Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Chinatown Resurgence: Samurai Bistro

I can usually find a pretty good excuse to try out new restaurants. On Monday, that excuse was the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts. We’ve been attending the annual arts awards and recognition evening for three years (sadly, there was no on-stage closing dance number this time), and needed to have a pre-show meal. Samurai Bistro, open just two weeks, fit the bill perfectly.

I remember visiting Chinatown practically every weekend when I was younger, a stop for Asian groceries a necessary errand. At the time, the empty storefronts were fewer, and the traffic was heavier – mainstream grocery stores at the time didn’t carry as diverse an aisle of ethnic products, and T & T Supermarket didn’t exist. Even though Samurai Bistro and Basil Leaf make up what I would consider the western edge of Chinatown, it’s still nice to see some new development and revamped buildings anywhere in Chinatown.

Samurai Bistro is a tiny 30-seater restaurant, focusing on ramen and noodle bowls. The staff, who were friendly and attentive, did say that their dozen-item menu would be expanded in the next week, and would include daily seafood features. They also seemed sincere in their request for feedback after our meal, stating that they were a new business looking for any ways they could improve – it’s not something I’ve experienced a lot of, and though I didn’t have anything constructive to say, was a welcome inquiry.

The long and narrow restaurant was equipped with a refreshing open kitchen, lined with seats so patrons have the option of watching their food be prepared. I’m sure if the restaurant was packed, it would create quite the lively atmosphere. I loved the granite tables and the high-backed chairs, while Mack found the mounted wall “fireplace” to be particularly amusing. I thought the flat screen televisions, tuned to Food Network and ESPN, were two signs that we were in the right place.

Samurai Bistro interior

We underestimated our appetites that night, and opted to order the gyoza (7 for $7) to start. For our mains, I decided on the chicken and spicy herb ($9) bowl, and Mack chose the shrimp, scallop and seafood ($11) bowl. The restaurant had run out of ramen (brought in from Vancouver), so udon was our only option.

Order by photo!

The gyoza were fantastic – crispy and light on the outside, they were filled with just the right amount of pork and crispy cabbage. Definitely a keeper.

Gyoza, beautifully presented

As for our udon bowls, they were never-ending vessels, and ultimately defeated both of us. What first struck both of us was their generosity with seafood – Mack’s was filled to the brim with plump shrimp, scallops and calamari rings, in addition to crab legs. My accompanying chicken wasgood (the spicy coating making the difference), but seafood was definitely the winner here. The broth was all right, but my frequent pho ventures left me wanting for more flavour depth, which I realize is an unfair comparison.

Shrimp, Scallop and Seafood Bowl

 Chicken and Spicy Herb Bowl

Mack, a self-described “unstoppable crab-eating force”

With their responsive service and generous portions, I wouldn’t hesitate to return in the future. I hope others do the same, and perhaps in the process, help Chinatown regain some of its former glory.

Samurai Bistro
10632 100 Street
(780) 756-0834
Monday-Wednesday 11am-9pm, Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-11pm, Sunday 11am-6pm