Aki Japanese Restaurant
745 Thurlow Street
Granted I wasn’t even born then, but pretty amazing to realize just how long this business has been around. I’d love to see images from its early days (probably in a different location) and visualize in my mind of how it was probably one of the early (and few) restaurants offering Japanese cuisine in this city during the sixties, but that is now filled with so many of them (the majority being very poor in quality and taking too many creative liberties in the kitchen and behind the sushi bar).
Aki is a tried-and-true place to experience an authentic, neighbourhood-style, izakaya in Vancouver, coincidentally the favourite of my good friend from Japan, who’s name also happens to be Aki. Whenever he’s in town, this is a place we try to hit up and catch up on each other’s lives. Something about cold Asahi beer and comforting food makes the setting perfect for such occasions, and so we did once again on his most recent visit to the coast.
In town, there are clearly some other izakaya establishments that are of higher scale, do fancier things with their menu, and have spent more money on getting the best design elements to attract customers. Aki on the other hand, just seems to stay with what has worked for them, retaining its old school charm and welcoming interior. Obviously, the formula works and appeals to many, judging from the approximately fourty minute wait we had to endure to get a table for four on a Friday evening. For me, its the open robata that makes Aki so appealing and me nostalgic for my past experiences in Tokyo’s izakaya.
Down to good eats. The tamagoyaki (grilled egg) was a touch on the sweet side, perhaps it was just a cook in the kitchen who added too much mirin and sugar this time around, but it was nicely formed with its delicate layers. The yakisoba (fried noodles) is a timeless dish and Aki’s variety is right on with the home-style feel to it, no pretentious special ingredients included. The grilled asparagus right off the robata, giving it its mouth watering charred scent and flavour, cut up into bite size pieces.
The stomach-filling udon was a very basic interpretation with a mild flavoured broth. Our only deep fried dish on the night was a plate of tebasaki (chicken wings) karaage, which had a delicious crispy coating but the meat remained moist and tender inside. The o-chazuke (rice with dashi) was well done and quite a bit in terms of volume, as I was half expecting a more delicately proportioned amount. And from the grill, a few skewers of chicken tsukune (minced meat), which were done in a sweet, rich teriyaki sauce.
You may have noticed the lack of raw dishes in the images and commentary above. I know there are sashimi and maki (rolls) on the menu, but for me, Aki is not the place for that and I stick to the kitchen and robata. Just a personal preference is all.
The boisterous, sometimes smokey (if you sit at the bar) and energetic atmosphere coupled with the honest, tasty and no-frills presentation make Aki one of my favourite spots downtown to relax with good friends. I thought now would be as good a time as any to spread the word about this place – for those of you who have never been – as I’ve kind of kept it under wraps til now, but have noticed its been harder and harder to just show up and get a table without a reservation.