Restaurant: Zakkushi Charcoal Grill (Downtown Vancouver, Denman Street)
Last Visited: August 14, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End)
Address: 823 Denman Street
Transit: SB Denman St FS Robson St
Price Range: $20-30
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Japanese owned/operated
- Some modern twists
- 3 locations
- Local favourite
- Award winning
- Specializes in grilling/robata
- A bit cramped seating
- Good for individual dining
- Modern atmosphere
- Moderately priced
- Mon-Sun 5:30pm-1:00am
- Last call: 12:00am
- Zakkushi – Main Street location
**Recommendations: Oropon Beef, P-Toro, Premium Beef Tongue, Chicken Heart, Chicken Liver, Takowasa, Barisoba Salad, Zakkushi Set, Umeshiso Yaki, Momo (sauce), Aspara Maki, Mé Maki, Tsukune Norimayo, Uzura Maki, Mentai Kimchi Yakiudon
I haven’t been to this location in ages, but my last Zakkushi Charcoal Grill experience was at their Main Street location. The have three restaurants in Vancouver, but I have yet to visit the one in Kitsilano. This downtown Vancouver location is the original and it’s still as busy as ever. The same menu is priced slightly higher for most things though (likely to cover costs of pricier rent in downtown). I actually really like the food here, but when I crave Japanese food it’s more for sushi, izakaya and ramen over robata or yakitori (grilled meats). It’s apples and oranges, but when I crave grilled meat I usually prefer Korean.
The downtown location is quite narrow and small and it’s not as posh or modernized as the other two locations. The other two are also intentionally hidden, but this one is easy to spot on Denman Street. The atmosphere is reminiscent of watering holes in Japan and it also reminded me izakaya places like Guu with Garlic or Guu on Thurlow. In Vancouver many tend to think of izakaya places as funky Japanese restaurants with eclectic Japanese tapas. While these are izakayas, so are places like Zakkushi which specialize in grilled meats.
Izakaya just means a Japanese drinking place that also serves food – it’s almost like a gastropub. Izakayas are casual places in Japan and where people go drinking after work. The food and drinks are usually affordable and they are quite casual, unlike what they have become in Vancouver. I still love the fancier izakaya scene in Vancouver, but the style is just different and perhaps not as “authentic”. This however, is a great go-to in the city.
This is what you come for and I will repeat what I wrote in my previous post for it. Knowing the concept of Zakkushi and what type of grill they are using , and what type of robata they are providing, helps to understand and appreciate the flavour and style of their food.
Zakkushi Charcoal Grill specializes in the “Charcoal Grill” (as the name suggests). The grilling is done for you, so it’s not Korean BBQ or anything. This is Japanese style BBQ which is commonly referred to as “robatayaki” or “robata” and the concept of grilled meats on skewers is “yakitori” or “kushiyaki”. It’s likely you’ve seen it on the menu before or tried it in the past, but going to a place that specializes in it is a different experience. Even if you have been to one in Vancouver, it’s likely they’re not doing it the way Zakkushi is.
Zakkushi not only specializes in robata, but the method and technique they use is also different. As you walk in you’ll notice that the smell of BBQ isn’t in the air and you won’t leave smelling like smoke either. Instead what they use is “Binchotan” which is a premium quality charcoal made of 80% carbon so it not have an odour or a flame. While this means the food does not have that char-grilled exterior or smokiness (which some refer to as “impurities”, and I find that debatable), it means the food retains its natural flavours and is meant to be enjoyed in its purest state. The technique is valued to “BBQ Masters” which I think probably varies according to cultures.
I was very confused though because despite what I just wrote (information from their website), I did see flames coming off their grill. The restaurant didn’t smell smoky and the food still didn’t have that char-grilled flavour, but the grill certainly looked different than the one advertised on their website. Regardless I still enjoyed the food and my experience, but I’m just puzzled with the claimed technique and grilling equipment. Personally I enjoy the robata where the meat does not touch the grill, but is grilled above the flame. For that style of robata I prefer Aki Japanese although they are very different styles.
On the table: **Takowasa – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Raw octopus marinated in wasabi and Japanese pickles $3.50
- This is also known as tako wasabi and it is an ideal snack with beer or sake.
- I order this a lot and this could be one of my favourite versions of it.
- It’s Japanese style ceviche, so the raw octopus is “cooked” and marinated in Japanese pickles, fresh seaweed, wasabi and/or Japanese hot mustard.
- It has a naturally slimy texture and it’s almost like a Japanese raw octopus salsa.
- The octopus was tender and not chewy and there was a refreshing crunch from the Japanese pickles.
- It didn’t burn, but you can certainly taste the kick of wasabi and mustard.
- It was well balanced and savoury with a bit of soy sauce and/or sesame oil (?) too.
- Sometimes they serve it with mini sheets of seaweed on the side, but they didn’t do it here.
