Its about four months since my original visit. I said I would be back and with the recent popularity of the place, it ended up being sooner than later. We missed out on horse meat sashimi last time so today marked it on the agenda. We built up the suspense only to learn it was a seasonal item, and it along with the season trotted out of our grasp.
To read my original visit post click here.
Arriving early I took the opportunity to park at a distance for no cost. It required a walk from a block away, instead of paying at one the multiple street meters just outside the restaurant. Despite the full restaurant only one car was parked in front. Did I miss a lot in the back? Walking in you are greeted in unison by the staff, done in a very typical Japanese fashion. A miscommunication of our 7pm reservations resulted in a delay before seating. We were eventually given a large table up front. It came dressed with additional plates and utensils, and had an add on table in order to turn this four top into a six. My only complaint, the cold. The days were chiller the sun settled sooner and the draft tickling my back meant I had to eat in my restraining jacket, and the uncovered tops of my feet would remain shivering. How a couple managed to dine outside on the patio is unknown to me. I guess it beats waiting for a table inside, and if you are accustomed to Vancouver weather it isn’t even an issue. However the heavy street traffic and the sounds of wheels sloshing through muddy puddles must not be ideal.
The room was still as I remembered it, dark with blackened walls. The colour choice did well to highlight the rows of masks. Masks of Japanese cartoon characters meant to be worn by children: Hello Kitty, Megaman, Doraemon, Pikachu, Mickey and Minnie, and the lesser known others. Each was illuminated with light bulbs, making them some of the most creative lamps I have ever seen. Japanese elements were also seen in the paper lanterns lining the awning outside, the tiles hanging over the bar, and print on the curtains leading to the washroom. It was all very culturally festive.
I wondered about the grey scale photos of “DJ Katuya”. A gentleman with his image posterized and duplicated across the walls and doors of the restaurant. The flyer called him a “legend”. We didn’t ask, assumed he was a base ball player because of his ball cap, and that he also disc jockeyed based on his stage name. But after some sleuthing on the menu, we learned we were wrong. He was the head chief, Katuya. He had his own features on the daily menu, definitely making some creative interpretations. I guess he mixed dishes like a DJ mixes songs.
“Rajio’s” popularity has grown since our last visit. The restaurant has now settled and since gained plenty of momentum. A fact seen by their branded napkins, professional matte coloured menus, and daily fresh sheets printed in colour. The menu was pretty descriptive, detailing ingredients and recalling flavours with the use of a thesaurus. It certainly painted a picture when the actual menu was void of any. The editor was quite flowery in their descriptions, adjectives used to lure your into ordering more. Overall they worked, but a few fell short in its biased account. You would get a “kick” out of their “raw Tako wasabi”. The white miso used in the “imaginative twist on an Italian classic” came from an “ancient imperial palace in Kyoto”. The balsamic vinegar in the “black sweet and sour pork rib” was said to add a “complex tangy sweetness to this classic crowd pleaser”. And the spice in their fried chicken was titled “heavenly”. How were we to choose through all these glowing recommendations? Luckily our host was Japanese, specifically from Osaka, where the restaurant takes most of their influences from. He led us on our journey, but made the mistake of assuming the staff were of Japanese descent too. So speaking to them in his native language didn’t last long. Four servers working the room, none dedicated to any table, each willing to help out as needed. As a result we were well taken care of, our glasses were kept full, our dining needs were met, and we felt appreciated as clients.
Like last time, our meal began with a complimentary metal bowl of cabbage dressed in a salty daikon sauce to start. And like last time this was familiar to my Japanese host. He informed us that this is most commonly taken with beer. A less flavourful snack that marries well with the bitterness of beer.
“Hibiscus Pink lemonade”, a sweet juice made with hibiscus flowers and sweet goji berries. Described as being “refreshing in lemon, steeped with “good for you stuff” for the best flavour”. The beverage was premade for the night and stored in a jug for easy serving.
Green Tea. Goes well with salty and greasy foods.
“Y’s Mommy’s assorted oden. So good the first time that we ordered it again tonight. Though it was not as exciting for me the second time around. Our host assured it was just as good this time and still tasted like something his mother would prepare for him. Ingredients long simmered in one pot to bring out their flavour in a rich broth. Assorted vegetables, meat, fish cakes, and a half boiled eggs in a kelp and clam based broth. The menu was more accurate in its description detailing the flavour as being “exquisite” as the ingredients slowly get absorbed to make for a good oden broth, a process taking many hours to achieve. Best enjoyed hot as a starter, thanks to its milder flavour when compared to the other dishes we enjoyed.
