Saturday, March 5, 2011
Suika - Breaking the Curse
There are few things as difficult for a restaurateur (and encouraging for a foodie) as providing great food and ambiance in a space that has been unsuccessful in the past. I enjoy trying new restaurants because I have a curious palate, but I also take pride in community and supporting small businesses in my neighbourhood. The address of 1626 West Broadway has not been a successful location for dining establishments over the past ten years. It was home to the morally admirable yet gastronomically average Picasso Cafe for a few years, which was a West Coast, non-profit establishment operated by employees at-risk. It was then O Thai, which showed promise when it first opened but lacked the novelty or extroversion to generate a fan base. A few months ago, Suika (Japanese for "Watermelon") opened and it's a hit...so far.
As I first walked into a bustling Suika I was impressed with the open, warm layout and the numerous seating arrangements available (a tiny sushi bar, a casual sports bar, a banquette, and regular tables). Upon examining the menu, I spotted many of the usual suspects: tuna tataki, ramen, agedashi tofu. However, there were some really creative dishes too: stewed pork jaw, grilled yellowtail cheeks, and duck carpaccio. We ordered the latter, which provided a fresh, clean tasting alternative to confit or braising.
I really appreciate how Suika is attempting to create a true izakaya character. Of course, Suika does not physically resemble many of the izakayas in Japan (Have I been to Japan? No. Do I think I know what urban izakayas look like in the Land of the Rising Sun based on hearsay and Interweb research? Yes.) but they do emphasize drinks, promote a relaxed atmosphere, and provide the setting for ichigo ichie encounters. Izakayas should feel like local taverns, informal watering holes that promote socializing and serve suitable snacks. Suika fits this much needed mould.
Another good sign: I was the only non-Japanese customer in there! Surely the harshest judges of izakayas are those who invented them...and so far Suika is not receiving much criticism.