Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Toratatsu Japanese Tapas & Bistro

Restaurant: Toratatsu Japanese Tapas & Bistro

Cuisine: Japanese/Izakaya/Tapas/Fusion
Last visited: December 17, 09
Area: Vancouver, BC (West End/Downtown)
735 Denman Street
Price Range: $10 or less

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3
Service: 3
Ambiance: 3
Overall: 3
Additional comments:

  • Fusion/contemporary Japanese tapas
  • Creative tapas with global influences
  • Jazzy/lounge atmosphere
  • Features weekly “Top 5” popular choices of the week
  • Extensive menu (more options dining in than online)
  • Drink menu – focus on wine bar
  • Family owned – also own 2 Japanese restaurant chains in Tokyo
  • Executive Chef Kodai Uno – youngest son of family, trained at PICA (Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts)
  • Japanese owned and operated
  • $30/person set menu available
  • Extra for Green tea
  • Dinner service/Open late
  • M-Sun 5-2am

**Recommendation: Cheese Tofu, Ebi Chili Mayo

My friend introduced me to Toratatsu Japanese Tapas & Bistro for some late night dining. She was craving their cheese tofu and was determined for me to try it as well. I have walked by it a couple times and it’s easy to skip unless you’re looking for it because it kind of blends in. If I’m on Denman I will most likely go to Kingyo if I’m feeling Japanese Izakaya. I love Izakaya and there are so many of them in Vancouver and I’ve managed to try a decent amount to be able to compare.

So how does Toratatsu Japanese Tapas & Bistro compare?

Guu – is more affordable, more comfort food options, less gourmet

Kingyo – is pricier, but also has better atmosphere, presentation and quality.

Hapa Izakaya – is pricier, but I prefer Hapa Izakaya dishes

Alpha Global Sushi & Bar – is pricier, and has more options

Ping’s Café – is more home style w/Canadian influence, Toratatsu has European influences and is more gourmet

Yuji’s Tapas – is pricier, more gourmet, better presentation and quality

Ebisu – similar pricing, but Toratatsu is more creative than Ebisu

Zakuushi Charcoal Grill – can’t really compare because Zakuushi specializes in charcoal grilled Izakaya

My comparison is very general and each Japanese Izakaya place is unique in their own way. To be fair I have menu recommendations for each restaurant so there’s at least one item I would go back for at each one.

I thought Toratatsu was good, but I’ve also had better. I came here without knowing anything about the restaurant and I still wasn’t blown away, and I feel like I should have been after doing my research. From what I tried I wouldn’t have guessed it would have such a deep history and popular recognition in Japan. The chef is very well trained and experienced yet I don’t think what I ordered showcased it well. I really hope he had a day off when I went because the dishes I didn't like I really didn't like. I would go again because I would like to give it the benefit of the doubt and give it another try, but I’m also in no rush.

Note: Lighting made it impossible to take photos...so please bare with me.

On the table:

**Cheese Tofu 4.5/6

  • Creamy mascarpone tofu, toasted almonds, a touch of honey, served with baguette $6.80
  • This is their signature item that would make me rush to go back. It was also the item my friend was craving that inspired our entire visit here…and yes it was worth it.
  • It’s actually quite simple in ingredients, but the execution is a mystery to me. It’s served cold and I found it to be a very unique dish. I’ve never tried or seen anything really like it before. Truly their signature item!
  • The cheese tofu looked like tofu, but it was very smooth and creamy in texture almost like a thick yogurt. It’s a mix of tofu, mascarpone cheese and cream cheese and it’s heavenly and easy to spread. It’s not ooey gooey because it’s chilled and the cheesy taste is very light, but it's there.
  • The flavour was sweet from the touch of honey, very slightly savoury from the cheese tofu, and tart from the fresh strawberries you put on top. I love the sweet and tart combination but I think the cheese tofu could have been a bit cheesier tasting. It was almost like a cheese and fruit dessert and we actually ordered it at the end.
  • I loved the addition of almonds; however they got soggy so I was missing that crunch. They could have given a few more too.
  • The baguette was quite soft and untoasted, which worked well with the soft cheese tofu. I just wanted the almonds crunchy to give it more texture.

**Ebi Chili Mayo 4.5/6

  • Our famous tiger prawn tempura with our original chili mayo, almonds, won ton crisps $8.00
  • It seems like every Izakaya restaurant has their version. I can’t say I care too much for Ebi Chili Mayo, not to say I haven’t tried it, it’s just I can’t really compare it as well to other places. It’s recommended, on their weekly “top 5” list, and “famous” at Toratatsu so I had to order it.
  • The batter was a regular flour batter, but it was very crispy and puffy. I loved the tiger prawns which were huge. They were cooked perfectly and very crunchy and juicy. That was the best part! It’s a very creamy dish with a slightly spicy and very rich mayo sauce.
  • I loved how it came with almonds, which is different, but they were untoasted so that was a big “no-no” for me. They should really toast them to enhance the flavour.

