I am losing my mind with excitement. Why? Because two of my bffs are visiting next week, and the three of us haven’t had a group hug in over two years. Emily is coming from Philadelphia and Suzie from Colombia, and I can already guarantee that I will do two things as soon as I see them:
2) Force food upon them as soon as they step off the plane because we have a LOT OF EATING TO DO.
You might be wondering how an American, a Canadian, and an Aussie-now-living-in-South-America came to know each other. It was because of our Masters program in Italy, of course! Suzie and Emily lived together in a darling little flat, and I spent the majority of my time over at their place. We cooked together, worked on school projects, and helped plant a vineyard near Bologna during a school break.
We spent a full day knee-deep in manure – that builds friendships, let met tell you.
We made and ate all kinds of food throughout the year – dishes we missed from home, new recipes we wanted to try, and Italian classics with twists (the twists sometimes being intentional, sometimes not). The last time the three of us broke bread was in Parma, which now feels like a lifetime ago.
Lately, at the mere mention of Italian food, I am reminded of their impending trip, and am constantly resisting the urge to clap my hands and jump up and down. Yesterday, when my friend Stacey and I had lunch at Gyo-O Japanese Restaurant, I saw “Seafood Zousui – Japanese Risotto” on the menu ($13.81) and HAD to order it. Japanese risotto!? Suzie and Emily would LOOOVE Japanese risotto!
I was very curious to see what exactly that meant. I’m a long-time fan of risotto, a traditional Northern Italian dish that’s made my sautéing short grain rice, and gradually adding stock. The rice absorbs the stock, releases starch, and by the end it’s a beautiful, creamy, comforting dish with endless opportunities to vary the flavours. I’d never heard of zousui, however, and have now learned that it’s a Japanese rice stew and ALSO very comforting. La Fuji Mama described it on her blog as a poor man’s risotto, and explains that it’s made by simmering pre-cooked rice (usually leftovers from another meal) in chicken stock. The result is thicker than congee, softer than risotto, and now entirely loved by me.
The seafood zousui arrived in a stone hot pot, just like bibimbap, at an aggressively strong boil. The rice was thick, creamy, and topped with prawns, clams, squid, tiny scallops, and a freshly-cracked egg.
I let it calm down a little, then stirred everything together, and the orange yolk stood out vibrantly against the pale rice.
It was a wonderful dish – the rice was simple, flavourful and soft, and the seafood was cooked nicely, though the prawns were rather bland. I loved the egg mixed in, and how the rice got crispy around the edges of the stone pot. Like bibimbap, the bowl kept my meal extremely hot as I ate it, and I should also note that this dish could have easily fed two people.
Stacey had the Annkake Udon ($6.67) with Annkake Deep-Fried Chicken on top ($3).
The bowl came with udon, seaweed, a soft poached egg, green onion, bits of crunchy tempura batter, and chicken, with a pitcher of broth on the side that she poured over top. She said it was very good, an interesting change-up from ramen (which Gyo-O is also known for).
Because they’re also known for their fish, we ordered a mini sashimi platter to start ($7.14); it came with salmon, tuna, squid topped with tobiko, and surf clam. The tuna was buttery and soft – my favourite cuts on the plate for sure.
I liked Gyo-O – the food was tasty, there were some dishes on the menu I haven’t seen elsewhere, and the décor was cool and eclectic, like being inside a hipster’s pirate ship.
The wall behind the bar was made up of offset wooden slats, and the south wall was taken up entirely by this boldly-designed mural.
The seating area is small but the ceilings are high, so once you’re seated it doesn’t feel cramped.
Gyo-O is just the type of place I’m excited to take Emily and Suzie. That and some big Chinese restaurants, bakeries, local seafood joints, maybe hot pot…..I ought to email them now and remind them to pack their stretchy pants. I CANNOT WAIT to show them Richmond.
If you’re interested in making risotto for the first time OR zousui, here are some great recipes. Enjoy!
Vegetarian options available