Monday, 13 February 2017

Episode #216: JOEY Bentall One

Vancouver (Downtown), $$$ (Higher Priced)!/restaurant/237/canada

While Patrick was looking for the perfect venue to celebrate his birthday, one of the first places he considered was his favourite restaurant: Miku. Miku's Blue Sky private dining room, with a spectacular view of Burrard Inlet, was a perfect fit for our group of 22. However, Patrick was informed that we had to spend a minimum of $1,600 (just under $80 a person). That didn't work for us for two precise reasons. One, we were students, and two, not all of us were whales.

Instead, Patrick let the group choose between Cactus Club and JOEY. One key difference between the two restaurants is that JOEY serves sushi and Cactus Club doesn't, so I breathed a huge sigh of relief when JOEY got the popular vote. Also, due to my cultural background, if I am not using chopsticks at a restaurant, then it won't feel right to me.

We were here on a Friday night, and everything from the kitchen to the dining areas and entrances was packed. On the one-page menu was a simple assortment of some Western and some East-meets-West appetizers, burgers, and entrées. As JOEY restaurants are designed to be ideal places for fun gatherings, the drinks menu was much more impressive than the food menu. Unfortunately, Patrick banned me from drinking on this adventure because the last time I drank in front of him, my brain completely went to Narnia. To make up for my loss, I gracefully dealt with the situation by ordering three times as much food as anyone else.

Sushi Cone - B+

Among the first items to arrive at our table was the Sushi Cone, which consisted of tempura prawn, avocado, spicy mayonnaise, tobiko, and a small amount of daikon. The soy wrapper that held the cone together was very light and barely noticeable texture-wise when eaten. The prawn tempura had a nice crunch, but was a bit on the drier side.

Osaka Style Pressed Salmon Sushi - A

As JOEY's main focus is not sushi, I was pleasantly surprised when the Osaka Style Pressed Salmon Oshi ended up being one of the best versions of the popular Aburi Salmon Oshi dish I've ever come across. Topped with thinly sliced serrano peppers, the salmon had a melty, creamy texture and was very rich in flavour. A sprinkle of tempura bits provided some textural contrast to the soft bed of rice underneath. Salmon was also inserted into the rice layer to ensure that both the top and the bottom of each piece of sushi had sufficient flavour. 

Rainbow Roll - A-

From the category of East-meets-West fusion items, the Rainbow Roll came with ahi tuna, salmon, crab meat, avocado, and Sriracha aioli. The crab meat had a flavour akin to that of a tuna egg salad, and despite the appearance of large amounts of rice, the flavours were actually well-balanced. I also enjoyed the light spiciness provided by the drizzle of spicy mayonnaise on top.

Ahi Tuna Club - B+

Feeling a little adventurous, but not wanting to stray too far away from my natural habitat, I went for the Ahi Tuna Club, consisting of ahi tuna (grilled rare), bacon, sweet pepper relish, onion rings, and a toasted sesame bun. It also comes with a side of standard-fare Caesar salad. The best part of the burger was undoubtedly the juicy and smoky ahi tuna. However, I found the crispy onion rings rather hard, and they also made it slightly difficult for me to hold the bun together. Nonetheless, the ingredients created a nice mix of sweet and savoury flavours, and I enjoyed this dish despite the fact that it was not sushi.

Despite how busy the huge restaurant was, there was enough staff on duty, and thus, the service was on point. The fusion-style sushi was also on point and justified the higher prices. However, the food is not particularly filling, so it took me about five slices of birthday cake before I felt full. Even then, I still had the stomach room to go for a few drinks afterward when Patrick lifted my ban. Well, sort of...

JOEY Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Episode #215: Victoria Sushi (2nd Visit)

New Westminster, $$ (Moderately Priced)

Every now and then, I like to motivate my friends to get good grades by offering to treat them to sushi if they do well in their courses. Last semester, I offered to treat Patrick and Sean to Victoria Sushi if they each got at least an A in a course specified by me. I expected this to be reasonably challenging, but little did I know that Patrick would try to obtain that A by studying at least 6 hours virtually every day throughout the semester. He turned down sushi adventures, weekend parties, and even raves that he already had tickets for just to study. I don't think I could have studied that much even if my reward was a two-month trip to Japan. Nonetheless, both Patrick and Sean got their A's, and off we went to Victoria Sushi.

