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Inside “Shirakawa”, The High End Teppanyaki Joint Opening Soon In Gastown

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High end Japanese restaurant company Itoh Dining is opening its first North American restaurant, Shirakawa, in the steel and glass box that was the final incarnation of Boneta, which closed just before Christmas (115-12 Water St.). The company has several restaurants in Japan, including Itoh Dining by Nobu in Kanagawa Prefecture (a partnership with famed chef/restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa).

Shirakawa, so named after the river in Japan’s Kyoto prefecture, will be a high-end modern teppanyaki eatery specialising in Kobe beef and particularly Kuroge Wagyu beef (aka “Japanese Black”). The chefs – highly trained pros plucked from Mr Itoh’s well established line up – are coming over from Japan with their own iron griddle kitchen equipment and the beef, which is the real deal and not the “kobe-style” American/Australian stuff that many local restaurants have been peddling to their great fortune for over a decade now. There will be some sashimi/nigiri on offer (using red vinegar instead of white for the rice), and possibly some Nobu originals in the form of sauces and dressings, but the focus will be squarely on the beef. Think sampler plates showcasing different grades (like a wine vertical, only with beef), full steaks, gyozas stuffed with wagyu and foie gras, et cetera. Vegetarian it most definitely is not.

According to Operations Manager Takuya Motohashi (who was kind enough to show me around the space yesterday), the bar program is going to be more substantial than the sort one typically finds in Vancouver’s Japanese eateries. Mr. Itoh is not only a chef, he’s also a sommelier, so we can expect plenty of wine, sake, inventive cocktails, and good beer (not just the typical Japanese brands). This was a relief to hear, as quality drinks are the norm in Gastown, and it would certainly be a shame if the old Boneta bar were to ever suffer second rate booze. As far as atmosphere is concerned, I ‘m seeing it as a Japanese version L’Abattoir — slickly on the restrained side of cool; not as stiff as Tojo’s but not as irreverent as an izakaya.

As far as I could make out from my walk-through, the structure of the space isn’t being tampered with. They’re toying with the idea of having a 4-6 seat kitchen bar so that a handful of customers can be nightly wowed by the chefs’ knife skills and the meat’s rarefied sizzle, but beyond that, a swap-out of light fixtures and tables, and the addition of some fresh art work, I don’t think the aesthetic transition will prove too dramatic.

While I do look forward to the proper opening of Shirakawa on May 20th (supper only until June 1st, when lunch service begins), I still can’t help but mourn Boneta. Honestly, it was straight-up bizarre being back in the old space again, and maybe a little sad, too. There were several immediate and credible suitors when owners Mark Brand and Neil Ingram put it up for sale last year. Some were promising, sure, but I think it entirely appropriate that the restaurant ultimately went to a company that would be bringing something new and exciting to the neighbourhood, much like Boneta did when it originally opened (at its West Cordova location) in July, 2007.

Though I’ve yet to eyeball the finished menu, I fully expect Shirakawa’s steaks to be the most expensive in town. Will that hurt them? Likely not. It’s about supply and demand, and by my read of the landscape there’s high demand for authentic, Japanese wagyu and absolutely no supply. Come opening day, the question will be very straightforward: who that is red in tooth and claw can resist the prospect of the best beef in the world, sizzling at last in Vancouver?

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  1. Real sorry, but after Jeremie Bastion left Boneta, the place went down the toilet. Jason Leitzert was a joke as was the restaurant he came from before. Corner Suite Bistro had cool blue chairs and the original chef bailed (and we all know what happened to him…) they kept hiring sous chefs to become chefs and my favourite restaurant became my least favourite restaurant.

    Bad decisions by management to save money killed this place. Bottom line.

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