Enjoy the jazzy pizzazz at Mango’s Japanese Kozara
The Smile of Kumiko Suga sounds like the title of a thin, poetic Japanese novel, but it’s not. It’s one of the memories you take away from Mango’s Japanese Kozara and Jazz Bar. (Suga also escorted us out onto the sidewalk to say good night.) Suga apologizes for her English, but I’d willingly clone her by the dozen to swap for those attitudinal, black-clad Sharilynnes and Tristans who barge into conversations to see “if everything’s okay, guys”; cast you as serf and them as warlord; or worse, pretend you’re their new best friend.
In the past year, we’ve all been so bedazzled by splashy new eateries and the culinary papal blessing of chefs from New York that this little place seems to have totally slipped under the radar. Technically, Suga handles the front of house while husband Ted Yamase, whose background includes a restaurant in Osaka, cooks in the small, gleaming kitchen. But she goes back there; he comes out. It’s a real mom-and-pop operation in a space the size of a bento box.
High-ceilinged, it has a long banquette against a wall hung with vintage Cinzano and Campari posters, red lights like rose hips over the bar, and just enough space between the tables and barstools for Suga and Yamase to go back and forth. The business cards say Mango’s is a “kozara and jazz bar”. Kozara are small plates—Japanese tapas, if you like. The jazz is there because Yamase likes it, especially Diana Krall.
Mango’s Japanese Kozara and Jazz Bar
572 Davie Street, 604-899-0800.
Open Tuesday and Wednesday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Thursday to Saturday, 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.; and Sunday, 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.
First to arrive were a ginger-seaweed and a seasoned-squid salad, vivid green and peach pink, respectively. Accessorized with a halved grape tomato and served in martini glasses, they had enough of a visual wow factor to make food stylists commit hara-kiri. Both salads were mounded on a bed of spicy-sweet-dressed fine noodles, their clean flavours a fair indication of what was to come. What’s on the wavily square white chinaware is consistently photogenic without looking overly mucked about.
Nori shredded into the finest strips is sprinkled over udon to create a frail, dark-green net. Hearty but still precise in its various tastes, a beef version, with carrots, cabbage, and salad greens wilted in with the noodles, is one of a list of possibilities including mentaiko yaki udon with spicy cod roe.
Grilled ginger pork (use of ginger seems to be one of Yamase’s signatures) was tender, deeply flavoured, and speckled with sesame seeds. On the side: western-style salad greens drizzled with Japanese mayo. He makes a commendable okonomiyaki too, topped with cabbage and carrot, trembling with shaved dried bonito, and zigzagged with the typical brown sweet-salty sauce and mayo.
The batter is crisp at the edges, and the base tender, though not so soft that it fell apart when we cut it into wedges and picked it up with chopsticks. Okonomi basically means “as you like it”. We liked, as we did the homemade green-tea ice cream, more delicate in taste than the store-bought kind, and made with evil amounts of cream.
Plates come to the table just when you’re ready. Water glasses are filled. It’s a laid-back place only in mood. Mango’s has become a hangout for Japanese chefs and those coming off work in Yaletown, says Yamase, with ebi mayo (deep-fried prawns with chili mayonnaise) being the most popular dish.
East meets West in Traditional Healthy Salads like shrimp tempura with spicy or sesame seaweed on greens. The Special Healthy Dishes section of the menu includes salmon, prawns, three kinds of seaweed, and a wild rice and soybean salad (at $13.50, this is by far the most expensive plate on offer).
No sushi, sashimi, or B.C. rolls, and while the core is Japanese, the menu also includes plates to nibble at when it’s 1 a.m. (note those late hours) and you’re starving: nuts, nachos, and, coming in from far-left field, a jumbo German sausage with garlic-mustard sauce.
A cheese platter resulted from a customer suggestion for something to go with the wine. A small list that’s long on B.C. labels, wine rounds out the alcohol, along with cocktails galore, sake, Japanese vodka, and beers, including draft Dead Frog from Aldergrove.
The bill for three of us, no booze, with tax and tip, was $52. Thanks to the friend at the Vancouver International Film Centre who told me about this. Owe you.