With the opening of Izakaya Dorinku last July, Edmonton is now home to a total of three Japanese pub-style eateries. About time. I’m already a fan of small plates and tapas-style dining but an izakaya is a whole other dining experience to a lot of people. Loud, rambunctious, and filled with laughter, an izakaya will greet you wholeheartedly (and literally with the traditional saying, “irasshaimase”) when you enter and this Whyte Avenue establishment does that job to a T.
On the corner of Whyte Avenue and 102 Street, Izakaya Dorinku is in a prime location. Underneath the new rental units of the Station on Whyte, it’s sure to attract tenants above and locals all around the Old Strathcona neighbourhood. “Dorinku” translates to “drink” in Japanese, weird to think that there’s only a two-letter difference between the two words! Not only does born and raised-Tokyoite Chef Takeshi Kawabe bring a hefty selection of Japanese whiskies and sake to Edmonton, he also offers a wide selection of dishes, and plans to expand once Dorinku is fully opened.
I had a chance to visit Izakaya Dorinku twice during it’s soft opening phase. Their grand opening is slated to be for mid-August although there’s no confirmation on the date quite yet.
Walking into the space, it instantly transported me back to Japan’s izakaya establishments. Wood beams, wood tables, wood chairs. Japanese banners, lanterns, and a room full of smiling staff. It’s not only the furniture and layout of the space that makes you feel like you’re in the right place, but also the decor: fake models of food displayed as commonly seen in Japan’s storefronts, an operating vending machine (warranted one of the best coffee dispensaries I’ve ever had), and a pachinko machine. Well done Dorinku, well done.
Our first visit was for one purpose, and one only: the ramen. Word has spread that Izakaya Dorinku’s ramen is a fairly decent bowl, despite it well… being served in an izakaya. Ramen isn’t very shareable and to find it on the menu is an oddity. What-the-hey though right?
We started with Tuna Tataki from the starters section of the menu because I just couldn’t leave the place without actually trying a few small dishes. The lightly seared tuna sashimi (5 pieces) is served on a bed of sliced onions and a sesame soy citrus and homemade chili oil. Tonight’s dish was fresh and slightly firm — no complaints here. The small amount of heat from the chili oil was perfect and not overpowering. A great starter.
I also couldn’t go without a classic izakaya dish: the Chicken Karaage. The deep fried chicken is served with a side of green tea salt and chili mayonnaise. It’s one of the best karaage I’ve had in awhile, tender and well seasoned, perfectly crisp and not overly battered. The green tea salt is overwhelming salty, despite it’s bright green appearance. I was definitely expecting more bitterness from the green tea. Dipped in the chili mayonnaise then lightly dipped into the salt, the dish is a fun way to share amongst a group of friends.
Our Dorinku Ramen bowls came out right after our two dishes were served. It leads me to think that this isn’t the kitchen’s first rodeo together. That, or the extended soft opening has really fine-tuned their service. The bowl itself looks underwhelming compared to some of the more elaborate ones in Edmonton, but the broth really stood out for me. Slow cooked, the chicken flavours came through more than the pork, the consistency on the thicker, tonkotsu-style. The ramen noodles had a good bite to them. Two pieces of pork chashu were well-seasoned and on the leaner side of things. I really missed my traditional topping of marinated egg, but to each their own. Even offering an egg (or additional pieces of pork chat) at an additional cost would make this bowl rank higher up on my Edmonton list. The addition of fried onions also worked in their favour.
Overall, first impression of Izakaya Dorinku was promising. If they could nail heavy-hitters like tataki and karaage, and surprisingly offer a delicious bowl of ramen, then I kind of had to return for a second round.
Joe and I came back the following week, this time to try more izakaya dishes. The Tako Wasabi is a classic dish, chopped raw octopus with wasabi dressing. Served with sheets of nori, I appreciated the presentation and functionality of the dish. For wasabi lovers, this is a winner.
Tuna Avocado was a disjointed dish. On the one side, fresh Albacore tuna sashimi (5 pieces) and on the other, slices of avocado. All are topped with a dark Japanese citrus seaweed sauce, more savoury than acidic. I definitely can’t complain about the freshness of the sashimi though.
The Daily Special Miso Soup is a red miso-base soup, richer and deeper in umami flavour than its usual white miso cousin. I’m not sure if this actually changes daily or what makes it special as our server never elaborated. We’ll have to find out next time.
Knowing that deep fried food was sure to come our way (it’s an izakaya after all), we ordered the Smoking Sashimi Salad. The day’s freshest sashimi (3 varieties, 3 pieces each) is served with an organic green salad with black olive dressing and garlic shrimp oil and served smoking at table side. The glass is quickly removed once served to give the sashimi a light smoked flavour, not at all overwhelming the fish. Joe was skeptical about ordering anything off of the “Salad” section of the menu, but it was a nice balance to everything else we had that evening.
Ebimayo is another classic izakaya dish, “ebi” being shrimp, specifically tiger prawns (5 pieces) deep fried and served with a spicy mayonnaise sauce. On top of organic greens, the shrimp bites were well done and quite tasty. There was quite a bit of mayonnaise on each shrimp. I would suggest less with additional dollops on the plate for dipping to make it easier for diners.
Two new menu items had been added since our last visit: the Mozzarella Minced Katsu and the Pork Umeshiso Tempura. Two sizable portions of minced katsu with piping hot, oozy mozzarella cheese made for a fun and delicious dish. I really liked the panko breading used and one piece was enough for me!
In comparison, the Pork Umeshiso Tempura (6 pieces) comes nugget-sized and quite filling for the two of us. I was hoping for more umeshiso flavour, the plum leaves’ minty notes overwhelmed by the pork and tempura batter.
Overall, both of our dining experiences were pleasant! With a few solid hitters and a few decent bites, I’d say Dorinku is off to a good start. I’m impressed at the expansive menu and really hope they focus on every dish they have to offer. Other dishes that I would love to try: the classic Agedashi Tofu and Beef Tataki, the Hamachi Carpaccio (I’ve heard great things!), and the pressed sushi, famed in Osaka. To note, there are a couple of things lacking on Dorinku’s menu: takoyaki and yakitori — two items which immediately come to my head when somebody says “Tokyo Street Food”. I’d have to say that they’re definitely more of an izakaya than street food!
Service was speedy on both occasions, despite a full house. Expect to pay a premium on dishes, it’s an izakaya after all, but I thought it was quite reasonable for the Whyte Avenue hotspot (our bills: $45 for two, no drinks; $53 for two, no drinks).
Congratulations to Dorinku on their soft opening and kampai to Edmonton’s newest izakaya!Dorinku
10205 82 Avenue
(780) 988-9760 Facebook: @dorinku.ca