Little Italy’s new vegan ramen place may not have the best food, but it will feed your soul and make you feel like you just curled up in a duvet blanket on a cold winter evening.
What Umami Ramen doesn’t offer in flavour, it makes up for in cold-weather comfort. The moment my friend and I walked out of a crisp October evening and into the restaurant, I was flooded with relief; the atmosphere was welcoming and soothing, a lovely respite from the piercing wind outside. We didn’t make a reservation but were offered a seat at the bar.
Under warm lighting filtering through wooden lamps, simple menus were brought to us. Umami has limited options; with only four types of ramen to choose from and a handful of appetizer options, even the most indecisive, such as myself, needn’t struggle too hard to choose a dish.
We settled on the Tokyo-style Shoyu ramen with the “chicken” Karaage and Kushikatsu panko-breaded veggie skewers as appetizers. Umami takes pride in their house-made noodles, tofu, and ferments, so I was really excited for the meal we were about to enjoy.
The Karaage was addictively crunchy, but without the spicy sesame mayo and lemon juice, a little bland. The veggie skewers were crisp on the outside and steaming on the inside. Aside from the sauce, this appetizer was delicious – the breaded eggplant’s succulent texture was perhaps the highlight of the whole meal – but microscopic! For $7, we were served three skewers with only two pieces of onion, eggplant, or okra each.
Then came the ramen. The noodles were tasty, but not spectacular, and the texture of yuba (tofu skin) was rubbery and unsettling. Sweet, sour, salty and bitter were ticked off by the shiitake, tomates confite, wakame and daikon, with the broth rounding off the palette with its decidedly umami quality. As a whole, the flavours of the toppings balanced each other off nicely, and I fell in love with the broth’s deep, rich, aroma.
Overall, the meal was immensely satisfying: not so much in regards to the food, but with how it made us feel. We left happy and comforted, full but not bloated.
I certainly intend on returning in order to try the other three ramen bowls (and the okonomiyaki cabbage pancake our table neighbours ordered) but, above all, to bask in the restaurant’s comforting ambiance. Umami is a safe haven of warmth and spice, a dining-experience must during the cold weather months.
3.5/5 for food,
3.5/5 for price,
5/5 for service,
5/5 for ambiance.