Zakkushi isn't the latest of the Vancouver Izakaya chains to touchdown in Toronto, but is it the greatest? As a number of other successful West Coast establishments have set up shop in the city with rather satisfying results, the Zakkushi menu seemed a bit more extensive, a bit more off-the-map, even a bit more authentic than the rest.
With three locations housed in Vancouver, one would assume they've been doing something right. So, would their migration yield positive results?
On their website they've specified a few rules - mainly, a 2 hour dining limit for parties of more than 6 and for all guests on weekends - reasonable. Even in the middle of the week, there was limited space for our table of two, but they managed to squeeze us into a small table at the centre of the cacophonous dining room.
Though there is little space to spare, I like the design - a few stairs lead one up to the twenty or so tables with dark wood frames and clean lines. Maybe it was a strategic move, but I wouldn't be tempted to last more than two hours on the hard, un-cushioned wood blocks used for seating.
It took a long time for Zakkushi to get their liquor license, though they've got some nice sake and sochu on offer now. Starting with one of their Banshaku Sets ($9.99) is a great way to get some drinks and a little nibble in quickly.
Cooked over real Japanese white charcoal the yakitori list is rather extensive and quite well prepared for the most part. The cuts were tender and laced with smoky flavour. I was more struck by the adventurous options like chicken innards, beef tongue and eel - unfortunately my dining companion was less intrepid than I.
Our Zakkushi Set ($8.80) was a pretty assembly of chicken thigh with sour plum and Japanese basil, beef with grated daikon and ponzu sauce, crunchy pork with onion sauce, asparagus wrapped with pork and a teriyaki chicken thigh.
The shitake mushrooms ($1.90), however, needed a few more licks from the flame to give it the ideal flavour. If you need some starch on the side, don't bother with the bland, grilled rice balls with butter soy sauce ($1.80).
The oden options are what first drew me towards this place, as I rarely find it in the city. Unfortunately, there was little depth to fish broth and the chef's pick of 5 different toppings (original: $6.80, miso $7.20) was less than thrilling.
It may seem anticlimactic, but the best dish of the evening was without a doubt the karaage . Crispy, juicy, deep-fried chicken thighs with oroshi sauce, made with blended daikon, cayenne pepper and paprika gave it the perfect kick.
Another standout was the light, fresh Okonomiyaki (Japanese pan fried seafood pancake) ($5.80) with surprisingly unfishy bonito flakes.
Zakkushi is a welcome addition to the Japanese dining scene in Toronto and with the addition of nearby Kingyo has suddenly made Cabbagetown a worthy destination for a tasty night out.
Photos by Jesse Milns