Since last Friday, St. Paul’s Little Train Car That Could looks mightier than ever thanks to ramen giant Tori.
Chef and owner Jason Dorweiler first opened Tori (neé Tori Ramen) on Selby Avenue in 2016 as a simple but lauded quick-service eatery. In the years that followed, Tori accumulated praise and survived a fire before Dorweiler announced the shop's closure last summer. At the time, Dorweiler signed off with the teaser, “We will come back stronger than ever before.”
It turns out he must have meant repurposing the bright blue, former home of Chicago’s Taste Authority. All this time, O.G. Tori had just been hibernating! Now they're back in a bigger and better space that’s packed to the brim with character. Genius move, honestly.
For those unfamiliar, 603 W. Seventh St. is (and long has been) noteworthy for being partly a train car. Once Tori took over, they got to bringing out the classier side of the former CTA’s charming digs. First they swapped that exterior coat of cerulean blue paint in favor of a more subdued hue. Throughout the interior, they’ve diligently upgraded important accents like stately wallpapers in rich, sexy color palettes, adding a cognac leather lounge area near the bar, and installing a cross-cut wood bar surface that looks directly into the kitchen. Practically, the interior also holds triple the capacity of the OG Tori, and that’s before factoring in city-approved sidewalk/patio seating come summertime.
What was remains, though, is the eccentric feeling of going on a journey through a meal—whether experienced via the train car’s warm, wood-accented dining room, or by peering into Tori's mariner-like kitchen, which ends up distilled into the dishes and glasses set before customers. Both serve Tori well.
It’s not in seating alone that the newest iteration of Tori has expanded, either. Tori’s new menu doesn't just specialize in ramen. Small plates from a new raw bar, like cured monk fish with lemon, black pepper, and cured egg yolk; vegan oysters (?!) served in “shells” made by ceramicist Kevin Caulfield, and duck yakitori called our name.
Still, we couldn’t pass up the new Korean Egg Drop Ramen, which features an elk ribeye in bulgogi marinade and, true to name, a perfectly done egg suspended above the bowl, waiting to… drop… its golden yolk when you (or chef) stab it with a knife. Presentation? 12/10. Flavor? Even farther off the charts.
Don’t know where to start, or how to weigh the benefits of scallop crudo with daikon foam versus a bali bali ramen? The friendliness of Tori's staff is topped only by their openness to questions.
In addition to a full bar menu with stellar cocktails like the Northern Swizzle (a nutty, tropical affair that balances white rum, lime, orange, and house-made cashew/pistachio orgeat, served over pebble ice with a whole mint bush), look for drinks fizzing with yuzu ginger beer, Japanese whiskey, sakes, and a whip-smart bar staff capable of pointing guests in the right direction if you're just plain lost.
Though its legs are still fresh, this new Tori feels lovey and promising, delicious and intimate, with a whole lot to like. Go see what we mean.
603 W. Seventh St., St. Paul
Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 4 p.m.-midnight; Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; 4-11 p.m.