Cheap Eats · Happy Hour · Japanese · Restaurants · Seafood · Sushi

Ke Charcoal Grill- COVID-19 dine-in edition

I’ve been hearing good things about Ke Charcoal Grill, a restaurant specializing in yakitori. I convinced L to go, though I warned him that he needs to lower his expectations. L’s eaten his fair share of yakitori in Tokyo, so I knew he had preconceived notions on what it should taste like. Ke Charcoal is popular for its cheap and tasty food. For this post, let’s listen to “Joyride” by Roxette.

When we arrived, the hostess took our temperature. As with most restaurants, there is sanitizer at the entrance. For our safety, all our cutlery and sauces were individually packed. I liked how the tables were spaciously set apart. I also noticed that the staff were attentive and friendly, despite appearing understaffed.

L ordered a glass of Asahi ($6) and I stuck with tap water. I took a sip of his beer and found it flat. I heard from a reliable person with industry knowledge – Jude – that Ke Charcoal’s sake is inexpensive. I’ll have to try some on my next visit.

The Chicken Karaage ($8) is a winner. The chicken leg meat was juicy and the batter was nice and brittle. I would order this again.

To go with our skewers, I ordered two heaping bowls of rice ($5). The rice was fluffy and the fragrance reminded me more of Chinese rice than Japanese.

We started off with two skewers of Hatsu with teriyaki sauce ($4.60). I normally love chicken heart but these skewers were served cold and the texture was rubbery instead of tender.

Next up were two skewers of Mo Mo with teriyaki sauce ($4.80). The chicken thighs were tasty and served hot. The teriyaki sauce tasted heavy and sweet.

The cheese on the Yuki ($5.20) was sticky and stuck to the roof of my mouth. I preferred the plain chicken thighs without the cheese but that’s just a personal preference.

One of our favourite skewers was Negima ($4.80). So simple but so good. The green onion was deeply caramelized and it paired beautifully with the chicken thighs.

The Dunagimo ($2.40) arrived hot. I’ve never tried chicken gizzard before. The gizzard was addictingly chewy yet crunchy, and the flavour was surprisingly subtle. I would order this again.

My favourite skewer was Kawa (w/ sea salt $2.30). The chicken skin was super crispy. When I took a bite, the skin would flake apart and then melt in my mouth. I love eating chicken skin with rice, as the plainness of the steamed rice accents the texture and richness of the skin.

I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered Okra ($2.10). The okra was cooked perfectly – there was still a resistance when I bit into it. I loved the crunchy, juicy texture and I could taste the smoky flavour of the grill.

The Asparagus Maki ($4.80) skewers were yummy. The bacon was crispy on the edges but still soft on the inside, coating the asparagus with the flavour of hot pork fat. The texture of the grilled asparagus reminded me of green beans.

We tried both the Tsukkune with teriyaki sauce ($5.20) and with cheese ($5.20). These chicken meatballs were filling, but I found the temperature cool. I think if it was served fresh off the grill, I would have enjoyed it.

I thought that more than half the skewers we tried were awesome, particularly for the price. We ordered way too much food and the bill was half of what we would pay at Shokunin. However, you can’t expect the quality of Shokunin at Ke Charcoal’s prices. Ke Charcoal is an affordable, easy introduction to yakitori. The food reminded me a bit of Torikizoku – a popular and dirt cheap yakitori izakaya chain in Japan. I think the food at Ke Charcoal is far better than Torikizoku.

I told Jude that L wasn’t as impressed as I was with yakitori. She said that the food at Ke Charcoal is great when it’s hot. Sometimes when the yakitori is colder than she would like, she’ll inform the servers and they bring over a new set. I never even thought about complaining. Jude suggested the next time I go, I should ask the servers to ensure the skewers are hot.

Jude recommends the oyster special on Wednesdays, unagi, chicken meatball with shisho, scallop, miso sablefish, beef tongue with daikon and ponzu. She told me to request salt on the yakitori and togarashi on the side for L, so he can get that essence of Japanese yakitori he craves.

I was so excited after talking to Jude that I wanted to go to Ke Charcoal the next day. I told L that I would even pick up the tab. He looked at me sourly and responded, “Look, I know why you want me to go again. You want me to have a different experience. But I won’t. It’s not Japan.”

