Small Plates, Japanese-Style: Izakaya Tomo

Some meals are more than just the food on the table and the company you are with – they are experiences. Our dinner at Guu in Toronto, my first taste of an izakaya (a Japanese pub), was one such experience. It was loud and boisterous, with most of the cacophony of voices originating from the staff. The dozen servers and chefs would yell greetings at patrons whenever they entered or exited the restaurant. Though I’m sure it could get trying after a while, for us, it was still novel; for me, Guu was memorable because of the infectious energy and vibrant atmosphere. When I heard Edmonton finally landed its own izakaya, I was excited to see if it could replicate that experience. Mack and I had dinner there last Saturday, before a movie at South Edmonton Common.

Though it would have been nice to see Izakaya Tomo amongst an established hospitality district instead of a vehicle-driven strip, no one can deny the attractive rent differential. And walking in, the interior also made us forget about the location – the earthy tones and wooden fixtures made us feel immediately at ease, on top of, of course, the warm, vocal welcome from staff. With the relatively small size of Izakaya Tomo (nine tables) and corresponding staff size, there was definitely a less frenetic pace than compared with Guu, to the point where a comparison almost couldn’t be warranted.

Izakay Tomo

Interior

Izakaya Tomo does serve sushi (the chef previously worked at Mikado), but we focused our orders on cooked dishes, which ranged in price from $3.95-$11.95). Our server recommended we order 4-5 dishes, so we took her advice (I have to note the obvious but charming directive printed on the menu, which reads “Please order whatever you want”).

The deep fried tofu ($4.95) came out first, a nice starter, though the breading didn’t hold together as well as we would have hoped for.

Izakay Tomo

Deep fried tofu

Next came the dish we were most curious about, a carbonara udon ($11.95), combining Japanese and Italian ingredients in a way we’d never seen before. But we were hooked – the udon noodles seemed right at home in the creamy, peppery sauce, so much so we wondered why we had never encountered the combination before (a friend of ours who we ran into at the restaurant that night commented that the carbonara reminded him of the heavenly pastas he’d sampled in Italy – high praise for a fusion dish from a Japanese establishment!).

Izakay Tomo

Carbonara udon

The tonpei yaki ($8.95) is Izakaya Tomo’s version of an okonomiyaki. Instead of a flat pancake, the dish was made up of a pork and cabbage-filled egg crepe drizzled with Japanese mayo. Though I probably prefer the pancake version, Mack was more than amused at the swaying bonito flakes.

Izakay Tomo

Tonpei yaki

The server must have misheard me, as we intended to order the chicken kara-age ($7.95), and didn’t realize until we received the bill that the dish we actually received was the chicken teriyaki ($10.95). That explained why the chicken wasn’t as crispy as we expected. We really appreciated the side of cabbage and bell peppers, which helped balance out the heavier items.

Izakay Tomo

Chicken teriyaki

The beef shogayaki ($10.95), was a ginger-fried beef, shredded paper thin. It was Mack’s favourite dish, with forward, but not overwhelming ginger flavour.

Izakay Tomo

Beef shogayaki

Service was friendly and attentive, and we were never left wanting anything. The food also came out lightning fast, to the point where we could barely keep up!

With the continued trend of share plate dining, Izakaya Tomo is entering the Edmonton food scene at the right time. And given it is our favourite way to eat out, sampling our way through numerous dishes, we look forward to trying the rest of the menu, and of course, to receiving another warm welcome!

Izakaya Tomo
3739 99 Street
(780) 440-9152

Eat, Drink and Be Early: Toronto Highlights

I’m still amazed at how much we managed to pack in during our short trip to Toronto back in May. It helps, of course, that on one of the days, we were already up and at ‘em by 7 a.m. Vacation? What vacation?

Aunties and Uncles

Mack and I only had one occasion to take in brunch during the trip, and we probably picked the absolute worst day to do so: Mother’s Day. Getting a reservation was near impossible, so after some research, we chose the walk-in only Aunties and Uncles (voted best brunch by Blog T.O. last year).

By the time we arrived, the line was forty-five minutes strong. It is a small restaurant, but in the summer, the patio seating easily doubles the number of tables.

Aunties and Uncles

The Mothers’s Day line

We were fortunate to get an al fresco seat, shaded by a large umbrella. In the early afternoon warmth, it was outdoor dining that wasn’t yet possible in Edmonton at the time.

Aunties and Uncles

Mack on the patio!

The food was well worth the wait. My omelette was chock full of rapini, tomatoes and smoked gouda, and the hash was nicely charred. The sweet and springy sesame-crusted challah was no doubt the start of the plate, however. Mack equally enjoyed his breakfast burger, with a homemade beef patty topped with brie, bacon and (his favourite), a fried egg. It was served on the same challah.

Aunties and Uncles

Omelette

Aunties and Uncles

Breakfast burger

Service was better during the first half of our meal – our coffee refills dropped off after that. Even still, I’d recommend Aunties and Uncles for brunch in Toronto– those lines don’t lie!

Steamwhistle Brewery

Besides Alley Kat’s Charlie Flint, the only other beer consistently in our fridge is Steamwhistle. Made in Toronto, we didn’t have the time last year to visit the brewery, so we made sure to include it on our itinerary on this trip.

