Chorney-Booth: Lonely Mouth presents a different take on modern Japanese cuisine

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Calgarians have many opportunities to go out and enjoy Japanese cuisine. There are great sushi restaurants and lots of excellent ramen here and izakaya style cuisine is steadily gaining popularity in the city. With that in mind, when the Concorde Group decided to add another Japanese concept to the mix, they knew they were going to have to do something different. The group’s newest restaurant, Lonely Mouth, hits a lot of familiar Japanese notes while doing a few fun and delicious things the city has never seen before.

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Concorde (the company behind favorites like The National, Major Tom and Bridgette Bar) already has another Japanese restaurant in its portfolio – Goro and Gun opened downtown several years ago at the height of the local craze for the ramen and continues to serve excellent noodle soup and Sushi. Not wanting to tread in their own restaurant’s territory, the group took a different approach with Lonely Mouth, which doesn’t offer typical ramen or sushi.

The cozy interior of Lonely Mouth.  Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia
The cozy interior of Lonely Mouth. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Photo by Azin Ghaffari /Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Lonely Mouth (the name is a translation of the Japanese term “kuchisabishii” and describes the phenomenon of “eating when you’re not hungry because your mouth is alone”) is in the 17th Avenue restaurant that was most recently Ox Tapas Bar, formerly known as Ox and Angela. Frank Architecture worked their magic on the restaurant’s new interior with lots of wooden detailing, cozy booths, pendant lights and a vaguely mid-century vibe. The room is again split in two with the bar on the west side and a total of 60 seats (with more seats on the patio) to set up.

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Director Amanda Jansen, Executive Chef Tomohiro Mitsuno, and Head Chef May Ng all hail from Goro and Gun, so they’re mindful of making sure Lonely Mouth really does something to stand out. The undisputed star of their menu is the kake udon noodle soup topped with yuzu zest ($15) with the option of an added egg or meat protein. Mitsuno says that as far as he can tell, Lonely Mouth is one of the only restaurants in the country that makes its own thick, stringy udon wheat noodles, which require a special machine and a well-tested recipe that allows chefs to get the bite of noodles just right.

Udon with onsen egg at Lonely Mouth Bar was pictured Wednesday, January 12, 2022. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia
Udon with onsen egg at Lonely Mouth Bar was pictured Wednesday, January 12, 2022. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Photo by Azin Ghaffari /Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

“When we went to Japan, we saw a lot of restaurants that only sold udon. They make it fresh to order and cook it in a way that tastes different than the udon you usually get in Canada because that the texture is so different,” says Ng. “Our broth is also homemade, which is the other difference. Everything is fresh and special.

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While udon is a must, those looking to fill their lonely mouth may crave other snacks, so the menu is full of bar bites like Brussels sprouts prepared okonomiyaki style ($13) and the bluefin tuna tartare served with udon paste crackers ($18), plus sushi rolls ($7-9 each), tempura ($4-$6) and a few larger plates like Miso Cod in a Sake Marinade ($35) and Japanese Steak ($36).

A collection of sake at the Lonely Mouth Bar.  Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia
A collection of sake at the Lonely Mouth Bar. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Photo by Azin Ghaffari /Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Trendy new restaurants usually have a fun cocktail program, which is certainly the case at Lonely Mouth, but the solid list of sake curated by Jansen and fellow manager Mai Takahashi shouldn’t be overlooked. Both are experienced sake sommeliers and they start each customer’s sake experience by asking them to choose a unique sake cup based on their mood. Since sake is an unfamiliar quantity to many Calgarians, the two sommeliers are happy to suggest pairings, eliminating any intimidation factor.

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“We were really excited to have another place to educate people about sake and break the perception that sake has to be enjoyed in a certain way,” Jansen said. “It pairs so well with our foods and comes in a wide variety of flavor profiles.”

For something completely different, the restaurant also has the only Suntory highball machine in town, which makes ultra-sparkling whiskey sodas that have been a hit in Japan for decades.

Lonely Mouth is located at 528 17th Ave. SW and can be reached at lonelymouthbar.ca or 403-990-5094 (text only and reservations must be made online). The restaurant is open from Tuesday to Sunday from noon until “late”.

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If you find yourself in Banff this week, the third edition of the Tribute craft spirits celebration runs through the end of this month, with many of the city’s top restaurants offering specialty cocktail menus featuring spirits produced locally by Alberta distilleries such as Park, Wild Life, Eau Claire, Burwood and many more. The event usually culminates in an outdoor festival where visitors can walk around and sample many spirits and cocktails at one time, but that part has been postponed to spring due to COVID-19 considerations. For a list of participating bars and restaurants, visit tributetocraft.com .

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or on Instagram at @elizabooth.

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