Prawn Gyoza 1.5/6

  • Pan fried gyoza dumplings with Kurobuta pork and prawns $7.80
  • I don’t remember if this was recommended or popular, but it wasn’t my choice to order it. I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • It came out in a big clump. It was 6 gyozas that were stuck together like they had been frozen for too long. It was like a gyoza patty, but with very little stuffing. If it had tasted good I would let the presentation slip. It was very gummy from the over frozen or over cooked process.
  • The prawns were overcooked. It was more like shrimp than it was a prawn and they put an entire piece in one gyoza. I would rather have it minced up because they toughness of the prawn really stood out.
  • The sauce was a ponzu sauce, a soy and citrus vinaigrette with that spicy Japanese seasoning powder in it.

Calamari 1.5/6

  • Deep fried squid with house made dipping sauce. I’m not sure of the price because it’s not on their online menu, but I wouldn’t order it so it doesn’t matter.
  • I did not like this. I would give it a 1/6, but the dipping sauce was not bad so I added the .5.
  • The squid was overcooked and tough and it was also crunchy. It was really weird. It wasn’t like seafood crunchy either it was crunchy like eating soft bones crunchy. Yes – I was not a fan.
  • The dipping sauce was almost like a cole slaw mayo. It was pretty different and I didn’t mind it. It had minced up celery, carrots, and onions with Japanese mayo and kind of tasting a little like Thousand Island dressing.

Gindara Saikyo Yaki 3/6

  • Saikyo Miso marinated Sablefish served with sweet potato puree $9.80
  • The Sablefish was good with a nice crispy skin, but it didn’t have any sauce. It needed to be marinated longer, especially if there’s no sauce, because it lacked a bit of flavour.
  • The sweet potato puree was very creamy and I loved the texture. I think it was a mix of sweet potato, yams, and maybe some mayo, cream and butter. It wasn’t rich, but the texture was great. I don’t know how well it went with the fish though. I think it looked nice, but was more of a side.

Ishiyaki Risotto 4/6

  • Risotto of seared scallops, mushrooms, Iwanori seaweed served in a hot stone bowl $8.30
  • If I were to highlight another dish it would be this one. The portion and price is decent for worth it. It’s one of their most popular items as well.
  • It was more of a Korean bimbimbop than an Italian risotto to me. With the texture they were aiming for risotto, but with the execution and ingredients it was Asian.
  • They mix it at your table so there’s a little bit of a show. I usually don’t serve it right away to allow the rice to crisp up on the sides of the hot stone bowl. However in this case I think you should serve it somewhat immediately because it is supposed to be an interpretation of risotto.
  • There were 4 scallops but they were very tough. We didn’t leave it long in the stonf bowl either.
  • It was loaded with oyster and shiitake mushrooms and it alm ost tasted like cream of mushroom soup mixed with rice.
  • The rice wasn’t Arborio rice, and just that alone makes it not a risotto.

Azuki Senbei Ice Cream 3.5/6

  • Vanilla ice cream with sweet red bean paste and rice crackers $3
  • The red bean paste is the texture of peanut butter. It’s not too s weet or syrupy, which surprisingly I liked better. (I don’t like red bean ever).
  • The rice crackers are awesome! I thought it was honeycomb until I remembered they were rice crackers. They’re a little salty and it doesn’t bother me because you c ouldn’t even tell. It was a great idea.

Crème Brulee 2/6

  • With a twist…caramelized right in front of you! $3 (Description from the menu)
  • This was just a regular crème brulee unlike the super ex otic gourmet one I had at CinCin’s.

  • At Toratatsu they do the blow torching right at your table so that’s kind of fun. They also pour some sake on it and light it up last minute before serving. I couldn’t taste it though…it’s very little.

  • The crème brulee had a tofu like texture and it’s not very sweet. It was very standard, but the show was fun. The burnt sugar on top was a bit uneven, but for $3 + a show, I won't be picky.
Green Tea
  • They charge for Matcha powder green tea....that was not impressive.
  • I expected actual green tea leaves if I'm going to be paying for my tea.

Toratatsu on Urbanspoon


  1. Very nice review and pics! The Ishiyaki risotto looks and sounds good, too bad the scallops were overcooked. Presentation of these dishes is nice; I especially like the Ebi chili mayo.

  2. Wow thanks for thinking my pictures are good lol..I was struggling taking them because it was so dark and I use a point and shoot.

  3. It somewhat sucks you did not like it; specially considering there are so many izakaya in the area. Among the ones you did not mention, Gyoza King and Kakurenbou...

    BTW, do I get a cookie if I guess who you were with on this outing? :)

  4. I've always wanted to try other izakayas around the city so maybe I'll try this one. At least for the cheese tofu, that sounds good! and I prefer the gindara at Hapa. Did you see the CityTV feature on one of Hapa's chefs where they showed the process of marinating and cooking the sablefish in the miso? SO GOOD!

  5. Really?!?!? No, I did not see that! I'm going to youtube it though.

    and yes you'll like the cheese tofu, because you like tofu (I think you commented on the one at G-men)...and you like marscapone in tiramisu...so you gotta like this!

  6. haha yes I LOVE TOFU! marscapone in tiramisu is a must otherwise it's not authentic, at lest in my opinion haha.

    let me know if you find it on youtube, I want to watch it again!