888 Nelson Street
With shrinking domestic markets and consumption, combined with growing awareness and demands overseas, we’re seeing more new entrants in various industries reach our borders. Rumors of Japan’s massive clothing retailer Uniqlo apparently coming soon to Vancouver is one. American’s Target and Nordstrom are also prime examples. And the focus of this piece, the 600+ strong (in Japan) yakiniku chain Gyu-Kaku has steadily made its way with outposts in Asia and the US. Canada was chosen as their beachhead into Canada, specifically downtown Vancouver.
Having been to several of their locations in Japan over the years on lazy meal nights when I was craving meat, news of Gyu-Kaku’s arrival in Vancouver personally didn’t excite me a great deal. Its like a Vancouverite getting excited about a Cactus Club visit I suppose. When its around you and very ubiquitous, the allure is simply not as high. So my eventual visit was even a random, impromptu one just last week. I came away from the dinner pleased overall and with no major complaints and with a clear understanding it can’t be 100% replicated overseas. From the very full room on a rainy, mid-week evening, its clear they have established a solid clientele already. Kudos!
Several cues from the Gyu-Kaku “operations manual” were immediately apparent. Quick, prompt, and attentive service. And ice cold mugs, ready for the chilled Sapporo beer! The floorspace was seemingly divided between several areas. A bar location near the front entrance, with more dining areas split between two rooms. Sort of maze-like in design. And for those not familiar with the Japanese restaurant chain service style where servers will kneel next to your table out of respect to customers when taking your order, don’t be alarmed that its odd and unusual, its just the way its done.
The same variety with the BBQ dishes were here, with an assortment of marinades/flavourings (tare, miso, shio) to choose from, in addition to the types and cuts of meat (harami, kalbi, belly, etc.). I’m sure they go with a lot of local product. No sign of the kuroge wagyu kalbi (black haired Japanese beef). The pictures here don’t tell the full story of their menu either, as there is more than just meat to grill. But alas, that was our our mind for this particular meal. Of the various selections we had, my personal favourites were the miso-flavoured harami, and the toro beef tare.
The one disappointment (and likely due to some fire bylaws or something, or supply issues) was the lack of sumi charcoal for the actual grilling. Instead, it was a high powered gas fire. So one notable different from their locations in Japan. It really does make a difference. You miss the subtle smokiness that gets transmitted to the cooked meat. I think the gentle cooking over charcoal also improves the overall taste and strangely enough the enjoyment of cooking. Must be related to our caveman DNA.