HFX Ramen Quest Pt. 2: Studio East vs. Water & Bone
If you are just tuning in now, please check out Part One of the Halifax Ramen Quest, where I introduce the quest and give a brief ramen tutorial. Round Two is featuring a couple of relatively new businesses: Studio East and Water & Bone.
Studio East is a trendy neighbourhood restaurant, zeroed in on global cuisine and local ingredients. Led by Halifamous chef, Ray Bear, and his partner Sarron Pov, you’ll see everything from curry to congee, to burgers and wings.
Water & Bone is a ramen speciality shop with rock ‘n roll flare in the North & Agricola neighbourhood. People have been raving about the duck pancakes and chicken ‘n waffles. But how is the ramen?
Halifax Ramen Quest – Part 2
6021 Cunard St, Halifax, NS
Wednesday just happens to be Tiki Night at Studio East and the ramen quest was planned accordingly. We presented ourselves at the bar, easily persuaded into ordering a potent cocktail built into a whole pineapple. We had to wait for a table, so why not? Our talented and amicable bartender was more than happy to indulge us, and also insisted we try his own concoction – the “Milk Punch”. The restaurant was buzzing and by now so were we, as we took our seats and perused the menu.
There are only two ramens on the menu: the Curry Fish Ramen Bowl ($22) and the Ultimate Pork Ramen Bowl ($18). For this round, we all went with the pork. The bowl was beautifully presented, loaded up with char siu (bbq pork), crispy pork cheek, braised pork belly, shredded cabbage, nori seaweed, beansprouts, cilantro, 2 types of mushrooms, Chinese fried donuts and a marinated egg.
This was a pork explosion! There were different porky textures and porky flavours – fatty, charred, crispy, shredded… Oink Oink! But all of the toppings were fantastic. It was nice to see a marinated egg, as I prefer this style of ramen egg to the slippery onsen eggs we encountered at Truly Tasty.
Studio East uses egg white noodles brought in from Toronto. They had a wonderful bounce and we have no complaints about them.
The only thing that didn’t totally amaze us at Studio East was the broth. This is not a traditional ramen broth per se, but one inspired by Chef Pov’s Cambodian roots. It was fairly neutral, with a bit of acidity and seemed to lack a certain warmth and umami that I associate with ramen. It was fine as a backdrop for the feast of noodles and pork, but not the star of the show by any means.
Water & Bone
5687 Charles St, Halifax
Disclaimer: Water & Bone has contacted me stating they do not want to be part of the Halifax Ramen Quest. They expressed concerns about our scoring methods and qualifications as judges.
Therefore, Water & Bone has been forfeited from the quest. However, they did say I was “welcome to judge a dining experience” at their restaurant at any time. So that is what I will do here… Judge a dining experience…. Because that’s what I do.
We entered to 80’s hair metal and hissing pressure cookers, but the restaurant was pretty empty this late on a weeknight, and this was exaggerated by the sparseness of the decor. We ordered a few snacky things – tasty duck pancakes and a fine rendition of agedashi tofu.
ReTales and I split the Ramen Special ($18): a chicken/pork broth with pork ribs, pulled pork and smoked bacon. It was an attractive, meaty bowl and we excitedly dug in. The marinated egg was fantastic, and the meats were well prepared. I noticed that the broth was not exactly piping hot.
The house-made whole wheat noodles were quite different! They were not bouncy or springy, but kind of starchy with a bit of chew. They excelled at capturing the broth, but they also had a full flavour of their own. ReTales and I agreed that the noodles were the highlight of our meal.
The weakest part of this dish was the broth. It was way too salty! I’ve been known to drink a really good broth, but this broth I had to leave behind.
Denton and Helen split the Tonkotsu Ramen ($15.75) which had a broth base of chicken as well as the usual pork. It came with pork belly chasu, roasted garlic paste, marinated egg, leeks, enoki mushrooms and green onion.
I think it’s safe to say that Denton and Helen did not care for this dish. They were particularly bemused by the big glob of garlic paste that hadn’t quite disintegrated into the broth. They found it off-putting and would bring it up often, poking at it with their chopsticks and daring us to try it.
Helen and Denton also didn’t care for the broth (which they compared to cream of mushroom soup) and they seemed indifferent to the noodles. “I liked how they were slightly chewy. They absorbed the broth well,” wrote Denton, “Alas, it also contributed to the soft texture of the dish”. The “soft texture” he was referring to was a combination of silky broth, fatty pork and what LuShark described as “slimy noodles”. The pork belly was pure fat. It was even too fatty for Helen and I, who like fatty pork.
Denton, ever the optimist, summed up his feelings thusly: “With a different broth, and different meat, and different veggies, there might be potential for a good bowl of ramen – but what would be left?”
The noodles, Denton. The noodles.
Winner –> Studio East!!
Drinks, service, atmosphere, food – Studio East scored a slam dunk in customer experience. The ramen may not have been the most traditional, but it was a taste adventure that left us talking about it for days! It even made my Top Meals of 2017! It’s unfortunate that Water & Bone didn’t feel comfortable with the quest, but I think they are still working on perfecting their craft. I hope to try them again down the road.