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JABISTRO (222 Richmond West, at Duncan, 647-748-0222, jabistro.com, @JaBistro222) Complete dinners for $65 per person (lunches $40), including tax, tip and a sake cocktail. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm, dinner Sunday to Thursday 5:30 to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 5:30 pm to midnight. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
Likely linked to some long-buried childhood trauma suffered at the dinner table - "You finish those peas or it's no TV for a week, Sonny Jim!" - I don't enjoy being yelled at while I eat.
Maybe that's why I never initially took to either of the two Guus, the raucous izakayas that aurally assault you from the moment you arrive until the door hits your ass on the way out. And then there's its sibling, the equally cacophonous Kinton Ramen on Baldwin, where regulars know to pack earplugs.
If Guu and Kinton are the snotty teenagers of the family, seven-month-old JaBistro is their sophisticated if slightly boring older sister. From the genteel welcome at the door to the super-attentive service, she doesn't so much hit you over the head as wrap you in a comfortable blanket.
The narrow beige-on-beige room feels like home, too, or more accurately, the nearest Spring Rolls franchise circa 2002. Flagstone, anyone? To drive it all home, the Japanese equivalent of one of those jazzy downtempo Buddha Bar comps that were all the rage 15 years ago spins at a discreet volume. And nobody bangs a ceremonial drum.
Fortified with mock mojitos ($7), we steer clear of the pricy sashimi platters that start at 50 bucks and quickly rocket into triple digits to focus instead on ex-SakaBar chef Koji Tashiro's tapas-y aps and blowtorched aburi-style sushi instead.
A trio of delicately battered in-season soft-shell crabs arrive in a puddle of pink prawn bisque, their crisp outer skins giving way with a squirt of jus to their luscious inner flesh ($15). And what's an izakaya without an homage to Colonel Sanders, here fabulously deep-fried slices of boneless chicken breast sided with creamy retro tartar sauce and a raw julienne of cabbage like some deconstructed coleslaw ($16).
The unfortunately named Yukke ($11) translates as chef's idiosyncratic take on traditional steak tartare, its minced raw Angus beef tastily laced with pesto-esque sauce. The five thin rounds of toasted baguette that accompany it soon disappear. Good thing the plate comes with a spoon so we can shovel it down directly.
But if you only order one dish, make sure it's Tashiro's terrific lobster roll ($20). Sandwiched in a regulation hot-dog bun, its sweet, succulent meat gets coupled with what the menu insists are tomato croquettes but we recognize as Tater Tots. But why the runny soft-boiled egg on the side?
"Some people mix it in; others don't," smiles our enigmatic server.
There are also those who say JaBistro's pressed aburi-style nigiri is the best sushi this side of Kaji. We're not among them, finding the Aburicious sampler - a six-pack of moulded oshizushi topped with thin slices of blowtorched tiger shrimp, cured mackerel and fatty salmon as well as two pieces of the house's signature JaBistroll with snow crab, tobiko and sea urchin roe ($20) - egregiously greasy.
But, then, that's what happens when you melt hollandaise on almost anything, something the two complimentary rosemary-scented chocolate truffles we receive at the end of our meal can't help us forget.