Pork kakune. (Photo: Sang Kim/Yakitori Bar)
Finally, Toronto has a restaurant specializing in yakitori, Japanese-style skewered and grilled meats.
For this, we can thank restaurateur Sang Kim, who helped launch Blowfish, Ki and Koko Share Bar and in early December, opened Yakitori Bar on Baldwin Street.
The restaurant is perfect for Baldwin Village, home to cheap-and-cheerful restos catering to students from University of Toronto and OCAD University (and serious gastronomes who know a good deal when they see it).
Intimate and artfully done (seats arranged at a bar and at bare-wood tables along a lengthy padded banquette; Asian music videos playing silently on two flat-screen TVs bookending the room; eclectic, tastefully chosen music pouring from the PA), the 35-seat space is in sync with its neighbourhood.
As is the reasonably priced menu that really delivers. Those yakitori skewers (two per order and served with three dipping sauces, one soy-based, one sesame-based and one kimchee-based) are excellent: smoky beef short ribs; moist chicken thigh; and melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked pork.
Rounding out the menu are Korean-inflected dishes meant for sharing. Rice cakes are baked in a whole butternut squash. The baking has rendered the rice cakes tender, their mozzarella/cheddar roof rich and gooey and the squash flesh quite dry. If the kitchen can solve the dryness problem, this dish will be a must-try.
Kimchee (spicy fermented napa cabbage) comes three ways: stuffed into gyoza dumplings; layered with tofu; and folded into takoyaki (addictive squid balls).
Oxtail is rich and tender, and swims in a deeply flavoured red/wine soy sauce, which is good enough to eat with a spoon. Even better is the melt-in-the-mouth pork kakune.
A burger made from bulgogi (Korean-style grilled, marinated beef) features crunchy cucumber and red-cabbage slaw, recalling the Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches that are all the rage these days.
Credit for the food goes to chef Shin Aoyama, who got his start in Toronto at Ki.
This restaurant is perfectly of-the-moment, offering fun food served by a cheerful young wait staff in a room that, as it fills, sizzles with energy.
Slated to open this week, in the back part of the space, is a second restaurant, Seoul Food Co., serving Korean fare (such as build-your-own bibimbap rice, meat and veg casseroles).
Yakitori Bar is available for group buyout Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Visit its website