Thursday, 16 March 2017

Episode #218: The Grand SFU Sushi Crawl

Contrary to popular belief, I'm actually very tolerant of crappy sushi. If you present to me a plate of sushi that is worth a C in one hand and a juicy, freshly smoked burger from a fancy restaurant in the other hand, I'd pick the sushi perhaps 8 out of 10 times. I often indulge in some delicious freezer burnt sushi on campus during my breaks and after my classes.

As an SFU student, one question that I often get asked is "What's the best place for sushi on campus?" For years, I never had a very good response to that question because I had not tried all the sushi places on campus. It was time to settle the matter once and for all. With five different places to go through on SFU's Burnaby campus, I enlisted the help of food blogger Vancity Noms because she can really eat... or so I thought.

The Five Sushi Places on SFU's Burnaby Campus
  • SFU Dining Hall
  • Nesters Market
  • Spicy Stone
  • Ichibankan Express
  • Mackenzie Café

SFU Dining Hall

We chose to start our crawl at the Dining Hall to avoid having the good stuff run out. During lunch hours, it costs only $8.95 plus tax to enter the hall for an all-you-can-eat buffet, which is an excellent deal if quality is not your utmost concern. There is pizza, sushi, veggies, vegan food, chicken or beef (depending on the day), fried goodies, desserts, and more.

Those who know me well will know that my brain does not exactly function in the morning and early afternoon. It didn't take long for disaster to strike. After taking 15 minutes to figure out where the plates were even stored, I looked at a tub of strawberry jam, pointed at it, and exclaimed, "OMG they have ice cream here!" Unfortunately, Vancity Noms developed such a bad stomachache from laughing so hard that she became unable to consume anything other than tea. We were off to a great start—one of us was down before we even started.

Salmon and Avocado Roll - B

As soon as the clock struck 11:30 a.m., the chefs started rolling out the sushi, and the sushi of the day was the Salmon and Avocado Roll. It consisted of soft, flaky salmon accented by a dash of herby spiciness. The rice could have been more flavourful, but this was already much better than what I had expected. I have been told that the rolls are pre-made, but they do not taste like something that just came out of the fridge. 

Nesters Market

Our next stop was Nesters Market, which was all the way on the other side of campus. I would often come here after my late evening lectures for some of their pre-made dinner bowls, many of which are decent compared to the other available food choices in the area. However, I have never tried their sushi before.

California Roll Combo

Having downed two entrees and six pieces of sushi at the dining hall, I had to choose wisely to avoid stuffing myself and subsequently failing the crawl. I chose the California Roll Combo so I could sample three different types of sushi in one box. Meanwhile, Vancity Noms was still dying from her stomachache and could not eat anything. Who needs martial arts when you have your non-functioning brain to use as a lethal weapon?

California Roll - F
Vegetable Salad Roll - C-
Spicy California Roll - C-

The second disaster of the day struck when my mouth met with the horrors of this roll combo. The pudding-like texture of the rice made the California Roll the most disgusting sushi roll I have ever had. The sushi rice tasted like it had been tossed into a high-speed blender and pulverized for five minutes before being wrapped around the roll. The California Roll also came with some dainty portions of bland crab meat, while the Vegetable Salad Roll contained bits of bell pepper for a nice unauthentic touch. The spiciness of the Spicy California Roll helped mask the blandness of the crab meat just slightly.

Spicy Stone

Just steps away from Nesters Market lies Spicy Stone, a restaurant I used to visit almost exclusively while at SFU due to its low prices. I suppose not all good things last forever, because they eventually raised their prices significantly to more closely match what their neighbours were charging. With the new poke bar at SFU, I have been going to Spicy Stone much less than I used to, although the cashier-server still recognizes me and continues to give me great service.

California Roll - B-
Dynamite Roll - C+

Unless you order your sushi as part of a bento box, you will most likely be told to get your sushi from the display refrigerator. Such was the case with my California Roll and Dynamite Roll. However, these rolls still tasted decent. With the California Roll, the imitation crab meat was sweet, and you could actually discern the individual strands of crab meat, unlike with the California Roll from Nesters Market. The Dynamite Roll was larger and more filling, but Spicy Stone's weak tempura skills were evident here.

Ichibankan Express

Ichibankan Express is currently the only restaurant at SFU that focuses on sushi. However, like Spicy Stone, the rolls typically come from the display refrigerator. The sushi at Ichibankan is not cheap either, and despite the word "Express" in its name, the restaurant actually has one of the slowest kitchens on campus. Nonetheless, I'm still a frequent patron since I don't really have much of a choice when I'm on campus and am craving something more than a standard California or Dynamite roll.

