I went to two izakayas in Richmond over the weekend and came away with two very different experiences. First night I paid my first and last visit to Manzo Itamae (located on Capstan way, not to be confused with the Manzo on Alexandra Road), which has taken over the now defunct Dozo restaurant.
We ordered five dishes, starting with the flying fish sashimi. We originally tried to order the bluefin, but were told that they were all out (which was strange since it was on the day's specials and we had arrived early, being the second set of customers in the place). The flying fish was well-presented, but we found a small bone in a piece and a fish scale on another. The sashimi also wasn't very fresh; a distinct "fishy" odor prevented us from even finishing the 7 or 8 pieces that were there. The sashimi was $19.
We also ordered a standard izakaya dish--grilled squid. A sizeable dish, the squid came with some nicely crispy tentacles, and was served plain with a slice of lemon. I also had to try their chopped scallop roll and of everything we had that night, I think this was the best thing that evening.
Next came the grilled ox tongue and a pan-fried udon dish. The ox tongue turned out to be six thinly-cut pieces (which we suspected were cut wrong--against the grain of the meat) which were rubbery. The udon noodles, pan-fried with scallions, mushrooms and beef, were remarkably bland. The beef was dried and overcooked.
For the five dishes, our bill came to $56.
Disappointed with the previous night's meal, we decided to pay a visit to one of our favorite izakayas, Nan Chuu. The last few visits we noticed quite a few changes to their menu and now they have finally come out with newly updated menu. We ordered seven dishes.
First to start was the new Ika Tan Tan, which was an appetizer of raw squid and kelp marinated in a spicy sauce and served with strips of dried nori. Heaven! I worried that the squid would be too rubbery and fishy, but I was happily wrong. The squid was slightly chewy, just enough for a good mouthfeel, and was deliciously buttery. The sauce was spicier than I expected, but the heat was well paired with the taste of the nori.
Next, we had one of the chef's daily sashimi selections - 2 pieces of ebi, 3 of tuna, 3 of the hamachi, and 3 of the tako. The tako was more crunchy and soft than rubbery, the hamachi was generously sized and light-tasting, the tuna was perfectly oh-so-slightly seared and melty, and the ebi was amazingly sweet and succulent. The ebi were also larger than I expected. This dish was $24.
Grilled ox tongue is one of my favorites, and their thick cut chunks of perfectly grilled tongue were up to Nan Chuu's usual standards. The meat was flavorful with a slightly smoky beef taste, and it was served with mustard on the side. We also ordered the Gyu Tataki - thin slices of lightly seared beef served with raw scallions and a light soy-based dipping sauce. It was so thin and tender that it almost melts in your mouth. Another favorite of mine is their wagyu beef robata, which were eight cubes of tender marbled Japanese wagyu beef on two skewers. The meat was juicy and tender and perfectly cooked - slightly bleeding rare in the center.
Agedashi tofu is not usually one of my favorites, but I decided to try their take on it. What I expected was a small dish of 3 or 4 cubes of fried tofu with a light vegetable gravy sauce. What came to our table was a bowl of 6 or 7 large cubes of crispy, fried sweet and silky yellow tofu in their "special mushroom sauce" which consisted of shiitake and enoki mushrooms. Delicious!
For dessert, we ordered 3 kinds of ice cream - green tea, mango, and black sesame. The three small scoops came with a dollop of whipped cream, chocolate shavings and a patter of red bean for the green tea ice cream. The mango was standard, and the real standout was the black sesame ice cream. I could've done without the whipped cream and chocolate shavings, and instead asked for more red bean to pair with the black sesame.
For seven dishes at Nan Chuu, our bill came to $58.