109 - Raising the Red Lantern

By Mary Luz Mejia

In Japan, tradition has it that when you see a red lantern hanging outside a tavern-type establishment, that's a sure sign that warm food and drink will be found inside. Appealing to harried workers rushing home after another twelve hour plus day, Izakayas are found everywhere, especially busy train stations. The idea is to enjoy a hot snack and drink before going home, sort of like the Spanish do with their tapas.

Beef chili ramenIn Toronto, we have our own Izakaya, coincidentally near Union Station, catering to anyone looking for a hot meal that pairs perfectly with various alcohol-based beverages. Take the ever-popular chilli beef ramen noodle soup that chef/co-owner John Sinopoli and his team expertly prepare in the kitchen.

Fresh ramen noodles are cooked on order and placed in a generous bowl of chicken broth that's seasoned with an in-house made chilli spice, soya sauce and rice vinegar. Next, a lean piece of sirloin beef is grilled, sliced and fanned out on top of the noodle soup with some scallions, chilli slivers, herbs and a lime wedge.

Chef Sinopoli says that in Japan, this dish is typically served alongside a tall bottle of cold beer -- a hit on either side of the Pacific. It's a spicy, filling dish and it's many of my dining companions' absolute favourite.

If you'd rather try something more exciting than beer, shochu or Japan's version of vodka is the perfect choice. Distilled wheat, buckwheat or sweet potato (to name a few of the options) makes this clear, clean tasting alcohol that Izakaya uses as the base for numerous imaginative and refreshing cocktails. And if it's refreshing you're after, try the yuzutini with a splash of grapefruit and yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) taking centre stage -- it's enough to revive anyone after a work-weary day.

Izakaya ** CLOSED **
69 Front Street East
Toronto, Ontario