There is something inherently serene about Japanese cuisine. It compels one to slow down, to savour, and not to wolf and gobble (unless one is supremely adept with chopsticks). I think of koto music and cranes flying silently over a montane vista.
No, wait. That is but one side of Japanese cuisine. Turn this trope on its head, and one reveals the izakaya - the loud and cheerful, after work drinking establishment. Edmonton is finally home to one: Izakaya Tomo.
Squared away in a south-side strip mall, Izakaya Tomo is a boisterous and well-crafted evening out. Start with a Sake Sampler, where one may pick three from a roster of five sake offerings. Gokujo and Yoshinogawa are adept choices; the former is fruity and sharp while the latter is smoky and smooth.
Nama-Harumaki are a Japanese take on salad rolls, and trump this standard nibble by upping the ante with avocado, carrots, cukes, and smoked salmon. A tangy soy-mayo dressing caresses each bite.
Tempura Shrimp Rolls present spirals of tender rice, vivid nori, toothsome avocado, and the eponymous crunchy crustacean. A dab of wasabi allows one to doctor the soy sauce to taste.
Tako Yaki arrive covered in a blanket of shaved bonito. At first, the shavings appear to be moving as if alive. This illusion is a product of heat wafting off the freshly fried dumplings. Tender octopus morsels hide within these spheres, which are anointed with lashings of spicy mayo.
Unagi Don are a welcome coda. A delightful haystack of nori gives shelter to smoky and unctuous strips of barbecue eel. A peculiar, gelatinous layer blankets the underlying sticky rice. Its texture is a bit off-putting and, from the menu, I gather that this substance is mountain potato. A hearty shot of plum wine, giddy and resplendent with potent fruits, crowns this experience, which indeed captures the livelier and oft-ignored side of the Japanese culinary experience.