Did you know about Gastown's Japanese eatery? Well I didn't either until I did a bit of researching for a new transit friendly Japanese restaurant and stumbled upon Shirakawa by Itoh Dining. It's a little window-ful restaurant tucked in right behind Coffeebar on Water Street; easily missed if not for the little sign on the street. For a Friday night, reservations weren't really necessary as maybe only half the tables were filled during our stay.
We started off with two cocktails: a sake lemonade (the day's special) and kishu sour. My sake was really straightforward but definitely classic and refreshing. Not too sweet or overly alcoholic. I would order it again and probably find a way to make it for myself at home to sip on a nice hot summer day. The kishu sour ($13) included buffalo trace, umeshu, lime, orange, egg white and plum bitters. Very citrus-ey with a punch of the signature plum taste from the umeshu. Not bad.
We ordered a plate from each of the menu sections, starting off with kakuni ($7) from the small plates menu. Slow cooked pork belly with teppan finish and paired with a bit of Japanese mustard on the side. Good balance of fat and meat glazed with the natural fats and thick teriyaki-like sauce. I wouldn't say that it's so good that the fat melts in your mouth but it's not too bad. The meat however, was a bit tough for my liking. Despite not being a mustard lover, I quite enjoyed smearing a bit of the mustard on each piece of meat. The minimal spice provides a nice contrast with the sweeter sauce on the juicy meat. Out of all the plates we ordered, this was probably our favourite.
From the sushi menu, we ordered the Shirakawa maki ($20) which included hamachi (yellowtail), maguro (tuna), salmon, cucumber, asparagus, and kaiware (sprouted daikon radish seeds). The ingredients sound great and we expected a promising roll. Unfortunately when the dish came, we were considerably a few levels off of being impressed. I understand maki isn't an extravagant sushi but considering the quality of the ingredients and the style of the restaurant, I admit that we expected more...but looks aren't everything right? At least we hoped when we took out first bites into the mix of seaweed, rice, and fish. Sadly, the rolls was disappointing both in appearance and taste. Great ingredients but when mixed all together, it was hard to differentiate the unique textures and flavours of each fish. I almost felt like the rolls didn't do the freshness of the fish justice. The vegetables provided a nice crunch but really nothing close enough to amazing for $20. Also, when a dish has the restaurant's name stamped on it, expectations are usually higher. We not only expected quality, but "culinary creativity" as well (which the restaurant prides itself in). We might have found quality but I almost forget that creativity was supposed to come along with the dish.
Our final dish was from the big plates menu: the ji dori ($16) which was crispy teppan grilled Maple Hill Organic chicken finished with maple syrup infused New Style teriyaki served with garlic rice. Another delicious sounding plate with a tinge of Canadian but unfortunately fell flat upon our first bites. Definitely crispy chicken skins and tender meats but nothing too short of a good quality teriyaki chicken donburi I could get at other Japanese restaurants for a bit more than half the price. The rice underneath was all pretty common as well. Maybe the lightly fried garlic shreds on the top were supposed to bring up the flavours a notch? I could barely taste the maple syrup in the teriyaki sauce probably due to the fact that they have similar flavours.
While food didn't meet my initial expectations creativity wise, I am happy to say that the style and design Shirakawa deserves a thumbs up. Lovely, simple, and almost rustic feel that comes along with the window paneled walls and handmade Japanese plates. The little bar at the back is homey. The variety of couch and individual chair seating is present. The only complaint I have towards decor is that the back of the restaurant is a bit dark especially in comparison with the front seats at the windows. Service is not bad although nothing like the enthusiasm you get from more Japanese dominated restaurants in the city. So Shirakawa doesn't do too badly in the food quality, service, and atmosphere aspect, but that isn't enough to pull me back for another visit especially when there are similar restaurants that offer much more.
R E V I E W.
+ food quality: 6.5-7/10 - there is obvious quality in the ingredients, but the execution/"culinary creativity" really didn't shine
+ service: 8/10
+ price/affordability: 6/10
+ atmosphere: 9/10
+ overall: 7/10