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.

Bars/Lounges · Beer · Cheap Eats · Japanese · Restaurants · Tokyo

Tokyo – Yakitori at Sanja Matsuri Festival

Every year, we head to Sensoji Temple for the Sanja Matsuri festival, the largest festival in Tokyo. There’s music, floats carried by locals, and a bunch of other religious stuff that goes over my head. There’s lots of food stalls – crab on a stick, karrage, okonomiyaki, chicken skin gyoza, takoyaki, yakisoba, and ice-cream. However, I prefer to eat at the makeshift restaurants bordering the festival.

Last year, we found a restaurant on the corner with outside seating. We sat down to drink beer and eat gyoza. I remember there were a group of tough-looking, hard-drinking Japanese men sitting by me. They stood up and started slapping each other around. One of them elbowed me in the head and didn’t apologize. For this post, I have to play “Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio.

We returned again this year and I tried to get the attention of the server. I thought the server was ignoring us and my suspicions were confirmed by the same group of toughs from the previous year and other less muscled customers.  We were bestowed with the dirtiest of looks. This was a first. Usually when it’s a locals only place, the server is polite but says very firmly that there’s no room. This time around, I could feel the menacing hostility, not so much the staff who just avoided eye contact but the customers.

This turned out to be a blessing. We wandered around and saw this tiny little bar with a few seats on the outside. We could see kids, parents and an older generation sitting inside. We stood outside and debated if we dare enter. A male customer waved us in and told us to sit down. A server came over and when she learned we couldn’t read or speak Japanese, pleasantly handed me an English menu. See how much head is on that beer? The Japanese like having lots of foam in their beer, as it shows how fresh it is.

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We chatted with the friendly fellow who invited us in and kanpaied him a few times. He was tipsy and wanted to know if we liked Japan. He kept touching his heart and welcoming us to Japan and the festival.

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The best thing on the menu was the cheapest – chicken thigh and chicken skin. The yakitori was grilled on a tiny grill by the window. The taste of the charcoal on the meat was tantalizing. The chicken was beautifully grilled and delicious. I can’t believe it was only 100 Yen.

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We started off with the set price menu – 1000 Yen for a drink and a few skewers. We ordered several more because it was so tasty.

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I ordered prawn (300 Yen), squid (200 Yen) and more chicken skewers but with salt instead of sauce. That was a mistake. I much prefer the sauce version.  I don’t know what they put into their sauce but it was the best thing I’ve ever tried, a balance of sweet and salty.

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I ate the prawn whole. The prawn and squid were juicy. After we couldn’t eat anymore, we wished the gentleman goodbye and thanked him for his hospitality. L said it was too bad we would not be back because he had no idea how to find this gem again. I took a picture and told him we’re coming back in 2019. Lucky for him, he’s married to a restaurant savant. This was one of the best places we ate at in Tokyo.

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I love Japan but sometimes I get exhausted by the rejection of locals. I get tourists are annoying and time consuming. So it was comforting when we meet a random stranger that made us feel welcomed.

17th Ave · Beer · Japanese

Ke Charcoal Grill and Sushi

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On Tuesday, L thought it was too hot to cook. That’s good news for me, as I’m the one who does most of the cooking at home. L can only cook five dishes: BBQ ribs, chicken, pork loin, sausages and steak.

L told me to pick the restaurant. I read a lot of positive reviews about Ke Charcoal Grill and Sushi on Zomato and Yelp, so I figured it was a safe enough bet. Plus, the prices looked reasonable. With this economic recession, I feel really guilty going out to eat.

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The interior is so much nicer than the exterior of the building. Ke Charcoal did a nice job remodelling the place. At 8:00 p.m., the lower floor was packed with customers. Music was vibrant but not too loud. The smells coming off the grills were tantalizing.

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We started off with a pint of Sapporo ($5.00) and complimentary edamame. I forgot how good beer and edamame go together. Our server was so cute, she brought these over saying, “Have some snacky snacky!”

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I like the open kitchen and the good vibes coming from the cooks and servers. Despite how busy it was, the chefs and servers exuded a happy to be here vibe.

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L saw the chefs using a contraption to make these the Wild Salmon Oshi Sushi ($6). L liked the simplicity of the sushi. The miso sauce was light and highlighted the salmon, rather than overpower it like so many other fusion Japanese restaurants. I didn’t really taste the sear of the sushi, but perhaps that’s just me.

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L ordered Tuna Nigiri ($3.50), which was pretty good, though the rice could have used a touch more seasoning. Again, this is a personal preference. L liked that Ke Charcoal didn’t put wasabi on the rice. I thought all the sushi was well-priced for the quality.

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My favourite was the Spicy Salmon Oshi Sushi, with chopped salmon and spicy mayo. The salmon was firm but nicely marbled. I didn’t think the jalapeño did much for either sushi, so I just removed it. To each their own.

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The best dish of the night was the Black Miso Cod ($10). The fish was sweet, almost candied. So flavourful, I didn’t need to use the mayo.

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The Chicken Karaage  ($7) had a nice crunchy batter, but there wasn’t much meat. The karagge was mostly batter. I would have preferred plain mayo instead of spicy, but again, that’s just my personal taste.

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I ordered Kaki Fry ($8.00), one of my favourite things to eat. The oysters tasted fresh and were perfectly cooked. The coating was thin and crunchy, reminding me of the batter of deep-fried scallops in Japanese restaurants. The dish was suppose to come with spicy mayo sauce, but instead, it came with a heavier brown sauce. I prefer the lighter batter and ponzu sauce that Zipang uses in their version.

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L wanted to try some meat skewers, as everyone else was ordering it.  Just over $2.00 a  stick, these were a tasty snack. My favourite was the pork belly, which was hot in temperature and fatty. L thought the  chicken yakatori was average, lacking in a distinctive charcoal taste that you find at Shokunin.

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I really liked our server. She dropped off a box of Pocky and the bill. She said, “Pocky for you, and the bill for him.” Smart woman.

Overall, the food was tasty and well-priced. Without tax and tip, all those dishes and with two beers, our bill was $62.00. I enjoyed the selection of varied dishes and would happily return to try all the other dishes. This place is popular for a reason. If you haven’t already, come by and check it out.

Ke Charcoal Grill and Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

View my food journey on Zomato!