- Crispy fried chicken ramen to soothe a head cold.
Autumn is the perfect time for a restaurant that specializes in soup to come into its own. So I expect that Truly Tasty Ramen & Dumplings is happy to see the leaves piling up on Quinpool Road.
Stephanie and I wander into the restaurant for a late evening dinner and are greeted warmly in the downstairs foyer area of the restaurant, which doubles as part of the dining room. Our server gives us the option of a booth there, or to come up to the main room. We opt for the quiet downstairs.
The decor is sleek and quite minimalist. It's a very relaxed space that also manages to feel breezily refined. The deep red stripe of a long communal booth fills up one half of the room, which is warm with woody tones that are reflected in the artwork and modern light fixtures.
We start with the house-seasoned deep fried tofu ($4): a half-dozen small triangles of marinated, fried tofu presented on a bed of lettuce and diced tomato. The tofu is tender, with crispy edges. The marinade is sweet and slightly earthy. It's a great start to the meal.
We get two types of dumplings: pork with Chinese cabbage ($11) and the House Special ($10), which has pork, egg, shrimp and Chinese chive. We also decide to split one bowl of the crispy fried chicken ramen ($12.95). Extra toppings, like egg, bean sprouts, vegetables and pork are available, but I leave the ramen as is since it quickly adds up to an expensive dish with extras.
The dumplings arrive first, plated in little golden phalanxes. Each one is slightly crisp, but very tender. They are incredibly juicy inside---a bite in half results in a watergun blast onto the table or a dribble onto a lap, so we eventually start cramming them in our mouths whole.
I prefer the green pop of the chives to the pork and cabbage, which read as bland. Stephanie, however, prefers the simple pork flavour. They both prove tastier when shared back and forth; alternating between the two highlights the delicate flavours of each. They are both better still with the hot blast of a housemade chili oil that is provided for dipping, along with some soy sauce and vinegar.
Our ramen arrives when we are just about done with the dumplings, and our server brings us two small bowls to split up the soup.
The bowl looks nice with twists of crispy chicken and bright green slices of green onion perched on top of a nest of noodles in the pale broth. A glance at the ramen being eaten at another table, however, tells me that perhaps I have ordered poorly.
As is, the fried chicken ramen is a very boring dish. The chicken is a little too unwieldy and rubbery to eat easily. It's also a very bland topping on what is an underwhelming broth.
While the noodles here still had a bit of bite to them---tender and slightly springy, not too soggy or mealy---the broth is just a bit too light for my taste and the flavour simply lacks any intensity.
A great ramen broth has balance: it has sweetness, saltiness, earthiness and, very importantly, richness. In the best case scenario, the combination of the noodles, the broth, and the chef's tare---the main salty seasoning for the broth---is a simple math that leads to a complex sum that is deliciously greater than its parts.
Truly Tasty almost has the equation down, but there is a missing variable that makes the ramen fall flat. If they figure out and bring some depth to the dish, they'll have a winning formula. Until then, pass the chili oil.