The girl stood crouched over the table, determinedly attempting to tap out a tune with her chopsticks yet, much to her apparent frustration, not having much luck. It was easy to see why. She lacked rhythm. Oh, and she was attempting to play a table ornament. Eventually, the waitress came over and informed her that the three-tier fountain was for decorative purposes only. Disappointed, the erstwhile musician retook her seat and started perusing the menu while I redirected my attention to the first of our dishes: the homemade zaru tofu.
Nothing quite evokes memories of my trips to Japan like the rustic charm of robatayaki, and nothing quite captures the authentic flavors and feel of the Japanese grilling experience like Zakkushi on 4th. The place is tiny, roughly the size of my living room, all wood and bamboo, and always alive with the scents and sounds of the sizzling charcoal grill. If you’re looking for sushi, best go elsewhere. But if you’d like to sample Japanese-style cooking at its simplest, then squeeze into the bar or grab a seat at one of the communal tables and order away. The menu choices range from individual meat and fish skewers to traditional fare like chicken udon, donburi, and that homemade zaru tofu – a sizable portion with a texture akin to firm ricotta, accompanied by green powdered salt, sliced green onions, and an aromatic, wicked little green pepper paste. To be perfectly honest, I’m not a big fan of tofu, yet this dish is one of my favorites. From there, we moved onto the charcoal-grilled skewers that can be ordered sauced or salted: savory and crunchy pork-wrapped garlic shoots, tsukune (minced chicken) topped with sweet soy, subtly smoky ahi tuna, and tender scallops. We also enjoyed some great hatsu (chicken hearts) and paper-thin gyu-tan (beef tongue) which, along with the zaru tofu, proved stand-outs on this night. Feeling adventurous, I tried the whelk – a large marine snail – that proved a little tough and neutral in flavor; probably the only thing on the menu I wouldn’t order again. Fondy also ordered an excellent donburi – the rice dish topped with strips of succulent chicken, tsukemono (Japanese pickles), nori, and a fried egg. We ended our meals with a bowl of complimentary house miso.
Service is relaxed and friendly, the atmosphere festive and conducive to a rollicking, rib-sticking meal over Calpis vodkas. Be warned however. This place is addictive.
By the way, if you’re reading this blog entry, I am speaking to you from beyond the grave!
No. Check that. I’m in Montreal for the Easter holidays. Reports and pics – and more Q&A – to follow.