When sushi first hit the North American dining scene, it caught on like wildfire, making it the hallmark of Japanese cuisine in the West. But while the popularity of sushi grew, other cultural and culinary treasures from Japan went largely unnoticed.
After a long day at the office, it's customary for Japanese workers to head to the Izakaya, or Japanese pub, to unwind with a drink and Japanese tapas. While popular in the Land of the Rising Sun, Izakayas are a rare find in North America, with just a handful sprinkled across the continent, and only a few to be found in Canada. And that's just what inspired Patrick Fung and Chris Côté, two Montrealers, to start one on the city's west side. "We wanted to do something different and create something authentically Japanese," says Patrick.
Imadake, with its pub-style decor and menu, opened its doors in the summer of 2011 to introduce visitors to a little-known side of Japanese culture and cuisine. “For the first few months, it was quiet," says Kevin Fung, Imadake's Operations Manager. "But the Montreal Gazette wrote a great review and the concept took off."
Imadake is a bit like the rebel of Japanese cuisine. The decor is rustic, yet modern and edgy, with both traditional and manga-inspired artwork painted right on the walls. On one wall, portraits of the staff have been scribbled with chalk so you'll know who's who.
The tables here fill up for a reason you might find surprising: there's no sushi on the menu. Instead, patrons flock here for the hard-to-find Japanese tapas, all snack-style plates meant to share. The black cod is a favourite, perhaps because it's marinated in Miso sauce for 72 hours. Kevin also recommends the Miso beef tongue, which locals tend to be weary of, but love once they try. There are also classic Ramen dishes on the menu, which are left to simmer for over 48 hours to bring out the every last ounce of flavour.
You’ll find the ideal drinks to complement your order, such as the Sake bombs, now an icon of the place, which found their way onto the drink menu thanks to a staff suggestion. Chopsticks are set over a small cup of beer with a shot of sake placed on top. With a little ritual involving a bit of yelling and table banging, the shots fall in and diners drink up.
For dessert, there's a mouth-watering homemade green tea cheesecake and mochi ice cream, a dish of gelatin balls with various flavours of ice cream inside, also made in-house.
At lunchtime, Imadake attracts the local business crowd, in the evenings the young professional crowd come in for 5 à 7, and on the weekends, the university crowd packs in to drink up and let loose.
Take a trip down the stairs and you’ll find a secondary room, which serves as extra space when the restaurant fills up, and can be rented out for private parties of up to 30 people.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but we persevered,” says Kevin, who’s proud to have helped make Imadake a hit with so many different crowds. “We succeeded in making it a place where all types of people can enjoy themselves and discover a whole new side of Japanese cuisine and culture.”