Taking transit to Victoria Sushi is not exactly an easy task. The last time I visited Victoria Sushi, I tried to walk there from Columbia Station and got hopelessly lost. This time, Patrick offered to drive me there instead. However, due to the darkness of the night, we ended up on the wrong lane and were forced to go all the way to Surrey, which caused Patrick to start low-key raging. What should have been a three-minute drive ended up taking us more than 20 minutes.

The last time I visited Victoria Sushi was in 2014, when they first started rolling out their Aburi offerings. Since then, the restaurant has become much busier, and the menu was expanded to include a full range of Aburi options. Victoria Sushi previously held the 4th place spot in my books for the best Aburi Salmon Oshi (behind Miku, Minami, and Green Leaf), and I was interested to see whether they had kept up the quality over the years.

Salmon Roll - B
Chicken Teriyaki Roll - B

We started off with two simple rolls. We found the rice in the Salmon Roll rather sticky, and other than that, there was nothing particularly remarkable about the roll. The Chicken Teriyaki Roll came with tender chicken, but would have benefited from a stronger grilled flavour.

Soy Ginger Duck Miso Yaki - B

Going for something more adventurous, I selected the Soy Ginger Duck Miso Yaki. The duck was rather fatty, but was not as tender as we expected. The seasoning on the duck provided a slight spiciness, but it was hard to detect any miso flavour.

Salmon Oshi - A-
Scallop Oshi - A-
Beef Oshi - B+

Our three orders of oshi sushi came in a marvelous checkered display. The creamy oshi sauce on top of the Salmon Oshi and the Scallop Oshi was seared to create an excellent, well-rounded savoury flavour. The Beef Oshi, made with AAA tenderloin beef, was topped with onion and garlic mayonnaise. Overall, the toppings on each type of oshi were well-prepared, while the rice was overly sticky and too tightly packed. I later learned that we had come on an off day, as the rice issue was fixed on a subsequent visit.

Prawn Tempura - A

Due to the overly sticky rice, the Prawn Tempura ended up being the highlight of our dinner. The prawns were delicious, juicy and fried to just the right amount of crispiness. The amount of batter on the prawns was perfect. I would have gotten ten orders of this if I had the stomach room.

Boneless Karaage - A-

We were almost full at this point (we also had a Deluxe Bento, which I covered in Episode 39), but we decided to go for one last dish—the Chicken Karaage. It was pleasantly juicy and crispy, but could have been better with an additional sprinkling of spices.

Shime-Saba Oshi - A

A few days after our dinner together, Sean went back to Victoria Sushi and reported to me that he would give the Shime-Saba Oshi an A+. Since Sean almost never gives out A+'s for anything, that prompted me to return to the restaurant just to try the Shime-Saba Oshi (along with the fact that I had forgotten to take a picture of the restaurant). The oshi did not disappoint, and this time, the sushi rice was indeed packed correctly. The saba was savoury without being overly salty, and the soft texture of the saba was a perfect match for the rice underneath.

Despite the restaurant being rather busy, we were not disappointed with the service. It was too bad we encountered minor rice problems with our oshi, but Victoria Sushi remains one of the top places for affordable oshi in my records. If Victoria Sushi was in a more convenient location, I would undoubtedly become a regular.

Victoria Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Episode #214: Koto Izakaya

Richmond, $$ (Moderately Priced)

After one splendid afternoon in which I discovered the marvellous wonders of e-Spot and turned snooker into a game of "whack the ball with the stick," it was time to join the swarm of Richmondites seeking dinner on a Friday evening. Joining me on this adventure were Adam and Puzzlefighter. Puzzlefighter suggested that we hit up Koto Izakaya, but upon arriving there, we discovered that he had really meant to take us to nearby Manzo. Unfortunately, there was a huge lineup at Manzo, and we had no choice but to head back to Koto Izakaya.

