The term "bistro," according to culinary urban legend, derives from the Russian adverb "быстро." This word directly translates as "quickly," and though the two share a similar pronunciation, historians believe that the similarities end there. French gourmands and gourmets likely did not poach the phrase from Russian soldiers during the Russian occupation of Paris. Nonetheless, a quick glance at any city's restaurant directory will reveal innumerable establishments billed as "bistros." This term is applied rather loosely, and nearly any style of restaurant can sport this descriptor.
Japonais Bistro, case in point, recently opened on Jasper Avenue, and its very title hints at this word's Gallic bloodlines. Though the building's front is unassuming, the Bistro's dining room begins with boisterously shouted greetings that meld into dark, suave dining fixtures, a Herbie Hancock soundtrack, a black and white Japanese film projected on a large screen, and tiny painted plants that seem to peek from between crevices in the hardwood floor. Bistro's menu covers an inventive range of sushi and sashimi, and supper commences with Honey Plum Tuna. Crackling bits of tempura encrust each petal of rosy, savoury tuna. A heady drizzle of purple plum and darkly-nuanced honey is an unexpected but astute companion.
The aptly-named Godzilla roll possesses a monstrous pair of deep-fried crab claws that protrude from a rice-nori spiral stuffed with scallops, crab, avocado, and sprinkle with tobiko and sesame seeds. Many flavours compete for attention here, with crab the clear victor.
Mango Tango roll is summer on a plate. Crisp cucumber and tangy-sweet mango graciously envelop mild, plump shrimp. An auburn soy drizzle is cross-hatched across each morsel and provides a rich counterpoint to the fruits' airy sweetness.
Dessert features Matcha Green Tea Creme Brulee. A dollop of whipped cream and a few halved berries are superfluous; the creme brulee is amply textured and infused with smoky, earthy green tea all on its own.
Indeed, the term "bistro" possesses an amusingly inventive history, the etymological history of which may - or may not - be true. That this phrase appears so frequently in the nomenclature of restaurants implores the name-bearer to use it wisely. Japonais Bistro easily succeeds.
And I could not stop admiring the elfin flowers in the floorboards.