Manzo Japanese Restaurant (Itamae)
120-9020 Capstan Way
(604) 821 9834
What’s in a Name? An oft repeated phrase, but one that always comes to mind when I recognize something familiar (or unfamiliar) in the facade of an establishment. And with ethnic restaurants, the deployment of some investigative action or fact checking research usually comes into play as a result…
When I first laid eyes on the “Manzo” lettering on a random drive past this building, and then saw the “Japanese Restaurant” noted below it, I thought how odd. Isn’t Manzo (and perhaps the occasional Foodosophy commenter of the same name can confirm) an Italian surname? I know I’ve come across it being attached to pizzerias in other cities.
Then I remembered that its also an old (eg. in that no mother would use it anymore to name their child) male given name used in Japan. In fact, history recalls that the first Japanese to be documented to have arrived in Canada was a man with that first name.
Another part of me wondered if they were using part of the word, “manzoku“, which would mean “satisfied”, and can be used to describe how one feels after having a wonderful meal.
Not knowing the ownership group involved, this is all speculation.
And whoever it is, its clear they were not adverse to spending a good chunk of change on the interior aesthetics. I’d even suggest that they have taken some cues from the likes of the Japanese izakaya chains such as Tsuki No Shizuka or Wan, with their use of wood paneling, dim lighting, and overt displaying of large sake bottles. Although it did not incorporate the high value and historically significant authentic elements of Kakurenbou, overall it was still visually appealing and contributed to the relaxing and quiet mood we had that evening.
As I lament the great izakaya that I’ve left behind in Tokyo, I must say that the best for kushiyaki (or more specifically yakitori) in Vancouver still remains, at least for me, Zakkushi on 4th. But despite this, I was interested in trying the offerings here, and with a willing and able dinner partner, I selected some of my old standbys.
And that means, none of the usual Canadian-friendly yakitori suspects like negima (breast meat and green onions), tsukune (minced meat), or tebasaki (chicken wings). Nope for me, a good yakitori-ya must have the likes of gyutan (beef tongue), sunagimo (chicken gizzard), hatsu (chicken heart), and even nankotsu (chicken cartilage)!
A recap of some of these pictured selections would be that the beef tongue ($6.95) was nicely grilled, not overly so that it would entirely lose its chewy texture. It could have used some more salt, though the dash of acid from the lemon did give it the required punch.
The hearts ($3.95) were a big disappointment. To the unknowing eye, they might have slipped it by, but they should not have been sliced in half thus revealing the two chambers, and trying to spread things thinner than they should be. The key part of these kinds of parts is the texture and without the plump morsel intact, it lost its luster.
Lastly, the sunagimo ($4.95) was simply okay, not a complete bastardization like the gizzards were, but again under seasoned. Texture-wise it is a bit stringier than the hatsu, so its often a case of which you prefer – the more velvety smoothness of the hatsu, or the jaw-ache inducing “toughness” of the gizzards.
Shifting to the seafood portion of the menu, the Ayu Shioyaki ($6.95) was again properly grilled and the quality was reasonable. Being a fish with less fat than other popular salt grilled fish, the meat texture held up through the cooking process, and the flavor suggested it was fresh. I think we could have easily stomached a pair of these, I should have remembered that the Ayu is generally on the smaller size compared to Sanma (pike mackerel).
The highlight of our dinner (and the most expensive at $24.95) was easily the above pictured Aji Sashimi. When we spotted it in the menu booklet, it just stood out. I just don’t see it on many other menus around town, perhaps I am just looking in the wrong places? Being a year-round fish that remains in season, I do hope Manzo continues to keep it on their menu, as I’ll definitely be back for this refreshing, light fish with its distinctive flavor. Coupled with the freshly grated ginger and green onions, it really is fantastic. For those who are unfamiliar with this, I suggest you try it out.
To our surprise, our server inquired if we wanted to have the bones of our Aji, deep fried. With an elated smile on my face, I replied why not. I think I was taken back by his suggestion, but really pleased that he offered to do this. A few minutes later they came back, with a crispy coating and salted. I know many of you might cringe at this, but the brittle bones that result are a great tasty treat. No better way to get your calcium intake either. (SMILE)
To close our our meal, the traditional zousui (a chicken one, they had others) is basically a rice porridge that is made from a dashi broth, although in this case, there was something “off” about the flavor combination. I felt it had a thicker consistency than it should have and the dashi didn’t taste right. I’m not sure what their base broth is (perhaps they use it in their udon dishes, etc.) but I was not entirely happy with it. Thus regrettably, the closer was a let down, but we were both quite full by this point.
With an extensive menu of typical small plates found in an izakaya, I think there are some others that I am interested in trying, and given the comfortable mood of this place, I think I will make an effort to come back. If not just for the Aji. Perhaps its my advancing age that is making me stray away from the boisterous izakaya scene that the likes of Guu provides, but I did find I welcomed the relative peace and quiet of Manzo. But I do realize that the noise and confusion of an izakaya is also a key ingredient to making them so fun with friends.