Koto Izakaya is a moderately small Chinese-operated restaurant serving sushi, sashimi, and a variety of izakaya-style dishes. Inside, there is a clear attempt to maximize the use of every inch of space. It was essentially the restaurant equivalent of the Crystal Mall parking lot. The three of us were seated at a table really meant for two. When I suggested that I should be the only one sitting on my end of the table because of my blogging equipment, Puzzlefighter was quick to suggest that I should therefore pay half of the total bill. To his dismay, I politely declined.

It turns out that space wasn't the only thing that Koto was running out of. They ran out of so many of the menu items that Puzzlefighter had a hard time ordering. We made do with what was available.

Salmon Sashimi - A
Hamachi Sashimi - B+
Toro Sashimi - A-
Tuna Sashimi - B+

Our first dish, the Assorted Sashimi, was a success. The Salmon Sashimi was very fresh and buttery and had an excellent soft texture. Each piece was sliced to just the right thickness. The Hamachi Sashimi was also pleasantly soft, but was the recipient of some unclean cutting. Both the Toro Sashimi and Tuna Sashimi had wonderfully melty textures, although the Tuna Sashimi showed slight hints of fishiness.

Imperial Roll - B

Puzzlefighter was against the idea of ordering special rolls, but I insisted on ordering one anyways despite the somewhat lofty price tags on the special rolls. The Imperial Roll consisted of unagi, cucumber, tobiko, tuna, salmon, and spicy unagi sauce. The flavour of the unagi was prominent, though some parts of the unagi ended up being grilled to a crisp. Although the ingredients themselves were fresh, the spicy unagi sauce mix didn't exactly work for me, as the chili sauce clashed against the sweeter unagi and unagi sauce.

Ikura Nigiri - B
Tai Nigiri - B-
Saba Nigiri - C-

The Ikura Nigiri came with a generous helping of juicy ikura, but the sushi rice underneath had a bizarre texture. It was not only dry, but also very sticky. The tai was sliced thick, but it was not too chewy. However, little could have prepared me for the disastrous Saba Nigiri. Not only was it tougher than a well-done steak that had been flattened by a rolling pin, but it was also salty enough to leave me feeling salty. Apparently, the other piece of Saba Nigiri was more reasonable texture-wise.

Fresh Oysters - B+

Our next item, the Fresh Oysters, fared much better. The small kusshi oysters had a pleasantly soft, jelly-like texture and were dressed with tangy ponzu. An even lighter application of ponzu would have helped bring out the delicate flavour of the oysters more.

Miso Soup - B+

After finishing our first round, we went for a second round, hoping that their cooked food would be consistently on point, as is often the case with Chinese-operated restaurants. Our order of Tonkatsu came with a Miso Soup, which contained tofu and green onion. It was served at a comfortably hot temperature, and there was nothing particularly amiss about it.

Tonkatsu - C

The Tonkatsu itself looked very promising when it arrived and was accompanied by a small bowl of salad as well as some steamed rice. Unfortunately, when we bit into the breaded pork cutlet, we were dismayed to find that the batter was very thick and hard. Once we got past that, we also found that the pork was sliced very thin and yielded little flavour. I began praying on the inside, hoping that our robata would be prepared better.

Pork Toro Robata - B+

The robata was indeed better. The Pork Toro Robata was tender and had a prominent smoky flavour. It tasted fresh out of the grill. The sweetness of the sauce went well with the pork toro, and all this was nicely balanced by the zing from a generous helping of sliced green onions on top. 

Lamb Chop - B

Our final item, the Lamb Chop, came with a good amount of black pepper. It was adequately soft, but a touch too dry on the inside.

Despite the restaurant being very busy, the service remained friendly during our visit. The quality of the food ranged from terrific to terrible. The salmon sashimi was some of the freshest I have had in a long time, but it was a shot in the dark for many of the other items. There did not seem to be a category of dishes that performed clearly better than the others. However, the reasonable prices appeared to be enough to supply the restaurant with a constant stream of diners. By the time the late night specials menu came out, there were so many diners in the waiting area by the front entrance that it was a challenge to squeeze myself out of the restaurant.

Koto Izakaya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato