Review: Winning Friends with Kinkaku Izakaya

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Howdy food fans, Amidst a week fraught with perilous deadlines, menacing milestones, and ominous world events, my partner in crime Queen G instigated our food-filled adventure.

“You have time to review a restaurant with me this Tuesday, right?” she demanded, fixing me with a steely gaze.

To this question, there was clearly a right and a wrong answer.

I mentally crouched as a lion does before springing a gazelle. I was prepared to navigate the treacherous waters of communication.

Taking aim with my classic “shooting from the hip” conversational style, I intended to reconcile emotional, logical, and gastronomic influences to concoct the perfect response.

My answer would be the answer to end all answers. It would unequivocally establish my place within this world and the next. However, to answer a question, you must first listen to it.

“What’s that?” I asked, straining to hear her over the sound of my pompous internal monologue.

“It’s a place where people go to eat food, but that’s not important right now,” she responded.

She then whispered my gastronomical kryptonite, gently dissecting each syllabic morsel and plating it with the elite precision and care of Masaharu Morimoto.

“Sushi,” she breathed.

“Sue her,” I corrected. “Is she in some kind of legal trouble?”

And so, my exasperated Queen and I journeyed to Kinkaku Izakaya in downtown Kitchener.

While adopting a loose adaptation of the traditional Japanese izakaya – an izakaya is a casual after-work watering hole in Japan similar to an Irish pub – Kinkaku’s ambiance provided a friendly, yet sophisticated welcome. Red and black accents, white LEDs, and dark wooden tables bedecked the venue.

Chairs with low backs scorned our long winter coats, forcing me to adopt them as lumbar support on the opposite booth seat. Washrooms were positioned to help customers achieve their daily 10,000 step fitness goals, with only one room for each binary gender at the end of a beautifully muralled hallway.

Behind the sushi counter, chefs bustled hurriedly in their preparations. Kinkaku’s main attraction was its all-you-can-eat sushi bonanza, where for a reasonable price you can get an unreasonably large amount of food. It’s like if Costco shopping were a meal, and you didn’t need to use your best friend’s sister’s roommate’s membership to take a bite.

While taking in the vistas of my all-you-can-eat sushi oasis, the hostess promptly grabbed ahold of my ankles and brought me crashing back to earth. I was informed that a strict time limit of one hour and 45 minutes was imposed on our dining experience, and that the clock would start immediately upon our seating.

In the event of a time delay, this can be easily remembered with the saying, “better to wait if your date is late.” Upon being seated, Queen G and I were presented with laminated menus, which we nearly confused for lottery winnings cheques.

After taking in the stellar lamination, I found myself bewildered at the stunning myriad of dishes and the unfortunately finite capacity of my stomach. We learned that the all-you-can-eat dinner we were having cost $31.99 per person – a shade more expensive than the lunch price ($22.99).

While the dinner menu offered expanded selections, the classic hits were present on both sides of the record. Our ordering was rapid-fire. A bit of this and a bit of that led to the auspicious number of 13 items.

Dishes, chopsticks, soya sauce, wasabi, and potentially the entire collection of Natsume Soseki’s written works whirled around our table, spiriting us away in a tempting typhoon of palate pleasers.

We started with miso soup and green tea. Sadly, the soup was neither steamy nor dreamy, and the tea came in a precariously cracked mug. With our appetites whetted, our dishes began to arrive at a furious pace.

Edamame landed, salted on-point and cooked to a supple texture. Shrimp and yam tempura threw down creative crunch without creating an oil slick. Unfortunately, the tempura could have been warmer and came with barely enough dipping sauce.

It left the same disappointing feeling in my heart as all those childhood summers spent sitting in a hose-filled backyard pool purchased at Canadian Tire. Finally, the guests of honour began to arrive.

The sushi paraded in as confident as a poised Botchan, set to take charge of the situation. “Fear not, treasured guest,” it said to me. “Your party starts now.” Indeed, the dance of dragons had begun.

The Crunchy Dragon Roll entered, bombastic and crispy. It sought to overwhelm my palate with a crunchy texture. Although accomplishing its delicious mission, this dragon’s technique was sloppy, and the crunchy element settled like sawdust about the table, floor, and surrounding downtown core in a three-kilometre radius.

The Big Hand Roll took its place. After explaining that I could still enjoy it despite having two perfectly good big hands of my own, the roll wowed me with wonderful savoury flavours and creamy texture.

Perhaps a little too creamy. The sheer amount of avocado present left me with a slightly Aveeno-esque taste in my mouth. While just as moisturizing, unfortunately this taste-tacular handshake was not shareable.

A classic favourite in every sushi restaurant, the Avocado Salmon Roll took centre stage. Failing to derive any metaphorical meaning, this roll stood staunchly literal, composed of 50 per cent salmon and 50 per cent avocado.

Luckily the math checked out, and this made for 100 per cent good times. Seeking to bring the heat, the Spicy Salmon Roll sauntered onto my palate. Another classic sushi restaurant staple, the spiciness was at an accessible level.

However, perhaps my roll had been wearing a toque to protect it from the Canadian chill, as its rice was dishevelled and solidly anti-fluffy. In between sushi rolls, we were treated to the most adorable, tiny pieces of Salmon Sashimi I have ever witnessed.

Queen G and I were taken by their cuteness, remarking that they had their father’s eyes and their mother’s nose. While adorable in size and geometry, adorable in value they were not.

These pieces of sashimi appeared somewhat sad and pitiful next to the comparatively towering spring of parsley accompanying them. The taste and texture were spot on, but the portion was definitely dismal. Offering a fish-free alternative, the Golden Dragon Roll pranced into full view.

It produced a delicate pirouette, weaving supple mango sweetness and avocado umami together in an elegant duet. Then it got crunk, throwing down hard-hitting crunchy beats so powerful the rice and seaweed sheath split clean in two. This dragon kept it fresh, although the mango sauce on top was a bit much.

At last, the Izakaya Dragon Roll came into play. With the no-nonsense attitude of a legendary Pokémon, it rolled out the red carpet and packed a punch. Ruggedly handsome and sporting a black roe goatee, this dragon employed a one-two combo of eel and white tuna to seal the deal.

Much like Aquaman in Jason Momoa’s clothing, this signature roll will assert its dominance on your dinner table and show you the bounty of the sea – an absolute must-try. After our marathon of mains, Queen G and I turned our attention towards dessert.

Our stomachs reminded us that they were operating with limited resources and would have to make significant budget cuts if we proceeded to go overcapacity. Settling down for a quiet dessert, we ordered the Mango Ice Cream and the Black Sesame Pudding.

Our dessert arrived a little underdressed, with plastic spoons and disposable pie tins. The pudding made an immediate splash, although it was more of a belly flop. It presented a consistency somewhere between wet cement and boiled elephants, and sported the colour to match. Although appearing quite unappetizing, I chose long ago to sacrifice my taste buds for the good of the people, and so I dived in.

An intense, almost peanut-like taste erupted in my sinuses, turning my entire world the same cloudy grey. From far off, I heard Queen G’s voice ask if I was alright. My tongue angrily told my brain to sleep on the couch.

As I lay on the pavement of my own subconscious, a shining halo descended upon me, blessing my palate with a rich summer-like sweetness. My saviour, the mango ice cream, had come back for me.

All things considered, Kinkaku Izakaya was a wonderful place to have dinner in the company of treasured royalty. The food and ambiance were elegant and satisfying, melding well with the succinct service. Although the dinner price was a little high and some of the dishes were more of a miss than a hit, I would definitely recommend journeying to this staple in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Until next time, stay hungry Food Fans!

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