Charcoal is a magical thing.  When used to cook food, it imbues it with a grittiness that can’t be matched.  And that is why Zakkushi, Vancouver’s yakitori restaurant chain, is like eating in an alchemist’s lab – an alchemist who plies you with amazing food and booze.

We arrived right as the Denman branch of Zakkushi was opening.  As we walked in, I already knew this would be a special place.  Though it was impeccably clean, the restaurant had the look of an old, welcoming haunt that has been around forever.  What caught my attention more than the homey atmosphere, however, was the large grill, chock full with enough white hot charcoal bits to hold a half-dozen Viking funerals.  It would be there, through charcoal’s powers of transubstantiation, that seafood, meat, and offal would be cooked to perfection.

This is what 1L of beer looks like.

After showing us to our seat (and mentioning that there was a 2-hour dining time limit), our waitress boomeranged back to get our drink order.  I ordered the 1L Sapporo “mug”/cistern and started in as we chose which animal bits we would have cooked. As we debated how to best feed our faces, we were serenaded with some super old Japanese rock music – bonus points for the Japanese skid factor.

We ended up settling on a number of skewers.  The first batch were all part of a chicken at one time:  thigh, wings, hearts, gizzard and liver.  We also ordered the minced meat balls (with and without garlic), cheese-covered tomatoes, bonito flake-covered okura,  finally, to pretend we were the least bit health-conscious, we ordered the seafood salad, jellyfish and (imitation) shark fin, and the bonito flake-covered okura.  Our waitress, who frankly seemed a little distracted, smiled, and before leaving us, confirmed what we had requested.

Chicken heart, liver, and minced meat balls.

The food came out quite quickly and everything was very good.  The portion sizes of each skewer were generous, but not so large that you were full after only a few.  The sauce in which the meat skewers were coated was nicely balanced and added an extra depth of flavour.  At first, I thought that it could have been a little more viscous, but I soon thought better because the more subtle taste allowed the charcoal’s smokey aroma to come through.

The most aesthetically delightful dish was definitely the okura skewers.  I loved the way the bonito flakes danced on top of these charbroiled emeralds (I even took a video, below).

Not to be outdone, however, the astonishingly sweet shrimp in the light seafood salad was also amazing, and the lightness of the salad made what would have been a heavy meal into a well rounded one.

Seafood salad and jellyfish appetizers.

By the time we had finished our meal, I resolved to come back to this place soon.

This mountain of food and lake of beer (as well as an umeshu) came to about $75 after taxes and tip.  You might think that this is a tad pricey for what is essentially barbeque, but you would be wrong.

Zakkushi it not merely a barbeque restaurant, it is something much more.  It is difficult to explain the wonderful combination of energy, good food, and laid-back atmosphere captured by Zakkushi.  The best I can do is simply to say:  “GO!”

Zakkushi Charcoal Grill (Denman) on Urbanspoon