Tucked away on Luongo Square, it would be easy to miss north. With only twenty seats, plus a few at the bar, the restaurant is undoubtedly small and with the buzz that surrounds it, getting seated might take a while. Whether you choose to brave the wait, eat to the sounds of a perfectly curated mixed bag of music, sit against a backdrop of murals and boat ropes, and eat some darn good food is completely up to you. But, I highly recommend it.
After a beautifully sunny day spent out and about, I’d worked up an appetite. As my family and I discussed dinner options, north bubbled to the top of the list because a) I’d never been there, b) my parents recommended it, and c) after being in a Momofuku craze, I was interested to see what James Mark, former chef at Momofuku Ko and bread baker at Momofuku Milk Bar, had in store. Although I was prepared to have to wait for half an hour (longer than that and it would be time to hit up Ken’s Ramen again), I was pleasantly surprised by only a ten minute wait.
The menu changes every day or two, with slight shifts. There is always a type of ramen available, usually seasonal, along with other noodle dishes. The menu is divided into five categories: Country Ham and Oysters (just what it says), Veg (vegetable plates with varying sizes), Bowls and Plates to Share (nicely sized entrees that can, but don’t have to, be shared), Feast (a large plate for multiple people to share), and Sweet (one or two creative treats). The menu isn’t large, but with the constant change, there is room for Mark and his cooks to have some freedom.
So…The food! After positive reviews of multiple Toronto restaurants and Ken’s Ramen, I might sound overly positive. But, I can’t help but telling the truth; north’s food was incredibly good. Everything I had was carefully done with precision and craft. There was no better way to start the night than with the Tiny Ham Biscuits. A now staple on the menu, these delicious little biscuits filled with ham, have only one other ingredient: mustard. But the mustard has, or so it seems in the online menu archives, been what’s keeping them interesting. Coffee mustard, horseradish mustard, lime leaf mustard, burnt honey mustard, orange dragon mustard, and more have made their way between the biscuit. When I was there tonight, the mustard was red miso and added some nice flavor to balance out the meat. I also tried some Roasted Beech Mushrooms as an appetizer. With a punch of protein from some buttermilk and egg yolk, plus some crunch from walnuts and a hint of thai basil, these meaty mushrooms were not a dish to be missed.
For an entree, I was torn. I am a ramen fan, but I wanted to try something new, something different. I decided to go with north’s take on Dan Dan Noodles, which I’d never had before. And even if I had, I doubt they’d be like this. An incredible amount of cilantro was placed at the top of the bowl blocking the view of pretty much anything else. The noodles themselves, while good, were probably the least memorable component of the dish, surprisingly only a few small noodley circles. Very flavorful goat and squid added the heft to the dish as the main ingredients and a bit of delicious broth at the bottom of the bowl tipped it off. The waitress had warned me that it was very spicy, but, despite the fact that there were fermented chiles in full form, it was somewhat tame. The dish would have been great just as I’ve described it, but there was one more ingredient that wasn’t listed on the menu: rice cakes. Not the large circles you find at a grocery store, but instead small cylinder shaped cakes of rice with a gnochi-like feel. Having tried Momofuku Noodle Bar’s delicious sweet/spicy take on them and then making them at home, I thought this take on the rice cakes was also quite good. The cakes, having souped up the broth and the flavors of cilantro and goat, were crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, just like a good rice cake should be.
My family’s choices were all good too, so I decided to steal some bites. The Roasted Chicken Ramen was good, not great, but did benefit from some neat additions not always common in ramen, including a soy egg and mushrooms. The Roasted Monkfish was tender and delicious, but was nothing compared to the divine mushroom dashi that swam along with kimchi grilled onions and pickled ginger. Last, the Hot Flavor Sesame Noodles were quite outstanding with the best broccoli I’ve ever had. Forget boiled, watery broccoli, the tops of these green monsters were oh-so crisp and the bottoms perfectly chewy. Accompanied with very long, very delicious noodles and garlic, chile, plus some pickled greens, room in my stomach was made for this lip-smacker of a noodle plate.
It’s hard to describe north on a whole. Is it Asian? Is it authentic? Is it all buzz? With various noodle dishes on the menu and multiple Asian ingredients reoccurring, it is certainly partially influenced by the culture. But, despite some similarities to Momofuku, Mark is undeniably doing his own thing. And he’s doing it with passion and creativity. Ask me what new restaurant I’d like to try out next and you might find me hiding away beneath the walls of this little wonder.