Wow L! Talk about being inflexible. In the circle of compromise, you aren’t meeting me halfway. I’m not going to pressure him again because I think I am too controlling over where and what we eat. Plus, I know Karplop will go with me. I’ll post an update on my second visit to Ke Charcoal shortly, because this is one izakaya I’ll be frequenting. Hitting Sauce gives Ke Charcoal two fat thumbs up.

Japanese · Restaurants · Seafood · Special Occasion · Vegas

Vegas 2020 – Raku Japanese Charcoal Grill

My friend Ms. Biz highly recommended Raku for my birthday dinner. This was my favourite restaurant on our trip. If I could only go to one restaurant in Vegas, Raku would be it for me. For this post, let’s listen to “You Might Think” by The Cars.

I told Beep Beep I didn’t want any alcohol with this dinner because I wanted to focus on the food. I’m becoming my father. Ludwig won’t drink if he’s listening to classical music because he needs his full concentration. For beverages, we ordered Hoji Tea ($2.50).

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To start, we shared the Half Tofu ($4). The consistency of the homemade tofu was like a ultra creamy cheesecake. We were instructed to cut into the tofu and taste it using two types of seasoning.

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The first approach was to dust the green matcha salt over the cold tofu, along with the condiments of bonito flakes, chives and grated ginger. This style accented the fluffy texture and clean taste of the tofu.

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The second version was to add Raku’s specially made soy sauce. I preferred this style because the sauce was unique in flavour and I enjoyed the thick consistency of the sauce paired with the ginger.

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My favourite bite of the night was the Enoki Mushroom Bacon ($3.50). In fact, I loved it so much, we ordered a second one at the end of our meal. Two things stood out for me. Flavour and texture.

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I enjoyed  crunching into this bundle of love. The mushrooms took on all the smoky flavours from charcoal grill. The bacon bound all the mushroom threads together and provided a salty omph.

scallop

The Butter Sauteed Scallop Soy Sauce ($7) was perfectly seared. The exterior of the scallop was hot and crispy. The center of the scallop was cooler in temperature and still silky smooth.

beef

The Kobe Beef Outside Skirt Steak ($8) was served warm. The meat was flavourful and fell apart like a filet of fish. The steak was chewy and juicy.

tendon

The Kobe Beef Tendon ($4) was my second favourite bite of the night. The tendon was soft and sticky. Like the enoki wrapped bacon, the tendon took on the flavour of the charcoal. I’d order this again.

foie gras

The flavour of the Foie Gras ($19) was subtle. For foie gras, I found it was light and clean. I enjoyed this dish but I prefer the heavier, richer, smokier flavours of the tendon and enoki mushroom.

shrimp

For the Crispy Fried Shrimp ($7), I didn’t add any other seasoning or sauce because I preferred the simple, natural taste of the shrimp. I could taste the sweet juice of the whole shrimp.

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This is one restaurant that deserves its hype. I’m already planning another trip to Vegas. I’m eager to return to Raku and based on lovegastrogirl baller recommendations, I want to check out Carbone and the Vegas Golden Knights.

ill

Thank you Beep Beep for treating me to a food and booze fueled trip! You started my birthday week with a bang. Beep Beep!

 

Raku Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheap Eats · Japanese · Kyoto · Restaurants

Kyoto – Random Eats

If I had to decide between Kyoto and Tokyo for food, I’d pick the latter. I know L prefers Kyoto for its natural scenery, but I found Tokyo more foreigner-friendly and the options for eating out were endless. Plus, it seemed like Kyoto residents were more annoyed with the huge influx of tourism than Tokyo residents. Below are some of the places we checked out in Kyoto. Let’s start with my favourite bowl of ramen in Japan.

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L and I found this gem last year in the town of Otsu, near Zeze station. We returned again in 2018 to see if the ramen was as good as we remembered. From the outside, there’s no obvious signage. I don’t know the name of the shop, as it’s written in Japanese characters.

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A basic bowl of tonkatsu ramen will you cost 780 Yen. I didn’t realize I had to order the egg in addition to the ramen. By the time my bowl came out, it was too late. Dang it.

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The broth was served steaming hot. The broth was rich and velvety. The noodles were silky but still had a bite to it. I tried my hardest to not drink any of the broth. I had to save my calories for the chicken karrage.

