Kazoku Ramen had their grand opening this past Thursday, a welcome addition to the Edmonton ramen scene and fulfilling a particularly large food hole in the west end. The #yegramen culture really has grown in the last couple of years, something that I’m truly excited for. For those who don’t follow the blog (but you will now right?), I’m a big ramen fan. I will eat ramen anywhere and everywhere. Thankfully I got a sneak peek at their soft opening the previous week, as well as squeezed in a second visit today!
‘Kazoku’ is the Japanese word for family, a concept that guarantees that whatever you eat at the small family-run shop, would only be served to their own family. Owner Jackson Leung grew up with ramen, the instant variety of course, and grew to love the full real deal after experiencing bowls from Vancouver, across the United States, and the ramen holy-land of Japan. He also grew up around food and in the kitchens, his mom managing restaurants and the family opening up a storefront in Saskatchewan. It’s no surprise then that at both the soft opening and tonight, both were at the restaurant manning the back and front of house. Throw in Jackson’s fiancé, Kim, who was expediting in the kitchens and serving up bowls, and you’ve got a true family affair.
Taking over the space on 100 Avenue and 165 Street, and home to the now closed Chinese restaurant Hot Wok, Kazoku Ramen seats easily over 40 diners and features a cute Godzilla munching on a naruto fishcake on the far wall. Hand drawn by Kim, who jokingly asked if she could draw on the wall, the mural is fun, playful and definitely more memorable that the spelling of the restaurant’s name. I predict that the use of “Ramen with the Godzilla”- or “Cute Monster Ramen”-place will be used to describe the west-end eatery.
On soft opening night last Thursday, Diane and I did our best to tackle the menu. Starters include edamame, gyozas, spicy chicken karaage, and beef tataki as your typical Japanese appetizers. We ordered the spicy chicken karaage. The dark chicken meat that night was moist, and the batter fried to a nice crisp. It was (extremely) well-seasoned, definitely with soy sauce, and came with a mildly spicy dipping sauce. Diane noticed a few pieces had burnt bits, indicating that the marinade would have had a higher sugar content that easily caused the blacked parts. Other than the odd one or two bites with burnt flavour, I thought the chicken was well cooked. Here’s to hoping Kazoku Ramen can adjust the marinade or frying temperature to avoid burning!
I’ve flip-flopped my way across the board with being a true tonkotsu (pork bone)-lover to a miso-hungry eater to classic shoyu-getter (soy-base for ramen beginners). Who am I kidding, I’m just a happy ramen-lover. I love all things ramen. With an offering of all three styles, plus a shio (salt-base) ramen and an additional housename bowl, Kazoku Ramen is offering Edmonton five different kinds of hot soupy goodness. All bowls are topped with char siu, half solf-boiled egg, nori (sheet or shredded, depending on the bowl), bamboo shoots, corn, bean sprout, toasted sesame, green onions, and naruto cakes. The Kazoku further adds on the other half of that egg and wood-ear fungus and the Shoyu, some wood-ear fungus thrown in.
I was in the mood for a Shoyu broth but, come on, how could I not get the Kazoku? The menu didn’t describe it as a light (or assari) broth, a descriptor that would surely have helped diners. The taré (think seasoning packet) of the Kazoku bowl is light shio (salt) based which mixed well with the pork flavour that came through. Jackson later told me the the broth was made with a mix of pork and chicken and was designed to be a little different from what people normally would expect from a ramen bowl. It actually reminded me of the lighter Tokyo-style broths I had recently on my trip to Japan. Although my bowl was well seasoned, the bowl was lacking depth or complexity of other flavours. I would have liked a bit more umami (different from salt!), perhaps more from mushrooms or bonito flakes, common ingredients you would find in Japanese broths. The noodles are imported from Vancouver, a wavy variety and cooked “al dente”. I thought the noodles were a bit firm although they softened by the end of my bowl to a good consistency. They have a good bite to them, but I felt they lacked elasticity (ability for a dough, or noodle, to spring back to it’s original shape once you’ve stretched it). I thought the amount of toppings in my bowl was sufficient although with so many different kinds of toppings, I thought it would benefit Kazoku Ramen to cut back on the different kinds and just have more of the one. Extra slices of tender char siu or a full soft-boiled egg, both done well would be better appreciated than throwing in a mix of bean sprouts, corn, wood-ear fungi, and naruto!
