Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ
10404 Jasper Ave.
11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. (Fri. and Sat. to 11:30 p.m., Sun. to 10 p.m.)
Reservations, Open Table
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Service: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Dinner for two, excluding gratuities and beverages: Basic, $30; loaded $50
Kobachi Japanese Cuisine
#125, 200 Festival Lane, Sherwood Park
Dinner, Wed. to Sat. 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Sun. to 8:30 p.m.)
Lunch, Wed. to Fri. 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Reservations by phone
Food: 2.5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3 of 5 Suns
Service: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Dinner for two, excluding gratuities and beverages: Basic, $50; loaded $75
Two Japanese dining experiences, with paradoxical outcomes.
One was a long-awaited treat that was disappointing at best.
The other restaurant was entered with lower expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised.
Gyu-Kaku, meaning “horn of the bull” in Japanese, is a franchise Japanese/Korean BBQ operation, one of 750 worldwide.
The main attraction is a sunken gas-fired circular grill in the centre of every table, on which the customer cooks different cuts and preparations of meat, mostly beef. Think of The Melting Pot, or a chef-less Japanese Village.
My doubt was simply from the fact Gyu-Kaku Edmonton is part of a 750-restaurant chain. It’s reasonable to think not much unique or distinctive would be found in such a corporate context. The menu – with big splashy pictures, plastic-coated pages and exclamation marks – is in the tradition of the big, brassy American fast-food outlets.
The initial impression was not good. The trainee hostess at the front door on Saturday noon was not friendly, not proficient in English and clearly in over her head.
But all changed once we were seated.
While the menu was garish, it proved a reliable guide. Our server was gracious and efficient. While not particularly knowledgeable, she was at least able to explain how to cook the meats and vegetables on the sunken grill without damage to oneself or the meat.
When the meat dishes (quickly) arrived Gyu-Kaku’s quality standards and expertise became evident. The $20 brunch selection was a choice of three meat dishes – from a 20-plus selection – to be cooked at the table. For the four of us, we ordered hanger steak, beef ribs and pork belly.
Each portion was ample, about eight or nine ounces, of excellent quality, well-marinated in familiar Japanese/Korean flavours – i.e. teriyaki, sesame, sweet soy, a hint of chili. Each was cut into individual servings easy to transfer on and off the sunken grill, on which, miraculously, the meat and veggie sides did not stick.
The food was first-rate, and indeed of excellent value. The three good-quality meat selections, veggies, shishito peppers, rice and two desserts filled up four of us for only $60.
There’s fun in the cooking, and the menu explanations are simple. Discounted specials and happy hour pricing attract customers throughout the day and night. The only glaring error was leaving such hosting inexperience all on her own at the door.
A week earlier, my wife and I had gone with some anticipation to Kobachi Japanese Cuisine in Sherwood Park to celebrate a late Valentine’s Day. Other reputable reviewers had suggested Kobachi was one of the best “pure” sushi houses in Metropolitan Edmonton. Its self-description paints its Japanese cooking as clean, honest, simple and local with no deep-frying.
Which is great … if the base ingredient – the raw or very lightly cooked seafood of Japanese cuisine – are as fresh as fresh can be.
For whatever reasons, despite the delicate, visually pleasing presentations, the salmon sushi, the cut-up (and minuscule) marinated squid, the mashed crab in the California crab roll and the thin-sliced octopus served by Kobachi were all past their prime. While edible, it was deeply disappointing. Any fan of sushi knows exactly what I am talking about.
Kobachi’s seared wagyu beef tataki, on the other hand, was delicious.
Kobachi is also expensive. The smallest of the meat/fish small plates start at $9. Seven dishes constituted a very light evening meal for the two of us – and we are not big eaters. The bill, with one $7 beer, came to $70. “The best thing about that meal,” said my wife on the drive home, “was your beer.”
The annual Downtown Dining Week is back in a few weeks, March 11 to 22, 2020. Forty-five downtown restaurants will be offering a pre-set lunch or brunch for $20, three-or-four-course dinners for $35 to $50. The $50 multi-course dinners can be had at Atlas, Braven, BUCO Downtown, Chop Downtown, Harvest Room, La Ronde, Lux, Madison’s, The Marc, Revel, Rostizado, Ruth’s Chris, Sabor, Sofra, Sorrentino’s Downtown, TZiN, Zinc and others. More info at edmontondowntown.com/diningweek.