“*Y* Ebimayo”, a Japanese classic. Their version, cilantro tempura battered tiger prawns served drizzled with a chilli mayo. Prepared with a side of deep fried prawn crackers for crunch. It was good, but not “revolutionary” like the menu suggested, more average. My guest choose this unashamedly for the mayo and his love of mayo. So much that we ordered a second side serving of mayo just for him. One of the servers was happy to comply.
“Aburi toro avocado battera”. Lightly seared then pressed Canadian albacore tuna toro sushi, made with a thin layer of avocado, shiso herb, and their original black sauce. The sushi was a mess. The creamy avocado and mushy rice needed to be colder. As a result of its warmer temperature, they fell apart with each grab you made for them. However their taste still held up. The shiso accent in the sauce was delicious, it brought together well the fish and rice.
“If you ain’t flying, you might as well be fried!” That is the actual name of their battered, super juicy pork tenderloin tempura with ponzu mayo sauce. This one was on October 8th’s fresh sheet. Like the dish itself, the name was quite a mouthful. The batter was well seasoned, and thoroughly breaded over the pork chop. I am not use to eating pork that isn’t bacon, but my guests assured me it wasn’t as dry as I thought it to be and that it was actually good for what it was.
“Sea urchin and Ikura carbonara udon”. Like the menu said the “unique and creamy essence of sea urchin and Ikura make this ordinary udon special”. Then further persuaded you by asking and adding, “Love sea urchin? Salmon roe? Must try!” When is a creamy pasta too creamy? This was so rich from the heavy cream and sea urchin that we were glad to be sharing. Far too decadent to have a full portion yourself.
“Bang! Bang! Chicken”, juicy tender steamed chicken with a “crunchy” jellyfish dressed in an “appetizing” Bang! Bang! Sesame sauce. This was more of a summer dish, kept chilled for the sake of the jellyfish, and eaten cool. Interestingly, picking through the pile we thought we spotted some fake shark fin in the mix. The dish was light, it felt like it was missing something; a starch, a heavier base, something to have this dish looking and feeling more substantial. Some bread, a cracker, a wrap, rice, a platform for what was essentially a shredded chicken salad. It would have also helped with the crunch needed from a harder texture.
“Kushikatsu”, was the special of the restaurant. Homemade bite sized skewers featuring fresh ingredients. Each breaded with panko, then deep fried to a crisp. The menu mentioned it originating in the neighbourhood taverns of Osaka, and being enjoyed with their original secret dipping sauce and beers. Here you pay per skewer with no minimum order, or enjoy the pre-chosen, “premium skewer set” on the fresh sheet. With the latter you get skewers of bacon and asparagus, stuffed shiitake, prosciutto with broccoli, and tomato with basil. This compared to the everyday options of eggplant, onion, chicken, pork, beef, octopus, scallop, shrimp, etc.
With the trays of skewers lined in a row, came a tall jar of sauce for dipping and a container for storing used skewers. It was thoroughly emphasized that the sauce included a rule, a restriction to have only one dip per stick. A feature illustrated on the menu, a notion mentioned by each staff member, and a reminder repeated on the glass itself, “one dip, one life”. This they called the “friendly Osaka dipping style”. We hypothesized the need for this restriction: reusing the sauce. The only real need for high sanitation. My Japanese guest suggested that each dunk will also add layers of flavour into the sauce, dip after dip, ingredient after ingredient.
As for the skewers themselves I found the pork overcooked and dry as a result. Grey in colour and saw dust in texture. The lack of moisture couldn’t easily be remedied by a mere dunk into a vat of sauce. The sauce itself was too saturated at the tip, with none to coat the last bite, closest to your hand. And because it is just one dip, you get what you get.
The panko breaded rice cake soaked up sauce like a sponge. Out of all the skewers, we deemed this the most enjoyable in taste and texture.
I also enjoyed the lotus root, remembering how good it was the first time around, and wanting more now. However the fibrous nature of the plant threw the others off. I guess the chalk like stringiness of the root is an acquired taste that I grew up with.
The shiitake mushroom ones I liked the least. I don’t like the fungus normally, finding it too large and to chewy to get through. So found that everything about this tasted off, which made eating through it all the harder.
The dessert menu was creatively written on a Japanese style hand held fan. Though we passed on any as none of the options seemed exciting enough. Cake, brulee, and tofu.
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? – Yes.
My original assessment of the restaurant has not changed. The food is still good, I was just not as excited about it the second time around. It was no longer experiencing new flavours, just reliving ones tried previously. I will still come back and still recommend it because of its authenticity. I find them more traditional when compared to similar Japanese tapas places. The decor is just as cute and just as comfortable the second time around; though I now remember why I don’t come more often, the distance. Don’t deny your cravings.