Shokunin follows a theme that I’ve noticed in Calgary — modern Asian food, not necessarily cooked by Asians, being done respectfully at a high level, and embraced by the dining public. Specifically: Anju (every iteration), Foreign Concept, Two Penny, and — now that I’ve finally tried it — Shokunin. I was really impressed by the quality and attention to detail with their kushiyaki/yakitori and nigiri sushi. The best nigiri I’ve had in an izakaya. Lots of attention paid to flavour, technique, and sourcing of ingredients. Pricing is fair considering the labour involved. I met up with local blogger Miss Foodie and homeboy Hungryslif for a quick shared meal before flying back to Vancouver. Read on for the blow-by-blow.
Moyenchow told me after our meal at Ramen Gaoh that this is by far the best ramen in the area. I agreed. I’d even go so far as to say that this would be worthy even if it was downtown rather than North Burnaby. Along with Grayelf, we beat the lineup on a Sunday morning during their grand opening weekend and came away impressed. Ramen Gaoh specializes in miso ramen, so if that’s your jam it’s worth a visit — especially if you’re in the area.
Absolutely no relation to Kokoro Ramen (Instagram) on Victoria Drive, Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba opened up in late September 2018 and has been buzzing all over Instagram ever since. It joins an interesting student-heavy area of downtown, located right beside BCIT Downtown Campus and is close to other places like Gyoza Bar, Ramen Gojiro, Peaceful, Baghdad Cafe, Koala Kebabs, Cartems Donuts, Smile Diner, and Cinara.
I went for lunch twice in two days to see what the fuss was all about. Great to finally have solid mazesoba (soupless mixed noodle) in town. Prices are a touch steep but the place is loud and busy, so I think they’ll do fine with the student crowd (who actually seem have a ton of discretionary spending money when it comes to food).
Ugly Dumpling isn’t ugly at all. In fact, they bring out the inner beauty of their ingredients in a clean, classically Japanese way. The dishes look and taste beautiful, with no ego nor fancy and unnecessary flourishes.
Assembly Chef’s Hall is like what Bourdain Market was supposed to be if it ever got off the ground, except instead of overseas hawkers, Toronto’s chefs have set up shop with smaller, fast casual versions of their larger restaurants and other concepts. It’s a food court that doesn’t suck! And it contains the ONLY stand-up sushi bar in Canada. EVERYONE I spoke to said I was foolish for wanting to eat sushi in Toronto when Vancouver already has the best sushi in Canada (and for much cheaper). But my stubborn self always has to experience it first-hand. I’m always willing to test a theory to see the results myself. And the result is that Tachi does some kick-ass sushi that’s easily as good as the mid/high range of sushi in Vancouver, all for a surprisingly reasonable price too.
The ramen boom from the last few years resulted in imho TOO MANY tonkotsu-style ramen places. Great tonkotsu was already achieved with places like Santouka, Jinya, etc. Chicken paitan was already pretty much perfected by Marutama (with an unique personal take by The Ramenman). I’ve also enjoyed the Iekei-style tonkotsu/Tokyo shoyu hybrid ramen at Yah Yah Ya and Yaguchiya. What I felt was missing from the scene was a classic Tokyo-style shoyu ramen, the kind featured in Tampopo:
(^Funny German dub)
I know clear soups aren’t popular right now, but there’s something classic, nostalgic, and minimalistic about it that appeals to me. So recently, Gyoza Paradise (on Robson and Thurlow back in the 90s, which I never heard of or went to) reopened on Broadway near Arbutus as Gyo Para with a focus on gyoza and chintan (clear broth) style ramen. I was intrigued but wanted to wait until they got their feet. I think 6 months is enough, right?
Even after four years, Marutama Ramen (moldy oldy review here) is still considered one of the top ramen places in the city. Definitely Top 5, if not Top 3. Their chicken paitan (cloudy chicken broth) ramen is still unique and well-executed. That slippery aosa seaweed (sea lettuce) has me all [insert sweaty feverish emoji here]. AND their ramen egg is still the most delicious and consistent around.
Their new third location on Main and 13th is called Marutama Gaiden and offers a different take on their chicken paitan ramen. Don’t come here expecting more of the same. Almost everything is different. Here’s my personal take on this place that we tried at the tail end of their two-week soft opening phase.
Aotoya (aka Blue Door) is a slightly dingy, Japanese homestyle hole-in-the-wall on Victoria Drive, located beside longtime institution Supreme Pizza (get a pepperoni, mushroom, and Italian sausage pizza and one of their crack-laden pastas). If you can deal with Aotoya’s sometimes slow service and slow kitchen, you’ll be rewarded with good-to-great Yōshoku-style food that’s got uniqueness and charm. For fans of places like Hi Genki.
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.
Big props to foodbysamson for discovering this place. Tetsu Sushi Bar (Facebook, Instagram) is my idea of a cute, perfect-in-its-own-way, neighbourhood sushi place you’d find in Japan — small (only 14 seats), run by Japanese people or people trained in Japan (itamae and server are from Osaka), serves a curated selection of fish from Japan (and presumably the best local fish too), offers some unique dishes not found elsewhere, and is too good to keep a secret. While not as practised and precise as a place like Sushi Bar Maumi (review here), it’s filling a gap — high quality neighbourhood sushi — and hits some pretty high notes.