It was timely, Gourmet.com's article , '8 Great Izakaya Restaurants in Vancouver', barely a month ago. Timely because we were about to go to Vancouver, and we were hoping to at least try not to spend too much money. Izakaya restaurants offer a lot of bang for the buck; a couple can try out a bunch of small plates without blowing their budget. Without blowing it completely, anyway.
We managed to get to three of the restaurants on the list. First up was Ping's Cafe. Partly because I really liked their website. Except for the music--I am always surprised when (non-music)websites have music, and scramble to mute my computer. Anyway, if you're also easily startled, turn off your volume before you click through. Admittedly the site is a bit confusing, a Japanese restaurant with a Chinese name and described with French words. But I do like the feel of it just the same--very clean.
We made a reservation, and set off for other fun, a little unclear of where the restaurant was. Of course, we walked right by it while exploring a completely different (or so we thought) part of town. So in we went. As Gourmet mentioned, it was not very noticeable from outside.
Incidentally, the reason a Japanese izakaya restaurant is called Ping's is because when they were getting ready to open they found the old business sign in the back--it had been a Chinese-Canadian restaurant.
The interior is nearly all designed and built by the owners and their friends, all in cool grays, whites, and blacks. A little like the faded pencil of their website.
They call their food 'Western influenced Japanese comfort food'. To me it seemed not fusion food, but more the kind of food someone might cook after a generation or two in a new country--I was actually reminded a bit (though the food was completely different) of some of the recipes in Niloufer Ichaporia's My Bombay Kitchen. I don't have it at my side now, but I remember there being a few recipes there for American foods made with a Parsi sensibility. Which I guess, technically, is fusion--but an organic fusion. If you see what I mean.
Anyway, we ate fairly well, especially enjoying the spicy spinach, and the happy faced Kabocha pumpkin croquettes.
Our second izakaya was Guu Otokomae, in Gastown. There I had only the Bibimbap, a perfect comfort meal for someone who was tired, a little cold, and a little hungry. So hungry, apparently, I forgot to take a picture until it was nearly all gone.
Can you tell I liked it? Only one problem--I suppose it's normally mixed together by the server, as it was here. But what a lot of fun to take away from the diner. You have your hot rice and hot stone bowl, veggies and bits of meat, and the raw egg on top. I wanted to stir it up myself!
The third and last izakaya we hit was Hapa Izakaya, their Kitsilano location. My favorites were the saba, the mackerel brought out raw and singed at the table with a torch, the duck with wilted bok choy, and the pork gyoza surrounded by thin slices of lotus root.
I liked all three izakaya we visited, but was reminded again how very special Biwa in Portland is--their saba is one of my favorite things to eat in Portland. I guess I'll have to eat there soon again, and tell you about it. For now, I'll just say that the thing that makes Biwa so special, I think, is their clean flavors--everything tastes exactly like itself, unmuddled.