Izakya fever has officially struck Montreal, and if you don't want to catch it stay away from us because we've got it. The best way to describe an Izakaya to those who are unaware is essentially a Japanese style pub with small dishes to order, share and eat in a sort of tapas style, while you enjoy a drink. Izakaya's have been popular for quite a while on the west coast of Canada and the idea has thankfully moved eastward. A few have opened in Montreal lately to fantastic customer reviews creating a loud buzz and enormous lines of people trying to cram into these usually small spaces. Once inside the beer flows and the mood is lively, but where these Izakayas truly deliver is on the food.
This past weekend we went to Imadake, an izakaya on St-Catherine street near Atwater. We showed up on a Saturday night at nearly 10:00 PM sort of expecting that sour face that waiters usually give you when you show up this late for dinner. Instead we find people greeting us with huge smiles and open arms. All of the kitchen and wait-staff immediately drop what they're doing to enthusiastically yell something at us in Japanese. We assumed it was probably along the lines of hello or welcome - a short google search when we got home confirmed our suspicion resulting in learning about "Irasshaimase!". Other than the warm welcome the first thing you notice upon arrival is how big the dining room is and how many tables are available compared to some other izakayas. There are plenty of available banquettes, counter and bar seating in front of the open kitchen and tables with comfortable wooden stools. Understandably, comfortable wooden stools sound like an oxymoron but we assure you they are, in-fact comfortable.
We sit down, order a few beers and begin having a look over the menu and the specials written down on a chalk board near the kitchen. Our waitress was more than happy to make a few suggestions and help describe a few items on the menu we were unclear about. We choose 5 dishes to order and ask to keep our menu just in case we decide we want to order more. It's popular in an izakaya, as in a tapas bar, to sit and continuously order more small plates of food to share with your company as you continue to drink and the evening progresses.
Our meal begins with Tako Yaki - fried octopus balls. We had heard of this dish before but never had the chance to taste them prior to this meal, so we seized the opportunity. An almost pancake-like consistency batter with green onion and pieces of octopus is poured into a purpose specific Tako Yaki pan or "Takoyaki-Nabe" to cook and create their distinctive spherical form. They're garnished with tonkatsu sauce, mayonnaise, and shaved bonito flakes. The first thing you notice when the dish arrives is that the shaved bonito flakes on top are actually swaying in the light breeze from the air-conditioning as if to say "eat me"! As soon as you put one in your mouth it literally explodes with flavor. The centers are almost completely molten, the octopus is tender, and the surface is crispy. The fruity, vaguely barbecue sauce like flavor of the tonkatsu and the mayo are delicious and familiar in the way that sauces and condiments always are with fried items. It's also worth mentioning that the presentation was very nice.
Tako Yaki (Octopus) - 6$
Right on the heels of those terrific tako yaki came our second dish of grilled miso cow's tongue, perhaps our favorite dish of the night. Thin slices of grilled cow's tongue were served on a metal grilling rack, garnished with fried yam and a little bit of sesame seeds. The tongue was very good and very tender but still barely chewy in the best textural sense. The little bits of char from the grill were excellent. The only thing we could possibly criticize about this dish was that the scattered greens underneath for presentation were unnecessary.
Grilled Miso Cow Tongue - 8$
Rounds three and four arrived together. First was two skewers of cubed and grilled wonderful fatty pork belly. They were covered in seasoning salt and spice mix that we couldn't put our finger on. What we can tell you is that they go amazing with the beer and leaving without trying them would have been a crying shame. Next we had asked for the fried chicken skin dish but there was none left, so we ordered the Karaage, or fried chicken with a wasabi mayonnaise. The chicken was dredged in seasoned flour and fried, they were tender and moist, not overcooked. The wasabi mayo tasted of wasabi but didn't clear your sinuses with every bite, overall a solid dish. Can't wait to try the chicken skin next visit.
Grilled Pork Belly - 6$
Karaage & Wasabi Mayonnaise - 7$
Our fifth and final dish was from the section on the menu called "specialties". The Seafood Okonomi Yaki (also offered in a pork belly variation) is like a big Japanese style half omelette half pancake full of octopus, shrimp and other seafood as well as some cabbage or lettuce and some other vegetables. It's certainly larger than all the other dishes we ordered, perhaps as large as all of the others combined; so keep that in mind when ordering and definitely share. It tastes hearty and satisfying and its very filling so it would ultimately be the last thing we ordered. It was garnished almost identically to the tako yaki we had earlier in the meal with tonkatsu, mayo and bonito, this time with the additition of a sprinkling of powdered seaweed. We especially liked the punches of vinegary pickled ginger throughout the dish. This time that whole bonito flake experience was amplified ten times with a heaping pile of them on top of the okonomi yaki waving at us like a sea of waving hands at a concert, it really is pretty cool to see. Overall a great note to end the meal on.
Seafood Okonomi Yaki - 9$
One of our favorite parts about our experience at Imadake was being able to truly enjoy and experience an izakaya as it is meant to be: relaxed, laid back, fun, well paced and most importantly, delicious. As great as the food may be in some other izakayas in Montreal, the food is certainly just as good at Imadake with the benefit of not feeling obligated to "eat and beat-it" to free up your table for the endless line of customers impatiently staring your table down - heaven forbid you should choose to linger for a few moments and finish your beer or digest a little before getting up. Somehow restaurants like that end up making you feel like you're at the bank teller and everyone behind you is sighing out loud and tapping their feet with disgust. But with it's ample seating that is not a problem at Imadake, you feel relaxed and prepared to enjoy yourself with zero unnecessary, unreasonable guilt.
We loved our meal at Imadake, excellent food and a great atmosphere at a fantastic price, we'll certainly be returning with our friends shortly. Imadake also specializes in making homemade ramen noodle soup bowls; certainly something we intend on trying on our next visit.
4006, St Catherine St. Ouest, near Atwater