Friday, January 18th, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Small Plates, Japanese-Style: Izakaya Tomo

Some meals are more than just the food on the table and the company you are with – they are experiences. Our dinner at Guu in Toronto, my first taste of an izakaya (a Japanese pub), was one such experience. It was loud and boisterous, with most of the cacophony of voices originating from the staff. The dozen servers and chefs would yell greetings at patrons whenever they entered or exited the restaurant. Though I’m sure it could get trying after a while, for us, it was still novel; for me, Guu was memorable because of the infectious energy and vibrant atmosphere. When I heard Edmonton finally landed its own izakaya, I was excited to see if it could replicate that experience. Mack and I had dinner there last Saturday, before a movie at South Edmonton Common.

Though it would have been nice to see Izakaya Tomo amongst an established hospitality district instead of a vehicle-driven strip, no one can deny the attractive rent differential. And walking in, the interior also made us forget about the location – the earthy tones and wooden fixtures made us feel immediately at ease, on top of, of course, the warm, vocal welcome from staff. With the relatively small size of Izakaya Tomo (nine tables) and corresponding staff size, there was definitely a less frenetic pace than compared with Guu, to the point where a comparison almost couldn’t be warranted.

Izakay Tomo

Interior

Izakaya Tomo does serve sushi (the chef previously worked at Mikado), but we focused our orders on cooked dishes, which ranged in price from $3.95-$11.95). Our server recommended we order 4-5 dishes, so we took her advice (I have to note the obvious but charming directive printed on the menu, which reads “Please order whatever you want”).

The deep fried tofu ($4.95) came out first, a nice starter, though the breading didn’t hold together as well as we would have hoped for.

Izakay Tomo

Deep fried tofu

Next came the dish we were most curious about, a carbonara udon ($11.95), combining Japanese and Italian ingredients in a way we’d never seen before. But we were hooked – the udon noodles seemed right at home in the creamy, peppery sauce, so much so we wondered why we had never encountered the combination before (a friend of ours who we ran into at the restaurant that night commented that the carbonara reminded him of the heavenly pastas he’d sampled in Italy – high praise for a fusion dish from a Japanese establishment!).

Izakay Tomo

Carbonara udon

The tonpei yaki ($8.95) is Izakaya Tomo’s version of an okonomiyaki. Instead of a flat pancake, the dish was made up of a pork and cabbage-filled egg crepe drizzled with Japanese mayo. Though I probably prefer the pancake version, Mack was more than amused at the swaying bonito flakes.

Izakay Tomo

Tonpei yaki

The server must have misheard me, as we intended to order the chicken kara-age ($7.95), and didn’t realize until we received the bill that the dish we actually received was the chicken teriyaki ($10.95). That explained why the chicken wasn’t as crispy as we expected. We really appreciated the side of cabbage and bell peppers, which helped balance out the heavier items.

Izakay Tomo

Chicken teriyaki

The beef shogayaki ($10.95), was a ginger-fried beef, shredded paper thin. It was Mack’s favourite dish, with forward, but not overwhelming ginger flavour.

Izakay Tomo

Beef shogayaki

Service was friendly and attentive, and we were never left wanting anything. The food also came out lightning fast, to the point where we could barely keep up!

With the continued trend of share plate dining, Izakaya Tomo is entering the Edmonton food scene at the right time. And given it is our favourite way to eat out, sampling our way through numerous dishes, we look forward to trying the rest of the menu, and of course, to receiving another warm welcome!

Izakaya Tomo
3739 99 Street
(780) 440-9152