The newly opened Red Tori restaurant in Edgemont Village took over the space in which Chef Scott Kidd’s Canyon operated for six years.
Before I visited, I needed to give myself a stern talking to. I was irritated and had to remind myself that this new Japanese ramen and Korean fried chicken place is not at fault for Canyon’s closure. It is not responsible for the various factors that conspired to drive an accomplished chef from his signature North Shore operation, a business he once described as his essence, the culmination of his journey through culinary life. That such an incarnation of personal skill and passion could not find a home in Edgemont is a source of no little disappointment to me.
But Red Tori has nothing to do with the fickle nature of Vancouver’s dining audience nor the city’s perennial but inconsistent price sensitivity that makes a painstakingly realized $30 entrée taboo but allows for $120 yoga pants, $7 lattes, and $250,000 sports cars.
I have spent two-thirds of my life in Vancouver. It is where I was born. I have both watched and, in my own little way, participated in its dramatic transformation over the course of my life, and yet sometimes I feel like I do not really know the place. What do we stand for here? What do we support? Are these very questions actually meaningless in a young city that is simply in another transformative phase of its identity discovery? Perhaps your question might be: is a weekly food column really the place for this existential whinging, Chris? Fair point.
I do know that many businesses I have admired over the years have folded, most citing lack of sustainable client traffic as the reason for their demise. The restaurant industry is volatile and that is not news. It is this way everywhere. But unique to Vancouver, I think, is the notion that we collectively cannot seem to allow for old favourites to coexist among new ones. It is not enough that 2019’s hotspots receive our frenzied patronage, we must simultaneously ensure that 2015’s hotspots suffer a slow but resolute bleeding out, an undignified banishment from the cult of trend that is the lifeblood of many thriving businesses here.
It is unfair to burden Red Tori with accountability for these pervasive, insidious tendencies, but I still feel compelled to ask the question: are we better off as diners with a casual, straightforward ramen joint instead of a creative West Coast venue in the option-sparse Edgemont neighbourhood? The jury is still out for me on that one. On the one hand, ramen is a thing of beauty in its own right, steeped in tradition and rich in technique, when executed properly. I have a few favourites across town where I relish in the intense, comforting flavours and textures of excellent ramen. There are surprisingly few places serving ramen on the North Shore but the most notable among them, The Workshop, offers up a vegetarian version that, while delicious and thoughtful, cannot be fairly measured against the bone-broth bases of your favourite downtown tonkotsu ramen eatery. On the other hand, despite making everything from scratch and showing some promise for what may yet come from this very new kitchen, I found Red Tori’s offerings to be adequate but not altogether remarkable.
The name Red Tori is a reference to the style of ramen served here. Rather than the more common tonkotsu ramen, which is based on a deeply concentrated broth made from pork bones, tori paitan ramen is made from chicken, the tori part referencing the bird, and the paitan part referencing the cloudy, thick broth. Additionally, tori is a fitting term to apply to a restaurant that also specializes in fried chicken, which occupies about one third of Red Tori’s menu. Red Tori also serves donburi-style dishes, which is to say, bowls of seasoned rice with a variety of protein toppings and garnishes.
I popped into the new eatery with The Boy on a recent weeknight and the place was doing brisk business. Service was generally speedy and efficient, though my gentle plea for some guidance towards the best of what was on offer made a whoosing sound as it went over our server’s head. Accordingly, we went with fairly classic fare: Original Ramen ($9.95), made with a creamy chicken stock, roast pork, bamboo shoots, black cloud ear mushrooms, scallion, and garlic shrimp oil; Shoyu Ramen ($11.25), with the same lineup as the Original, but with the addition of soy sauce; and plain Crispy Fried Chicken ($14.25), deep fried in a house-made batter. Other fried chicken varieties on the menu include Sweet Chili, Soy Garlic, Grana Padano, Honey Mustard, and Volcano (tossed in a self-described ultra spicy sauce).
The noodles in the ramen retained the requisite al dente elasticity, which is a good sign that everything is being assembled à la minute by the kitchen. The broth on the Original was subtle and velvety, its understatedness nicely lifted by the garlic shrimp oil and scallion. Thin ribbons of black ear fungus provided a good textural counterpart to the noodles and lent a touch of earthy complexity. I preferred the Shoyu ramen overall as I felt the addition of soy added depth of flavour to what was a fairly delicate broth, by ramen standards. Absent in both ramen bowls were soft boiled eggs, a standard garnish to which I am accustomed and must confess, missed in this meal, perhaps only out of convention. I realized after the fact that an egg may be added to one’s ramen, on request, for an additional $1.50.
Also, unlike on many other ramen restaurant menus, there is only a single size available for ramen dishes here; I certainly made short work of mine.
Our half order of Crispy Fried Chicken (a full order costs $22.49) was substantially portioned and piping hot. Juicy morsels of chicken thigh (there wasn’t a dried-out piece in the lot) were deep-fried in a liberally-applied, herb-seasoned batter. The chicken was not accompanied by anything (i.e. sauce or garnish) but there was a faint hint of something curry-ish in flavour in the batter that both The Boy and I detected and agreed added positively to the dish. I am inclined to revisit Red Tori to sample some of the other fried chicken preparations, including the handful of wing options.
Red Tori is licensed and serves in bottles and on tap.
Red Tori, 3135 Edgemont Boulevard. Redtori.ca. 604-987-8805.