There seemed to be quite a few openings in Evanston’s versatile restaurant scene lately – a fried chicken place, a pizza place (yep, another one), and of course, the anticipated ramen place, Table to Stix Ramen.
An opening of a ramen place seems to always be the subject of hype in the food scene, whether in Hong Kong or in Chicago. Indeed, ramen is one of those borderline comfort /gourmet food that you can consume without feeling guilty as hell (*cough* burger and grilled cheese…), and it’s hard not to love the flawless combination of savory broth and chewy ramen noodles.
Compared to other Asian restaurants in Evanston, Table to Stix offers a more specialized selection of noodles and appetizers that cater towards an audience looking for a more selective dining experience. There are only three types of ramen (Tonkotsu, Veggie Miso and Shoyu), and a small selection of Asian style appetizers.
I visited the restaurant a couple weeks after its opening. It was packed on a Wednesday night, and without reservations, four of my friends and I waited for 15 minutes before getting seated. Between the five of us, we got the Tonkotsu Ramen, Shoyu Ramen, Chicken Karage and Crispy Calamari.
Thoughts? The food wasn’t quite there yet, and needed a little more work.
The Crispy Calamari ($6) was a somewhat pleasing appetizer, but the batter to calamari ratio was almost 1:1, which means the batter overwhelmed the calamari. I love calamari, but this is not the best I’ve had.
My favorite of the night was the Chicken Karage ($5), a small bucket of fried chicken tender pieces with spicy aioli. The batter was light and crispy, the chicken still sizzling and soft. Paired with the aoli sauce, and they were little bites of deliciousness.
Now let’s talk about the ramen. I got the Tonkotsu Ramen ($13), which is ramen in a pork bone broth with soy braised pork belly, and it comes with half an ajitama egg. Traditionally from Kyushu, well made tonkotsu broth is creamy and savory, with a nice tinge of umami to it. The broth of Tonkotsu Ramen from Table to Stix had a hint of porkiness to it, but its taste lacked the complexity and depth of the traditional tonkotsu. It tasted like a diluted and half-hearted version of the traditional one. The ramen itself wasn’t too bad, but as my friend Jasmine put it, it tasted “instant.” I struggled a little detangling the ramen with my chopstick, as if the noodles weren’t completely separated when they came out of the package. The pork belly was cooked in a different way than I expected – instead of being soft and fatty like traditional Japenese pork, these ones were dryer and smokier. They tasted fine on their own, but didn’t go well with the noodles.
There’s also the Shoyu Ramen ($12)- ramen in a Japanese soy sauce broth that is clear and savory, and it came with prawn tempura. I took a sip from the Shoyu Ramen my friend Stephanie got, and it pretty much tasted like a concentrated soy sauce soup. According to Stephanie, the Shoyu Ramen tasted better the last time she had it there. I guess this place needs to work on its consistency too.
We each ended up paying around $18, which isn’t exactly the best deal considering the quality of the food. We all agreed that although this place is a potential crowd-pleaser and is able to satiate occasional ramen cravings, the food itself is subpar to other restaurant options in the area. There is definitely room for improvement in its ramen, which was borderline satisfactory but still needed a lot more work.
On a fairer note, I came in with no expectatons, and as a newly opened restaurant serving a cuisine that is known to be difficult to master, Table to Stix has done a pretty decent job in bringing a somewhat authentic Japanese experience to the tables. This is still its third week of opening, and I hope they will work on improving its food quality.
Table to Stix Ramen
Address: 1007 Davis Street, Evanston
Number: 847 859 6847