A fedora and a pink cardigan. That’s how owner Sang Kim is depicted on the website and that’s exactly how he appears in person as he stands behind the bar as music fills the air at the boisterous Yakitori bar in Baldwin village. I half expected to see a karaoke machine and wouldn’t have surprised if Mr. Kim himself were first up with a stunning rendition of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start the Fire” or “Mr. Roboto” by Styx .
Yakitori is a fusion of the izakaya and pop-up restaurant concepts taking Toronto by storm. The drink menu includes 10 or so types of sake, some of which are also offered in a number of cocktails. I opted for a jubilee (sake/gin/muddled berries). It’s nice to see a well conceived and tasty drink for less than $8 which can rival cocktails up to twice the price in other places. There are a few beer on tap and some wine choices as well.
As for the food, the menu is presented in the format of a Bad Boy furniture ad. Daily specials and notifications of kimchi battles are plastered throughout the one pager. As for content, the mainstays are bbq meats typical of the yakitori concept with a few korean infusions including bibimbap, kimchi and mundoo.
I skirted over the fact that the cheeseburger came with soup and salad and was pleasantly surprised to see a bowl of pumpkin carrot soup arrive. It was presented at “perfect soup temperature”*. Despite the main ingredients, the soup was not over sweet, was seasoned beautifully and managed to keep the integrity of the fresh ingredients through both texture and taste.
*- Perfect soup temperature is defined as not mouth-burning yet hot enough to endure the time it takes to consume the last bite.
The kimchi flight (see picture below) features 3 generations of kimchi (1 day, 2 weeks and 3 months old) appeared to be a bit of a gimmick until you tried it. Like a grandfather, father and son, each had similarities yet definite differences in taste. The elder kimchi’s flavour was smoky and full. The middle offering had a modest bite but was still juicy and ripe. The youngin’ was fresh and crispy yet still intense. Despite the small quantities, the taste intensity made it next to impossible to finish all three even despite my attempt to scatter it among my other dishes.
In a city where burger shops seem to outnumber Starbucks, this mainstay needs something to stand out. Yakatori’s attempt is bulgogi (Korean beef) served on a fresh roll and topped with a bit of caramelized kimchi and the more traditional, as far as burger’s go, lettuce, tomato and cheese. It wouldn’t rank among the best burgers in Toronto but it’s a solid sandwich. The accompanying salad was pleasant although the dressing was a little flat. A little more acid might have helped.
The BBQ eel off the grill was a nice few bites. It was moist and covered with a sweet sauce that nicely complemented the powerful taste of the eel. I found it a little pricy at $6.25 but for a solo diner the quantity was sufficient. Throw this in front of a group however, and the next thing you know singing battles to Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” may settle who gets the last piece.
I like the vibe of Yakitori bar. It maintains the ethnic flare of Baldwin village but not at the expense of drab and downtrodden decor. It is fresh and clean and the food is fun. Although I went at down time, I imagine the night crowd can bring some energy without the need for half-naked wasabi fights or singing line cooks. There is a variety of snacks that will appeal to most palates. There’s even some decent choices for vegetarians and gluten free eaters. Cheapish cocktails, choices for the peckish and starving alike and kimchi older than Psy’s shelf life makes Yakatori a place with staying power….which may be more than I can say about a pink cardigan. Gun Bae, Mr. Kim!