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This article was published 6/2/2019 (312 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
GaiJin Izakaya — a new venture from chef Edward Lam of Yujiro — specializes in Tokyo-style snacks and drinks served in a buzzy, sociable environment. With long tables, benches and booths, this Transcona venue relies on communal seating at busy times.
2-1575 Regent Ave. W.
2-1575 Regent Ave. W.
Go for: Japanese drinks and snacks in a sociable setting
Best bet: warming ramen with some bold flavours
Small plates: $5-15; Ramen: $13-16
Monday-Thursday: noon - 2:30 p.m., 5:30 - 9 p.m.; Friday: noon - 2:30 p.m., 5:30 - 10:30 p.m.; Saturday: noon - 2:30 p.m., 5:30 - 10:30 p.m.; Sunday: noon - 8:30 p.m.
★★★★ out of five
★★★★ Very Good
No stars Not recommended
And GaiJin does get busy, thanks to some ambitious, interesting food, all beautifully plated and presented. Along with small, shareable plates, the menu includes a range of larger noodle dishes and some good ramen, seemingly made for a Winnipeg winter with some bold, heat-seeking flavours.
There is an occasional bit of overreach, but most of the upgrades are smart and well-executed. Take the agedashi tofu.
GaiJin’s take on this dish is not just good on the fundamentals, with a bit of thin crunch covering tofu cubed to just the right size. It also gets layers of flavour with marinated shiitake mushrooms, minuscule rice balls that give a touch of texture and tare that can be ordered spicy for added edge.
Fusion dishes include burrata combined with truffle oil, tomato, microgreens and toasted baguette slices. There’s a refined mingling of tastes here, but the cheese is just a little chilly.
In another culinary mash-up, a row of eggplant slices is served on a spicy concentration of tomato salsa and shiitake mushrooms. Enoki mushrooms, acting almost like noodles to catch a creamy miso sauce, are intriguing in flavour but get a little gloopy with added cheese.
Shrimp tempura are light and crisp, though pieces of fish tempura seem a little steamed up by being served on a plank of hash browns with Japanese tartar sauce.
Other fish options include thin medallions of barely seared tuna dressed with citrusy ponzu sauce and the snap of ginger. Sampled salmon sashimi was fresh and firm.
The barbecue skewers include such lesser-seen cuts as beef tongue, pork jowl and chicken gizzard.
Bigger dishes include yaki ramen, the fried noodles topped with veg and a fried egg, crisp and lacy on the underside and with a soft, deep yellow yolk on top.
Ramen, served all day and the mainstay of the restaurant’s lunch menu, is very good.
The tantan starts with a creamy-rich sesame-peanut broth, not too salty and with a little heat from chili oil, and includes pork two ways — big pieces of dark, intensely flavoured deep-fried meat, as well as fine mince.
The tantan comes to the table very hot, temperature wise. If you want spicy-hot as well, options include chicken karaage, spicy kimchi and spicy miso.
The dessert menu is brief. The chocolate miso milkshake veers too heavily toward saltiness, but the plain miso ice cream is a delight — the flavour intriguing, subtle and not too sweet, and the custardy richness of the ice cream offset with some hazelnut and cashew crunch.
The drinks menu includes Japanese whisky and several Japanese beers (by glass or pitcher), as well as sake-based cocktails and some happy-looking mocktails.
Service is polite but can stall out a bit during the rush.
The modestly sized, simply decorated room includes booths around the perimeter and long central tables in the centre.
The seating involves rather austere benches, but ingeniously, there is a small cubby underneath for each person to store purses, laptop cases or the woolly accessories of winter.
As with a lot of the dishes here, thoughtful details add a lot.
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.
Updated on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 at 7:11 PM CST: Updates