To kick-off Vancouver Eatfest 2012, we headed to one of our must-go eating destinations – Zakkushi Charcoal Grill (Denman Street location).  We were introduced to this ikazaya (kind of like a Japanese tapas place) by one of our friends, who happened to live and study in Vancouver for about three years – he’s also a foodie who knows the best places to eat.

Since I was in charge of planning out our daily menu and activities (actually, I just decided to do it since I have epic organisational skills from being an admin asst for so many years), I thought that Zakkushi would be the perfect way to start off our Vancouver adventures.  We landed at 5:20pm on Friday, picked up our rental car, set up our fairly trusty (mostly annoying) GPS unit, and headed for our hotel to check-in before going to Zakkushi.  Since I’m such an epic planner, I’d already secured a coveted table at Zakkushi, having made a reservation on Tuesday.   This place is always PACKED and there’s a strict 2-hour seating limit.  I actually had to fight for us to keep our table.  If we wanted to stay for 2 hours, we’d have to sit at the bar, but for a table, we’d only have 1.5 hrs.  I went ahead with the table option as I knew we wouldn’t need 1.5 hrs to devour all that we wanted.

Luckily, we got to the hotel with enough time to settle in and rest a bit before heading out.  Normally, we would’ve taken the car, but we figured that walking would do us some good.  Getting to Zakkushi from our hotel was a tad bit of a jaunt – 30 minutes at a brisk pace.  But we were confident that our newly formed P90Muscles would make the task a breeze and it really was.  Plus, the weather was amazing and we got to take in the sights of the popular Robson Street on the way.

We arrived a few minutes early so we had to wait a couple of minutes for our table to get cleared.  The waiting area is not set up very well.  Actually, it’s not much of a waiting area – you’re pretty much in everybody’s way.  But, that’s the way it’s designed.

The aroma is nothing short of AH-MAAAAAAAY-ZING.  The smell of grilled meats on charcoal… just can’t beat it.  There’s bar seating around the grill and the kitchen, where you can watch the assorted of skewered meats being grilled to perfection.

The menu itself is very extensive.  It can be a little overwhelming for a first-timer as there’s so many things to choose from.  Since we’d already been to Zakkushi a couple of times, we picked out some of our usual favourites and a couple of new things to try.  What I liked about this menu is that you order by skewer, so you’re not stuck with having to order a set number of an item.  This is especially handy if there’s only two diners and you want to try a variety of things without getting completely stuffed to the point of explosion.  We stuck with getting 2 of each skewer for each of us to try each item.  Mark actually wrote it down on a notepad to keep track – this was helpful!

We started off with a few ODEN items: 1 daikon radish for Mark, and 2 deep-fried tofu squares to share.  It comes in a beautifully light, flavourful broth (similar to udon soup).  Can’t go wrong with tofu (I LOVE IT IN ANY FORM), and Mark really enjoyed his daikon.

We also went with the IKA YAKI (whole squid with teriyaki sauce and spicy mayo).   YUM!  The tenticles are deep-fried, calamari-style and the rest of the squid is nicely grilled.  The only disappointment is that it came lukewarm, like it’d been sitting out for a few minutes.  It would’ve been even more delicious had it come to the table piping hot.  Ah well, it was a minor thing.

Now, for the skewered items.  I’m going to do my best to try to match up the pictures with the correct item.

YAKI EBI (prawns with butter soy sauce and garlic chips).  The garlic chips were sooo good.

SHISO MAKI (chicken thigh wrapped with shiso leaf and plum sauce) – the shiso leaf gives this a really nice herbal flavour.

My best guess is that this was the NASU (eggplant wrapped with sliced pork).  I’m not a fan of eggplant, but didn’t even know this was eggplant so I guess that worked out well.

ONIGIRI (bbq rice balls) – normally super awesome, but it came lukewarm… like they’d been sitting out :(  It was slightly disappointing.  Normally, they’re so hot, you have to let them cool down in between bites.  Not as epic as I remembered it.

KOBE BEEF TSUKUNE (kobe beef meatballs) – these are my fave, by far!  They’re the most tender, flavourful meatballs I’ve ever had.  DELISH!

MOMO (chicken thigh with salt) – standard issue, quite delicious in its simplicity.

RANDOM CHICKEN TRIO (yes, that’s right).  Basically, this came to our table and we ate it without question… then later on the server came by and said that she’d put in the order by mistake.  Oops.  LOL.  No matter, they were yummy so I can’t complain.  I’m guessing, from left to right, that it’s the TSUKUNE (chicken meat ball with teriyaki), GARLIC (terikyaki sauce and garlic), and NORI MAYO (teriyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed).

And lastly, our beef duo – OROPON BEEF (AAA beef with grated daikon radish and ponzu sauce) and WASABI BEEF (AAA Beef with fresh wasabi).  Can’t go wrong with anything related to AAA Beef.

The damage wasn’t too bad.  It was actually the perfect amount of food (even with the addition of the random and mysterious chicken trio) and I don’t think I would’ve been able to eat one skewer more.

As small, packed, and crazy as this place is, they seem to have a system in place to keep the plates of food coming and going.  Our skewers were delivered in quick succession, one after the other (there were a couple of times when we had to wait a few minutes, but it wasn’t that bad).  It’s nice that they don’t all come out at the same time, which means they would sit on the table and get cold.  Big points for them for getting the timing right.

One of the main reasons we love this place so much is that we can’t get this kind of food at home.  Izakaya restaurants don’t exist in Calgary at all, so to be able to get to Zakkushi to get our izakaya fix is a definite plus.

If you’re really into Japanese food, but want to try something different from the standard sushi or the entrees that you’re familiar with, I highly recommend this place if you’re in Vancouver.  It’s a definite must for us and it’s always a good time!

Zakkushi Charcoal Grill
823 Denman Street
Vancouver, BC V6G 2L7
Phone: (604) 685-1136
http://www.zakkushi.com

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