CANA­DIAN TAKE ON TRA­DI­TIONAL JA­PANESE

RESTAU­RANT RE­VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - ALANA HUD­SON Alana Hud­son has cooked at res­tau­rants in­clud­ing Le Bernardin, Vong, and Sasaoka (in Ja­pan).

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.

ALANA HUD­SON, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

A healthy op­tion mix­ing sweet and tart flavours, the enoki salad tit­il­lated the taste­buds.

BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Af­ter find­ing suc­cess with Eat Ra­men, their stall at the down­town farm­ers’ mar­ket, the part­ners de­cided to branch out to restau­rant digs.

ALANA HUD­SON, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

The fried pickle slices were de­li­ciously ad­dic­tive.

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