It’s been a good 3 years, but I suppose Watami Sushi and Sake Bar has absolved any guilt I’ve held over it during that time, if only serendipitously. Because if I hadn’t respectfully accepted a dinner invitation to the place I would have never discovered its weekly ramen special. That’s right, Watami sushi has heralded itself into the charmed circle of ramen. Seriously. I may have no truck with bougie size portions and fleecing the rising middle class diner with the ideal that sushi somehow equals sophistication and cosmopolitanism (thanks, 80’s Japan), but if any place anywhere brings one of today’s most charged dishes of Japanese cuisine to the backwoods of Kitchener-Waterloo, I can’t help but ethnographically eat it. Thus, with a couple days wait and a quick phone call to the only other digestible dude around with decent ramen perspective, I called Joey and we were off. Coincidentally, hung over and ready to dive in to what we hoped was a good bowl of ramen noodles.
It’s a small choosing, but with a myriad of combo options you can choose from two styles of ramen bowls and a bunch of other stuff on the side. I won’t divulge the possibilities, because as far as Joey and I were concerned, a big 11 dollar bowl of ramen was meal enough, and we were both pretty hungry, if that means anything. And luckily, our own choice of bowl wasn’t denied us, it unfortunately being the only one we could choose from out of the two that day. Ours were bowls of Shoyu Ramen: simple pork broth enriched with soy. Noodle reclamation supported a big bowl of sliced pork, sweet preserved egg, sprouts, chewy seaweed, nori, and canned corned. We didn’t waste any time. Joey’s become a star student of anything gourmand. I thought the broth was salty and a little too slick, but Joey said I must have been kidding, sparing no feelings- ‘It’s super oily.’ Relieved, I agreed. Its potency in taste and texture was almost overwhelming, all because of a strong boil of plain old pork. None of the smokey, cured qualities that you find in other ramen broths, both in taste and smell. That kind of liquid bacon soup was something we missed here. What we didn’t appreciate though was how the broth managed to flavor the noodles; still, we couldn’t forgive such an overwhelming richness. The noodles too lacked the alkaline notes that finished on the tongue. Personally, we always enjoy that strange little bit of chemical, but for the unaccustomed diner, we could see how this wouldn’t be a problem.
Fatty slices of pork would have been welcomed in a less oily broth, but it was another imbalance we weren’t too fond off, especially since there was no special spin on the meat. No flavor, no braising, just a plain topping. The canned corn did a good job of balancing out any saltiness, but I felt the kernels’ soft buttery character should have been reserved for a milky dish of miso ramen only- with a big old knob of butter. Otherwise, the dish just seemed riddled with obligatory toppings you hear about in bowls of ramen. Pairings seemed to lack finesse. That said, there was only one other bowl left to try: miso style. Oh well. Beggars can’t be choosers. And Watami seems the only place making an effort to offer what pop culture sells to us as ramen. Will others follow suit? It’s hard to say, especially since it’s taken this long for something so simple and underwhelming.
Watami Sushi & Sake Bar
15 King St N
Sundays 1pm until the ramen runs out