Monday, 29 August 2016

Episode #189: Raisu

Vancouver (Northwest), $$$ (Higher Priced)

Having been a food blogger for more than two years now, I like to say that I am immune to the phenomenon of looking at pictures of food and then feeling hungry. While that is true for the most part, it is not always the case. Recently, I have been seeing too many pictures of Raisu's The Ocean's Offerings, featuring twelve pieces of exquisitely square-shaped sushi, on my Instagram feed. How was I supposed to resist making a trip to Raisu to try it out for myself? Joining me on this adventure was Picky Diner, Food Wench, and Albert, a well-known foodie hailing from Shanghai.

Raisu is a second-storey restaurant situated on the west side of Kitsilano. Raisu is the newest addition to the Kingyo group of izakaya-style restaurants, which also includes Kingyo, Suika, and Rajio, and for a restaurant that had been open for just over a month, I did not expect it to be so busy. When I called to make a reservation several days in advance, all they had left for us was a table on the patio. I had ambivalent feelings about taking a spot on the patio because I had never dined on a patio before. However, Food Wench thought it would be a great idea to dine out on the patio since it was a nice summer's day. We did enjoy the sunshine and the summer breeze alright, along with some abominable lighting situations and of course, the lovely company of several obnoxious bees.

While the entrance of Suika was decorated with a watermelon ceiling lamp, the entrance of Raisu featured a noren with an image of a rice cooker on it. I was half expecting a ceiling lamp in the shape of a grain of rice to be at the entrance, but I guess this will have to do. Walking up the stairs, we saw a fancy, elegantly decorated dining space, and the staff was working busily in preparation for the dinner crowd.

The Ocean's Offerings
Starting from the top-left, going row by row:
Hamachi - A-
Saba - B+
Salmon/Ikura - A
Snapper - A-
Sayori - A-
Snow Crab - A-
Tuna Tataki - B
Tamago - A-
Unagi - A-
Amaebi - B+
Hotategai - B+
Botan Ebi - A

Since they only make 10 orders of The Ocean's Offerings every lunch or dinner session, I pre-ordered two of these for my table when making my reservation. Unfortunately, I wanted to sample and rate every piece, and no one really wanted to split each piece with me. However, with much persuasion, begging, and pleading, Food Wench agreed to do so. She was such a good sport that she even offered to do all the cutting, which was a good thing for our safety because I can count on one hand the number of times I've held a knife.

The highlights from this box were the Salmon/Ikura and the Botan Ebi. The Botan Ebi had a slight spicy zing to it and was reminiscent of Miku's Aburi Ebi Oshi, albeit without the creaminess of seared oshi sauce. The Sayori (Japanese half beak) was juicy and went well with the dab of sweet chili. The Tuna and the Hotategai ended up being a bit weak in flavour. Overall, most of the pieces were tasty and well-prepared, and the rice was just the right texture. 

Miso Soup - A

The Miso Soup that accompanied The Ocean's Offerings contained a hearty mix of bean curd, mushroom, green onion, and bean curd. The balance of ingredients here was very good.

Jumbo Seafood Kaki-Age Udon - A-

The Jumbo Seafood Kaki-Age Udon came in a jumbo-sized bowl and consisted of crispy kale and a deep-fried seafood medley, along with udon noodles. I thought the udon noodles could be a little more al dente, but I did enjoy the savoury flavour and soft texture of the submerged tempura batter bits. The seafood medley was a mix of predominantly scallops and crunchy vegetables.

Sizzling Stone Beef Steak Hitsumabushi - B

The Sizzling Stone Beef Steak Hitsumabushi came with Canadian AAA tenderloin beef, garlic butter fried rice, and a helping of dashi broth on the side, which you can mix with the rice once things start to dry out. I liked the richness of the garlic butter fried rice, which was mixed with kombu (seaweed) for more flavour. However, the beef was rather tasteless, and since no one at my table liked this dish in particular, I got to use it as my filler.

Chicken Karaage - B+

Next, the Chicken Karaage came with juicy, tender chicken along with a sprinkle of herbs for an extra kick. Although the exterior was a little harder than desired, this was a notch better than the Chicken Karaage at Suika.

Ebi Mayo - A

Food Wench claims that she has a white-girl love for Ebi Mayo, so we ordered one to try. Unfortunately, I'm not even remotely close to being a white girl, but I share a similar love for Ebi Mayo and have featured it many times on this blog. This version featured very plump tiger prawns (the menu didn't lie!) and came with mildly spicy chili mayonnaise. A crispy layer of batter on the outside rounded off this excellently prepared dish.

