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IZAKAYA? Anyone been?

I recently saw a show done on this restaurant on front street on Toronto Dining on Cogeco. Anyone been here? Is it good/bad? Anything to avoid/go for?

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  1. Whenever this restaurant comes up on Chowhound, people seem to fall into two camps:

    Some will say the food tastes good and the decor is beautiful. I fall into this camp. The room is impressive and has a fun atmosphere. It's best with just two people, or a big group, though, because they don't really have medium-sized tables. The service has always been friendly and extremely fast. I've tried a half dozen dishes from the menu and all of them have been enjoyable. Prices for mains are between about $10 and $20, most on the lower end of that range, and portions are not huge. Most of the meals revolve around noodle bowls, though they also have things like a "kobe" beef plate and katsu curry chicken. They have a good selection of sakes and your typical Japanese beers like Sapporo, etc. They do not, however, sell any kind of sushi.

    Others will jump in and say the food is not very authentic and dismiss the restaurant outright. They will point out that, despite the name, the restaurant is not a true Japanese "izakaya". These facts are true (I believe at least one of the owners is Italian) but I don't think the restaurant is trying to fool anyone (they even proudly advertise "no raw fish" on their chalkboard outside sometimes) so I personally don't mind. They have their own thing going. I hit Ematei or Japango when I want to be served more authentic Japanese, and I'm able to enjoy both experiences for what they are.

    So, it seems whether or not you like this place will depend more on less on your point of view, how familiar you are with traditional "authentic" Japanese food, and how much all this matters to you. My opinion is that it's definitely worth a visit, as my wife and I have enjoyed quite a few meals there over the last year or so with no bad experiences.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Gary

      Gary is mostly correct. The room is great and the food tastes okay. But what's with all the noodle dishes (high margin?) Nothing too exciting on my 2 visits there. They should call it the Noodlery, NOT Izakaya. The food tends to be bland and uninspired. Nothing to go back for IMO.

      Anyway, sushi has nothing to do with this. A proper Izakaya resto does not serve sushi. What makes it special is that it is much more social in its environment. Izakayas are japanese pubs. The food is to be served in small portions (like tapas) at appropriate pricing. People share the food and it is a noisy fun place. The kitchen is often out in the open and the cooks, chefs, waiters all 'play' off of each other. Lots of noise and fun. And like our version of it, they offer a range of sakes both cold and hot. BTW, if you have only tried hot sake, you MUST try cold sake. It is completely different and delicious!

      As far as our Izakaya on Front Street goes...
      Atmosphere wise: It is like calling the Bank Note a Pub.
      Food Wise: It is like calling Tim Hortons a delicatessen.

      Vancouver Izakayas are awesome! They have done it right!

      1. re: bestandworst

        Your description instantly evokes memories of my recent visit to Vancouver, and to the downtown location of Guu.

        Were there a restaurant like Guu in Toronto, I'd have a hard time eating anywhere else.

        1. re: bestandworst

          The only thing that is required to make an Izakaya a "proper" Izakaya is that they serve sake (preferably a large selection). There are plenty that serve sushi, and the "tapas" thing is as much a western invention as it is a Japanese tradition. Sake makes an izakaya (the very name is derived from the word "sake"). It's hilarious how people from Vancouver presume that however it's done there is most "authentic."

          Having said all that- izakaya in Toronto is not very good. However, in a month in TO, it was the only place that I can say had excellent service- and this is not surprising because my waiter was from Red Deer, Alberta.

        2. re: Gary

          I belong to the third camp of people who think the food is mediocre. I don't care if it's authentic or not. I really want to like Izakaya, and I love the atmosphere, but I won't be going back.

        3. The original comment has been removed
          1. Sadly, you can't eat decor because that's about all the Front St. Izakaya has to offer.

            1. hm.. doesnt sounds too promising.. I dont think Im sold on it yet.. any one else have any good/bad experiences?

              2 Replies
              1. re: hungryabbey

                i went for a birthday dinner, ten people total, and i found the food to be great. We had four vegetarians,and the veggie options were great- particularly when ordering the side dishes and salads- grilled tofu, cucumber salad, stir fried mushrooms. yum. THe noodles i found to be good, but not super. The sake was yum. The atmosphere was very fun, though not altogether comfortable for a long meal, with the bench style seating.
                all in all i enjoyed it and will be going back!

                1. re: alltummy

                  hmm.. now it seems more balanced, I need some tie breakers..

              2. I enjoy dining at Izakaya. The Chili Beef Ramen Soup is lovely and while John Sinopoli (one of the owners)is infact Canadian-Italian, he lived in Japan for a year or two and hence he comes by his love of Japanese food honestly. I've filmed at this location in the past and can tell you they source their noodles from a Japanese man who runs a small shop in the burbs, they use quality ingredients and they keep a spotless kitchen. Their Japanese Curry dishes are lovely as is their burdock root salad. I think it's worth a go and it won't break the bank either.

                2 Replies
                1. re: cookbook

                  haha alright you sold me I think. Im excited now.

                  1. re: hungryabbey

                    i've debated weighing in on this but my final opinion is that with so many diverging ones... you should just go try it for yourself and see what you think.

                    but after you go there, i suggest you try out ematei and double happiness but ignore the decor or just understand that it's part of the experience as much as the styling at izakaya is.

                    i was however disappointed overall with the food. it was good in that it was edible but i've had much better in so many other places that it's not worth going back since it's also double the cost. the sake-tinis were tasty, the duck gyoza lacking in duck qualities and the ramen broth was shallow in flavour as were the noodles low in a nice chewy consistency. two people ordered the exact same ramen and received them 15 or so minutes apart with a total of 40 minutes difference between the first and last dish. most of these comments are based on comparison of other meals and so may sound harsher than they ought to be.

                    try it out for yourself, but don't waste a moment at testing out the alternatives.