Koki Aihara in the kitchen at Shiki Menya
One hundred and fifty. For now this is the number of bowls that Shiki Menya Calgary’s excellent new ramen spot will be doling out per day. Located in Bridgeland this noodle joint shares an entrance with another new YYC player Black Pig Bistro — but I’m saving that visit for another day.
The thing about limiting your offering to 150 bowls per day is that you can easily create demand in a city pulsing with folks dying to try the latest and greatest. But Shiki Menya’s mandate isn’t about creating hype. The limit is based on one massive soup kettle that provides enough broth for about a day of ramen consumption. For the time being Shiki Menya will be open during the day from 11 a.m. until the kettle runs dry using Twitter to let customers know when the last bowl has been served. You can expect to wait for 10 to 20 minutes for a seat but it’s worth it.
Arriving at 11:45 a.m. on a Thursday my husband and I are seated and have our order in by 12:05 p.m. With a spot at the bar we are privy to the workings of the methodical kitchen team. The kitchen space is limited but this team is efficient with one man on appetizers and another on ramen.
We start with a couple of bevvies. I have the premium cold ocha ($6) a refreshing blend of genmai-cha (brown rice tea) with matcha (powdered green tea) — it’s a nice mix of toasted and grassy flavours. Alternately diners have their choice of tallboys ($5 PBR Coors Banquet Rolling Rock or Sapporo) Asahi draft ($5) or box pour sake ($8).
To start we can’t resist ordering a small plate of gyoza (4 for $4) and the char siu tacos (2 for $7). Steamed and pan-fried the gyoza is perfect. If you’re familiar with the gyoza at Shikiji you can expect the same goodness here served with a tangy sauce that has a slight kick of heat.
The char siu tacos are exceptional. For those unfamiliar char siu (BBQ pork adapted from Chinese cuisine) is a staple in ramen. Shiki Menya prepares it by rolling Broek Acres pork into a log and braising it at a low temperature — unlike its Chinese counterpart the Japanese version forgoes red food colouring sugar and five-spice seasoning.
But back to the tacos. These are the closest thing I’ve had to authentic Mexican tacos al pastor in Calgary — at a Japanese restaurant no less. Shiki Menya’s pork is tender and features a pop of pineapple to punctuate the flavour. Mimicking the Mexican style Shiki Menya serves their tacos with a pineapple salsa plus doubled-up corn tortillas with a touch of queso between. Muy bueno.
For our mains we try a ramen bowl from each menu category. From the classic bowls my husband gets the tonkotsu classic ($12) featuring negi (green onions) soft tamago (soft-boiled egg) menma (bamboo shoots) char siu and spring greens.
Served with house-made egg noodles (made with a combination of flours and seaweed) the bowl features a simple and clean broth with a mild peppery kick. We love the fresh gorgeously ribboned negi — it adds a perfect balance to the noodles and pork.
I get the goma mazemen from the new school section ($14) a divine dish with a thicker variation of the house-made noodles poached egg char siu spring greens dried chili threads and a sesame peanut tare (tare refers to seasoning). It’s a well-thought-out offering — the noodles are perfectly chewy the fresh greens pair superbly with the thick spicy broth and the chilled poached egg offers a lovely contrast of temperature.
Shiki Menya owner Koki Aihara (who you may recognize from his family’s restaurant Shikiji) has done a great job providing a sleek minimal atmosphere that focuses on quality over quantity. Any place I can eat ramen this good with A Tribe Called Quest playing in the background is tops in my books.