Have you ever been to a place or a restaurant that invokes an incredible food memory every time you think of it afterwards? I can almost taste the beef tongue and the sake right now. I look back at my dining experiences and the one that stands out the most and the only one that I can’t get here in Ottawa is that of a drawn out family style; sake soaked izakaya night.
An izakaya is a Japanese restaurant that works kind of like a cross between a Spanish tapas restaurant - small plates that are meant to be shared family style and a rowdy pub. Izakaya is also know for serving sake and so you will have to forgive me if my memory of the second half of meal is slightly blurred.
Having lived in Vancouver for a time, I got the change to eat at different izakayas around the city. Some are more high end than others but they all host the same good vibe deliciously fresh food and welcoming hosts that you can’t find elsewhere.
When I first walked into and Izakaya I was under the impression that it was my birthday and it was a surprise party of strangers all there for me. Then I looked behind me to see if Madonna was standing behind me. As it turns out that the welcome committee at izakaya is just really intense. You are more or less greeted by a choral of friendly shouting. I have no idea what they were saying but they seemed really happy that I was there to dine. This is unlike any welcome I have ever encountered at any western restaurant.
After being shown to a large wooden communal table I was seated with a group of friends. We were poured copious amounts of sake and I also had a yuzu gin and tonic- amazing. They serve the sake in tiny cups making it near impossible to remember how much you have consumed.
Then comes the food....
You can order the plates as you go or a few at a time and share them at the table. Amongst my favourites were the raw plates and elaborate fresh salads of perfectly cut vegetables and crisp lotus chips. Edamame is a must to start out. After you have stuffed yourself with the raw fish and sushi come the hot plates.
The most memorable one for sure is a rock. Piping hot out of the oven on a wood board... Then comes the paper thin beef tongue that you cook at the table on the rock yourself , searing it slightly on the laser hot rock and dressing it with radish, chili bean paste and lime. Unreal!
There are infinite choices of soups and noodle preparations, charred miso stained black cod, karaage (the best fried chicken you have ever had) , tempura shrimp, chili bean tofu and spicy grilled beef with soy. The list goes on.
Next week I will be re-living some of these classics and putting on an izakaya in hope of rekindling some of these fond food memories and sharing some awesome recipes to try at home. Amongst the recipes we will try you will find homemade pork gyoza, tuna sashimi, ramen, and ebi mayo. If you can make it to desert I will be serving a sake cream brulee to keep with the theme. See you there!
- Resident Chef Anna March