What's the vibe
Transforming former Kensington Market stalwart, Grafitti's – home of live music and Black Metal Brunch – has left Linda Dang and Nancy Young with some pretty big shoes to fill. The team behind Sukoshi Mart (a Japanese convenience store in the same hood) will draw few comparisons for its latest incarnation; Toronto's first and only saké bar.
It's a much sleeker prospect now, with grey-black walls and pops of colour from the pink flowers that hang upside down from the ceiling, the red and white masks that adorn the walls and Japanese-style artwork that decorate the shelves around the diminutive bar. There's a small amount of seating at the rear, where you can sit at the bar and get up close and personal with the saké.
One of the few similarities is the live music. Koi Koi will continue the tradition with live performances every Tuesday, and the bar has so far participated in the Kensington Market Jazz festival. On Friday nights, the bar hosts DJ sets.
What to drink
Since Koi Koi specializes in Japanese saké, it won't surprise you to learn that rice wine takes dominance on the drinks menu. There are 15 types of saké to choose from – most are available in 100, 300 or 700 ml servings while others can only be bought by the bottle. Just keep your mitts off the stuff behind frosted glass – this is where the bar will store any saké you couldn't finish for your next visit.
If you can't stomach your saké solo, cocktails like the eponymous Koi Koi or the Shikō Martini are a great way to get a taste. If you're a whisky lover, try one of the Suntory Toki-based cocktails, like the Old Fashioned with lavender syrup, or their Matcha Whisky Sour with a syrup made from green tea powder.
A small selection of Asian beers like Sapporo and Asahi are available, plus a handful of international and Ontario wines by the glass.
What to eat
A selection of reasonably priced small plates make up the bar menu here and we recommend ordering 3-4 if your party is hungry.
Continuing Toronto's obsession with beef tartare, Koi Koi offers an Asian twist by topping theirs with burdock and serving with wasabi nori chips. The Salmon Ochazuke (aka "hangover cure") is another great option if you don't mind divvying up fish with the group – pour ume tea from a teapot over your salmon and rice for a smoky accompaniment to your saké.
The Crunchy Soy Wings, a stack of chicken marinated in a spicy glaze, is another yummy starter. Take a picture before the wings come tumbling down Jenga-style. We also dug into the Bacon Fried Rice with scallions, garlic chips and Japanese seasoning.
Round things out with the sole dessert on the menu; a light and fluffy bright green Matcha Tiramisu.
You shouldn't expect to be full by the time you leave, but it's a great menu for soaking up all that saké you and your friends drank.
Dinner and drinks for two: $70
170 Baldwin Street, 647-343-4618; koikoibar.com