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This restaurant also serves up some of the best chicken karrage I’ve eaten ever. And I’ve consumed a lot. It’s cheap too – we received four huge chunks of juicy, marinated chicken still sizzling from the fryer for only 500 Yen. The batter was golden brown, not greasy and so crunchy the skin crackled into tiny shards in my mouth.

tea

I took L to the famous Ippodu Tea House. We shopped in the store for gifts to bring back home. We also ventured into the tea room to try matcha and green tea with roasted rice. We each tried two teas and dessert for 790 Yen. There was a group of Japanese locals that offered to take our picture.

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Not sure if I’d bother to have another tasting as it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’ll return next year to stock up on tea to bring back as gifts. The tea bags were light in my suitcase, and help to protect my valuable cargo of sake.


Pastamore is located in Kyoto Station. This was our first western meal in 18 days. The food here is tasty and well-priced. Nothing fancy,  much better than the Spaghetti Factory but not nearly as good as Cotto Italian Comfort Food in Calgary.  The deal here is you pay for one price, but you can get a medium, large or extra-large portion of pasta. I figured out by looking at the dishes coming out of the kitchen that the cook uses the same amount of sauce for each order. So if you order an extra large dish of pasta, it has the same amount of sauce that a medium or large order would contain.

L and I each ordered a large because we were hungry and our server told us that generally, only women ordered the medium size. Well I don’t eat like a woman, particularly not a dainty Japanese lady. L picked fried eggplant and bacon. I ordered the lobster bisque with shrimp. Our dishes were around 1200 Yen. The pasta was al dente. I liked my pasta over L’s fried eggplant. His dish was larger and heartier but I thought the flavour of the bisque was superior to his tomato sauce. If you have a lighter appetite, get the medium size dish. I was starving and the large size was too much for me.

I also ordered a small Japanese style Caesar salad for 200 Yen. The egg was semi-solid and when I broke it open, the yolk mixed well with the lettuce. The dressing was delicious. I didn’t like the use of iceberg lettuce as I think the texture of romaine would have tasted better with the dressing. For 200 Yen though, I can see why iceberg was used.

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Ginza Hageten Kyoto is located in the Cube, which is the basement Kyoto Station. L and I ordered tendon (1070 Yen). I should have ordered tempura a la carte like the other customers. If you order a la carte, each piece is brought to you immediately after each piece is individually cooked.

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Compared to Tenya, Ginza Hageten’s tempura is more delicate and not nearly as battered. The sauce was more sophisticated and the rice was superior as well. The battered egg was not as good as I thought it would be. The egg yolk was hot and squirted out as I bit into it, but the flavour of the yolk was bland.

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L and I liked to have a drink at Yeisu Bar’s patio. Located by Kyoto Station under the Yodobashi camera building, located on a trendy strip.  If you’re a fan of Yeisu beer, you need to check out this bar for its large selection of beers on draft you won’t be able to find anywhere else.  I like sitting on the patio for people watching. There’s even a section of the patio that’s non-smoking.

Sleeves of beers range from 600 – 1200 Yen. I think the name Yebisu translates to god of Japanese mythology. The brewery dates back to the late 1800s and the founding Japanese brew master was a German-trained brewer. Note how much head is left on Japanese beer.

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I preferred the grapefruit vodka soda. I was pleasantly surprised to see a glass cost only 500 Yen. Refreshing. It’s hard to find a good grapefruit vodka soda at a restaurant that actually uses freshly squeezed fruit.

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We tried some bar bites. The portions are small and pricey and the quality is something you’d get at American chain restaurant. Like all metropolitan areas, you pay for the privilege of sitting down in a prime real estate to people watch.

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One of the most disappointing meals I had in Kyoto was a place TJ frequented. She visited CoCo Ichibanya four times in a week. She likes this place because it’s right across from our hotel and the food is fried. Most of the dishes are around $12 US. CoCo specializes in curry dishes with fried food like tonkatsu (pork), chicken, and shrimp. Personally, I think my Japanese curry is superior. The fried chicken was dry and the breading was overcooked.

curry

I should mention my disdain for this chain restaurant didn’t prevent me from demolishing my huge plate of food. I should also add that despite being quite tipsy, I could still tell the food here was lacklustre. That’s the ultimate Hitting the Sauce litmus test.

