Bus: STM 124, 161
Visit: November 13, 2013
In the burger world, 2013 will be known as a year where a few crazes took us out of the box. There were places that featured a cronut burger and some that featured other types of interesting ideas. One of those interesting ideas was the ramen burger. In New York City, a Japanese chef innovated that concept and soon thereafter, the idea spread to other places around the world. In Montréal, you can find the ramen burger at Tkrestobar.
Over the course of my last 219 burgers, I’ll admit that I’ve tried a few that would be considered out there. But, if you really think about it, there aren’t many of those that would really make you think the idea was really something. As a matter of fact, Tkrestobar’s version of a ramen burger would mark only the second time that I’ve had anything else replace the bun. With that being said, I was ready to see what the fuss was all about.
Tkrestobar is located in a very interesting part of town. While you have a metro station right next to it, you don’t necessarily think of this area as one to find the greatest food in the city. So, right there, your competition isn’t that great and there’s room to capitalize. Then again, the concept and ideas behind TK are unique enough to warrant some curious customers like me to enter the restaurant.
I arrived to the location in the middle of the afternoon and surveyed the area. Inside, since it was still pretty early, there wasn’t much activity. So, being a tentative person, I stood outside for a few minutes wondering if the place was actually opened or not. I saw another table with customers, so I took that as my cue to enter. Once inside, it was the chef who allowed me to pick my table for the visit.
The decor of the restaurant can only be described using one word, ‘wood.’ From the tables to the walls, you see wood practically everywhere. It’s really quite the sight to see. While other places might misuse the concept of wood panels, it’s actually quite fitting here. Each table is also adorned with a menu clipped to a piece of wood.
Like I usually do, I conduct some online research before making all my visits. What I found out was this restaurant used to be a Filipino restaurant before being turned over to other members of the family to change the concept. At the old place, local residents would come in and get their lotteries. Lotteries, as I would know, are somewhat big in the various Asian communities. Well, even with change, some things remain the same. There is a lottery machine across the bar and there were many people who came in to take care of that kind of business.
Since it was still a little early, there wasn’t much pressure on the service. The whole place was being efficiently handled by one cook and a single server. Both of those individuals were extremely polite and I didn’t really feel out of place. All my questions were answered and I felt pretty good as to what I was about to experience.
When you come into the restaurant, you have two separate menus to order from. There’s the one that’s located on the table and there are chalkboards on the walls. Either way, there are a lot of very interesting ideas that can’t be ignored including 3 burgers, plenty of crispy chicken dishes, and even a poutine. There were so many appealing ideas that I couldn’t cover it all in one sitting.
Crispy Chicken Taco ($6)
The set of 2 tacos contains a various amount of veggies, avocado, green papaya, tomatoes, and crispy chicken. Over the last few years, outside a nameless fast food place, I haven’t had too many versions of tacos. The fact that these tacos had crispy chicken was enough to make me curious.
The soft shell taco was extremely easy to eat. You would think that everything would fall out, but it didn’t. What was the most impressive was the fact that the chicken was crispy as advertised. The veggies were akin to something you’d get with Peking Duck and they blended well in the taco format.
At this point, the server brought this little dish of sauce and made sure to tell me that it was extremely spicy. I wasn’t about to touch it since I was happy with the way the tacos tasted, but I just had to. Yes, it was spicy, but not to the point where you’d have to open a fire hydrant to extinguish the heat.
Chino Wings ($6)
These are chicken wings made with chili, lime, garlic, and coriander.
Much like the tacos, I haven’t had very many chicken wings in a restaurant setting. What attracted me to these wings were the amount of online praise I’ve heard about them. They come in a set of six, split even between drumsticks and wings.
Since I was still buzzing from the spicy sauce, the wings set off to carry that heat a little more. To me, there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. The amount of meat on each wing was just right and the fact that they came drenched was an added attraction. I was pretty happy with the wings.
Ramen Burger ($14)
This burger contains various veggies and arugula. The patty is soaked in a sweet soy-based sauce. What you can’t miss here is the fact that the normal burger bun is switched for ramen noodle patties.
The burger was delivered to the table by the cook, who also made sure to point out that the fries came with a chipotle mayo sauce. I wasn’t able to finish all the fries, as I had a lot to eat, but I have to say that the sauce made it a whole lot easier to consume any fries at all. The matchstick fries weren’t that bad either. I just wish I had more room for it all.
Before I get to the actual burger, I’d be remised if I didn’t mention anything about ramen noodles in their traditional form. During my childhood, we would always have packages of ramen noodles in the house. We would eat them normally, but at a certain point, that wouldn’t suffice anymore. We would cook the Sapporo Ichiban brand of ramen with a whole bunch of soya sauce and get rid of the broth. That would create an entirely different dish. That was good until I had an unfortunate reaction after a dentist appointment and I got to taste that twice. Either way, I haven’t really had ramen since. But, this burger was the perfect opportunity to reintroduce myself to what I was missing.
The ordering process for the burger was also noteworthy. Rarely, in this city, do I ever get asked how I wanted my burger done. I was thrilled when I was asked how I wanted the ramen burger. If they managed to nail the temperature on the burger, that would more than win half the battle. As hoped for, the meat patty came to the table as requested and you could tell by the amount of grease coming down.
The veggies are also an interesting factor in the burger. These are the kinds of veggies that would accompany things like Peking duck or other Asian dishes. I would have never thought that they would work in a burger, but they did. They bring an added component and that gives you something else to work with.
Probably the one item that everyone is curious about is the ramen component. The edges of the ramen were nice and crispy. That was, by far, my favorite part of the ramen. Once you made your way to the center, in combination with all that grease, the ramen got a little more soggy and became more like the noodles they’re supposed to be. While that made it a little tougher, it wasn’t a deal breaker.
What was interesting about the ramen bun was when it started falling apart. As I was eating, I was noticing some pieces of ramen falling off, but nothing would hit the plate. The patties are formed in such a way that any piece of ramen falling away would still be attached to everything else. That was one of the strong points I took away from the burger.
If I had to judge things compared to another burger, there will obviously be a big difference. Based on taste alone, I don’t think the ramen burger would be able to compete against a premiere contender. The Asian components in the burger don’t do enough to really set the taste of the meat apart from a traditional burger. The component that people will come to try is the unique ramen bun. That sets the burger apart. While that is different, it is something that makes it different, and sometimes, that’s all it takes to make it good to some people. For me, I was really glad to try something that I would not normally ever get to eat.
Tkrestobar might be located in an unusual location for a prominent restaurant, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying the unique dishes that come out of the kitchen. The different ways that they prepare their chicken will be something that I’ll remember for a while. Outside the ramen burger, the other dishes are more than worthy to try.