It’s good to see a new restaurant in Osborne Village, which has too many blank storefronts right now, and the weekend hours of this Japanese-inflected fast-casual venue will be handy for the late-night crowd.
2-126 Osborne St.
2-126 Osborne St.
Go for: Asian fast-casual
Best bet: poke bowls with lots going on
Light level: bright
Noise level: medium, with Top 40 radio
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday: 11:30 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Thursday: 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Friday: 11:30 a.m.-1:00 a.m.; Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 a.m.
Kaiso’s menu focuses on bowls (ramen, poke and donburi), with food that’s tasty but sometimes feels a bit generic.
Appetizers include popcorn shrimp, a dish that is always more about the breading — here, crisp and spiked with sesame seeds — than the shrimp. Good chicken and vegetable gyoza are fat and juicy, the richness cut with a sharp, vinegary sauce. The takoyaki — octopus dumplings covered in gently waving bonito flakes — are soft and gooey inside, but the coating needs more contrasting crisp.
The ramen is comforting, with an egg that is soft-boiled just right, corn niblets and lots of green onions, but the sampled miso broth lacks depth and the egg noodles are a little soft.
There’s that trendy Asian "burrito" fusion, which starts with a big roll of sushi rice and veg wrapped in nori. The ingredients in the sampled spicy tuna with mango option were fresh, but there’s not enough flavour or heat to balance all that rice. (Though I have to admit, I’ve never quite understood this particular crossover. The scale seems off, somehow.)
Poke bowls include fish options such as marinated tuna and salmon, shrimp and crab and seared salmon, while the donburi bowls are available with several meat options, including chicken katsu and sukiyaki beef. A sampled tuna poke bowl brings in lots of fresh taste and textures, including edamame, radish, cukes and avocado at its peak, but the fish feels a little inconsequential, and Kaiso shares in the current resto tendency to overuse drizzled sweet sauces and Japanese mayo.
The katsu chicken burger, which comes on a soft eggy bun, is not that different from a standard chicken burger, though the addition of red cabbage and pickled carrot as garnish makes for a nice change. Accompanying fries are crispy but taste over-processed.
Seating is comfortable and the decor is simple, relying on subdued greys. Like several fast-casual places, Kaiso combines counter ordering with table service.
On one visit, service is considerate and quick. On another occasion, there are lapses. We aren’t given enough cutlery or sharing plates for the apps, and the food comes out slowly. Three entrees for three people are brought out with a lag of seven minutes, for instance, leading to a "No, no, you go ahead" etiquette crisis at our table.
Dessert focuses on ice cream. The mango tastes artificial, but the black sesame is delish — dark and not too sweet — as is the green tea. There is also a range of bubble, fruit and milk teas.
Speaking of bubble tea, just across the street is Gong Cha (203-121 Osborne St.). Part of a Taiwan-based franchise that specializes in Asian drinks and snacks, this Winnipeg location opened late last year.
The menu is massive — including hot and cold teas, milk teas, fruit teas, smoothies and seasonal specials — but is clearly laid out, allowing you to easily customize your drink. You can specify ice and sweetness levels, as well as choose add-ins that include basil seeds, jellies and pudding.
A seasonal grapefruit smoothie is more like a slushee, with coarse-ground, brain-freezing ice that hits the spot on a hot day. A sampled chocolate drink — a recent special — gets a boost from added milk foam, which is creamy-thick and ever so slightly salty-sweet, as well as loads of black tapioca pearls that have the right amount of chew.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.