USING THEIR NOODLES
Jinya app eases big crowds
Lineups into a restaurant were once ads for monstrous servings of meh food at an enticing price. Enticing prices, I like, but not so much the meh food. And lineups? Call me no-fun. I flee.
And lineups made me a latecomer to Jinya Ramen Bar, even though the crowds outside looked like they knew good food. I could have driven to Kerrisdale or Burnaby where there are now Jinya franchise outlets. But I didn’t.
One bone-chillingly wet and gloomy Vancouver day, an hour into returning from subtropical Mexico City and San Miguel, I was downtown and overcome by a primitive need for a hot bowl of ramen — a now-or-never moment for Jinya.
It was mid-afternoon, not the height of ramen fever. We made our way to the hostess to mark our spot in line and here’s where I did a cartwheel of happiness. Jinya downtown has the Nowait app for restaurants. It estimates waiting time and texts guests when their turn comes up. (On the flip side, a Nowait app for diners gives waiting times for nearby participating restaurants and puts you in line for a table.)
“We had complaints in the first couple of months where waiting times were up to a couple of hours,” explains Jinya publicist Junko Russell.
“The staff were new, and they couldn’t guess how long the wait would be.”
So we ran an errand, and in 20 minutes as predicted, the app text hailed me in. The first slurp and mouthful of ramen was a most definite “ahhh” moment. I had the cha cha cha, asterisked on the menu like this: *For garlic lovers.
That, for me, is a grand seduction. Bring it on. I tasted the pork and fish broth, pork chasu, soft boiled egg, bean sprouts, onion, green onion, garlic, chili powder and mandatory thick noodles (you can choose your noodles with some of the ramen). But hold on, the garlic was subdued. Then the server brought the goods — a jar of raw garlic cloves with a garlic press. Yes!
I crushed three into my noodles, partly for the taste and partly because the woman sitting behind me on my flight home was like Typhoid Mary, in full flu mode, hacking and honking. I needed an immune boost. So much fortification in that bowl. (Prices for ramen are an average $15.)
My husband’s spicy chicken ramen was lighter with chicken broth, chicken chasu (really good), spinach, bean sprouts, green onions and a choice of mild, spicy or hot chili.
That lunch demanded a command performance and we found ourselves back there a few days later at 11:30 a.m. to avoid the crush. The server, cheerful enough, was at our table several times pressuring us to order, anticipating the noon rush. Not great for my husband who decides under great deliberation. (Eye roll.)
He chose spicy umami miso ramen (pork broth, miso, ground pork, bean sprouts, green onion, bok choy, chili oil, thick noodles), and I would have taken it over had he not moved it out of my reach. The broth was as thick as tan tan noodle broth and absolutely delicious with umami.
It wasn’t as spicy as advertised, however.
I thought I’d go off script and try one of the rice bowls, the California poke bowl. (Bowls come in a small or large, $8 to $15.) Not fabulous.
The dish, topped with a ton of herbs and endowed with tuna, salmon and prawn was healthy, but I’ve had better.
Under snacks and small plates, a bao bun with pork chasu was disappointing. The steamed bun was kind of lifeless but the pork, glazed with a sweet sour sauce was good. I really liked the tempura brussels sprouts with truffle oil — delivered screaming hot out of the fryer. It
could have used a dip of some sort. I also liked the mini-taco with pork chasu and kimchee made with deep-fried won ton skin — even better than with an authentic corn taco. It was light and crispy, almost like pork crackling.
The kitchen is, figuratively, on fire. Dishes sped out (all the better to turn tables) and given the volume, they do a good job of it. A word of advice to whomever makes the tea — warm water does not a decent cup of tea make.
The “bar” in the name says you’re welcome to have a quick bite with a craft beer or cocktail. As mentioned, there are two other Metro Vancouver locations and some 29 altogether in North America.
Russell says a chef from the Los Angeles headquarters makes regular visits to check on consistency. The ramen noodles are made in L.A., where Jinya began. The Robson Street location is apparently the busiest in North America, and that’s saying something considering the concentration of ramen spots in the neighbourhood. BEER AND TACOS
Tacofino teams up with local breweries to host once-a-month beer dinners at its 2327 East Hastings location.
Tofino Brewing Company is on board on Feb. 22, followed by Steel and Oak Brewing Co on March 29; Strange Fellows Brewing Co. on April 26; Four Winds on May 31; and five Port Moody Brewers on June 28.
The executive chef is the talented Stefan Hartmann, and tickets are $50. For more information and tickets, go to eventbrite.ca.