When you don’t want to wait in line for an hour, a nice humble abode you can go to that offers some delicious fare is Koyoi! Not quite as loud and exciting as Guu, but they have a variety of alcoholic beverages, Japanese beers on tap, a reserved and quiet atmosphere, seating you don’t have to wait for, and most importantly, good grub (with bigger portions and cheaper prices, if I may add)!
Location: 2 Irwin Avenue
Still in the mood for more alternative Japanese cuisine, I located Koyoi and set out for my latest culinary adventure at dinnertime with my trusty compatriot in tow. Upon arrival at Koyoi, we were warmly greeted by a set of waitresses and given a table. A note: “izakaya” is basically Japanese lingo for a place that serves food with it’s drinks. From what I’ve seen in Toronto, this means more extensive menus of Japanese beers, sake, and other liqueurs and spirits, along with smaller menu items that can usually be shared amongst a group of people while downing Japanese booze or the like. 😉
Notice that the size of Koyoi’s menu is indeed much smaller than Guu’s, being only a single double-sided sheet of paper! However, they still serve out some of the more traditional izakaya favorites, such as the takowasabi and the okonomiyaki. I feel like since they have less dishes, they can focus on improving the quality of all of their dishes.
They actually also have a specials menu, though for this particular venture, we didn’t grab anything off the board. When I asked the waitress what the atko mackerel was, she explained that it was a whole grilled mackerel! Tempting, but that will come next time, since by then, we had already ordered a heap of dishes.
Try not to let its appearance frighten you, because this takowasabi, or “yuzu-takowasa” as Koyoi has named it, is particularly delicious. Served cool, with the zest of lemon and a yuzu & wasabi-flavored soy sauce marinade, the raw octopus is an refreshing and exciting start to our dining experience. Each piece has a pleasant, chewy texture with bursts of vibrant citrus flavors from the zest and the yuzu. Apparently most places have a similar takowasabi, which is great, because this has become one of my new favorites at Izakayas!
Ankimo is monk fish liver, freshest around the winter time, though still quite delicious when had today. It possesses a slightly salty, buttery flavor which I can only say tastes of the sea (in a good way). The addition of the spring onion, the shiso leaf on the bottom, and the grated daikon on top of the the ankimo helps to brighten the look of the otherwise plain ankimo while also accenting the monk fish with fresh flavors. This dish was also served cool.
If you will recall, I also had duck in my visit to Guu a little while back. Notice that the presentation at Guu is better. However, take note that the slices at Guu were paper thin, less in number, and costed $9 compared to Koyoi’s far more reasonable $7. If this duck breast were really bad, I wouldn’t bother making the comparison, but these succulent cuts of duck meat in my opinion had both a better texture and a more nuanced, smoky taste than its Guu counterpart. The caramelized onion and garlic mixture atop the duck gave it an extra depth of flavor, as well.
As we were eating, we noticed a waitress handing this dish over to another table. It looked good, so I asked her what it was, and she told me it was the Koyoi salad, which had bonito flakes, tofu, Japanese dressing, and fried vegetable chips atop a bed of greens. Since we didn’t have much vegetables in our meal for the day, we opted for this salad and we were not disappointed! There were freshly fried lotus root, yam, and potato chips, which added a nice crunch to the salad. There were four or five big pieces of cool tofu hidden underneath the mountainous pile of bonito and seaweed, and the salad itself was fresh and not overdressed. Being only $5.99, this is quite the steal in my opinion! Definitely a solid dish, and it allowed me to create this!
I call this the Koyoi Takoduck Salad! What do you guys think?… Moving on…
I’ve had a lot of fried chicken in my lifetime. I have got to say… I didn’t really think freshly fried kaarage with nothing more than pepper, salt, and lemon, could be quite so good. Tender chicken bits are covered in a crispy coating, with the slight accentuating flavors of salt and pepper, finished with lemon juice which serves the roles of adding additional flavor and cutting the oiliness of this chicken. This ended up being a surprisingly light and tasty dish — I’d say a perfect snack to pair with some alcohol when you’re with a group of pals.
This piping hot Japanese pancake had nifty moving bonito flakes atop of it when it was served to us. Filled to the brim with vegetables, bits of octopus, and according to my girlfriend, bacon, this was a hearty dish with a crunchy outer coating and a tender inside. While the other dishes were more subtly flavored, this dish in particular was sauced to the brim with both mayonnaise and a sweet and salty soy sauce-esque reduction.
This was a pretty simple dish. Nothing particular to say about this one, I guess I wouldn’t order it again. It’s not bad by any means, but there are many other things I could order instead!
I recently discovered the deliciousness that is known as black sesame ice cream. Koyoi’s iteration, served with balls of mochi, chocolate sauce, and a dusting of coffee flavor atop the dish is a sweet and delicious way to finish the meal. If you find the black sesame ice cream too sweet, the more neutral flavor of the mochi helps to cut the sweetness of the dish while also providing an intriguing gooey but welcome texture in the mouth.
Conclusion: Guys! I hope I’ve helped to show you that Guu is not the only izakaya in town. This would be a great place to go with some pals, down some affordable Japanese beers or sake, and have some snacks while catching up and having conversation, much like one of the female patrons I saw with her group of male friends downing bottles of sake while her friends struggled to finish their single pints of beer. All in all, with both affordable and delicious food along with good service and no hour long wait times, Koyoi gets a 9/10 from me!