10328 Jasper Avenue
No listed delivery or reservation service
Hours: 11 a.m. to late, six days a week, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sun.
Dinner for two, excluding beverages, tip and taxes: Basic, $30; loaded, $70
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 4 of 5 Suns
By GRAHAM HICKS
Restaurateur Isaac Choi has a magic wand.
This past decade, Choi has opened Japonais Bistro, Dorinku Tokyo and DOSC (Drunken Ox Sober Cat). All have been unique and popular. All have boasted consistently excellent food quality.
Dorinku Osaka on Jasper Avenue is no exception.
If anything, the latest offering from Isaac Choi is even more interesting food-wise than its predecessors, offering separate lunch and dinner menus, a fresh fish bar and, at the back of the stylish yet casual restaurant, a 20-seat ramen room with its own kitchen and menu.
This is a space of many moods, quiet and intimate on a Sunday lunch, cosmopolitan in the evenings, club-like I’m sure as the night goes on. The ramen room is a cozy all-day cafeteria.
The “Osaka” specialties — street foods inspired by Japan’s third-largest city — are mostly in the dinner menu, which in turn is about multiple small plates, charcoal-grilled/deep-fried skewers and small portions of superb wagyu beef.
For group evening dining are sashimi/sushi platters from the fish bar, for large appetites is a small but intriguing selection of fried rice, noodle and savory pancake dishes.
Lunch tends to be individual servings, with good-sized portions like poke bowls, an actual wagyu steak, breaded pork cutlets, curried rice, yakisoba noodles.
Choi’s kitchens are run by top chefs who are usually stakeholders in the enterprises. Osaka’s executive chef Toshiyuki Iwa is a stickler for quality. His own recipes differentiate Dorinku Osaka from run-of-the-mill Japanese eateries.
Our visit to Dorinku Osaka fell on a Sunday afternoon, meaning we ordered from the lunch menu which doesn’t include the Osaka street munchies.
Nonetheless, what came to our table was excellent — in appearance, tastes and textures.
My poke sushi bowl was a most unusual combination, from a rice base to sashimi tuna chunks on top, with crispy shredded onion and cabbage, diced avocado, cooked and cooled beans and a few tablespoons of granola in between. Somehow, it all worked together as a crispy, cool casserole, so filling that it would work as a light lunch for two.
How could wagyu — an expensive fine-marbled beef, coming only from Japanese cattle breeds — be in a $16 dish? Because, within the wagyu curry rice dish were bits of wagyu trimmings and wagyu fat absorbed into the beautiful, silky, ever-so-subtle curry soup/sauce as it brewed.
Thin slices of salmon, crisped skin intact, were grill-seared then carefully laid on top of a light miso-influenced mushroom sauce. So delicate, so gloriously Asian.
Quite the opposite, yet still distinctly oriental, was a hefty helping of pork katsu — a piece of pure pork tenderloin, some six ounces, coated in a light panko-like mix and deep-fried to perfection.
The lunchtime mains came on pretty trays with beautiful lacquered side-bowls, containing a leafy salad, pickled veggies, cold eggplant and a miso soup broth filled with tiny mushrooms and fine-chopped sweet onion. All was designed to complement the tray’s main dish.
The presentations, the restaurant’s gentle but stylish ambience, the delicious, delicate but surprisingly filling mains all made Dorinku Osaka’s lunch menu a true winner.
I look forward to at least two more visits — to try the Osaka street food from the evening menu, and to sample that all-day ramen.
• Speaking of ramen, the “soup’s on” sign was still lit at Tokiwa Ramen in the early afternoon last week, so my daughter and I enjoyed a spicy bowl of the most sublime ramen in town. When Tokiwa runs out of ramen, the sign is turned off and the restaurant closes for the day. Only the Prairie Noodle Shop competes with Tokiwa for quality ramen.
• The 11-day Chinatown Dining Week promotion, Jan. 9-19, is returning for a second year. Sixteen restaurants (Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Indian) are participating, offering two-course dinners for $18, or a $10 takeaway.
Last year’s promotion introduced Weekly Dish readers to the Gui Lin Noodle House. Other top names on this year’s list include Kanto 98 St., King Noodle House, Noi Thai, Padmanadi and Syphay. More details at edmontonchinatown.ca.
• Weird. The Blue Plate Diner moved to Stony Plain and 124 Street, allegedly because of the impending demolition of the 104 Street downtown building in which it was housed. But now a specialty burger joint, Royale Burger, has opened in the very space vacated by Blue Plate.
• Congrats to two long-time city restaurants where top-notch dining is always a given. Tzin and Sabor have been named to the Open Table reservation system’s annual list of Canada’s Top 100 restaurants.