As a fan of Yoshoku (Japanese Style Western Cuisine) I was sadden by the unfortunate closures of Bonqula in Richmond and the original Yoshoku Ya on Denman Street. Subsequent search for a replacement proved to be a fruitless exercise. Then to my surprise (and delight), I stumbled upon news that owners of Yoshoku Ya have decided to continue their craft at the corner of Boundary & 29th Ave, under the name of …….the 29th Avenue Café. The timing of the discovery couldn’t have been better since I was taking a night class at BCIT in the fall and was looking for a spot to grab a quick pre-class meal. Amen to the power of the Twitter feed!
Tucked away in the middle of a residential area, the location is, shall we say, interesting. But considering the family style menu, I could see the logic behind it. Nonetheless I wouldn’t have known it’s there unless I was looking for it. The ambience inside is casual and no frills, the type of place you’d feel right at home. I had a chit chat with the owner and she was happy and surprised that, despite no advertising, a lot of the old patrons managed to find them through the internet and word of mouth.
Now that my class is done, it’s time to look back on the few things I’ve eaten for three months.
There is something about ground beef (or cow with no legs, as one of my cousins once joked) that transcends borders and ethnicity. Every culture has, in one form or another, a ground-beef based dish. To a westerner, the hamburger steak may not be any different from your run-of-the-mill burger patty. The now-defunct Bonqula offered a version that’s very Japanese in its presentation and choice of sauces. At 29th Avenue, it’s more the traditional Yoshoku style and the patty is quite balance in terms of leanness/fattiness. It’s firm but not overcooked.
Once upon a time in my youth Tonkatsu was all I knew and ate whenever the family dined at a Japanese restaurant. My taste has certainly grown since then but that simple piece of panko-breaded pork chop will always occupy a special place in my heart. So it would be remiss of me not to sample the 29th Avenue offering of deep fried hog goodness.
And it did not disappoint. Made to order, steam would come out when you cut into the juicy pork chop that’s surrounded by a light, crunchy crust. It’s not heavy and quite good on its own. But having it with Tonkatsu sauce – with its tangy, citrus-y flavor – will enable you to devour the chop in no time. Rice is optional but it’s the perfect complement to the meal, IMHO.
Another classic Yoshoku dish is the Omrice, which is basically tomato-flavored rice tucked inside an omelette, topped with ketchup. It actually takes a certain amount of skill to be able to control the pan in such a way where the rice is “sealed” inside the egg mixture and rolled into a perfectly shaped omelette without breaking it.
The tomato rice itself is not too sour and the onions add a bit of crunch. The omelette shell is soft and not overcooked. If you want something light and without meat, this and a house salad should hit the spot.
Perhaps the best Yoshoku example of east-meets-west is the Tarako spaghetti. The Japanese answer to caviar is somewhat of an acquired taste. When tossed with al-dente spaghetti and a tiny bit of olive oil, tarako’s saltiness and unique texture comes through. This dish may not be for everyone but do give it a try if you feel adventurous.
Regardless of what you order at 29th Avenue Café, I would suggest that you save room for their custard pudding. It’s so good that I ordered it EVERY SINGLE TIME I ate there! It’s definitely the crown jewel.
On the surface, Yoshoku maybe simple and not that exciting. But like Hong Kong Style Western food, it’s fusion before fusion ever got popular in the culinary scene. Unpretentious, it is the type of food which provides comfort and invokes memories that I’ve come to appreciate.
In a multi-cultural city such as VancouverI find it odd that there aren’t more Yoshoku restaurants around. That being said, sometimes all you need is just one that prepares every dish with heart and honesty. It’s too bad I won’t be eating there that often but will certainly bring family and friends in the future.