- I also love the Tako Wasabi at Guu with Garlic, Hapa Izakaya and Koto Izakaya Sushi & Robata.
Karei Karaage – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- Deep fried flounder with Sansho salt $6.80
- Asian style fish and chips! This was also a great snack and good with beer or sake.
- It had a very light dusting of flour and was deep fried to golden brown.
- It was a powdery thin batter that was nice and crispy and it was seasoned with Sansho salt.
- Sansho is a type of Japanese spice and it’s often called a pepper, but it’s not a pepper. It has a tangy, lemony and sour flavour.
- The Sansho salt seemed like it had bits of dried seaweed (nori) in it and it almost made the fish taste fishier.
- The fish isn’t that meaty and it’s a flatfish.
- It has a very mild and delicate flavour and the meat is firm.
- The tail and head were the best parts and they were fried to a crisp so you could chew through the bones and eat them like chips.
- Garlic stubs wrapped with sliced pork $1.90
- I like the “Aspara Maki” even more, but this is another favourite. They’re almost the same.
- They gave more sliced pork and did a better job with it overall at the Main Street location – see here, but this was still good.
- It was very simple and it was pretty much just bacon wrapped in garlic tips. Effortlessly delicious.
- The bacon didn’t crisp, but it was still a solid skewer and the garlic stems had a nice crunch similar to asparagus, but with the mild flavour of garlic or green onions.
**Uzura Maki – 6/6 (FMF Must try!)
- Quail eggs wrapped with sliced pork $2 ($1.90 at Main Street location)
- I love quail eggs, so I loved this. I ordered it last time and it was a hit.
- It was Japanese style bacon wrapped around hard boiled quail eggs drizzled with sweet Japanese mayo and seaweed.
- They were rich and creamy with a paper thin strip of crispy, salty, sweet and smoky bacon tightly wrapped around the 3 eggs.
- The egg yolk was solid and not runny (would have been good runny), but also not dry and crumbly, and I could taste both the egg and bacon equally.
Shishamo Fish – 4/6 (Very good)
- With spicy mayo $1.90
- It might look a bit intimidating, but it’s another version of Asian “fish ‘n chips”.
- Shishamo is smelt, so this was grilled smelt with a sprinkle of salt.
- It wasn’t fried to a crisp and still moist and the flavour is similar to sardines so it’s quite fishy.
- The whole thing is edible and it had a crispy exterior.
- The “tartare sauce” was spicy Japanese mayo which is a bit sweeter than regular mayo.
- It didn’t have a smokiness, but I still liked it. I also like this fish and dish though.
**Chicken Heart – 4/6 (Very good)
- Teriyaki or Sea Salt $1.50
- I’m a fan of hearts. Duck heart, venison heart and chicken heart almost all taste the same.
- Hearts have a slightly rubbery, springy or chewy texture, but they’re not gelatinous. They have a bit of a snap to them, but no crunch.
- The heart is muscle that pumps blood, so think of an edible pump and that is the texture of hearts.
- They have a strong chicken flavour that might be compared to chicken liver.
- I wouldn’t say they’re gamey, but they have a musky flavour and richness to them.
- It might have a slight iron after taste, but it’s not offensive and quite subtle (for me at least).
- It might be acquired, but at $1.50 for a skewer it won’t hurt to try if you’ve never had grilled heart before.
- If you’ve had heart before, then you should try it here. I thought this was a delicious grilled heart.
- It was cooked perfectly and simply seasoned with salt so that I could taste the natural flavour of the heart.
Chicken Gizzard – 1.5/6 (Poor-Okay)
- Teriyaki or Sea Salt $1.90
- I went with sea salt again so that I could taste the natural flavour of gizzard.
- I prefer heart, liver, and sweetbreads to chicken gizzards, but I still like gizzards.
- I didn’t like the gizzard here though, I prefer them deep fried like they do in the South – see deep fried gizzards in New Orleans.
- A gizzard is an organ found in the digestive system used to break down food.
- When they’re deep fried they taste like dark meat chicken, but here they were crunchy, chewy and tough and I wasn’t a fan.
**Chicken Liver – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Teriyaki or Sea Salt $1.50
- Again I went with sea salt so it wouldn’t distract from the pure natural flavour.
- This was simply grilled chicken liver, but they did a great job with it.
- They were creamy and moist and not overcooked, gritty, dry or too firm.
- If you like chicken pâté, this is it in its pre-pâté stage.
- These were very rich though, as they would be for being liver.
**P-Toro – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
- Crunchy & juicy pork $1.80 ($1.60 a la carte at Main Street location)
- This was simple and delicious. An easy favourite for bacon or pork belly lovers.
- The pork neck or cheek was thinly sliced which is great because otherwise it would be a chewy and tough cut to cook.