Moving on… Diane ordered the Miso Ramen. I thought her bowl had a better flavour profile than mine, although it became quite salty near the end. You can read her thoughts at What Would Argenplath Pay? She’s planning her second visit as I write! To note: some bowls (not sure which, Kazoku and Miso for sure!) come with toasted sesame seeds that you can grind up to add more flavour to your broth.
Our night ended with a Waffle-Yaki, the word ‘yaki’ meaning ‘grilled’ or ‘cooked’. Well named and well done. I can’t really complain about cooked waffles sandwiching sweet red bean (azuki) paste, topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup. I mean, really. Our only suggestion for improvement was how it was served, the board was cute but quite impractical as it slid around the table as you tried to cut into the waffle or grab a bite. Oops.
The soft opening night was complimentary, something I’m always a bit apprehensive about writing about. Definitely had to return to try the other bowls, as well as to give Kazoku Ramen a fair go at it. More ramen bowls for the blog, you know? That’s what I tell myself. I decided to forego the grand opening on Thursday (that’s just too crazy) but opted for a late ramen dinner on Friday after work. Joe and I arrived at 9pm only to find out that they had sold out of ramen bowls, well before their expected closing time of midnight. I should know better, always check social media!
Saturday’s shift ended at 6pm so I figured it was a safe bet. A quick Twitter check told me that they had actually sold out at 2pm after their lunch rush but were restocking for their 6pm service with limited bowls. Riddle me this Edmonton! What component(s) would run out that you could replenish within 4 hours for evening service? Surely not the broth that should take at least a day (or overnight) to complete, or the noodles that were imported from Vancouver. Toppings? No clue. It was a madhouse by the time we arrived at 7pm to ask any questions. I was just thankful my trip to the west end wasn’t wasted!
We were asked how many were in our party and given a number (verbally) with no wait times. Thankfully, it only took us ten minutes to grab a table (ramen shops should have a high turnover) but with all the yelling of table numbers, it felt a little disorganized. Almost as if we had ordered fast food and our number was being called out. Perhaps giving us a carded number or jotting down the table’s names would help! Our server quickly gave us menus and took our order, too busy to offer us drinks or water. Five minutes later she came back to our table and asked us if we needed menus to order food. Eh? All service issues aside, our bowls came out at a decent time! Kudos to the kitchens!
Joe ordered the Tonkotsu, a richer and creamier pork-bone broth. The kotteri-style broth was drastically different from the Kazoku or Miso ramen of last week and is my favourite thus far. I ordered the Shoyu, by all means one of the easier bases to make and one that Kazoku Ramen has made a good jab at. Both bowls were appropriately seasoned although still missing that depth of flavour that I was looking for. Toppings, especially the char siu, was noticeably larger in portions and an improvement on their part. Our eggs were on the runnier side than previous, something I don’t mind at all, but all of the eggs I’ve tried are consistently under-marinated. Points for trying (some places don’t even try!) but I’d prefer a well-seasoned egg.
So what’s the verdict? I will wholeheartedly admit that I am a pretty picky ramen-eater. And I think Edmonton should be too. The more ramen shops open up, the more it drives the standards and I think diners will figure out what they really love about ramen! Would I return to Kazoku Ramen? Yes, of course. Their improvements over the past two visits indicates that they’re listening and open to criticism. Sold out bowls, twice!? A sign that either Edmonton is really seeking out ramen or a rookie mistake on their part for not preparing for the onslaught! I’m most excited for their Chinese-Japanese take on ramen, a Shanghai-style feature bowl to come in the future once they get a handle on things. Or how about a massive Godzilla-size ramen bowl competition? Can you handle that much noodle? In all honesty, I think Kazoku Ramen is off to a fantastic start and hope to see them improve their bowls and continue to accommodate hungry ramen-lovers! I look forward to revisiting within the month, I’m sure, (or within the week… ramen research is hard work!) and to late night bowls after work. Here’s to the Kazoku Ramen family and, of course, the cute Godzilla!
Note: If visiting between October 15 to 25th, fill out a ticket at the front till to enter to win a pair of Oilers tickets!Kazoku Ramen
16518 100 Avenue