Gyoza King –
Gyoza king was quite the popular restaurant when I first visited the city a few years ago. I can’t attest to its popularity now because I’m not usually out at the hours izakayas become busy, but I will say that there is much less online buzz about the place right now than there was on my first visit to the city.
My first visit to Gyoza King was during lunch time about two weeks after my move to the city a little over a year ago. I wasn’t able to sample any of their usual izakaya fare during that visit because they only served items on their lunch menu (lunch boxes, ramen, and gyoza) at the time (…I might be wrong on this, but I only remembered being offered the lunch menu and not their regular menu). The lunch experience was pretty subpar. After that meal, both my wife and I vowed not to return to the restaurant unless it was for a meal that we were allowed to order from their regular menu.
My wife, son, and I had originally planned on trying out Norboo for lunch today, but we had a last-minute change of heart after staring into the completely empty interior of the restaurant (unless we’ve been to the restaurant before, my wife is normally very reluctant to visit restaurants where we are potentially the only diners there). Since we were only a few storefronts away from Gyoza King, she suggested we visit it to see if they have expanded their lunch offerings.
I walked into the restaurant and asked a random server (nicely) if I could have a look at their menu. She obliged and brought me their regular izakaya menu. I then asked if all of the items were fair game for lunch and she confirmed that all of the items were available. With that, I asked for us to be seated at a table for three.
Since it was lunchtime, it was psychologically difficult to for us to escape the mindset of ordering lunch items. My wife started by ordering the spicy gyoza ramen from the lunch menu and I continued by ordering the garlic fried rice ( I can proudly say that the fried rice was nowhere to be found on the lunch menu and had to be ordered from their regular menu).
My wife had mixed feelings about her bowl of ramen. One the one hand, she liked the teeth-bouncing chewiness of the noodles and the not-soggy and not-disintegrating-in-soup gyoza. On the other hand, she was not a fan of the generic and not-even-close-to-being-spicy-enough broth. She finished all of the components she liked and left most of the soup untouched. Since she does not like meatballs, she offered me the whole skewer of three. I gladly accepted and quickly inhaled them. They were juicy, had meaty flavours, and not half-bad. I could totally imagine having skewers of these meaty meatballs with several icy cold bottles/glasses of beer/happoshu.
Unlike my wife, I did not have mixed feelings about my fried rice. I had totally negative feelings. Japanese fried rice is a dish that I can’t get enough of. I like it so much that I will always order it in any ramenya or izakaya that offers it on their menu. My threshold for liking Japanese fried rice is pretty low: if’ the particular version I’m tasting has a relatively dry texture and if it is generally salty and flavourful, I will proclaim it to be one of the best versions of fried rice that I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, the garlic fried rice at Gyoza King was wet instead of dry; sweet instead of salty; and had unpleasant, almost ketchup-like flavours. It tasted like a poorly made version of omu-rice without the egg. It was so unenjoyable that I barely finished half of it. I did, however, finish all of the crispy garlic flakes.
We also ordered 10 pieces of prawn gyoza because we thought that it would be an absolute disgrace to not order gyoza at a place that crowns itself the king of gyoza.
The prawn gyoza were pretty good. They were much better than my unenjoyable fried rice or my wife’s hit-or-miss ramen. The pot-sticking flat underbelly of each piece of gyoza was fried to a nice crispy char. The skin on the other two surfaces of the triangular gyoza had a pleasant, slight-resistant-to-the-bite texture. Once the skin was breached, an entire miniature-sized prawn made its presence felt. The prawn had was firm yet still retaining a little of its juices, and its texture contrasted nicely with the little bit of pork-and-veggie filling that bound the shrimp the proper spot it was to occupy within the confines of the skin. Along with the enjoyable textures, I also liked the myriad flavours of the gyoza which went from pleasantly greasy, to nicely charred, to slighty sweet and briny. The totally not-too-salty soy sauced based dipping sauce also worked well in enhancing every individual flavour while also bringing them together into a harmonious whole.
The oden choices took up as much real estate in their menu as the restaurant’s gyoza selection, so we ordered a five piece bowl whose exact composition was to be chosen by the kitchen.
Every item in our order tasted almost exactly the same as every other similar piece of oden I’ve had every time that I’ve had them. The textures and flavours of oden are pretty standardized, and the items we were served did not stray from the standard. They were all cooked in a dashi-based soup. Both the daikon and tofu soaked up a lot of the dash broth. Biting into each released a burst of sweet dashi flavors into my mouth. The semi-circular fish cake was slightly sweet and slightly chewy, while the tube-like fish cake was much more chewy and a little less sweet. The egg was the lone oden item that I’ve never experienced before. I never bothered to order the oxen egg because I thought it would just taste like every other hard-boiled egg cooked in some kind of marinade or sauce. It turns out that my assumption was only partly right. The egg did have textures that were exactly the same as every other hard boiled egg. But there was an always present and subtle undertone of dashi flavours that I thought matched very well with the natural flavours of the egg without totally overpowering them. A big part of Japanese cuisine is about restraint and subtlety and I thought that the oden egg was a good example of those qualities.
A visit to any local izakaya would not be complete without a raw fish-based course, so you could say that our order of salmon and avocado yukke made our visit to Gyoza King complete.
The salmon and avocado yukke was a decent little dish. I thought that the best characteristic of the dish was its portion size. The rich combination of the salmon, avocado, quail egg, and sauce would’ve been too much if the order was larger. I thought that the soy sauce and yolk drenched salmon was similar to pork fat while the avocado cubes below were like refrigerated sticks of butter. They were both smooth and creamy, with even more creaminess added when the yolk was allowed to penetrate them. The not-too-salty soy sauce-based sauce added another layer of flavour while taking on a thick-soy like texture when mixed together with the yolk. I thought that the included nori slices acted merely as a vehicle for transferring the other components of the dish to my mouth without adding anything extra to the dish. The salmon and avocado yukke was a decent combination by itself. Both my wife and I felt that the dish was solidly executed.
We did order another dish: the garubi short ribs. But as it is with most short rib dishes that we order at restaurants, they were for the sole enjoyment of my carnivore son.
The short ribs were easy to cut into and seemed to be easy for my son to chew through. My son finished every piece of meat with minimal effort. He seemed to like the dish; He kept eating the ribs even after he had exhausted his supply of an adult-sized bowl of rice that would’ve usually made him full.
Gyoza King lived up to its name. It served us really good gyoza. It also lived up to its designation as an izakaya by serving tapas-portioned dishes that would have no doubt paired well with either beer or sake. My wife and I were less impressed with their rice and noodle offerings. Maybe they should take these dishes off the menu and just leave them to the numerous ramenyas of the city.