Edmonton’s got a whole new wave of food culture coming at it and it’s looking very Japanese! Ramen is starting to get noticed (much to my delight!) and with the arrival of a second izakaya establishment this past weekend, I think Edmonton is growing up a little! Ikki Izakaya has joined the ranks of the city’s beloved Izakaya Tomo, bringing the Oliver community a space to visit after work to “heal a person’s soul and provide energy for the coming day”. Serving up smaller shareable plates and offering a wide selection of imported sake, Ikki Izakaya is a casual drinking establishment to hang out with family and friends.
Locally owned, this isn’t the Ishikawa family’s first go at it. Grandma Takako Ishikawa’s concept of healing the soul and providing energy from good food and drinks is key to both successful restaurants in Thailand. The family has now extended it’s third location to Edmonton’s Jasper Avenue and 119 Street in the Illuminada building.
I was lucky enough to nab a reservation for myself, Diane, and Joe this past Saturday for their grand opening. Smiling staff sporting “I Heart Sake” tees greeted diners with the traditional phrase of “Irasshaimase!” as we entered. The new space is tight, with ten or so seats at the beautifully done sake bar and twenty table-side seats are reservable, with a great niche in the back for a more private event. Painted black, the dark space is seemingly appropriate for late night dining, something I think Edmonton needs more of! The family has paid attention to even the small details, like the shelving slots on the walls to hold orders and beautiful woodwork above the bar and back-lighting displays to showcase their selection of Japanese sake.
The menu is divided out into cold and hot tapas, sushi + sake sets, and dessert. For the night, there was a Grand Opening Special ($28) that allowed us to sample a majority of the dishes.
Our meal kicked off with complimentary edamame, something quite common in izakayas that I’ve visited in Vancouver and San Francisco.
Joe’s Ikki Caesar ($12) turned some heads as the sake-based cocktail came out in a slanted glass and complete with shrimp and bacon. Loved the shichimi spiced rim!
Cold tapas came out first, bites of the Takowasabi, Hiyayakko, Shrimp Spring Roll, and Veggie Bites. The Takowasabi was the most memorable of the four, a strong hit of wasabi marinade with the raw octopus. I also enjoyed the Hiyayakko, a cold silky tofu served with bonito flakes, green onions, and dark soy sauce. The Shrimp Spring Rolls were made with fresh vegetables and served with a creamy sesame sauce and the Veggie Bites were served on a skewer with miso.
In addition to our Grand Opening Special, we also wanted to try the Beef Tataki ($12.75), thinly sliced mid-rare beef with a citrus ponzu sauce. I’m a fan of thicker slices of beef and don’t mind the sear on the edges although I know a lot of people will disagree and prefer their beef cut razor thin. This was one of my favourite dishes of the night.
Hot tapas came out next although by the time it reached us, most items were lukewarm. The yakitori (read, Japanese chicken skewers!) didn’t have a nice char as I would have liked and were heavily covered in a sweet yakitori sauce. The takoyaki, grilled octopus dumplings, were on the smaller side, had great flavour, although a little soft in the center (dough-y). Corn croquettes and a (claimed) spicy chicken wing also made an appearance. Overall, I was a bit disappointed and was expecting something more creative or with bolder flavours.
As with the cold dishes, we felt that the hot tapas plate was missing an essential item to try: the Motsuni Stew ($7.75). I had done my research before coming and this was the dish that made Grandma Takako Ishikawa successful. As one of the most authentic izakaya dishes in Japan, the motsuni stew had slow cooked pork shocho (stewed giblets or innards) with silky tofu, leeks, and ginger in Ikki’s famous sweet mixed miso. The intestines were definitely slow cooked and had a softer texture than what I’m use to, but was delicious and unique to Ikki Izakaya nevertheless. And if the small plate isn’t enough or for those who just want a free “I Love Sake” t-shirt, take the Motsu-don challenge! Finish your bowl (5 cups of white rice, 28 oz. of silky tofu, 1lb pork shocho in the special miso, and 100g of green onion) within 45 minutes for the compensated bowl and your prize! Fail, and it will cost you $50. I would love to see somebody take on the bowl!
A selection of sushi rolls left our table wanting more, the dense and almost too-sticky rice had an odd consistency. Perhaps not their strongest dish although a 2oz sake drink is included in the $15 price tag for rolls.
One of the more memorable moments of the night was the sake. And to be honest, I think that’s what Ikki Izakaya’s main focus is on. On arrival, our table got to try a complimentary ounce of award-winning “New Fortune” Kaiun Iwaizake Tokubetsui Honjozo sake. Sake sommelier Toshiki Uehara from Calgary’s Sake Gami was there to give us the sake brewery’s history and the sake’s tasting notes, something I’ve never actually never had explained to me before. Best of all, we tried a delightfully sweet plum sake that got me thinking perhaps I should start collecting and drinking sake at home! Learning more about both sakes was the highlight of my night!
Overall, I think Ikki Izakaya has a few kinks to work out and needs to hone in on their small menu. Despite having a great sake selection and a fantastic space, I think great food is still one of the main components for a memorable dining experience. With a majority of tables ordering the Grand Opening Special, plates were coming out at a slower pace and perhaps backing up the kitchens. As the evening went on, I heard that seating times were also pushed back. The price point for Ikki Izakaya is actually on the reasonable side for an izakaya although could potentially get expensive if you’re aiming for a full dinner. I would return for late night drinks and trying some more harder-to-find sake bottles. Kampai! (cheers!) to Ikki Izakaya on their grand opening and welcome to Edmonton! I’m rooting for them to solidify their existing menu and hope to find my personal favourites one day: agedashi tofu and kara-age!Ikki Izakaya
11931 Jasper Avenue