MeNami is a Sanuki udon house in Willowdale that makes fresh Japanese noodles from scratch. It's a venture from Chae Kim, the owner of Han Ba Tang .
On Yonge Street just south of Finch Station, the corner restaurant makes a grand first impression as its name is spelled out in marquee lights illuminating oversized doors salvaged from a church. The interior is fun, eclectic, and I'm told, always evolving.
Kim poached chef Kevin Shin from Kujira where she managed to be impressed with the food in the brief window that the Yorkville restaurant was open.
It was Shin's suggestion to open a udon house, and Kim has fully invested in both the chef and the concept. She flew Shin to Japan to confirm that fresh noodles are in fact superior to frozen noodles and then put him through udon-making school in Kagawa.
Upon Shin's return to Toronto, the two discovered through strenuous trial and error that a consistent climate and soft water were imperative to the process, so MeNami was outfitted with a temperature controlled noodle-making chamber and Shin was given in excess of six months to perfect a recipe that is seemingly simple, but ultimately a combination of four wheat flours and capricious technique.
The resulting menu features oodles of noodles on the front page, both in traditional soup presentations as well as fusion creations. Meanwhile the back pages offer salads, rice dishes and a range of tapas-style dishes.
We start with a couple of cold dishes; smoked salmon ($10) served over a sweet parsnip purĂŠe and topped with pickled cucumbers, as well as the albacore tuna tataki ($12) featuring six thick slices of torched tuna over a mixed seaweed salad drizzled with a house-made soy sauce and green onion-infused oil.
The selection of sake is what beckons to me on the bar menu. There's a range of bottles along with Nama-Nama sake on draught served by the glass ($5.50/3oz.) to satisfy.
The lineup of cocktails includes creations like the Drunken Iced Tea ($8), a take on Thai iced tea featuring genmai spiked with Frangelico and Jack Daniels then crowned with coconut creme.
Of course there's beer too, by the pint ($6.25-$8.95) or pitcher ($18-$2o) best paired with addictive bar snacks like corn kaki-age ($5), two-bite fritters of tempura corn served with honey butter mayo.
Another easy to like dish is the deep fried ika ($7), lightly coated, nori- flecked calamari served with tendashi. The texture of the squid is impressively tender while the light airy batter is great for soaking in all the flavours from the dipping sauce.
The main event is of course the noodle dishes and today I try the classic tempura udon ($11.50) in kakejiru , a broth comprising dashi, soy, and mirin. It's topped with a crispy battered prawn and a few veg, but there's no doubt the real star is the udon. The bouncy wheat noodles are delightfully thick and chewy, mildly flavoured, and far less salty than expected.
I also manage a few bites of the Mentaiko Cream Sauce ($12), fusion dish that veers into Italian territory. The chewy noodles here are thoroughly coated in a rich bacon-infused cream sauce then topped with green onions and generous dollop of fine cod roe that are meant to be stirred through to contribute salty, briney flavours that cut through all the richness.
At lunch hour, MeNami is bustling but I'm told the place really comes alive at night. The kitchen is open until 1 a.m. and happy to cater to late-night diners in the area.
Photos by Jesse Milns