Ebi breakfast

There’s a chain grocery store by our hotel called Daily. I call it the breakfast of chubbsters. This store differs from 7/11 and Family Mart by offering freshly made breakfast goods. Daily sells heavy, fried breakfast items like croque monsieur,  curry buns, and katsu sandwiches. I enjoyed my breakfast of fried shrimp patty with egg salad.

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The bakeries in Japan have awesome pastries. I veer to the buttery, heavier items for breakfast. For example, the croque monsieur (239 Yen) at local chain bakery Sizuya. The bread is warm and crusty.  In between two slices of warm, airy bread sits a layer of fine tasting ham, covered with a baked slightly sweet cheesy topping. TJ would get a whole baguette, a brick of butter and crusty croissants for breakfast. She’d use a tiny bit of bread to go with her thick wedges of butter. At first I thought she was cutting into cheese. It wasn’t until I asked what type of cheese she purchased did I realize she was cutting into butter. It was then that I realized TJ and I have something in common. We love butter.

I like walking through Nishiki Market. It’s not like Tsukiji Market at all, but it’s cleaner and prettier. I went to Tsukiji Market last year and I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t like how dirty everything was and I found some of the people working at the market (understandably) grouchy. Nishiji and Tsukiji aren’t really comparable because the former doesn’t have an international fish warehouse or the surplus of sushi restaurants. However, if your goal is to admire seafood, flowers and eat fresh food from stalls in a convenient and charming corridor for an hour or so, I prefer Nishiki.

L and I weaved our way through food stalls and shops until I found a busy izakaya. I picked this restaurant because it was packed with regulars. After I ordered the chirashi and L ordered takoyaki, I noticed how dirty everything was. If I went to the washroom before I ate, I would have left. Absolutely vile.  L was worried I’d get sick after we ate here.

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The food wasn’t cheap either, which was why I was surprised this place was so busy with locals. So much for betting on a busy restaurant being a good restaurant. I should have used Yelp. L’s tako was better than my chirashi. But that’s not saying much.

Partly because I don’t have a good way of ending this post, I’ll tack a couple more random pictures. Below is a sparkling sake with gold flakes! I’m tempted to make a crude joke here, but I don’t have the golden touch.

This is one cookie I’ll bring back next year. You can buy these small boxes of cookie and vanilla biscuits from 7/11 (239 Yen). It tastes much better than it looks. I normally avoid unattractive sweets but L told me to try it. The flavour reminded me of cookies and cream ice-cream.

I’ve been to Japan twice, so my standard will be higher next year. Tokyo and Kyoto, we had a blast. Sayōnara Japan, see you next year.

Japanese · Kyoto · Restaurants · Seafood

Kyoto – Random Izakaya

L was on his anti-Yelp mood so I decided to kick it back old school. We wandered around until we found a busy izakaya packed with locals. For this post, let’s listen to something that harkens back to an era when tourists used physical maps and pay phones. L, this one is for you – Grandpa, tell me about the good old days by The Judds.

I’d be able to find this restaurant again. The exterior was yellow and the restaurant itself was quite small. This restaurant was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel, Sakura Inn.

inside

When our server found out that we didn’t speak Japanese, she brought over an English menu. We sat down and ordered a bowl of chirashi (800 Yen), potato salad (500 Yen), ahi tuna (700 Yen) and a potato croquettes (300 Yen). The best of the bunch was the chirashi. We should have ordered what we saw everyone eating – sashimi and a heaping plate of karrage.

chirashi

The fish was very fresh. One piece of fish still had the silvery skin on, which is a bit of a turn off for me. It was actually one of the best pieces. The rich egg yolk made the rice creamy and mellow. I would order this again.

potato salad

The potato salad was below average. This has to be one of the worst versions I’ve ever tried. Bland, no texture, no flavor. If I served this up at home, I’d be embarrassed. But that would never happen, because I make a killer potato salad.

tuna

The ahi tuna was battered. I enjoyed the wasabi relish but I wouldn’t order this dish again. It just wasn’t as good as the chirashi or the potato croquettes. Too much batter for the amount of fish.

cutlet

The croquettes were very tasty. The interior was soft and creamy and filled with chunks of vegetables. For the price, worth it. I’d return for the chirashi, sashimi and to try the karrage.

