CANADIAN TAKE ON TRADITIONAL JAPANESE
A traditional izakaya is mostly about the sake and a little about the snacks.
Bar Izakaya offers a reimagined Canadian take on the concept. There is indeed a wooden bar with metal black stools, where a couple of men were finishing up as we sat down. But the place, tucked into a small plaza at the corner of James Street North and Colbourne Street, is definitely more restaurant than bar.
The cocktail list is emblematic of the overall east-west fusion vibe. Pimm’s with mint, cucumber and gin. A house Caesar. A whiskey sour made with yuzu ( Japanese citrus fruit). A mule made with a touch of soju (a clear, Korean liquor).
There were also plenty of local beers in cans available, as well as Tawse wines.
I ordered the Tokyo Sunrise, which combines burnt orange Cazadores tequila, jasmine syrup and Dillon’s lime bitters. A darker shade of gold, it came in a stemmed glass half rimmed with salt, opposite a wedge of lime. I had never tried Cazadores but, after enjoying this drink, I am going to have to get some. Its finish reminded me a little of gin; the drink was like a barely sweet margarita.
My companion ordered the Pimm’s, which was refreshing, cool and composed. Floating in a Mason jar glass were hints of a summer salad — mint and cucumber — on ice, covered with the booze mixture. Ginger bitters and strawberry syrup served as a subtle backdrop.
As we sipped away and listened to some indie rock, my companion mentioned that she had difficulty making reservations online. Later, when I spoke with Brandon Jack- son (co-owner with the chef, Matthew Pigeon), he told me they are going to stop using Open Table, the online reservation system, because they only take reservations for the “harvest table,” which can be booked for larger parties. He said that they are a f airly small establishment (five tables and a bar area) and if people phone ahead 20 minutes or so, they will do their best to have a table ready.
Jackson runs the front of the house, and he was our server for the night. He exuded calm competence as he walked us through the menu, letting us know it was mostly tasting plates to share, tapas style. Soon after the drinks, he brought out a plate of edamame and another filled with fried pickles. When I saw them on the menu, I missed the bit about the panko crust and assumed they’d be traditional Japanese pickles, like daikon or umeboshi.
Sliced on the bias, these pickle pieces are really addictive. Tart and house-made, barrel style. The acidity of the pickle was a nice contrast to the crunchy crust and smooth dill aioli dip.
The edamame was what I’d expect but a little heavy on the top salt.
The enoki salad came out in a beautiful vintage-looking bowl with small green flowers decorating the rim that accented the bright red beets and vibrant spinach with beads of mustard seed strewn on top. There were mushrooms interspersed throughout the salad and it had a touch of sweetness, grounded with earthy tamari.
I was told that Bar Izakaya came about after the first venture for the parent company, Eat Industries. After finding success with Eat Ramen, their stall at the downtown f armers’ market, the partners decided to branch out to restaurant digs.
The mains lean a little more to- ward Japanese tradition. Short ribs came out in a black clay bowl with a fresh, crunchy salad of daikon, spinach, cucumber and tomato. Flecked with sesame seeds; a bed of rice lay beneath. The lemon grass listed as an ingredient was too subtle to detect but the sweetness from either mirin or sugar contrasted well with the slightly acidic salad.
Our braised eel was served on a bed of rice. It was tasty, basted in the customary salty-sweet sauce and garnished with a generous amount of sliced scallions.
The ramen came out in a black ceramic bowl, with the elements arranged in groups: the noodles floated together, minced chicken on one side, across from the sliced scallions and a half an egg, standing alone. Droplets of chili oil were dribbled across the surface.
The bowl looked quite promising but didn’t fully deliver. The ingredients were all fine, but the broth could have used more depth. More meat flavour in the stock and a little more salt. The egg was cooked just enough to allow the soft yolk to enrich the broth.
On to our desserts: a peanut chocolate torte and green tea mochi. The decadent torte, a shiny slice of pie with an Oreo crust, was rich and filling.
Three green tea mochi (thin rice cakes) came out on another lovely plate, lined with pink flowers. The mochi were stuffed with green tea ice cream. I thoroughly enjoyed this cold treat. The glutinous cakes and musty green tea flavour combined for a matcha made in heaven.
A healthy option mixing sweet and tart flavours, the enoki salad titillated the tastebuds.
After finding success with Eat Ramen, their stall at the downtown farmers’ market, the partners decided to branch out to restaurant digs.
The fried pickle slices were deliciously addictive.