To round-up our day of Japanese food exploration in Richmond, we decided to have dinner at Gyo-O. [ #2137-3779 Sexsmith Road, Richmond, (604) 233-7050] Being a bit of a lame-o and not spending much of my days off in Richmond, I knew relatively little about Gyo-O. A few months back, I had heard that Gyo-O had really good udon and I suggested it to “Boomer” and “The Great Wall” as a place we could check out, after an early dinner service. Occasionally, we’ll finish service at Tapenade Bistro at 8:30pm, if we are booked for a private pharmaceutical function. If we’re caught up on our mise-en-place and “all our ducks are in a row,” we sometimes have a desire to go as a group and grab a bite to eat. Even though we had discussed this as an option and even though my kitchen staff understands that my life revolves around “keeping them happy,” they ended up dissing me, got together for lunch on a Monday afternoon without me and made me feel like a “self conscious and jealous outcast” for a very long time. Why don’t my guys want to hang out with me? I’m a nice guy. I know I can get kind of intense, I’m pretty serious and focused around the restaurant, but don’t they know I have feelings too? I’ll even pick up the bill and they still don’t want to spend quality time with their loving chef? Sigh. It’s been a couple of months, my therapist says it time to let go, though the words “forgiven not forgotten” still ring in my ears. The wounds have healed, but an ugly scar remains, but day by day, life continues and I will eventually forgive them for shunning me. OK, drama queen aside, when they told me about their meal, maybe I was holding a grudge, maybe my listening skills were not up to par or maybe their communications skills were not so excellent, but they pretty much described Gyo-O as another izakaya. I heard such buzz words such as uni, ikura, yum-o, “gobble gobble” and bukkake(???), but that’s about it. I do recall the boys saying they “loves it,” so it was good enough for me and off we went.
After an afternoon of snacking and Asian mall shopping, “Nuoc Mom” Canada-lined it to Richmond and met up with us after she finished work. We arrived at Gyo-o at around 6:30pm and though the place is tiny, we were the only table there. Lots of other people showed up later, but we had their undivided attention at the beginning of our meal. My first impression was I loved the place. The decorations, the Japanese characters, the colors and the big painting/mural of the tuna on the wall, made me feel instantly at home. I felt like I was about to experience an authentic meal and though I had no idea what we were going to eat, I was getting excited. When I looked at the menu, it took me a few minutes to understand exactly what they were offering and proceeded to order for our table. This was not an izakaya per se, but a Gyoza King group restaurant focusing on udon and rice with seafood.
The first round of dishes I ordered comprised of uni tai ryou mori, mini ikura don, negitoro don, octopus tempura and chicken karaage with ontama bukkake udon. The uni special sushi was unbelievable. Apparently, I was supposed to look at it for a while and appreciate it before I started eating it, but that didn’t last long. The dish itself was six big pieces of sea urchin, perched on top of three pieces of seaweed maki. The rolls were negligible, in fact the rice was just so so and the seaweed wasn’t toasty enough, but the sea urchin was amazingly fresh and tasty. The mini ikura don was a small bowl of rice, with a generous mound of marinated salmon roe. It came with a little seaweed and wasabi and was absolutely delish. I don’t know why I’m so into ikura these days, but I love the texture and the flavor of the ikura with the warm rice. The negitoro don was a bowl of rice with a nice mound of chopped albacore belly with green onion. There was also a garnish of tobiko and though this don was not appreciated by “Monk” and “Nuoc Mom,” I thought it was excellent as well. The octopus tempura was lousy; it was chewy, wasn’t crispy and did not taste much like anything. The bukkake chicken udon was interesting. The dish was basically udon noodles which I tossed with a barely poached egg, a dressing of some sort, green onion, assorted seaweed and fried chicken. The texture of the udon was great, but the dressing was a touch bland. I understand the concept of mixing the egg with everything to give the dish “unctuosness,” I just thought the dish needed more depth. I’m not even going to discuss the concept of bukkake because that would be “much too easy and much too controversial.”
On the next wave of dishes, I ordered a mini chicken chili don, ebi chili, takoyaki and a uni hotate don. The mini chicken chili don was fried chicken on rice with chili mayo and tartare sauce. It was fine, not exceptional and I manly ordered it as filler because “Nuoc Mom” likes to fill up on carbs and does not eat raw seafood too often. She did take quite a liking to the sea urchin that evening and really was open to trying different things. The ebi chili was uneventful and so non-memorable that I can’t remember anything about it. The takoyaki was really nice; hot, tasty and crispy on the outside. I ordered the uni hotate don simply because the sea urchin was so good and I felt like I needed a little more uni to get through the night. After all these dishes, I also ordered a chikuwa tempura udon to wind things down. This dish was udon in soup with a tempura fish tube. The broth was very clear and tasty and again, the texture of the udon was excellent. When I ordered this last dish, the look on the staff’s face made me feel truly gluttonous. They were shocked and a little embarrassed to be serving us so much food, but I’m use to this strange look by now. I’m just trying to sample as much of their menu as possible and I along with the people I tend to dine with, have big appetites.
Issue and concerns; no alcoholic beverages and cash only. I was really looking forward to a Japanese cocktail or a cold Japanese beer, but no liquor license, no libations, just hot tea. Also, it is 2010 and I don’t use or carry much cash these days, but fortunately I saw the sign earlier in the day and made a trip to the ATM earlier. Accepting credit cards is part of doing business in 2010. Overall, the food was very good and I like the purity of this style of food. It’s all about the star ingredient served with some rice or udon. Some of the side items were extremely disappointing, but I now have a good idea of how and what to order, next time I visit. I’ll stick to fish and rice and I’ll be just fine.
On my chef’s night out scale, Gyo-O receives 3/5 SOB (slices of bacon).