Have you noticed something? Japanese pubs, nicknamed Izakayas, have been popping up all around Montreal, especially in Shaughnessy Village, where you’ll find such hotspots as Kazu, Imadake and Kinka Izakaya.
I recently asked myself, why so many Izakayas? To really understand their popularity you must go straight to the source. Toby Lyle, owner of the Burgundy Lion Pub, says it is a trend that originated out West. "In Vancouver, Izakayas have been popular for several years; same in Toronto, where they’ve been around for ten years, he says. Here, Izakayas were slowly introduced by Imadake and Kazu". The recent trend favoring Izakayas can also be linked to increased demand for street food, foods trucks, etc. Either way, the Izakaya concept of offering delicious food at reasonable prices is a real winner!
Eager to understand this craze for Japanese pubs, I turned to: Kazu. I went one day at noon and there was already a line! Fortunately, I went straight to the counter as I placed my order to go. Waiting just ten minutes was enough for me to immerse myself in the typical Izakaya atmosphere; warm, friendly and surprisingly less noisy than Imadake. The place is inviting and unpretentious; just a few tables, a bar and most importantly, the staff welcomes you with a big smile.
The menu, quite varied, offers a wide variety of plates to snack on while waiting for the main course. Personally, I fell for the house tofu. Trust me you can’t make anything this good at home. As for the rest of the meal, being unable to decide I ordered two entrees. The shrimp burger is well seasoned and very tasty. The Atlantic prawns dish is served on toast and generously garnished with vinegar lettuce. A classic dish to try on your first visit.
The Chirashi-zushi is unbeatable. Bluefin tuna and salmon combined with strand lettuce, rice and the crunch of a fried noodle is a real delight, all in one bite! The dish is quite rich and would be more than enough for lunch.
Following my third visit to a Japanese pub I realize that Izakayas are all part of a single experience that consists of offering simple and tasty Japanese food in a similar atmosphere. Nevertheless, I have tested Kazu for lunch and Imadake for dinner, and I noticed many differences in their menus, which overall are far from the same. Each Izakaya has a je ne sais quoi that makes you want to repeat the experience!
The trend that has swept the North American culinary world has officially reached Montreal, the Izakaya, Japanese pubs serving grilled meat appetizers and other snacks, as well as beer and sake, are taking the town by storm.
Traditional Izakayas offer small dishes to share, skewers of marinated and grilled meats, small simple salads, fried chicken, tofu soups and marinated vegetables.
Here in Montreal, our Izakayas don’t hesitate to mix styles. Some serve ramen and sushi, which are definitely not on authentic Izakaya menus. Also, contrary to tradition, some of these restaurants do not have great sake selections.
Izakayas are all part of a single experience: simple, great tasting Japanese food – from near and far - in a warm and noisy atmosphere. In Japan, it is common practice for all employees in any restaurant or shop to shout "irrasshaimase" (welcome) when a customer walks in the door, to make the place more cheerful and relaxed and ensure that guests feel welcome.
It’s such an inviting place, no wonder it’s so popular!
1862, Ste-Catherine St. W., Montreal
https://www.facebook.com/Restaurant-Kazu-141048532627049/timeline/Photo: Kazu Restaurant Facebook Page