Steamwhistle

The Roundhouse

Located in a former locomotive roundhouse, the area surrounding the facility is beautiful, a swath of green in amongst high rises and skyscrapers. There was even a small playground behind the building, situated just beneath one of the country’s busiest roadways. We eventually learned that the City at one point had wanted to demolish the historic building to make way for a convention centre parkade. But Council had the foresight to prevent this, and compromised– the parkade was constructed underground, and the building reconstructed brick by brick over top.

Steamwhistle

Freeway/playground

We managed to get tickets for the day’s final tour. At $10 a pop, the ticket included not one, but two beers, plus a souvenir glass or bottle opener. While waiting for the tour, we explored the event space, which is used often for concerts, weddings, and food truck events. I loved its raw, industrial edge, and while I haven’t been inside the Mercer Tavern yet, I am hoping it has a similar vibe.

Steamwhistle

In the tasting room

I enjoyed hearing about the history of the brewery, including its origins. Steamwhistle was started by three fired guys from the Upper Canada Brewery after it was purchased by Molson (etched on the bottom of each bottle is “3FG”as a reminder of its beginnings).

Steamwhistle

Free sample

Steamwhistle brews all of its beers in this building, with a volume of approximately 81,000 bottles per day (interestingly enough, our tour guide wasn’t able to compare this with the volume produced by a multi-national company).

Steamwhistle

Bottling area

We also learned that they had an actual working steamwhistle, which two lucky tour-goers got to pull. The beer’s namesake relates to the steamwhistle sound they wanted to echo through the streets of downtown Toronto to trumpet quittin’ time.

Steamwhistle

Whee!

It’s always interesting to see how a product gets on the shelves, and it gives us a bit more appreciation for our fridge staple.

Centre Island

Mack and Amanda will tell you that it was a not-so-pleasant wakeup call the day we intended to check out the Toronto Islands. Because Mack had to be back downtown for his early afternoon conference start time, we knew our window of opportunity was short, and hence, planned to catch the first ferry out. Our walk from our hotel to the ferry stop was a frantic one, dodging commuters on busy streets and narrow sidewalks. But, our tale ends well and we reached the dock in time to catch our ferry.

Centre Island

On the ferry

The Toronto Islands, with its limited real estate, vehicle ban, and need for ferry access makes it a bit of an idyllic, if isolated, community. Though we didn’t make it to the residential side of the islands, the number of bike-toting individuals that poured off the first ferry was astonishing. Here we were, in Canada’s largest city, with a sort-of hippie commune within arm’s reach!

Centre Island

Loved this sign!

The blessing of that first ferry was that we were among a very small group. As a result, once on the other side, it felt like we had the island to ourselves.

Centre Island

Mack also particularly enjoyed the city’s skyline as viewed from the Toronto Islands

The downside of visiting in May instead of June through September, however, is that many of the attractions, including the amusement park, were closed. Still, wandering the serene and lush, dew-sprinkled grounds were an attraction enough.

Centre Island

Centre Island

We did wander over to the beach on the other side, but still early, the mist and fog wouldn’t have made it an ideal time to spend on the sand or in the water.

We were also amazed at the amount of “wildlife” present all around Centre Island, from aggressive sparrows to fearless ducks, graceful swans and innumerable geese. And let’s not forget Amanda’s favourite – snakes!

Centre Island

Geese

Centre Island

Amanda’s pet

Even the inanimate animals were fun, the highlight found in Franklin’s Garden.

Centre Island

Mack confronts Franklin

Centre Island

Amanda found a better pet

Toting a picnic basket and swim gear, visiting Centre Island could easily take up an entire day – children in tow or not. The few hours we spent were good enough for us though, especially since our wait for the return ferry saw at least a hundred people pile off – and we weren’t in an island sharing mood.

Guu

Guu came to us recommended by a random Toronto blog I came across. Edmonton is bereft of izakayas, and friends of mine who have lived in Japan constantly bemoan this fact. And while I don’t eat sushi, cooked Japanese tapas are right up my alley, so I was curious to see what a Japanese pub was all about.

That said, I wasn’t expecting the raucous welcome that we received. Anytime a guest entered, all staff turned to the door with a loud greeting of welcome. Similarly, anytime a guest was leaving the establishment, hollers of goodbye and thank you travelled with them. It took us a while to get used to the noise, but there is no doubt it creates a very spirited, joyful atmosphere. Mack commented that it really drew attention to how many parties come and go in a given night.

Guu

Mack and Amanda at Guu

The interior was made up of low wooden tables and stools, warmed by Edison bulbs and a bustling open kitchen (flames were seen on more than one occasion).

Guu

Interior

The sharing menu is perfect for large groups, and was great for first timers like us, as it gave us the chance to sample numerous dishes. Our server recommended seven dishes for a three top. The standouts included the sweet and spicy fried calamari and pan-fried pork cheek.

Guu

Sweet and spicy fried calamari

Guu

Pan-fried pork cheek

I expected the okonomiyaki to be crispier and less wobbly, and the agedashi tofu to have had a firmer exterior, though the dashi broth was great.

Guu

Okonomiyaki

Guu

Agedashi tofu

Service was brisk, but matched the pace of the restaurant. I could definitely see myself returning on future visits, though it is the sort of place I would love to see in Edmonton. With the runaway success of Three Boars, other true small plates-focused eateries should be in the works. I think Edmonton is ready.