- 10205 82 Ave., Edmonton
- Dinner for two with drinks: $90
Edmonton was rather late to the izakaya party. As recently as five years ago, these joyous purveyors of comestible Japanese hedonism were limited to the stalwart, south side Izakaya Tomo. Others followed once the city realized that the depth and breadth of Japanese cuisine far transcended the usual tame offerings of sushi and teriyaki. Dorinku joined the fray in late 2016, occupying a cozy spot in the base of a low-rise condo on the margins on bustling Whyte Avenue.
To step through Dorinku's door is to traverse a wormhole to a Tokyo side street. A bus stop sign, a bench, and a Japanese vending machine that accepts only yen (which you can get from the servers in exchange for Canadian coins) wait patiently by the entrance. Rows of dark wooden tables flank the boisterous open kitchen. Near the back of the room, a pachinko machine blinks seductively, and a glassed-in case displays manga action figures, including principal characters from Dragon Ball Z, Naruto and Sailor Moon.
Dorinku's newsprint menu focuses on casual fare, and there is an entire page devoted to sake. Other beverages of note include sake sangria ($8.50). Yes, you read that correctly. It's a non-intuitive combination, but the results are exquisite. Here, sake and Calpico (a milky, fermented soda) are stirred with lychee, orange and grapes. It's rosy pink, ice cold and heady with ethereal lychee. A Yuzu Mojito ($7.50) swaps out limes for tart yet subtle yuzu.
The menu also includes items seldom represented in Western Canada. Curry Tontoro ($8.79) plays off the Japanese love of sweet curry powder, using it to liberally dust thick, achingly juicy and impeccably marbled slices of pork. Each bite is more sweet than spicy. Asari Cilantro Sakamushi ($13.80) arrives next, and presents a generous bowl of clams steamed in sake. The aroma itself is intoxicating, and is certainly reminiscent of clams marinière. Scallop Carpaccio ($13.29) consists of marshmallow-sized scallops topped with a dollop of salty fish roe and lightly dressed with nori sauce. The liquid nori imparts a submarine depth that might make one forget that they were thousands of kilometres inland.
Shaka Shaka Fries ($6.80) are the evening's surprise hit. While the price might seem steep for a bag of fries, rest assured that these are no ordinary spuds. It's dinner and a show, for one is handed a bounteous paper bag of matchstick fries and a small dish of seasoning. One adds the seasoning (which consist of salt, sugar, dashi granules and nori, as well as other secret spices), gives the bag a vigorous shake, and voilà. Seafood Ishiyaki Fried Rice ($14.30) is also performance art. The server arrives with a heated stone bowl within which she scramble-fries an egg, shrimp and squid, followed by seasoned rice. Though the dish is undersalted, the seafood is ample.
Dessert is limited to Almond Tofu ($5.79) or Coffee Jelly ($5.79). Though the former presents more like custard than silken tofu, the marzipan essence of sweet almond is amped up by a judicious layer of strawberry jam. Coffee Jelly, on the other hand, riffs on tiramisu by topping a stratum of potent espresso gelee with rich mascarpone crème. One may wish to linger a while after the meal has concluded, drink in the surroundings, and listen to the staff welcome new patrons with a boisterous "Irasshaimase!" Edmonton's izakaya renaissance is long overdue.