Y has a Japanese background and I studied the Japanese language and culture extensively at Renison University College for my Japanese Language Diploma. Since Y is a great cook (our chores split = he cooks I clean) and frequently makes Japanese cuisine at home, we have very high standards and expectations of what can be considered “good” Japanese food and no, Ye’s Sushi does not qualify. Kinakaku Izakaya opened its doors a month ago and we chanced upon it while driving through Downtown Kitchener.
An izakaya is a type of Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany the drinks. They are casual places for after-work drinking. “Izakaya” entered the English language by 1987.It is a compound word consisting of “i” (to stay) and “sakaya” (sake shop), indicating that izakaya originated from sake shops that allowed customers to sit on the premises to drink.
An izakaya is basically a tapas restaurant, meaning that dishes are meant to be served in small portions to allow for sampling of a larger variety. In Japan, an izakaya is not meant to be one’s main meal, but rather, a bar where drinks are the highlights and the food is simply a compliment. In North America, we often treat izakayas as our main course destination so the price of the meal adds up much faster. One small plate can easily cost $6 – $12. depending on whether there is meat/seafood.
Kinkaku has an undeniably beautiful rustic decor. We were there at about 6pm on a Saturday and were shocked by how empty they were. However, we had actually just beat the crowd by minutes as the restaurant quickly filled up. Such a wonderful sign for this new addition to the DT Kitchener family.
Do not be shocked when Kinkaku’s staff welcome you in typical Japanese manner – by yelling “Irrashaimase” to incoming customers.
I have never been a fan of Guu, a highly popular izakaya which expanded into Toronto from Vancouver. It was too loud (servers yell out orders from the dining room to the kitchen staff), too crammed (the table beside us started asking us about our order), and just way over-priced. The rowdy atmosphere did not fit well with my concept of a good meal so I was skeptical about being able to enjoy eating at Kinkaku. However, I quickly noticed that all the tables were nicely spaced and really appreciated that.
We were seated at one of the booths.
It was very dark in the restaurant and the menu was printed in very dark font. Hence, we were barely able read it and had to comically resort to using flash lights from our phones. My sister joined Y and I for this meal so we were able to order a wider variety.
On the Table for Maple:
- Ankimo ($7.5)
- Tacowasabi ($4.5)
- Maguro Carpaccio ($8)
- Buri Sashimi ($9)
- Karaage ($6)
- Gindara ($11)
- Hokke ($6.5)
- Hotate Butter Yaki ($11)
- Chahan ($8.5)
- Shoyu Ramen ($9.9)
Ankimo – Cold Monkfish liver (Japanese Foie Gras Style)
This first dish was a pleasant start to our meal. It was not as heavy as typical foie gras, but still maintained the desired richness and creaminess.
Tacowasabi – Marinated Octopus with Wasabi
I am pretty adventurous when it comes to food but there are two things that I will not eat – mint anything and wasabi. Mint makes me feel like I am eating toothpaste and wasabi is just…. eeek!! I can already picture Y shaking his head disapprovingly as he reads this ha! Y said that the wasabi for this dish was way too much and overpowering. Although he loves wasabi, he could not finish it.
The menu for this set of dishes (fish) was on a dark green background. The menu items were printed in black and the prices were printed in a different shade of dark green. We could barely make out what was on the menu even with the flash light!
Maguro Carpaccio – Seared tuna with ponzu sauce
Collectively, we felt that this was the best dish of all. The tuna was bright due to the citrus-y ponzu sauce, while the avocado added a mellow richness. I do not usually enjoy tuna as much as I would compared to other types of fish but I absolutely loved it.
Buri Sashimi (Fresh from Japan) – Hamachi Sashimi (6 pieces)
The sashimi was still rather frozen when it was served… yikes – maybe these are really fresh from Japan? For pieces that were not as frozen, we did enjoy the beautiful solid texture of the fish. I did not hesitate to inform our server about the frozen sashimi and felt a little mean about it. However, I think it is such a rookie mistake to serve fish that is still frozen!
Karaage – Deep fried chicken thigh with mayo
This dish felt a little less adventurous as compared to the other ones, but bonus here is that they served it with Japanese mayo!
Japanese mayonnaise is typically made with apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar and a small amount of MSG, which gives it a different flavor from mayonnaise made from distilled vinegar. It is most often sold in soft plastic squeeze bottles. Its texture is thinner than most Western commercial mayonnaise. A variety containing karashi (Japanese mustard) is also common.
Gindara – Grilled black cod with saikyo miso
This tied with the seared tuna as my favourite of the night. The sweet and salty miso glaze with the slightly charred cod resulted in a crisp yet succulent fish. I can eat this everyday.
Hokke – Grilled hokke (mackerel) fish
The hokke did not have flavours as exciting as the cod, but Y said that this classic fish was nicely done and it was everything that he’d expect from a grilled hokke fish.
Hotate Butter Yaki – Pan fried jumbo scallops with butter
The scallops were definitely overcooked here, resulting in a slightly rubbery texture. However, the butter sauce was very tasty and we finished every drop of it by drizzling it on everything we could drizzle it on (ie. fried rice).
Chahan – Fried Rice
As a bad Asian, I do not even like rice but I surprised myself as I enjoyed this fried rice dish. The grains were not mushy and each grain was well coated with sauce. The presentation might need a little bit of work here but it was a big hearty plate that we appreciated.
Weekend special – Japanese noodle in soup with pork, bamboo shoot, beansprout and scallion.
Since young, the smell of bamboo shoots have always been slightly off-putting although I do not mind eating them. Hence, the bamboo shoots smelled way too strong for me. The pork slices were sufficiently fatty and noodles had a great bouncy texture. My sister and Y felt that the soup was a little light on flavour.
As usual, after our meal, I bombarded our server with tons of question about this new restaurant since it only has a facebook page and no website yet. It turns out that she is the co-owner of the place – Monica takes care of the front of house while her husband heads the kitchen. Monica explained that she used to live in St. Catherine and only moved to Kitchener to open this restaurant as she saw the potential in the booming restaurant industry here. The chef had also trained in Toronto and Japan. This duo’s vision is to break the idea that Japanese food is all about AYCE. They aim to revive and promote the complex flavours of authentic Japanese cuisine.
To that, I think they are doing a wonderful job. Although there were a few misses for each of us, majority of the dishes exceeded our expectations. Kinkaku definitely fills a void in the KW Japanese restaurant scene.