Koto: A Hidden Izakaya in Richmond

Title says it all, Koto Izakaya Sushi & Robata is definitely not the usual-looking Japanese restaurant from the outside – especially for one in Richmond. Koto Izakaya lacks a large seating capacity, and also covers up their windows entirely (with the exception of a couple red lanterns), which makes passerby’s unable to peer inside the restaurant. Having passed by the intersection of Alexandra Road and Hazelbridge Way for YEARS (yes, I attribute that to Chinese school), the small sushi establishment never once caught my eye until recently when pictures of their food appeared on my radar. “Izakaya” is not unfamiliar to me, having loved the Hapa Izakaya chain throughout the Lower Mainland for the past few years. The term essentially means a casual place to gather with friends, typically late at night, with the option of alcoholic drinks and small dishes.

After receiving a haircut at a nearby salon, my friend Meynard and I were aimlessly walking around the area with no place in mind for dinner. While having heard from one of his siblings that the ramen at Koto Izakaya is delicious, my main craving for the evening was sushi; and I must say, I am glad that my craving that night was not ramen, because the noodles were truly disappointing. Meynard ordered the Beef Miso Ramen ($7.75), and for the price of that dish, one can easily find better ramen at other restaurants, even in downtown Vancouver. I regret not taking a photo of the ramen to show you all (because the presentation was so mediocre), but hopefully a description will suffice: dark brown soup that looks nothing like miso soup base, with a few chunks of beef slopped on the side, accompanied by a huge piece of bok choy carelessly thrown atop the noodles. According to him, there was nothing noteworthy of the beef miso ramen.

Negative reviews aside, what REALLY surprised me was their Agedashi Tofu ($3.75) – again, I was not planning on photographically documenting this dish until I had the opportunity to try one out of the five (the picture was taken halfway). Always a favourite Japanese dish of mine, I must admit that finding a restaurant here that serves such a simple yet skilled dish is challenging. Agedashi tofu is constantly the one dish that is neglected, across most Japanese restaurants (regardless if they are All You Can Eat). In fact, most of the agedashi tofu I have in Vancouver are caked with batter on the outside with cold tofu on the inside. Here at Koto however, the surface of the agedashi tofu appears to be a slightly darker shade of brown, as opposed to the light yellow that I usually see. The steaming tofu was wrapped with an extremely light and crispy layer of starch, and to my delight, the base of the tofu was just touching the dashi (meaning “broth”). With the outstanding impression, I was seriously tempted to order a second serving but had to refrain myself from doing so because of the sushi rolls that were headed our way.

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Another dish we ordered to share was the Salmon Carpaccio ($7.99), which was drenched in a sauce I think they referred to as “house sauce”. Whatever was in there remains a secret – but I am convinced there was lemon. The presentation was a little messy with the sprinkled red onions, but that was not a problem. A little pricey for the portions offered, but nonetheless delicious and enough to ready the stomach for more Japanese food.

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Koto Izakaya offered several choices of specialty sushi rolls in addition to the usual rolls and maki. From what I remember, there were rolls that I came close to ordering but ended up having to choose an alternative because there was something spicy in many of them (I don’t eat spicy). Satisfying my sushi craving that evening took an order of Victorian Roll ($6.99), Negihama Maki ($4.25), and my new favourite, Salmon on the Beach Roll ($10.99).

The Victorian Roll consisted of yam tempura wrapped with avocado; nothing innovative, simply a vegetarian-friendly roll showered with sesame and sauce. If you are hungry and are seeking to fill yourself up by spending as less money as possible, this is the one. I realized finishing 8 pieces of sushi with yam alone is actually quite the challenge.

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The Salmon on the Beach Roll was definitely a new experience for me. Featuring fresh Atlantic salmon topped over avocado roll, baked in a firey mayo sauce, garnished with green onion and masago, the part that made this dish extremely filling was their “firey mayo sauce”. This is the exact same topping you receive on top of baked oyster motoyaki at other Japanese restaurants. An interesting part about this roll was that the atlantic salmon stretched across two pieces of sushi at a time, so don’t worry about fitting the whole thing in your mouth.

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Meynard ordered the Old Fashion Dynamite Roll ($7.25) in addition to his not-so-satisfactory miso beef ramen: two pieces of prawn tempura wrapped with avocado, topped with masago, mayonnaise and unagi sauce. Why this particular dynamite roll is “old-fashioned”, I do not know; an educated guess would probably be the difference in quantity of prawn tempura. As I was busy stuffing myself with the Victorian Roll, I didn’t taste this one because of its strikingly similar contents. I would assume this one to taste the same as well though (not bad).

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Koto had my usual favourite, negitoro maki (chopped tuna and green onion) but I decided to be fancy and order a Negihama Maki instead. As expected with the pricing, the cheapest roll of the night did not fail nor exceed any expectations. Looking back at the picture, some of the maki were stuffed with more green onion than fish. I would even argue that the roll was again, a little pricey, because I know of other Japanese places that offer negi____ maki for a cheaper price.

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Food apart, the service was good, with no excessive arm-waving to flag anyone down for tea or what not. Our server in particular was friendly and approachable. The restaurant itself, as mentioned earlier, is small and quite cramped, so this is definitely a no-go if you have a large party. We were seated at one of the handful of booths, near the fluorescently-lit fridge filled with alcoholic beverages and glass-bottled Coca Cola. Side note: there is also limited seating at the bar. I visited Koto at an early dinner time, so I am a little doubtful about customers and waitresses manoeuvring around the tight aisles, as with the quality of service later on in the evening.

Despite my mixed reviews on certain dishes, I will definitely keep this little restaurant in my mind, especially if I am ever in need of “sushi therapy” near home. After all, more than one visit will be required to try other items on the menu, right?

Koto Izakaya Sushi & Robata on Urbanspoon

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