Japanese · Restaurants

Guu Otokomae & Granville Strip

I originally made plans for Beep Beep’s birthday dinner at Minami in Yaletown. Even though Beep Beep wasn’t picking up the tab, she balked at my choice because she was worried it would be too expensive for her friends. I know for a fact most of her friends don’t eat and would only drink. However, since it was her birthday and I could tell she was going to be stubborn, I did as she requested and moved her party to Guu Otokomae in Gastown.

wine

This Guu location allow for larger parties and you can make reservations through Opentable. The spirit, wine and beer list is more varied than the Robson and Thurlow locations.  I ordered a bottle of rosé to share with Beep Beep and Vanessa. I was happy with the wine for the price ($40). As I predicted, most of the girls didn’t eat and just ordered beer or cocktails.

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Beep Beep and I shared the Chicken Kara-age ($7.90), and two $16 Boss rolls. The exterior of the chicken kara-age was moist and lacked a crunch. I wouldn’t order this again.

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The Boss rolls were awful. I ordered one with salmon and tuna, but the restaurant was out of tuna and replaced it with snapper. The piece of fish was paper-thin. The rice was super sour and fell apart the moment I touched it. For $16 a roll I could have gone to Minami! This was worse than mall sushi.

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I tried a piece of Vanessa’s pork cheek, which was tasty. I did see one person order a stone bowl and that looked delicious. I usually add appropriate music to my blog posts, and this one is no exception. For this piece, I’m going to suggest Nelly – Hot in Herre.

After dinner, Beep Beep wanted to the Granville Strip. We jumped into a taxi and our cab driver asked us where we wanted to go. I wanted to be discreet so I just gave the address of the strip club. He immediately recognized the address and said, “Oh the strip club! Sure thing ladies. I know where that is.” When we arrived, the entire street was filled with the police, ambulance and the fire department. Our driver gave himself a five-dollar tip from Beep Beep’s twenty and said the Granville Strip has the green awning.

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I walked up to the police officer and asked if we could still access one of the businesses. He asked, “Which one?” I replied the store with the green awning. “Oh the Granville Strip? Yeah, go down the street and around the fire truck.” I walked over to the fireman at the end of the street and told him the officer said we could access a store. Again, I was asked which business we wanted to visit. I responded with my standard “green awning” answer and he replied, “Oh, the Granville Strip? Okay. Give me three minutes. We are just getting rid of toxic waste.”

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Finally, we got to the door and I told the doorman that it was my friend’s birthday. The doorman said Beep Beep could get in for free. While we were getting our ID scanned, another customer behind us started chatting with the doorman and said it was his birthday too. The doorman, a man of about 50 years, said, “Hey dude. Why are you talking to me? You’re a dude! Can’t you see I’m talking to these old broads?” I don’t know which I find more offensive. To be called a broad or old. Whatever grandpa, I’m no spring chicken but neither are you. No need to name call. I’m a paying customer.

Grandpa said Beep Beep could get inside for free but we would have to pay $20. Beep Beep’s friend looks young and is really cute. She has huge implants and wears very little clothing. Coincidentlly, she’s also use to getting into clubs for free. She tried to walk in without paying but the doorman shouted at her twice for the $20 bucks. She pouted (I’m pretty sure she heard the first time) but paid. The admission is totally worth it.

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We finally got inside and we ordered a round of drinks. I texted my brother Narc to tell him where I was and showed him the above pictures. Narc told me not to take pictures as it’s not permited.  I texted back that I wasn’t taking pictures of the dancers or customers, just the ambience and music.

In any case, there was one dancer who was awesome. She did this burlesque style dance with feathers and acrobatics on the pole. You need major arm and leg strength to pull those moves off. I can’t even do a push-up. Just to watch her was worth the admission. My friend told me there’s another well-known Indian dancer that just does one show and leaves right after. Seriously, the top acts here are like Cirque du Soleil in Vegas, but with less clothes.

Guu Otokomae Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars/Lounges · Beer · Japanese · Special Occasion

Shokunin – Guest appearance with BottleNick and J-Thug

The older I get, the harder it is to find a venue that plays music from my era. I know Modern Steak does a hip hop night on Fridays after 9:00 p.m., but that’s an hour before my bedtime. I recently found a restaurant that’s exactly what the late 90s/2000’s doctor ordered. Whenever I’m craving a night out with my favourite foods and tunes, I head over to Shokunin.

