Izakaya: All Style, No Seasoning
Izakaya has TOist seeing red. For months, we’d walked by and heard of the fancy new kid on the block, but were afraid to go, because of its emphasis on design and seeming lack of Japanese authenticity and street cred. (TOist doesn’t like inauthentic food of any kind, unless it does so with an ironic wink and a nod.). But hunger and curiosity proved to be our demise.
In a recent visit on a Wednesday night, our party was served with underseasoned and overpriced fare, in addition to bad kitchen service. Our wannabe-hacktor waiter was actually pretty nice, so we can’t fault him for anything, other than working for a horrible restaurant. Sigh.
The slickly designed website of this new Front Street eatery boldly posts its mission statement for all to read: “For over two hundred years, a red lantern hanging outside an establishment in Japan has signified a reasonably priced meal and drink in a warm, welcoming environment. Izakaya will follow those traditions, while at the same time providing guests with a new and very dynamic dining experience, where all are welcome.”
Unfortunately, such is not the case at Izakaya. For some reason, a few reviewers seem to have enjoyed their time at John Sinopoli’s establishment, but who knows, they’re all old white guys, for all we know. This guy found Izakaya simply average, acknowledging that it was not authentic Japanese food, and that one’s visit to Izakaya should be taken with a large grain of salt.
We’re not quite sure how to explain the reversal of fortune we had on our visit. Our Duck Gyoza dumplings ($6.50) were just average to the point that (a) you couldn’t tell you were eating duck and, frankly, (b) frozen dumplings from the Asian supermarket would have tasted better.
The simplest side dishes fared no better – Inari-Zushi ($5), vinegared rice stuffed into tofu ‘pockets’, didn’t impress the palate of one of our Japanese guests, nor did the seaweed salad ($6.25), which lacked flavour in the extreme, due to the stingy serving of (mediocre) dressing. A shame, because the ingredients were extremely fresh and of high quality.
The Chili Beef Ramen ($11.75) sounds exciting on the menu, as did the Izakaya Ramen ($11.75), but both broths (beef and pork, respectively) weren’t hearty or flavourful enough to satisfy, and a few pieces of Cumbrae meat weren’t enough to save this pitiful excuse for a soup dish. The ramen noodles in the Chili Beef Ramen were al dente, but Torontoist isn’t sure if that should be the case for ramen noodles. The best main TOist tried was the Izakaya Beef ($13.75), but that shouldn’t come as a surprise because it’s easy to cook a slab of beef and slap some teriyaki sauce on it. However, the bok choy was extremely over-salted, even for a salt-lover like TOist. Is something funny going on in the kitchen?
TOist thinks so, because the rate of service was appalling. The Izakaya Beef arrived along with the Chili Beef Ramen, but one person was kept waiting for their Izakaya Ramen for about 20 minutes – by which time others had eaten their meals. What TOist doesn’t understand is why the two ramen dishes would have come out at staggeringly different times. The broth, noodles, and collateral ingredients for the dish should, technically, have been prepped and ready to go, and there was no excusable reason why such easy-to-prepare, practically identical dishes should have arrived at the times they did.
While we acknowledge that the quality of the ingredients was excellent, the preparation of the food wasn’t quite up to par, and for the price they’re paying at Izakaya, Torontonians deserve better.
A restaurant can’t be that good if you lament not having gone to (ugh) Spring Rolls instead. Skip Izakaya and go for some real Japanese food, like Japan Go or Tokyo Grill (reviews coming in Part II). These authentic restaurants make no pretensions, keep things simple, and, most importantly, get the food right, with great prices to boot. Izakaya needs to know that good design does not a great restaurant make.