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review

Jijimi at Washoku Bistro in Edmonton, Alberta on Wednesday, April 13, 2016.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail

Washoku Bistro occupies a long, austere room with none of the trinkety trappings so oft indentured to Western Canadian-Japanese eateries. Instead, neutral banquettes share space with a series of blond wood-panelled, semi-private booths. Abundant early evening light floods through the many windows; outside, the trailing edge of rush-hour traffic kicks up tendrils of dust that settle on dormant grass yearning for moisture. The backlit wall behind the bar throbs brilliant crimson like the incipient beams of a Pacific sunrise, next to a duo of itamae who cleave fish with surgeon-like focus.

Washoku's menu reads as a whirlwind tour of Japanese and Korean archetypes, with a smattering of maki thrown in for good measure. A decent selection of sake includes Kome Dry Honjozo ($24), which pours clear and cold, quenching with round, clean notes of sweet rice, apple and lychee. A gratis bowl of miso soup warms and whets the appetite, followed by a promptly proffered platter of Agedashi Tofu ($5.90). Each silken slice is adorned with dancing katsuobushi flakes that flutter as though alive. Shavings of scallion and daikon impart pleasantly bitter, herbaceous notes, while the tofu itself conceals a commendably creamy interior with a lightly golden, crisp and toothsome crust.

A sizable disc of jijimi ($10.90) arrives next. This Korean answer to okonomiyaki lies somewhere between an omelette and a pancake. Abundant shrimp and squid, together with lashings of fiery gochujang sauce almost excuse the dish's greasy texture. Chicken Katsu ($19.90) veers into irksome territory. Though the protein is abundant, a haphazard pile of roughly hewn veggies seems straight out of a food-court Asian takeaway, and the accompanying dip tastes curiously of HP Sauce.

See the room and the food at Washoku Bistro.

A generous pair of maki absolves past missteps. Aburi Salmon Roll ($16.90) finds shrimp tempura, crab, cucumber and avocado spiralled into alternating layers of sticky rice and nori, all topped with deftly flamed leaves of smoky-rich salmon. Spicy Cottage Roll ($18.90) wraps together shrimp and spicy tuna with welcome notes of mango and mixed greens. Translucent rice paper helps contain these assertive and complementary flavours.

Dessert options include several permutations of deep-fried sweets. Tempura Bananas with Crunchy Ice Cream ($9.50) are hot, sweet and creamy with just the right amount of crispy crust. A generous scatter of panko crumbs add namesake crunch to a pastel orb of matcha-flavoured ice cream. Chocolate Spring Rolls (with crunchy ice cream, $9.50) are disconcertingly tough; once cleaved open, the chocolate filling nearly induces hyperglycemia. A seductive glass of velvety Takara Plum wine ($3.00) decrescendos from a heady surge of aromatic summer fruits to a clear and ethereal after note that lingers like the last rays of light after sundown.

Ultimately, the evening veered between commendably enjoyable and indifferently forgettable territory. Washoku Bistro lacks the polish to attain fine-dining status and doesn't quite achieve the right level of joyous hullabaloo to qualify as an izakaya. Perhaps, with time, Washoku will evolve to hold its own on a street already rife with culinary juggernauts.