My Japanese friend has been meaning to come here; and an opportunity to write a blog post with his authentic insights was something I found too appealing to miss out on, so I tagged along. We came in with higher expectations knowing that this was from the same group of people that brought Vancouver the battle tested and customer approved “Suika” and “Kingyo”. So essentially we weren’t worried.
The decor appeared to be mimicked after a Japanese night market. A recreation similar to the photos on the back of their menu. Most telling and most eye catching, was the wall of back lit masks. Three rows with fan favourites like Pikachu, Hello Kitty, Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Doramon, and what looked like Power Ranger knock offs; this amongst other characters I didn’t know of. I was informed that this is how vendors display and sell such masks at a real Japanese night markets.
By the door were cloth banners pinned up and framed. As an outsider unable to read kanji they looked impressive. Though the illusion was broken when I was told they simply advertised food. One read “Yakisoba”, another “Oden”.
A traditional Japanese gate was the backdrop for the bar. From its frame hung a thick braided rope with white paper drifting down. Below it a well stocked closet of Japanese beverages. From soju and sake to that carbonated pop with a ball in its bottle. And along with available seating, the bar was equipped with a refrigerated cooler. This held pre-made and pre-prepped platters for patrons to come in and take to go.
The lighting was a cluster of traditional Japanese lanterns that hung from bamboo stems, attached to the ceiling. Theit different lengths created a good contrast.
The servers were young petite Japanese men and women. They spoke their language with several of the guests who were able to reciprocate. The place looked to be a popular spot for Japanese youths, though a large variety of ethnicities came, sat, and ate happily as well. All dressed in black tees and black aprons the servers wore their uniform comfortably. Their shirts were branded with their restaurant’s name and logo on front. And most curiously, the Facebook “f” and the twitter “t” on the back. Both at the nape of the neck of their shirts. Its significance was lost as there was no way to click the “link” to see if either of the URLs worked. Each server help any table that needed it. They all brought plates from the pass and refilled water from lengthy communal bottles. Attentive and friendly, they even took the time to explain the components of each dish.
The menu was two separate sheets. February specials were on a photo copied coloured page. A front and back showing of drinks, sushi, carbs, tapas, etc. The listing included names in Japanese kanji, descriptions in English and inked stamps of hippos. As far as I knew the hippos held no significance.
The second menu was their every day colourful fold out. By its look you could tell lots of work was put into its design. Visually eye catching, it saw selections in individual boxes, together signs on a wall. A few boxes had comments in their corner. Insightful words like: “very popular”, “wanna be heathy?”, “home made”. “it’s usually”, “be healthy blood”, and “protect from sunshine”. Present
to help guide your choices, something really needed as there was just so much to go through and many more I wanted to try. “spicy to become habit” was definitely my favourite of the non sensical slogans.
The menus was shorter then most seen at other Japanese restaurants. So they were definitely choosy over what they offered. And what was left on paper was an exciting collection of exotic proteins and different seasonings in usual applications. Stingrays, horse, and octopus. Sea urchin, jelly fish, and anchovies.
“Rajio’s white sangria. Listed on their February specials page. Made with lychee, pineapple, orange, and white wine. Good, but too light to be paired with the food I had. It’s juice was hidden amongst all the flavours going through my mouth. Better in summer paired with hot sun, the perfect refreshing beverage then.
After a glass of the above, I switched to pints of Sapporo on tap, like my guest. A better pairing for the spicy and salty finger foods and one bites that made up our meal.
We were presented with a caddy of seasonings for our table. A sweeter soy sauce, a citrusy sauce, a tartar, and salted pepper. We picked from them as needed.
Complimentary starter of raw cabbage with pickled daikon. Hard and salty and not much more. I suggest you order beer with this because you may get pretty thirsty if you consume enough. Definitely an acquired taste. Not for me.
“Y’s mommy’s assorted oden”. Advertised as a daily selection of assorted ingredients. Six unlisted contents in one hot pot, meant as a surprise. Despite this being referred to as “hot pot”, by my Japanese guest, this isn’t the traditional type of “hot pot” or what you imagine “hot pot to be. So don’t get fooled. The dish came to the table in a bowl, not a pot. It isn’t cooked or kept heated at your table. It was soup. But my guest reassured me that it was actually cooked in a hot pot. Today ours came with generous portions of seafood and vegetable in a delicious broth. A broth that had to have taken hours to brew up this rich and flavourful. A large triangular fish cake, sausage, whole soft boiled egg, daikon, and mochi wrapped like a bag in tofu. And what appeared to be a mess on the rim of the bowl, was a smear of hot mustard on the side. Something that we didn’t use or need as everything was already so tasty. My guest found the oden amazing, taking it as far to say it can compete against his mom’s, and is the best he has had outside of home. It was a fishy and tasty mix. Different kind of textures, with a jumble of flavours that all blended together. Not one thing seemed out of place or felt like it didn’t belong. I was very amused by the large spoon the dish came with, this we used to ladle out individual portions. It is the largest I have seen. (I nonsensically enjoy things larger or smaller then their norm)
“Aburi yellowtail sushi”. Seared and pressed yellowtail sushi topped with fish roe and a mustard soy dressing. Flavourful as is, there was no need for soya sauce. Though the ginger included did help to perk up the flavour. I liked it, but not as much as aburi salmon. I found the fish not flavourful enough to hold its own.
