Since its inception in 2007, Ka Bu Li (喀佈貍) has dutifully served after-work diners and tipplers as a good izakaya — the Japanese version of a tapas bar — should: with the lure of hearty food, plentiful liquor and a warm, laid-back ambience. Night owls are welcomed even past midnight, as the lanterns hung above the wooden-frame entrance exude an inviting charm on a relatively quiet alley located a stone’s throw from the boisterousness of the nearby Tonghua Night Market (通化夜市) and the bar and restaurant-lined Anhe Road (安和路).
The interior features many objects hailing from Japan. Daruma dolls, kimono and koinobori, or the carp-shaped streamer, adorn the space amid old Japanese beer posters and rows of sake bottles, while the background music of shamisen and Japanese ballads give prominence to sentiments of a bygone era. Dotted with vintage leather sofas and large suitcases amusingly serving as dining tables, the predominantly wood furnishings help to create a cozy, lived-in feel rather than an exhibition room for Japanese souvenirs and memorabilia.
The service is always quick and adequately friendly by the largely young wait staff, who are dressed in Japanese-esque outfits. Chefs sometimes beat a drum hung over the bar when food is ready to be served, adding acoustic fun. The kitchen is concealed from patrons, which is a good way to keep them from smelling of cooked meat as a large part of Ka Bu Li’s menu goes to grilled munchies.
From the long list of skewered items, chicken leg meat with fish roe (明太子雞腿肉串燒, NT$150) is a delectable union of juicy meat, oceanic delicacies and creamy mayonnaise. However, the same could not be said of the beef and scallion skewer (香蔥鹽烤牛肉串燒, NT$180), as the ample amount of finely chopped scallions and onions couldn’t make up for the over-grilled meat that was a bit too old and hard to chew.
The roasted mackerel scad (竹筴魚一夜干, NT$200) my dining companion and I had didn’t impress with its slightly dry flesh. Other seafood skewers include cuttlefish sausages with fish roe (明太子墨魚香腸串燒, NT$180), prawns (鹽烤大草蝦串燒, NT$140) and scallops (鹽烤大干貝, NT$180).
Apart from grilled items, culinary influences from the West also make it to the menu. The marbled beef seasoned with oil and vinegar dressing (霜降雪花牛佐義大利油醋, NT$220), for example, boasts properly fatty, tender meat bathed in ample slices of onions. On the other hand, dishes like Okinawa bitter melon with tofu (沖繩山苦瓜炒豆腐, NT$200) is said to be of Japanese origin. Featuring stir-fried bitter gourd, tofu and slices of ham, this Okinawa-inspired plate is finished off with an egg and shavings of preserved bonito (dried fish) on top, offering a delightful blend of textures and flavors.
Among the stewed dishes, the sumo oden with curry (咖哩相撲關東煮, NT$320) came recommended but was too much for us due to its sheer portion — hence the name suggesting that it’s fit for a sumo wrestler. The unusual curry broth was robust, thought the ingredients inside — including fish cakes, white radish and pig’s blood cake (豬血糕) — were too plain to grab attention.
Though this reviewer usually steers away from raw meat, the unexpected highlight of our meal was Ka Bu Li’s appetizer platter (開胃珍味三位拼, NT$280), which consists of snail meat, squid and octopus, all nicely marinated and richly seasoned, and is an excellent accompaniment to a glass of chilled beer (NT$150).
For tipplers, this izakaya sports a large selection of sake (priced between NT$160 to NT$8,500) and shochu (NT$260 to NT$1,280) as well as plum wine (NT$220 to NT$1,650) and whiskey cocktails (NT$130).