Negitoro Roll - C+

The Negitoro contained slightly fishy tuna that was somewhat balanced out by the green onion. The rice was tightly packed, which made the roll quite chewy.

California Roll - C

I guess the moral of the story is that you can only expect so much from refrigerated pre-made sushi. The California Roll ended up strangely bland due to the lack of mayonnaise in the crab meat. The roll was also not very neatly constructed and fell apart very easily.

Mackenzie Café

Our final destination was Mackenzie Café, which operates much like a small-scale food court with choices ranging from Subway to poutine to Asian stir-fried rice. Once again, the sushi was stored in a display refrigerator, and once again, it was quite pricey. I opted for a 5-piece Dynamite roll because it looked the most colourful and appealing.

Dynamite Roll - C

At $6.19, this roll was very expensive for the quality, but at least they put two deep-fried prawns inside. The crab meat had a nice pleasant creaminess to it, while the sauces were thick and had an interesting gluey consistency.

Vancity Noms ended up fasting the entire 10 hours of the crawl (I'm not sure how she did it), but evidently, she didn't really miss out on much. Towards the end of the crawl, I was so stuffed and sick from consuming unreasonable quantities of soy sauce that I desperately advertised free sushi to my Snapchat friends. However, they either were not on campus or commented on how unappetizing my sushi looked. I sure have some wonderful, appreciative friends. 

And finally, after developing mild PTSD from campus sushi for a few days, I can now present to you SFU's five sushi vendors from best to worst:
  • SFU Dining Hall
  • Spicy Stone
  • Ichibankan Express
  • Mackenzie Café
  • Nesters Market

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Episode #217: Satomi Sushi (2nd Visit)

Burnaby South, $$ (Moderately Priced)

After a surprisingly good experience at Kimu last time, Emperor Weng, Kyle and I decided to make a revisit and bring Eugene along with us. We had everything planned out, until all of a sudden, we discovered that it took an hour to transit from SFU to Kimu and that the restaurant closes at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. Since Kyle and Eugene had evening classes and we wanted to stick with something affordable, we relocated our adventure to Satomi Sushi.

Satomi Sushi is quickly gaining notoriety as a budget-friendly authentic Japanese restaurant near Metrotown. Even at 8:30 p.m., our planned meeting time, the restaurant was still quite busy. Unfortunately for me, Kyle, Eugene, and the emperor experienced an internal GPS malfunction, and they left me sitting alone at my table for half an hour. During this time, one of the waitresses kept peering out the window, wondering where my mates were.

Aburi Tuna Toro Nigiri - A-

Having tried many of the more standard items during my previous visit, I scanned the specials on the walls for something more adventurous to get and came across the Aburi Tuna Toro Nigiri. It scored an A+ for presentation, and the tuna was juicy with a nice, smoky flavour. The fish-to-rice ratio was correct, and the sushi rice was not packed too tightly.

Uni Motoyaki - B+

One special I had never seen before at any restaurant was the Uni Motoyaki (baked sea urchin). The texture of the uni was akin to a cross between masago and pudding. The motoyaki was very savoury, and the addition of sliced onions gave it some zing and some crunch. It tasted slightly heavy, but if you like motoyaki in general, you'll most likely enjoy this one.

Foie Gras Sushi - B+

Next, to ensure that my bill was impressive, I went for the sautéed Foie Gras Sushi ($5). Although there was a bit too much rice, the foie gras had a light crispiness as well as the characteristic, smoky flavour of freshly seared foie gras.

Scat Aburi Roll - A-

Because I'm a fan of all things aburi, I chose the Scat Aburi Roll for my special roll. This roll consisted of prawn tempura and seared spicy scallop. The spicy mayonnaise brought this roll to life, and the crispy, meaty prawn tempura was an excellent contrast to the sweet chopped scallop on top. I was pleasantly surprised at how well-executed this roll was.

Unatama Roll - A-

Another surprisingly well-executed roll was the Unatama Roll, which came with unagi, tamago, and a drizzle of unagi sauce. Both the unagi and tamago were well prepared, and together, they gave the roll a really soft, cake-like texture. 

Takoyaki - A-

With still some stomach room left, I went for the Takoyaki. It was served hot and came with twice the amount of tako as a regular takoyaki. The pillowy interior was balanced nicely by the crispy exterior of each ball.

Even though we stayed a hair past closing time (10 p.m.), the servers were still reasonably accommodating. Both the consistency and quality of the food were better than during my last visit, and I was most pleased with how well the rolls were prepared. With so many specials items for me to try, a third visit might very well be in the plans! 

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

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