“Tako wasabi (raw)”. Chopped octopus and pickles marinated in wasabi flavoured sauce. This raw
octopus wasabi ceviche is eaten wrapped up in a sheet of seaweed. The first bite stung with eye watering spicy wasabi. Though was not as hot with my next bite, as I expected it the second time around. The octopus and pickles were cold and fresh. Though I couldn’t make out their flavours individually, hidden behind the prominence of the wasabi. The toasted seaweed made the perfect base to balance out all the pickling and spice.
“Sea urchin and ikara carbonara udon”. Didn’t taste much of the urchin, but definitely noticed the fish roe as a pop of liquid burst with each bite. The sauce was rich and creamy with a bacon-like salty meatiness to it. Each mouthful was a sloppy gloopy mess, as droplets fell from criss crossed chopsticks. A taste so good I wish we didn’t have to share.
“Kushi katsu” is what they are known for. Battered and deep fried meat, vegetable, or fish on a stick. Served on a grill over a metal dish. The regular menu listed them in groupings, available to order one by one, at individual prices. This dish took the longest to come out. We started with the “Today’s recommended deep fried skewer set” on the feature menu. With the ability to choose from several options we got (left to right) sausage, shiitake mushroom, asparagus, oyster, tuna, chicken, and pork. Everything but the shrimp. My Japanese guest commented that this is very “Osaka-like”, as that area of Japan is known for their fried foods. This wasn’t your regular American style deep frying or your Japanese style tempura. These bites were battered with a breadier crumb that was lightly seasoned. Fairly muted there was a place for the sweetened soya sauce, and lots of it over each skewer. The fried fish was best had with the tartar sauce.
Round two of “Kushi Katsu”, had us picking only what we wanted. More interesting and rarer ingredients like rice cake and lotus root. Like the others both came at the end and needed heavy soy sauce. These two were the best hands down. The lotus root was chewy and slightly tough with fibrous bites. And by contrast the rice cake was sticky and chewy with gooey bites. Both were what really filled us up at the end.
Still hungry, we went for round two which is common for tapas.
“Anchovy edamame”. Your regular edamame beans marinated in a garlic sesame oil with anchovy. We appreciated their attempt at doing something different with this popular Japanese appetizer. Every other place just has them steamed with rock salt. Here their version was a large amount of beans piled high, covered with visible seasonings. A heated warm and sticky to the touch garlicky assembly. The seasonings were better than the beans themselves, I enjoyed just sucking at the pea pods. Though as hard as I tried I could not make out any of the supposed fish present.
“Aburi eihire”. Lightly seared stingray’s fin served with their own original chili-mayo sauce. Never having anything like it, describing it is hard. I can best compare its taste and texture to dried squid. The kind you get from Asian grocery stores, flattened out and wrapped in plastic. The stingy ray was salty with a hint of sweetness that transitions to a tangy after taste. The pieces came warm, which gave them chewy texture, that is easy to bend. The cooler it got the rougher things became, and the bending eventually led to breaking. As good as these were and as interesting as I found having them here was, this wouldn’t be something I order at a restaurant again. I prefer it as a snack, maybe something to keep my hands busy as I eat and watch television.
“Mackerel nang-bang zuke”. Marinated deep fried mackerel in a homemade soy vinegrette broth with pickled vegetables. This didn’t seem like a tapas, something share-friendly. We expected a whole deep fried miniature fish, not a segment of one. A small portion worth its $3.80 price. This fried piece was soggy in its broth. I have learned from “The Food Network” that you don’t pour oil or liquid over fried food before serving it, yet here this dish was. A lumpy mash of breading over soft fish parts. The pickled onions and red and yellow peppers were really the highlight. Not only did they offer the perfect crunch in texture but have the dish it’s colour and individual flavour profile. The perfect match up with the sauce, that saw the fish as more of the vessel for it all.
We contemplated ordering the horse meat sashimi ($13.99) or horse meat nigri ($3.50). Though with all the mention of unwanted horse meat in beef in media, and the scare of diseases in uncooked meats always around the corner; we were apprehensive about trying this delicacy for ourselves. The thought of it even made my mouth dry up. I would be more willing if I knew where the meat came from. It was not until I got home did another Japanese friend comment that the horse meat was actually good and worth going back to try. I know I will return, but the thought of trying this still repels me. I think “my little pony on rice”, to quote my guest for the night.
Only after dinner did I clue in to significance of their name and logo. “Rajio”, Japanese for Radio. Their logo: dials for FM and AM. With their station being their address.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
With its reputation and that of its sister chains we were not worried about trying “Rajio”. And after it all, certainly not disappointed. With help from my Japanese dining companion, the conclusion is that their Osaka style cuisine is certainly authentic. They offer well done classics and inventive twists on those offered everywhere else. And with featured monthly menus it is certain to have you coming back for the popular and again to try something new. Located on a block with very few restaurants and more retail stores closed after 6pm, parking is easily found right out front by the meters. Most appealing is their reasonable prices. I have been to both “Kingyo” and “Suika”. And although the food is good, the prices leave you wanting more for how much you have to spend. So here having all this and drinks under $100 total is a treat. I would choose a further trip to “Rajio” with its kitschy decor and whimsical set up over its older sisters. Don’t deny your cravings.