Izakayas are popping up everywhere. Irasshaimase!
Izakayas — cozy pubs where friends and colleagues gather over a glass of sake and tapas-style eats — have become increasingly popular outside their native Japan. Serving up traditional East Asian fare in generous shareable portions with Western influences throughout, Canada’s own Japanese-style taverns are proof there’s more to Japanese cuisine than the proverbial sushi roll.
While each of its seven locations spanning three cities (Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto) have a sleek look and feel all their own, the common thread is a singular east-meets-west cuisine peppered with seasonal, local fare hearkening back to each locale. Kitsilano’s Hapa serves up casual grub like kobe beef sliders and karaage (deep-fried boneless chicken), while Coal Harbour puts downtown gastronomy like a sous-vide short rib with wasabi sour cream centre-stage. No matter the Hapa, the drink menu has something to suit all tastes.
Edmonton’s Izakaya Tomo offers classic fare from the Land of the Rising Sun — think crispy takoyaki (fried octopus balls topped with dried bonito shavings) and burdock root and carrot kinpira stir-fried in sesame soy sauce — though the menu is tinged with fusion cuisine. Case in point: the house’s filling carbonara udon noodles. And since drinking is an izakaya’s raison d’être, the libations, an enticing mixed bag of sake, sochu and traditional Western cocktails, are equally satisfying.
Big in Japan
Open until 3 am, night owls and late-night revellers flock to this eclectic izakaya on the Main for its traditional-meets-modern Japanese comfort food. On offer: meat sandwiches playfully nicknamed “dog,” tuna tataki served with a tomato, feta and caper salad, and a shareable half roasted chicken with kimchi sauce, curry rice, grilled vegetables and a sunny-side up egg, to be enjoyed over wine, beer or a cold glass of sake. The retro refurbished seating from erstwhile Montreal snack bars and Japanese etchings aloft give it a pleasantly kitsch touch.
With its dim lighting and rustic decor, including an imposing partition of bamboo shoots along a long communal table, Kingyo Izakaya in Vancouver has an authentic feel. Like its plush interior, this Japanese pub beckons with a sophisticated menu — sockeye salmon carpaccio, tantan noodles (in pork-bone and shrimp broth seasoned with sesame, miso and cashew nuts topped with ground pork, chili-marinated Chinese chives and black sesame) and the all-around favourite: stone-grilled beef tongue.