First Look: Japanese Food Returns to Japantown at Dosanko

Perhaps timed with the annual Powell Street Festival, Akiyo Tani (Campagnolo, Tojo’s) and Nathan Lowey (Refuel, Campagnolo, Campagnolo Roma) opened up Dosanko, a yōshoku-style restaurant in the (hardly Japanese nowadays) Japantown area. This space used to be Growndswell Cafe, which I had only been to for pop-up events (a “multi-sensory” film screening of Spirited Away produced by HERE THERE with food by Annabelle Choi timed to coincide with different scenes in the movie, and a Nashville “Hot Chicken Throwdown” featuring Merchants Workshop, Handtaste Ferments, and Local Omnivore. For the record, Merchants got my vote.) Dosanko have kept the existing bar, and refrained from jamming in as many tables as they could. The room feels airy and spacious. The scene outside on the street though is still typical Japantown/DTES, which adds a bit of frisson (or guilt) to your dining experience.

I tried a mere two dishes from the menu but was pleased with the solid cooking and thoughtful sourcing of ingredients. Whether you’re gonna be ok with paying the 10–25% premium over other yoshoku-type restaurants is all on you.

See that tap on the right near the ground? A person wearing one sandal walked by and used it to rinse her hand but neglected to turn it back off. A few minutes later, a skater came by and turned it off.

They’ve had to lock down their sandwich board, cuz…this is reality.

Other restaurants in the same genre that come to mind are:

So you should expect tonkatsu, omurice, curry rice, etc.

Almost an even proportion of appies to mains to desserts on the menu.

The booze. A bit surprised to see Hoyne Brewery still hanging on after all these years, doing the same beers — although I don’t remember them doing a red lager…might have to investigate. But then, could it be any better than Steel & Oak’s Red Pilsner? Glad to see proper 20oz pints.

Features. Quite a bit more seasonal and local than your typical yoshoku place. Tomatoes by Stoney Paradise Farm (supplier to the stars).

Whiskey.

Sake.

The space.

Little touches.

Shichimi togarashi for everybody!

Powell Street Cheeky Session West Coast Social Ale (4.5%, $7). Easy-drinking with a pleasing hoppy aroma of citrus, stone fruit, and melon. As I said above, these are 20oz, filled to the brim!

Mugicha ($2), roasted barley tea.

Tempura ($12 for large) with seasonal vegetables (green beans, runner beans, mushrooms, etc). No prawns on the menu, only vegetables. Batter was crispy, light, and not too greasy. Vegetables inside cooked perfectly. Would’ve liked more of those wispy/crispy lacy bits stuck to the outside, but this was good.

Yes, this is a large serving. My dining partner and I shared this, and he remarked, “I’m glad you ordered the large.” Quality can’t be faulted but the serving size is definitely not what Vancouverites are generally used to when it comes to tempura.

Served with a housemade koji salt. Never seen this before!

No need for tempura dipping sauce when you have a tasty, savoury, umami-laden salt like this. What does koji taste like? I still can’t put my finger on it. I’ll have to try it again. Would be cool to see a matcha salt in the future.

Omu-Rice ($17), Japanese omelette, fried rice, and tomato sauce. My dining companion said the fried rice part was great. Also had runner beans in it. I tried a bit of the egg and it was fluffy like good scrambled eggs. A bit disappointed that this wasn’t one of those omurices you may have seen on Facebook where the chef cuts through it with a knife and it just oooooozes like a gaping wound. Price feels at least $2 too much. But I trust that the chef has crunched the numbers and is charging what it takes to make yoshoku food with better local ingredients.

Okara-Hamburg & Rice ($16), hamburg steak made with pork, beef, and okara (soybean crumb), with “Special Demi sauce”, served on a hot plate. Those seasonal runner beans make another appearance. (Do you know why they call these “runner beans”? Cuz these snap peas look like they’ve bean run over.)

Served with some sticky Japanese short grain rice. I wonder if they’re using Northern Lite BC Rice they sell at Trout Lake Farmers Market sometimes?

The hamburg isn’t quite the size of a hockey puck (closer to urinal puck). But at least it was moist and well-seasoned. The sauce tasted like ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and an indefinable otherness.

Dining on an early Wednesday night, it was not very busy at all. Evidently their cooking has smoothed out since their rocky opening (if going by their Yalp reviews). From what little we tried, the food was good/solid but you are paying a premium for generally smaller servings. I’m open to trying it again, but I’m not quite getting a sense of value when dining here. No one that actually lives in the immediate area can afford this place. But Mackenzie Room has made it work. Will it work for Dosanko? Does being located one block east make a difference?

[ NO ZOMATO LISTING. Cough. ]

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