I had some time before work so decided to indulge on a lunch out. I don’t often dine alone as I find the whole experience awkward, and almost a waste of money to eat out if not in the company of another.
I have been eyeing this place for a while, so found the need for a cheap lunch reason enough to visit. Its been an a long time fixture downtown. Located on a visible corner with its worn red awning and comical cow logo it certainly is eye catching.
It was cold outside, but we were kept toasty inside. Even with me sitting close to the door, and it opening and closing I was warm and even able to remove my coat. Surprisingly, radio pop tunes were playing over head. It didn’t really add to their authenticity considering their attempt at showcasing Japanese cuisine and culture. They greeted you in unison when you entered and sang your farewell when you left. A black and white mural lined the entrance, photos of Japanese life. It depicted women in traditional kimonos with their hair pinned up, a market scene with fresh produce for sale, and a group of men dressed to preform with banners and bandanas.
I was most impressed with their bar set up. A tiled bench facing the street that allowed couples to sit side by side and singles, like me to enjoy my meal in peace. In the small gap between the window and table was paper scene. Cut outs of birds, flowers, and a water’s edge. Back lit, they were very prominent, and their reflections against the shiny counter offered some nice decoration.
The rest or the seating available was in the form of share-style group tables. Rows, one after another ending with a high top version at the far end. This layout was labeled, creating space and unison.
I think they were hiring. A sign in the window printed in only Japanese and Korean meant they were specifically looking from either of those ethnic groups. I only caught on being able to read the word, “server” in brackets.
Upon entry you are asked if your visit is to dine in or take out. Given the former you are assigned a seat of your choosing. As mentioned I helped myself to a stool at the bar, by the door. A server approaches with a laminated menu. The same coloured menu with photos and descriptions for each dish is reproduced as two large boards. One by the register out front for easy take out. And one above the kitchen pass for those who like to look up rather than read down. Although each version of the menu is similar, using the same photos, but presented a little different. Each equally appealing.
As a modest menu of nine similar items, and nothing over $10; it leads me to believe this could be categorized as fast food. Your choice of entree came in beef, short rib, grilled chicken, grilled pork, seared salmon, spicy tofu, assorted vegetable with beef, or grilled vegetable. Each of the above would top a bowl of steamed white rice with some sort of vegetable; be it peppers, lettuce, or green onion. With each choice you had to further decide if you wanted it in their regular or large size, for about a dollar plus difference in cost. Examples of the sizes were by the front desk, along with their limited selection of bottled imported beer.
I was tempted to choose their ninth menu option: a “miso flavoured gyu men”. But considering they were a place specializing in Japanese rice bowls, I decided to go with rice instead of noodles. Reason to come back I guess. Given the speed in which the food was prepared from when I conveyed my wish to the server, I doubt it was made to order. Although the sides and the rice I am sure was prepped ahead of time.
Grilled beef short rib “galbi bowl” combo with miso soup and Japanese pickles. For $1.95 more you can make your rice bowl a combo with your choice of two sides. I choose the soup option over the poached egg. And from the salad and pickles choice, the colourful Japanese pickles over kimchi or their salad of the day.
The miso soup was pretty average. Salty and milky with chunks of tofu, cuts of seaweed, and chopped green onion. The pickles were a beautiful hue. Great to look at, but too salty to eat. Not that my main needed any more salt or flavour. I didn’t touch any more of the pickles after the one taste that I was forced to spit out.
I choose beef short rib, as it is one of my favourite cuts of beef, and I am only able to enjoy it when at either a Japanese or Korean restaurant. The meat was as chewy and as fatty as I expected. Without bones, the larger pieces were easy enough to bite down into smaller portions. They certainly weren’t stingy on the sauce that generous dressed the meat and dripped down to coat the rice below. The chopped cabbage on top of the rice acted as a good secondary texture, giving the bowl some freshness. Overall my combo was over salted but filling. Salty beef, salted miso soup, and briny salty pickles.
I was offered a spoon, that in hind sight I regret not accepting it. Being too proud as an Asian I guess. Rice is hard to consume with chopsticks, and I am no where near as skilled as I think I am. I was presented with a disposable set, but could have helped myself to some in the caddy stationed at each table, that was also staggered at certain lengths of the bar bench. This along with soya sauce, a mixed spice, chili sauce, and sweet Japanese mayo in a squeeze bottle.
When done, you motion for attention and are ask to pay at the register. Past this is their single stalled washroom. A dark room with dark walls and dark furniture. Amongst all this was a beautifully decorated elevated sink. Painted in red patterned in white cherry blossoms.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I usually require more than one dish before I make up my mind on a place. A second taste of a second item to ensure I truly get the range of a restaurant. However given their simple premise and the similarity between bowls I can safely conclude the following. I wouldn’t mind coming back when I want that home cook feel for cheap, done fast. And the noodles would be something I would like to try. Though as a sit down dining experience to celebrate an occasion, or to impress a guest, this wouldn’t be the one I’d recommend. Don’t deny your cravings.