My husband L just came back from a week long conference, which meant I could guilt trip him into taking me out for a late night dinner. Moments after we sat down, two of L’s colleagues stepped inside. Imagine this song came on when we first saw J-Thug and BottleNick, two ballers entering the restaurant.

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J-Thug and BottleNick invited us to sit at their table. As they have never been to Shokunin, I suggested all the food.  I ordered J-Thug and myself a glass of sake, Kaiun “New Fortune” Iwaizake Junmai Daiginjo ($20/3 oz), while BottleNick and L stuck to bottles of Asahi. Unfortunately, the restaurant was again out of the Shokunin/Big Rock collaboration, Okami Kasu ($8/16oz), which is made with Canadian grown rice from the Fraser Valley in B.C. and sake lees from Vancouver. Poo! If you want some, you’ll to wait until June.

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BottleNick is a pescetarian, so I ordered him shiisito ($3) and mushroom ($3) yakitori, Japanese style potato salad ($8), rice ($3), the daily maki roll (scallop $16) and an octopus appetizer. The rice in the maki was a little hard. Looking back, I should have ordered him the scallop isoyaki (market price), which is a large sweet, still sashimi-like scallop roasted over charcoal, butter and soy. Next time.

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I ordered J-Thug the most expensive cocktail on the menu, this cool glass sphere filled with fog ($20). I think the main ingredient was a costly Japanese whiskey, and as the fog lifted, it would change the taste of the drink. According to J-Thug, it was worth the price tag. I tried a sip and yes, it’s out of this world.

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I also drank a lovely cocktail, the Remonado ($12), which is comprised of Beshi sake, Oolong tea and Yuzu lemon sake. Then I drank another sake, the Mikotsuru “Majestic Crane” Junmai Pink ($11).

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For food, J-Thug tried the chicken karrage ($11), which he thought was amazing. He also ordered thigh ($3) and skin yakitori ($2.50). The restaurant was sold out of gizzard, which J-Thug wanted to try.

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All of us except for Pescetarian BottleNick tried a piece of a handmade crispy braised beef tongue gyoza. Our favourite guy at Shokunin, Moto, highly recommended this dish. While I enjoyed the gyoza, it’s not one of my favourite dishes here. Rather, it was a complimentary dish presented by Darren MacLean, the owner and chef of Shokunin, that wowed us.

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Darren brought over a plate of four fresh Japanese Kabura turnips with the greens still attached. The turnip was sweet, crunchy and unbelievably fresh, while the rich saltiness of the red grainy miso and garlic dressing was just incredible.  J-Thug didn’t finish the greens and I really wanted to eat it but since we just met, I held back.

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L and I ordered our usual yakitori picks and Shokunin’s perfect steamed rice. We enjoyed dipping the chicken into the soy cured egg dip, which I’ve never seen before at any other izakaya. I tried chicken neck ($3.50) which was the softest meat ever. I also ate chicken skin ($2.50) which tasted like delicate crunchy fried chicken skin. To date, my favourite skewers rank in this order: chicken neck, chicken skin, chicken thigh (best value/flavour), chicken ass and chicken heart.

J-Thug said he couldn’t understand why this restaurant was getting such poor reviews on Zomato and Yelp. I can’t speak for when Shokunin first opened. However, I will say this place is not for those looking to get stuffed for cheap. It’s not possible with the top quality ingredients and the techniques employed here.

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After our feast, we decided to head over to Milk Tiger Lounge, J-Thug’s favourite bar. While service was very good and the crowd was fun, it was so loud I couldn’t even hear our conversation. All I could see were pictures of tang. I would have preferred to stay at Shokunin for drinks, as the prices are the same (if you avoid the crème de la crème sake and the more extravagant cocktails). Milk Tiger does have a larger and more varied beer list than Shokunin.  

This was my second time in Shokunin in two weeks. I might be in later this week for late night ramen if I can manage to stay up past 10:00 pm. I’m actually not a big ramen fan, but I’m curious to see what all the fuss is about.

View my food journey on Zomato!

Shokunin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato