Being in the mood for some Japanese tapas and not wanting to wait 2+ hours at Guu, my friends and I ended up at Chou Izakaya. The restaurant is located at Church and Wellsely, in the space that formerly housed Kaseki Sakura.
I called ahead trying to make a reservation but was told they don’t take reservations on Fridays and Saturdays. But when I arrived around 6 on a Saturday, I was immediately asked if I had a reservation. Not impressed! Apparently they just don’t take reservations between 7 and 9pm on Fridays/Saturdays. I was told to come back after 9 since they were really busy. The 3 of us decided to wait it out and we ended up being seated in around 45 minutes.
While the seating is similar to Guu (largely communal), the atmosphere is much quieter (aka no loud shouting).
Chou Izakaya’s menu features the usual izakaya fare. In addition to the menu, make sure to check out the menus on the wall. They’re hard to read but some of their most popular dishes will be listed here.
The first dish that arrived was the Pork Belly Skewers – grilled with Japanese white oak charcoal Binchotan ($2.50 each). You have the option of getting them with sea salt or teriyaki – I typically go with sea salt. I’ve never really had bad pork belly skewers and the ones here were no exception.
We also ordered a Chicken Skin Skewer ($2.50 each) which consisted of one fatty piece of chicken skin. Nothing particularly memorable here…I didn’t think it was worth $2.50.
Up next was the Amaebi Karaage – crispy fried sweet shrimp ($7). One order came with 6 large pieces of shrimp which you eat whole – with the skin and all. Surprisingly, they weren’t very greasy for something that’s been deep fried. They’d make for a pretty good bar snack.
Takoyaki – crispy fried octopus balls served with Japanese BBQ sauce ($5.50) is a must-order for me at izakayas. They were not bad but I found the batter to be too thick with very minimal filling. My favourite takoyaki is still from Fin Izakaya.
Another izakaya dish I often order is the Yaki Nasu – grilled eggplant topped with bonito flakes and sweet miso sauce ($5). The eggplant is grilled until soft and the sweet miso sauce just pairs so perfectly with this vegetable. No complaints about this dish!
One of their special items listed on the wall was the Spicy Salmon Don ($6) which was essentially mayo, salmon and rice. I think it would’ve been fine if the dish wasn’t so heavy on the mayo. It just really overpowered the salmon and tasted like I was just eating mayo with rice.
Up next was the Kimchi Pork Cheese – stir fried pork belly with kimchi and cheese on top ($6.90). As you can imagine, it’s a pretty rich dish. It was on the salty side and would’ve gone quite nicely with a bowl of plain rice. I found it a little too salty to eat on its own.
A section of Chou Izakaya’s menu is dedicated to Gunkan sushi so we ordered a few: Spicy Salmon & Spicy Tuna Gunkan Sushi ($2.50 each), Scallop & Wasabi Mayo Gunkan Sushi ($3 each) and the Sweet Shrimp & Ikura Gunkan Sushi ($3 each).
I only tried the first two and regretted ordering the spicy salmon & tuna sushi since it was essentially the same as the spicy salmon don we ordered. Again, it was a little too heavy on the mayo and wasn’t very “spicy”. But I certainly got the kick I was looking for (and more) from the scallop & wasabi mayo sushi. Given that the spicy salmon was so heavy on the mayo, I was surprised that this one was quite the opposite. It was essentially scallop rubbed down in wasabi – it made my eyes water!
Shortly after eating the sushi, the Oba Fried Rice – stir fried rice with chicken and Japanese mint leaves ($6) arrived. Flavour-wise, it was a decent bowl of fried rice…but we all found it too oily. After finishing all the rice, there was quite the layer of oil coating the entire bowl. Appetizing, eh?
One of their most popular dishes is the Shime Saba (aka torched mackerel). After a taste of this dish, we could see why it’s so popular. I’ve had mackerel many times and often found it to be quite fishy but the dish here was delicious and lacked the strong fishy flavour I don’t enjoy.
Our last dish was the Gindara Zusu – black cod and rice in soup ($9.90), one of the seasonal specials. During the evening, they actually sold out so order it immediately. It turned out to be our favourite dish of the evening.
This dish was presented in a little pot which sat atop a flame, keeping the soup hot. The Gindara Zusu consisted of small pieces of black cod in a warm, delicious broth. It’s a fantastic dish for the winter.
Overall, I felt Chou Izakaya was a little hit and miss. The little reservation mishap certainly didn’t help either. If I’m in the mood for some izakaya fare and can’t bear the wait at Guu, you’ll find me at Fin Izakaya instead.
At a glance:
• Reservations are only taken before 7pm or after 9pm on Fridays/Saturdays
• Food was a little hit and miss
• Located at Church and Wellesley
• Mostly communal seating; quieter atmosphere compared to Guu
Ratings (out of 5):
• Food: 3 stars
• Service: 2 stars
• Atmosphere: 2 stars