Deluxe Seafood Bowl - B-

After seeing on the menu that the Deluxe Seafood Bowl came with "generous portions" and consisted of many different types of seafood (salmon, ahi tuna, yellowtail, snow crab, tai, amaebi... you name it), Picky Diner was convinced to give it a try despite the $32 price tag. Since that's exactly how I decide to order stuff most of the time, I agreed with him, and we ended up getting it. It turned out to be a disappointment because the sushi rice was overly seasoned with vinegar and many of the pieces of fish were cut close to the skin, which makes the fish taste slightly more dull and fishy. Well, I was the de facto vault for so-so food, so I suppose I scored myself another filler.

Despite the restaurant being very busy, we received friendly and timely service. Some of the food fell short of expectations due to the high price tags, but we had a handful of well-executed dishes as well. Raisu is not exactly a place that I would be clamouring to go back to, but it is a nice place for taking aesthetic Instagram photos (if you're not stuck with the lighting I experienced) and sampling some unique izakaya food.

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

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Episode #188: Best Sushi N Kitchen

Coquitlam, $$ (Moderately Priced)

After an evening of listening to presentations at SFU until 9 p.m., I had two choices: go home or have sushi. Contrary to what you might expect, I was initially inclined to go home because I had a significant amount of work to complete and a sushi adventure planned shortly after. Plus, since Coquitlam is dead as a doornail at night, it was unlikely for me to find a sushi restaurant that was still open. I went for a short stroll while making my transfer at Lougheed Station to release some energy, when I inadvertently passed by Best Sushi N Kitchen. A restaurant that serves the best sushi was still open at this time? To hell with priorities and self-control!

Best Sushi N Kitchen is a Korean-operated Japanese restaurant that sits at a location occupied by many different Japanese eateries in the past. A long while back, it was Fujiya, and then, it was Sushi Elephant, then Sushi &, then Sushi & Ramen, and now, Best Sushi N Kitchen. Every time I visit this place, I would be reminded of the old days when I was a child and my parents would take me to Fujiya to have frozen pre-made sushi straight from the display coolers. Back then, we could not afford to eat at any decent Japanese restaurant, and since I had no clue that better sushi existed, I remembered being ecstatic every time my parents mentioned that we were going to Fujiya. Those were the days when Taisho was my heaven.

(menu - click to enlarge)

At Best Sushi N Kitchen, there are two menus: one with Japanese food and one with Korean food. It almost feels like you are in a casual Korean restaurant, as the Korean menu is quite full-fledged and loud Korean pop music spews out of the speakers. The dining area is large and spacious, and even though it was getting late, I could sense an energetic vibe throughout the restaurant, which was probably the intended effect of the music.

1st visit:

Tuna Gomae - A-

The Tuna Gomae featured easy-to-chew spinach and fresh, soft tuna. There were copious amounts of sesame sauce to give the gomae a thorough sweet flavour. I also liked how they added some purple cabbage on top of the salad for visual appeal.

Aburi Salmon Oshi - A-

The Aburi Salmon Oshi came with six pieces for just $8.95! As I took a bite into each piece, a pleasant warm, creamy, and slightly smoky flavour filled my mouth, and my expectations were surpassed. I also enjoyed the formation of the rice, which was not too tightly packed. The rice felt just a bit dry in the middle, and perhaps a thin layer of salmon in the middle would help (though this would likely push the price of the oshi upward). The presentation could also be worked on, as the sushi looked like it was about to wither and melt in the heat of the hot sun.

Red Dynamite Roll - B

The Red Dynamite Roll consisted of cucumber, avocado, prawn tempura, spicy tuna, and yam bits. There was an interesting attempt here to use cucumber bits to add crunch to the roll. I liked the plump prawns and the melty spicy tuna. However, the sushi rice was noticeably weak in flavour, and the roll was quite heavy on the rice.

Since I frequently find myself making transfers at Lougheed Station, I decided to turn this adventure into a Sushi-a-thon!

2nd visit:

Ebi Mayo - B

On my second visit, I started off with the Ebi Mayo, which came with six juicy prawns. However, despite the sprinkle of herbs, the batter was not especially flavourful. They also paired the Ebi Mayo with dill tartar sauce, which is something I had never seen or experienced before. I didn't find the dill tartar sauce to be a good complement for the Ebi Mayo, as it was a touch too sour and created a dissonance with the sweeter flavour of the prawns.