- It didn’t really have that natural resistance, crunch or chew the cheek or neck would usually have, but I liked it and it was actually very tender.
- It was seasoned with a sprinkle of salt and it was very natural. Simple was showcased well.
- The squeeze of lemon just helped cut the richness of the oils since it is a fatty cut of meat.
Beef Tongue – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- I love beef tongue, so naturally I would like this.
- If you’ve never had beef tongue it just tastes like very tender and soft beef. Sometimes it can taste like brisket if it’s braised.
- The skin of the tongue is always removed so there are no bumps or “taste buds” and it’s smooth in texture.
- It doesn’t have an offensive flavour, gaminess, or even different flavour from the rest of the cow.
- It’s naturally a very fatty cut of meat, but it’s not gelatinous or chewy and you can’t even see the fat.
- This one was shavings of beef tongue and I prefer it a bit crispier.
- I wasn’t keen on the shavings and I wanted it in cubes. It was a style thing.
- It’s naturally a bit oily so the squeeze of lemon helps ease that aspect.
- If you like beef tongue I highly recommend 3 Kinds of Beef Tongue at Guu.
**Premium Beef Tongue – 6/6 (FMF Must try!)
- Thick cut beef tongue with salt and pepper $3.80
- So you get what you pay for, but I did find $3.80 pricey even for a better quality tongue.
- This is how I like beef tongue.
- The cubes are better than the thin shavings where you can barley tell it’s even tongue.
- This tasted almost like beef brisket, but softer and more tender and very moist.
- It had a nice teriyaki like glaze and it was salty and a bit sweet.
- Again, if you like beef tongue I highly recommend 3 Kinds of Beef Tongue at Guu.
Mentai Mayo Tsukune – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- With spicy cod roe mayo $1.90
- When I was at their Main Street location I loved their “tsukune” category which is basically a chicken meatball.
- It didn’t seem as good here and it was a bit drier for some reason. Maybe it was just the two I had though.
- Usually the chicken meatball is incredibly tender, juicy and well marinated with a sweet and savoury soy sauce.
- This one was still good, but just not as good as I’ve had it before.
- The sauce with a cod roe mayo which is a fishy tasting mayo. It’s very rich and creamy with a seafood flavour.
- It was good with the chicken meatball, but I prefer mentai mayo tossed with udon. It’s a great sauce.
- Zakkushi makes a delicious Mentai Kimchi Yakiudon I tried at the Main Street location, so I would recommend trying that if you’re curious about the sauce.
T&S Sashimi – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- Albacore tuna 4 pc & sockeye salmon 4pc $9.80
- Winding down from all the grilled meats it was time for some sashimi.
- They ran out of toro (belly) so this was all they had.
- The salmon was excellent quality, but a bit too thin in the slicing.
- The albacore tuna was just okay, but it was cut thicker. It’s also more affordable than salmon.
- The albacore tuna wasn’t as high quality as the salmon, so next time I would just get the salmon.
- 2 Beef Tendon ($2/each) + Lobster Ball $1.80 = $5.80
- + $1 extra soup
- I’m really not too keen on oden, but it’s traditional Japanese comfort food served in the Winter and a well made one can be excellent.
- Oden is a one pot Japanese stew made with ingredients simmered in a dashi soup base (soup base made with kelp/soy/miso or fish).
- Japanese hot mustard is served on the edge of the bowl to be enjoyed with the ingredients.
- The ingredients are usually assorted fish cakes, but you can select your own here. Many places let you select your own and you pay per topping.
- The lobster balls was likely mixed with some fish ball paste and they were deep fried.
- They’re not crunchy or crispy, but they have a batter like coating around them.
- The beef tendon was delicious.
- I have a love hate relationship with beef tendon and I’m very particular on how I like it.
- This version tasted just like beef brisket and I questioned if it was tendon at all.
- Some pieces were a bit gelatinous and fatty as tendon can be, but for the most part it seemed like brisket.
- The broth is key to a great oden though.
- The soup was a bit on the sweeter side, but I liked it. That may have been due to some sweetened soy sauce.
- It didn’t have a strong seafood flavour, but I could taste some mushroom and seaweed used to make the base of the broth.
- For oden, it was a good oden but not something I would have to order specifically at Zakkushi.
Guu Kobachi had deep fried chicken gizzard on the their fresh sheet when we went on Aug 11. KFC spicing very similar to popcorn chicken but with gizzard and it was very tasty. At first we didn’t know what it was … it just said gizzard with skin for $3 on the sheet. Ended up getting 3 orders of it before heading up to Zakkushi.
i must admit that i’m not really into eating “satay” type grilled meats on a stick but i have to make an exception for zakkushi… it’s one of the only places i can actually justify going for a meal like this. the ingredients are all fresh and i love the vareity that this establishment offers – they definitely do need a bigger space but i have to admit that i like the intimate setting… its very japanese 🙂