I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of Han Ba Tang‘s food all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Make sure you check them out if you’re into Korean fusion food and cocktails. Well, the owner, Chae, has ventured into Japanese food focusing on authentic oriental noodles with western sauces using modern presentation and featuring many different types of Sake. Chef Kevin Shin traveled to Kaga (the original town of udon) to train under the udon masters. The day before MeNami‘s grand opening, some foodies were invited to get a sneak peak at the menu.
The restaurant is located just down the road from Han Ba Tang at the corner of Yonge Street and Holmes Avenue. It’s hard to miss the huge oriental black doors with ‘MeNami’ lit up with light bulbs. Inside, the dim lighting sets the mood for an intimate dinner.
The menu is written out on a black board in the same style as Han Ba Tang. Wooden fixtures and accents are everywhere with beautiful Edison light bulbs dangling from magnificent, tangling tree roots.
A cocktail bar sits at the front and connects to the semi-open kitchen. The space is a tad smaller than its sister restaurant but the overall atmosphere is brighter.
We started off with Mio Sparking Sake [$26/bottle]. It was sweet, smooth, bubbly, and I could barely taste the alcohol – my kind of drink! The first dish was a gorgeous Smoked Salmon with Parsnip Sauce [$10]. Thick slices of torched salmon sat on a bed of pureed parsnip with halved grape tomatoes plopped throughout. This dish was presented artistically and tasted light with the salmon filling my mouth. The Roasted Yam Salad [$8] came in a deep bowl with kasha, spring mix, grape tomatoes, pickled onion, and deep fried onion for texture. The crisp and fresh greens complimented the soft interior of the yam.
Other appetizers that came to our table included Beef Tataki [$12], Corn Kaki-age [$5], Albacore Tuna Tataki [$12], and Deep Fried Ika [$7]. The thin slices of seasoned beef, crunchy bits of fresh corn, the tender bites of albacore tuna on a bed of rustic seaweed salad, and the lightly fried octopus were all presented and executed with precision and passion. I tried to savour every bite of food but the dishes came out so quickly, I had to devour twice as fast.
Next were the udon noodles. The Udon Salad with Chicken Breast [$11] came in a shallow bowl accompanied by cucumbers, green bell peppers, onion, tomatoes, spring mix, and sesame. The dressing was a light tan-colour but unusually thicker in consistency. The Tsuke Udon [$8] is similar to soba noodles. They were presented on a bamboo-lined dish topped with shredded nori. On the side, we had a dipping bowl with grated ginger, daikon, onion, and ground sesame. The texture of the noodles were bouncier and chewier than the store-bought noodles. Taste-wise, I couldn’t really tell the difference. The dipping broth was delicious and salty, it seasoned the noodles just enough in every bite.
The Kitsune Udon [$9] came in a deep bowl full of hot, delicious broth. The noodles were topped with deep fried tofu and the iconic Japanese pink fish cake. The broth was simple and not overly complex. Chef Kevin explained that his concept was to keep things simple and to let the ingredients do the talking. I totally understand because Japanese cuisine is very dainty, simple, and refined. Next came the Spicy Pork Udon [$11]. The noodles and broth were topped with spicy minced pork. The Canadian-Chinese-eater in me wanted to see more meat but this brings us back to Chef Kevin’s vision – simplicity.
The Mentaiko Cream Sauce Udon [$12] was the dish I was most excited about. If you’ve ever had the creamy rice cakes at Han Ba Tang, then you know why. If you haven’t, I highly recommend you check it out. Chae just has a gifted skill to combine Asian starches with creamy sauces. This creamy udon was exactly what I was waiting for. The sauce was not overly heavy – light enough to stick onto the noodles. The cream gave it a luxurious texture with a satisfying taste that lingered on my tonue and down my throat. It was topped with a heaping spoonful of Mentaiko (salmon roe), so make sure you mix it well.
The last udon dish was interesting. At first glance, it looked like slugs. At a second glance, it looked like squid ink noodles. At a third glance, it looked black sesame was rolled into the noodles… I was wrong. The noodles were tossed in a black sesame sauce and topped with beef, green onions, and shichimi [$15]. The sauce was surprisingly smooth with a mild sesame flavour.
Overall, I was impressed from beginning to end. The shareable appetizers were colourful and appealing. They were presented creatively with a blend of savoury, fresh, and tame flavours. The noodle dishes varied from salad-style to soupy-goodness to creamy masterpiece. They kept traditional mehods and added modern splashes of creativity. The atmosphere was energetic and homey.
Owner, Chae, is like a Korean mom we all need. She cares about the people around her and treats you like family. You’ll always find a smile on her face wherever she is. I’m loving the vision she has for her restaurants and I hope you do too!
This was a complimentary meal from MeNami, opinions expressed are my own.