A well-known Japanese restaurant in the Kitsilano neighbourhood temporarily closed its doors back in late May to undergo a transformation.
It’s been a lengthy wait, but the dining establishment has recently reopened for business under a new head chef and restaurant name.
Yuwa Japanese Cuisine (2775 West 16th Avenue), formerly known as Zest Japanese Cuisine, made its debut in late September.
“Zest opened in 2005, so it has already been 12 years,” Iori Kataoka, co-owner of Yuwa (and formerly Zest), told the Straight at her newly rebranded restaurant. “We knew the [change] would happen sometime, but it happened in very good timing and in a very good way.”
Its new executive chef and co-owner Masahiro Omori has more than 20 years of experience in the Japanese restaurant industry. He served as the opening chef at Kataoka’s sake and izakaya (a Japanese bar with inexpensive snacks and dishes) spot ShuRaku in downtown Vancouver.
Kataoka explained that Zest’s executive chef Tatsuya Katagiri had been working with her for over eight years, and he felt that it was time to move on to the next chapter.
“[Tatsuya] was in his forties, had a house and a child, so the next thing was to become independent,” said Kataoka, hinting that her Zest’s long-time chef would be opening a restaurant of his own in the near future. “We were very happy to support him.”
At the same time, she needed to find someone else who was capable of heading the kitchen at her upscale eatery. It didn’t take long for her to decide who she should work with for her next culinary venture.
“At the time, I was already talking to chef [Omori] about opening a new restaurant,” said Kataoka. “Instead of finding a new location, we decided to do it here and it was an easy transition.”
Keeping Zest’s old digs was important to her because she had become so familiar with the neighbourhood. But plenty of changes were introduced to the space, including its new name, “Yuwa”—which alludes to Omori’s grandmother, who operated a fish shop in Japan’s Chiba prefecture for over 35 years.
As for the menu, long-time Zest patrons can expect a completely new culinary concept under the helm of chef Masahiro.
“The previous chef had a more fusion and innovative technique to his food,” explained Kataoka. “So now, we are pulling ourselves back a little bit to stay within tradition. [The menu] will be something more region-based, and guests can experience foods from northern, middle, and southern parts of Japan.”
Guests will be able to indulge in small dishes, deep-fried dishes, simmered dishes, green and soups, grilled dishes, noodles and rice bowls, as well as sashimi and sushi.
Region-specific dishes like sockeye salmon sanshozuke-ae (salmon tartare, jalapeno and koji rice-malt dressing, and taro potato root chips) from northern Japan, and the veal haccho-miso nikomi (veal cheek, haccho-miso dashi [a fermented Japanese seasoning] stock, julienne leek) from the middle-northern part of Japan will be available.
There won’t be a big selection of distilled alcohol, but Yuwa will continue to offer a full list of wine and sake that will pair perfectly with its traditional dishes.
Besides the menu changes, its interior design will look a little different from its predecessor. The 1,600-square-foot space with 45 seats now features toned-down walls, walnut wood tile accents, and an entire Douglas fir wood piece for the bar.
“I wanted to have a little bit for space for people to relax and enjoy their food. It’s nice and simple, and that’s what I wanted,” said Kataoka.
Japanese washi paper (traditional Japanese paper made from local fiber) art is also being shipped from Japan for the restaurant’s walls.
Yuwa offers a comfortable setting for those who want to enjoy traditional Japanese food. Kataoka emphasizes that she wants to bring back cuisine from Japan’s back country and perfect it, so guests will be able to take a culinary tour through Japan with their taste buds.