Thank goodness that half of Elisa is Japanese, because she finds little gems in Vancouver that otherwise wouldn’t make it on my radar. The other half of Elisa is good for ranting, stories and gossip, so overall she’s a pretty useful person to have around.
For Elisa’s un-birthday dinner, we hit Toratatsu Japanese Tapas Bistro. It’s not really an izakaya because they serve sushi, so I’m guessing that’s why they decided to go with “japanese tapas” instead.
There’s a giant mirror with their top five dishes on it, and based on the fact that our party ordered three of them and lurrved them, I think they’re pretty good recommendations.
The aburi sime saba is a slab of house-cured mackerel. They sear it with a blowtorch at the table which releases some of the oils and creates an amazing aroma. The fish itself is delightfully oily, fresh, and almost sweet. At $5, it’s a steal.
I also tried the negitoro avocado. I love negitoro, a mixture of toro (fatty tuna belly) with green onions. This was a bit different. They serve the entire concoction in a bowl. At the bottom is ponzu (I think). Then they layer mashed toro on top, then avocado, then green onion, and then a generous spoonful of black fish roe. The whole thing is served with garlic toast. It’s a bit weird at first, but the mix of textures (crispy toast, mushy dip, fish roe popping in your back teeth) is really fun. My one complaint is that the toro gets lost in the mix. It’s $7.80 for a generous bowl of the stuff.
I finished the night with the yu-tofu hot pot, which comes searing hot in a stone bowl that kept the broth boiling for at least five minutes. It’s a subtle broth with tofu, napa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and kelp. I would have liked this better if it had come at the beginning of the meal – the flavours were too subtle for the end of my meal. However, it really was a fun dish to watch. As the bubbling subsides, the tofu bounces around in the bowl like it’s really excited. “Wheeee! Eat me! I’m having so much fun in this bowl! Don’t you want to join me?! Whee!” This giant bowl of fun was only $5.80.
Next time around I’d order the ebi chili mayo, which was the hit of the night. It’s four giant prawns, battered, deep-fried and served with a spicy mayonnaise sauce. Garnished with wonton chips, these were the hot item at the table. And at $8 for the plate, it’s a serious bargain.
Their sushi was pretty good – my friends got the phoenix roll (spicy tuna with cream cheese) and the dragon roll (prawn and avocad0). They sear the top of the sushi here, but I couldn’t taste the difference. It’s fun, anyway. Order it just so that they have to bring the blowtorches to your table.
The one disappointing dish was the beef lettuce wrap. It’s kind of a weird mix of flavours, but mostly it’s a logistical fail. The beef comes with bone-in, and in very thick cuts. I’m not sure how you’re expected to eat it in a very delicate butter lettuce leaf. The addition of kimchi was a bit suspect, too.
Of course, there’s sake. Hot or cold, in a cute little teapot or in a giant bamboo dispenser – either way, there’s plenty to go around.
Toratatsu Japanese Tapas Bistro
735 Denman Street