is Cleveland Dam and the salmon hatchery. The Capilano Pacific Trail is one of the major trails linking all 3 places; you can actually walk all the way from Ambleside Park (by Lions Gate Bridge) in West Vancouver via this trail all the way north to Cleveland Dam near the base of Grouse Mountain.

A view of Capilano Lake, from the dam
A view of Capilano Lake, from the dam
The Capilano Dam
The Capilano Dam

If you walk on the east side of the Capilano River, either down from the Capilano Dam or up from the Capilano Suspension Bridge, you can visit the Salmon Hatchery. I remember going here on school field trips to learn about the lifecycle of fish and it’s still well-maintained years later.

The Hatchery
The Hatchery
Baby fish at the hatchery
Baby fish at the hatchery
Another view of the hatchery and surrounding beauty
Another view of the hatchery and surrounding beauty
Another view of the hatchery
Another view of the hatchery

Drool over Sushi in the Park

One awesome summertime activity is watching a movie outdoors. Many cities across Canada host free movies in the park or on the pier (yay Halifax!), and Ottawa is not to be left out. Centretown Movies is a volunteer-driven film fest that screens family-friendly films at Dundonald Park in downtown Ottawa, both to bring the community together for evenings of fun and to take back a park that used to be a bit rough. The films are pay-what-you-can (pass-the-bucket style) and last year, there were two food vendors who serviced the event. Enjoy a picnic dinner on a Friday or Saturday evening then enjoy the movie once dusk sets in.

Click here to see the schedule. The first movies start July 26/27. However, I did want to highlight one very enjoyable film that I saw at the local independent theatre, Bytowne Cinemas. It’s called Jiro Dreams of Sushi and the story is great, the cinematography is great, and I definitely recommend seeing it. I wrote about it here but don’t worry, it isn’t a spoiler. The film is playing on Friday August 9. A recipe for a perfect summer evening!