CoCoLo Japanese Casual Dining & Sake Bar
#202 – 1926 West 4th Avenue
(604) 732 4676
So with all of that in mind, I cannot even rationalize why it was me, who boldly suggested to an acquaintance that we venture out to what I’d heard was yet another place riding the izakaya wave.
Figuring to keep up with the local way of experiencing an izakaya, I went with the mindset that I would eat more than drink. But in the end, we did put down a few bottles of Asahi, so all was not lost.
Located across the street but on almost the same block as the excellent Zakkushi, and next door to the highly lauded and recently opened Maenam, is CoCoLo – which bills itself as Japanese casual dining plus sake bar. Open since the early part of June, CoCoLo took over the long standing Kitsilano institution for high end sushi, Shijo. After apparently shifting to new management in 2008, the apparent decline in food quality and business lead to an unfortunate end to their operations.
CoCoLo, which is a playful Romanized spelling of the Japanese word for “heart”, attempts to create more of the at-home, cozy style of izakaya on the busy 4th Ave strip. But for me, it seems to get lost somewhat with the open concept, which really feels like it was another restaurant (which it was). Coming in the main entrance and seeing the L-shaped sushi bar makes for a dramatic scene, with table/booth seating off to one side, and what seemed to be tatami rooms on the other.
We were seated by the manager/owner, Takahashi-san. Quickly one of the available waitresses came and presented our menus. Now I must comment here in case any unsuspecting visitor is puzzled…
You see, at least for this waitress, she followed a very formalized manner of interaction on each and every stop by our table. In Japanese, there is an expression “okyakusama ha kamisama“, literally meaning, “customer is god/king”. So this often involves, in an izakaya setting, the kneeling down on one knee when interacting with customers, or verbally conveying an ‘excuse me’ statement when arriving and departing the table. Our waitress this evening did the latter on every visit. I could see a local Canadian being surprised or confused by this behaviour, especially when its spoken in Japanese, and not knowing what she meant or why she was doing that action.
Aside from the regular menu, there was a long two-sided laminated sheet that highlighted what seemed to be their key robata items, and their fresh sashimi of the day. At first glance, nothing incredibly rare or extraordinary in terms of varieties not commonly found on Japanese restaurant menus in the city.
With Zakkushi nearby, I wondered how they would fare on a straight-up comparison with their kushiyaki. So that was the top priority in my mind as I scanned the menu and decided what to eat…
We began our meal with a common vegetarian selection that I’d often order in izakaya back in Japan – the daikon salad (listed in the menu as the Shaki shaki daikon no yuzu dore salada). I think mainly for the refreshing element of it all, the crispness of the thin slices and the tartness of the often used ponzu dressing makes it a favourite of mine – especially when you know some heavier, greasier meat dishes are on their way.
The dressing at CoCoLo, which they pour on at your table was very much on the light side, almost to the point where it felt watered down and not really that bold in flavour. Most of it ended right at the bottom of the plate and didn’t really cling to the sliced veg. I found it strange that despite this added touch, she did not bother to transfer the katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) to the top of the daikon pile – which would have helped with the absorption. It was missing the small chips of browned garlic flakes and shirasu (dried baby sardines), that I appreciate as a small touch with this dish as well.
Hamachi no usu tsukuri (yellowtail sashimi) drizzled with a citrus-pepper dressing (pictured is just one half of the narrow plate – there were six slices in total). The fish tasted quite fresh and matched well with the refreshing, light dressing that was applied on top. The peppery flakes that you can perhaps make out somewhat in the image above, were there but not overly notable, which I thought was just right for this delicate type of fish served raw.
Onto some selections from the robata. Tebasaki (chicken wings) came two-per-stick(s) and had some char on them and had the requisite smoky scent from the grill. The fat from the skin had not been overcooked and thus retained its juicy, elastically properties and the meat inside benefited from the protection and remained moist. Not the very best I’ve had, but far from poor.
Yakitori, from left to right: shiitake (mushrooms), momoniku (thigh meat), negima (thigh meat and leeks); all done shio (salt). With yakitori, I almost always choose salt flavouring over tare/teriyaki. I feel it brings out the taste of the meat much better, without overpowering it with a sauce. We found the shiitake overcooked, as there was much more char than expected, but the other items were simply okay. If I had to choose, the negima was perhaps the best of the bunch. I must say that Zakkushi still kills them overall, and its where I’ll continue to go for my yakitori fix.
Without realizing, by this time I had noticed that our initial order had been a consistent rotation between chicken and fish. As well, several had the ponzu-style flavouring. This kindara no yaki (citrus soy marinated black cod) came out in three pieces, each very rich and buttery in texture. The marinade absorption again was there, not overwhelming so the flavour of the meat came through as well. I’d order this again.
Tokusen sozai noyasai tempura (vegetable tempura), served with daikon oroshi (grated daikon) and green tea salt. This was good, and thankfully not horribly over-battered or cooked in too hot an oil bath, as you get at too many other places.
The last item that we were served was the miso yaki onigiri (miso-basted grilled rice balls). Truthfully, I thought I could squeeze in the other rice-based dish that intrigued me, the ochazuke, but we ended on this note. Unfortunately, I made the wrong call as the rice balls were much larger than I thought they would be, and the rice being so thick resulted in too much of it being just remaining in a steamed state and not grilled. I wouldn’t order this again.
Lastly, I’ll just make a minor note as I noted earlier this visit (and I guess the post as a result) would be just about the food, but CoCoLo has a pretty good looking (I’d say over 20 or so varieties) of Japanese sake and shochu. They even had four sampler sets as well ($8~$10), which might be a good way to get an introduction to Japanese liquor for the uninitiated…