Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Benkei - A complimentary pre-opening party


Benkei Ramen (East 5th)

43 East 5th Avenue, Vancouver

Benkei Ramen (East 5th opening soon) on Urbanspoon

** There is a Giveaway in this post, remember to read to the end :)

There are currently 2 locations for Benkei Ramen, one on Robson, and the other on Thurlow, but soon 2 more will join the scene. The one that will open tomorrow (Apr. 15) with be on 5th avenue by Main street. Shortly after, another one will open on West Broadway.

Over the past weekend, Minako (service manager) of Benkei contacted me, and asked if I would like to come to a pre-opening event. Since I enjoyed the food at Benkei on Thurlow (see post here), so I thought why not.
Due to some unforeseen traffic, we arrived 15 minutes late. We were greeted and then ushered into the back kitchen to join others for a tour of the place. Here is what we came face to face with: simmering soups in huge stainless steel pots. We learned that ever since beginning of March, Benkei has been using this location as the central kitchen that create the soup base, and distributed to the different locations. By doing this, they ensure that the quality remain consistent. Although Benkei has several locations, they are currently all corporate controlled, because of this, they want the taste to remain the same at each restaurant.While we were standing there taking it all in, the head chef (one of 2) took out a slick gadget that looked like a kaleidoscope, but in fact it's called a refractometer. This is where R was impressed, because this little gadget measures the solubility of the soup, meaning the 'thickness' of the soup. By measuring their soup, they can keep the 'richness' and 'thickness' relatively constant. We were told that we can order anything on the menu, and they even encouraged us to order all of it. Because they wanted us to try many different types, thus all the pictures you see here shows only half portions. The two soup base R ordered are Shoyu and Miso. I almost never order shoyu soup, because I think it mostly tastes like water + soy sauce. Boy was I wrong, their shoyu soup is a combination of chicken-pork soup combined with their special soy sauce. I have to say, it was one delicious soup, there was the meatiness from the pork, and the sweet flavor from the chicken. There is no doubt in my mind, this will be a favorite for the summer season, as it is light and delicious. The miso soup was equally good, because it's essentially the Akaoni (my favorite) without the spicy element. This soup is very rich and flavorful.
Since I already know I love their Akaoni soup base, I thought I try two different ones. The first one I chose was the Shio soup, which is a pork bone broth (hence the whitish appearance). Although it looked very rich, but in fact it was rather light compare to R's miso base. This is a simple broth with just sea salt. Personally, if I wanted rich soup, I would go for the miso over this one. R had the Shiro when we went to Benkei on previous visit, but I didn't. The Shiro soup base smells like creamy garlic pasta sauce, it's a heavenly smell, but it does not fully translate into the soup. I mean it's rich and buttery, but the garlic flavor is lacking despite the strong smell.When we were touring the kitchen, the head chef also demonstrated his gyoza making skills. We were told that their stuffing is unique and created by the owner himself. We were also given gyoza (pork and pork with shrimp) to try while we were eating. Sadly, I did not like their gyoza, because it had a really strong garlic taste. That being said, if you like garlic, you will love these.At each Benkei location, there is a paper art wall lamp. Each one is different and unique, because they are all hand made by the owner. I never really paid any attention to any of them, but now that I know each one is hand made, I think I will take a closer look the next time I am at one of their locations.This location have something none of the other one have, it's pretty obvious by this picture. They have a nice big flat screen hanging on the wall, which would be a good thing for any sports lover, because it was on TSN the whole time we were there.

We also had the privilege to meet the man behind the restaurant. He was very nice and very ambitious, because his plan is to expand Benkei all across Canada first, and then branch out to the US. By doing so, he will establish Benkei as a Canadian Brand. We took a picture with him, maybe I will share that in my facebook page, so you can see the man behind this successful chain.

As we were leaving, they handed each person a certificate for a complimentary ramen bowl at this location, but since I already had the privilege to attend this pre-opening party, I thought I share this benefit with my readers. I have a total of 2 certificates valid until Dec. 31st, 2010, and here is how it's going to work:

1. It's open to everyone world wide, just make sure you will be able to use it by end of this year. (I will be mailing the certificate to you)

2. The winner of the first certificate will be picked from comments on this post, so don't forget to leave a comment with your name (no Anonymous post please)

3. The winner for the 2nd certificate will be picked from comments left on the "Giveaway" feed on My Secret Eden Facebook page.

Therefore if you leave a comment here and on facebook, you have 2 chances to win both certificates. The certificate is only valid at this location. The giveaway will end on Friday (Apr. 16) at midnight, and the winner will be picked by Good Luck :)


Jason April 14, 2010 at 9:07 PM

WHOA! I'm first!! Thnx Jenny~
and WOW i am seriously impressed with the refractometer! I use that for MY medical stuffs!!

U are indeed becoming quite a foodie these days! ^^

Ben and Suanne April 14, 2010 at 9:59 PM

Good write-up, Jenny. It is amazing to see the big pots and knowing how they make the ramen. What about the noodles? Did they make it in house too?

Kevin April 14, 2010 at 10:11 PM

I've used a refractometer before! How crazy is that.

Ceci April 14, 2010 at 10:44 PM

I remember going to the location on Thurlow during the Olympics. It was an excellent location and lunch spot in my humble opinion because it allowed for me to dash from CTV to the restaurant and finish in an hour or less. I love their gyoza! :D

Brian April 14, 2010 at 10:51 PM

nice review! it would be nice to go try a new place for ramen.

Jonnek April 15, 2010 at 6:51 AM

I havent tried Benkei. I would love to win the free bowl of ramen. Thanks.

Mike H April 15, 2010 at 1:20 PM

wow! i had no idea they opened one up in 5th! I saw the one on broadway on the way to UBC. Kinda excited since that just adds another place i could go to during lunch :)

they're really expanding fast! hopefully they all taste just as good!

Erica April 15, 2010 at 3:12 PM

I visit your blog often but first time leaving a message to win a certificate :P
I would enjoy free bowl of ramen :)

Ling April 15, 2010 at 6:01 PM

i love getting new posts in my google reader! this blog has introduced my bf and i to many new places to eat!

Jeff April 15, 2010 at 10:21 PM

Love your blog. There's so many Benkei's opening up in town, it's crazy!

Jessica604 April 15, 2010 at 10:42 PM

I, like R am excited about the refractometer too - measuring their total solids is good quality control! Do you remember if they record it as well? (the food geek in me had to ask) There's different refractometers for different ranges - usually common in jam / jelly / juice processing as the sugars refract the light reliably. There's also more "high tech" ones that circulate liquid or steam to keep the temperature of the lens constant so it gives an even more reliable number...ok TMI. I guess this comment was for the food geeks. :p

Jenny April 16, 2010 at 11:54 AM

Ben: Unforunately I forgot to ask, so I have no idea if their noodle is made on premises or not.

Jessica: Actually I am not sure if they kept a record, I don't recall seeing him writing it down. But they chef has been with Benkei for a long time, and he has been the one making the soup base, so I guess he goes by experience?

and Thanks everyone for the feedback :)

R April 16, 2010 at 3:14 PM

Jessica: Heheh, I am so glad to see any food geek around. Same as you, I also wonder if they record the reading and even have batch number for traceability XD.

I also wonder maybe they are measuring the salinity /specific gravity, which works to most of soup, brine or sauce instead of total solid, eh??

Anyways, the soup was great; i am glad they have quality tool to keep the consistency.

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