Opening in mid-March at 281 St Paul St., Incoho (Latin for “new beginnings”) makes good use of the space just next to the bus terminal previously occupied by Yayee Thai Street Food. With walls of pale blue, mineral grey flooring, and wooden tables and chairs, the dining area offers an earthly palette, placed in between the open concept kitchen and a wall of tall windows that bring in natural light.
Incoho’s flavours fit nicely into the downtown food scene, copping no one’s style and covering a lot of options across their daily service. For the most part, Incoho isn’t necessarily breaking the mold or chasing fads with their menu, and to expect as much is to miss the point entirely. Incoho’s menus, plating, and culture approach a spartan simplicity, embracing proven techniques and fresh ingredients in order to create humble and delicious food.
Simplicity is often overlooked as a value in dining, at least in part because it’s easier to create a buzz around something flashy like Grant Achatz’s edible balloons or, on a smaller scale, the whole deep-fried turkey your Dad makes at Thanksgiving. Regardless of the level of flair, there’s an irreducible quality to a well-executed — if conventional — dish. This is part of what makes Incoho such a breath of fresh air.
First of all, their breakfast is a much-needed addition to the downtown menu, offering a breakfast sandwich infinitely fresher than Tim Hortons can manage. A tried-and-true combination of a fresh bun, seasonal greens, tomato, bacon, old cheddar, and an egg, this breakfast sandwich is the real deal – don’t sleep on it.
You can head back to Incoho on your lunch hour for one of a few well-portioned options – at the moment, a burger, pulled pork, or chicken karaage. Alone, one of these entrees makes for a filling lunch, but you can also pair them with a green salad, or a daily side – on one occasion sweet potato chips, on another, deep fried gnocchi, akin to tater tots (in a good way).
While any of these meals — not to mention fresh baked cookies, muffins, scones, and ice cream sandwiches — can be enjoyed dining in or to go, that’s not an option with dinner. By reservation only, Incoho offers set-menu, multi-course dinners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, accommodating allergies and dietary restrictions as need be.
Dinner at Incoho really is a lovely experience, in which the staff aims to make the fine dining scene a little more welcoming. At any point during the dinner (each course of which is announced by one of Incoho’s staff before being served), diners are encouraged to approach the open kitchen, observe the dishes being prepared and plated, and talk to the staff.
While the dinner would’ve been worth recommending on its own (in their first week, Incoho served freshly baked bread, mushroom tartare, winter salad, 24-hour braised short rib and a cranberry bath bomb dessert followed by tea, coffee, and shortbread), it’s this disarming approach to fine dining that makes the entire experience memorable. That’s really the key to Incoho’s appeal – co-owners Selah Schmoll and Ray Syegco, along with the two other chefs working there, are trying to cultivate an experience at their restaurant that bridges the gap between fine dining and the family dinner table.
You can see this in the way they interact with their diners, or in the fact that their limited dinner hours are chosen in part to avoid the burn-outs that chefs often suffer in the restaurant industry. On both sides of the service counter, Incoho is creating a less stressful dining experience both for those who make the meals, and for those who enjoy them.
The Incoho experience is only going to improve with time (and not just because it can take a while to process a liquor license). Warmer weather, whenever it arrives, will allow diners to make use of Incoho’s patio area, and the menu will continue to evolve, reflecting the best produce that the changing seasons bring to our region.
Incoho is located at 281 St. Paul St., Unit B, open Mon-Fri 8am-5pm for breakfast and lunch, Sat-Sun 10:30am-2:30pm for brunch, and Thurs-Sat at 7pm for dinner (by reservation only). You can visit them online at incoho.ca, on Facebook (/incohorestaurant), and Instagram (@incohorestaurant).