My ramen experience at Torii wasn’t bad and it wasn’t particularly spectacular either. I report my findings with a smidgen of remorse because I went into the restaurant cautiously optimistic, happy that Raleigh has grown large enough to usher in a restaurant solely dedicated to ramen noodles and cautious because the ramen concept was under Kanki’s watch.
Raleigh’s latest noodle shop is located on the top floor of Crabtree Valley Mall and sits above the Japanese and hibachi restaurant Kanki. Like many other noodle bars, Torii is an intimate space, outfitted with only a few tables and minimalistic, ultra-trendy modern decor. The small kitchen sits to the side, manned by a sparse staff. The menu is limited to a choice amongst six bowls of ramen and a trio of appetizers, stir fried noodles and rice dishes and most noodle dishes hover in the $10-$13 range.
The first discouraging sign was my order of hot tea on the chilly night. After requesting the beverage, the server looked beleaguered and anguished. I understood moments later when, instead of a pot of hot tea, she hurriedly rushed to the table with two massive mugs of tea, slightly lukewarm with what seemed to be a powdered green tea, possibly matcha, that was clumsily mixed with water resulting in a gritty, undermixed concoction. It was the poorest excuse for an order of hot tea, and the server seemed to know it as she slinked away. Needless to say, we stuck to the ice water.
An order of gyoza, Japanese pork dumplings, were palatable-- nicely crisp in its thin dumpling skin but with an antiseptic pork filling that screamed desperately for more robust flavor. Two bowls of wonton ramen came minutes later, well-composed by any discerning ramen standard in its initial presentation.
And the flavor? Ramen chefs spend many years toiling to perfect their ramen broth and it often takes hours to coax the flavors out of chicken, pork bones and other ingredients that simmer for hours. Not that it’s an entirely fair comparison, but I’ve had bowls of ramen from Ippudo, momofuku and other ramen shops and, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t discern any of the nuances in the clear, shoyu broth from my bowl of wonton ramen at Torii. The broth and the rest of the bowl certainly was salty enough from the soy sauce and good enough to finish, but I certainly wasn’t flush with any feeling of umami after the first few spoonfuls. Too bad because all the right components were there in the white porcelain bowl--discs of fishcake, slices of roast pork, thin sheets of nori, spears of chopped scallion, a half of a hard-boiled egg and a hearty group of wontons, but the sum didn’t end up adding up to a bowl of ramen that blew my noodle-loving socks off. The pork slices were on the flaccid side, and the pork and shrimp wontons, serviceable but forgettable, could have been of a better quality. The noodles, springy and chewy enough not to get overly soggy while swimming in the ramen broth, lacked any distinctive qualities that maybe a fresh hand-pulled variety could have provided.
Admittedly, I should have sprang for the tonkotsu ramen to get the full blast of the pork flavor, but I thought even the shoyu broth would have showcased the nuances of the chicken and vegetable components much better even in its comparative lightness to a pork broth.
And, so it seems that a spectacular bowl of ramen in Raleigh remains elusive. What is a bright spot though, is that restaurants like Sono are occasionally offering limited bowls of ramen as a specialty. Until I happen upon another noodle shop or one of the limited bowls offered by some of the area’s restaurants, I’ll keep trying to find that special, unforgettable bowl of ramen in the Triangle.
Torii | 4325 Glenwood Avenue Raleigh | 919.782.9708 | menu |