by Heidi Craig
A visit to Big in Japan is mandatory for anyone who thinks Japanese cuisine is limited to sushi and sake. This new Japanese brasserie, now in its 3rd week, occupies the primo corner location on St Laurent & Pine, and though the ghost of Pistol haunts some aspects of the space (in terms of décor, imagine Pistol’s cheesy gangster motifs, but with Japanese stuff glued on top), in other respects it clearly outshines its predecessor.
For example, while ordering snacks at Pistol was liquor-license-loophole chore, the food at Big in Japan’s is the main attraction. My companion and I dined there on a quiet Tuesday last week, and got a crash course in Japanese comfort food in the process.
Owner Andre Nguyen walked us through the menu, explaining that the dishes were similar to what a Japanese grandmother would make. Plates are meant to be shared, and are staggered so that a constant stream of Japanese goodies flows from the kitchen on to your plate. Nguyen started us off with an order of sea-salt edamame beans ($4.50), which paired perfectly with our glasses of house beer ($3.50). We continued with the Daikon salad, a delicious dish of julienned white radish topped with seaweed and a sesame vinagrette ($7). The fried tofu in broth ($6.50) was pleasant, if bland, while the brochettes (we sampled the pork and shrimp; chicken and squid are also available) were exactly what you’d expect from breaded-and-fried meat on a stick ($3.50 for two brochettes).
The best dish of the night was undoubtedly the chicken wing dumplings ($6.50), two chubby little chicken stuffed dough balls, with the wing poking out for easy grabbing. Dumpling-making is a time consuming process; the kitchen only makes about 20 dumplings a night and when they’re gone, they’re gone. The menu also features a Japanese take on chicken wings (closer to drumsticks), which will do in a pinch if the kitchen is out of dumplings. We forwent the matcha green tea cake ($3) but will sample it on a return visit, currently in the works.
The Midnight to 3am menu is a scaled-down version of the lunch and evening offerings, and will be a welcome addition to chow mein/belle province/piz’ post-bar dining options on the Lower Main. A take out menu, featuring various Japanese fried sandwiches ($4.50), is also available. A word of warning: the dishes, though reasonably priced dished, are small, so it’s easy for the bill to inch up.
Big in Japan, 3723 St Laurent, corner Pine.
Open Mon thru Sat: 11am – 3am.
Sun: 4pm – 3am.
Cash, credit cards accepted ($25 mininum); no Interac.