Hotate Nigiri - B
Saba Nigiri - B
Toro Nigiri - A

Moving onto the nigiri, the flavour of the rice was once again on the weaker side. The hotate (scallop)  was juicy with a jelly-like texture, but it was not very sweet. The saba (mackerel) was neither soft nor tough, and it was slightly more salty than necessary. The toro (tuna belly) was leagues above the other nigiri. The Toro Nigiri was tastefully fresh, juicy, and plump. It came in a generous serving, and having the rich burst of flavour from the toro melt into my mouth is an experience I'd happily repeat.

Salmon Tempura Roll - B+

Knowing that I had a filler coming up, I toned it down when selecting my special roll. With this roll, I could taste the crispiness the tempura and the freshness of the cooked salmon. The sweetness of the crab meat also complemented the salmon well. As a nice touch, they sprinkled some sesame seeds on top to give the roll a nutty side.

Beef Teriyaki with Rice in Stone Bowl - B

Feeling adventurous (as I usually am), I went to try the Beef Teriyaki with Rice in Stone Bowl from the Korean menu. Nothing could have prepared me for how big this turned out to be. I could have just ordered this one dish and called it a meal! The beef is minced very finely and has a soft, flaky texture. Flavour-wise, the sesame seeds took the spotlight. This dish was aptly named because it did taste much more like beef teriyaki than bulgogi beef. 

Since it took me so long to finish the stone bowl (it also took a long time for the stone bowl to cool to a temperature at which I could eat it), I had to face the wrath of the evil, crumbly, dried-up rice near the edges of the stone bowl. I understand that many people order stone bowls just to have this crumbly rice, but personally, it is a pet peeve of mine. I remembered that at other Korean restaurants I've been to, they would remedy this by pouring barley tea into the stone bowl, so feeling like a smart-aleck, I held up my glass of tea confidently and dumped it right into my stone bowl. I forgot that what I had in my hand was not barley tea and ended up accidentally concocting one of the most disgusting "beverages" I have ever had. I had done it again and accomplished my mission of getting strange looks from the waitresses.

I received decent service during both visits, and the food lived up to my expectations considering the price. If you are craving Japanese food and your friends want Korean food (a very common occurrence for me), then this is a place worth considering. One other restaurant that does something similar is Moa Box, which is a much smaller restaurant located on the other side of Coquitlam. Perhaps I will check that place out someday!

No Zomato page has been created for this restaurant yet. Click here for the Yelp page.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Episode #187: Satomi Sushi

Burnaby South, $$ (Moderately Priced)

The class that I TA for was coming to an end, which meant that lots of final reports were coming in for me to mark. To brace myself for the ordeal of hundreds of pages of reading, I went to have hundreds of calories of sushi. Since I had Patrick with me on this adventure, I unleashed my mighty fury and ordered as many dishes as I imagined that we could possibly finish. In my head, I thought that the more sushi I had, the sharper I would be while marking.

Satomi Sushi is a new authentic Japanese restaurant located across from Metrotown that has replaced Yakko Sushi, which was a place for budget sushi. Satomi Sushi is priced slightly higher than Yakko Sushi, but surprisingly, after having been open for just a few weeks, it was already loads more popular than Yakko Sushi. Luckily, as we strolled in for lunch, we managed to snag one of the last available tables.

Between the two of us, we ordered two lunch sets, an appetizer, and a few different types of sushi to get a good sample of their offerings. For some reason, they decided to give us all of our food almost simultaneously, which meant that we had to also take up the table next to us and look like complete gluttons for a few minutes.

Goma-ae - A

Our lunch started off on a high note with an excellent helping of Goma-ae. The sesame sauce was spread evenly to create a well-rounded sweetness that reverberated throughout the salad. The spinach itself was fresh and cut into small pieces, which made it easy to digest.

Aburi Spicy Salmon Battera - A-

Onto our first sushi dish, the Aburi Spicy Salmon Battera was also successful. Patrick's comment was that the salmon just "melts in your mouth," and this time, I completely agreed with him. The salmon also projected a slight smoky flavour, and the jalapeño and spicy mayonnaise were well-balanced as not to overwhelm any of the ingredients. The texture of the rice was decent, and it was not too tightly packed.

Blush Roll - A-

Not knowing which special roll to try, I went for the Blush Roll, which consisted of crab stick, salmon, avocado, and mayonnaise. The mayonnaise did a great job of tying the ingredients together, and the crab stick provided a nice meatiness to the roll. I'm not sure why it was called the Blush Roll though, as neither Patrick nor I were successful at making ourselves blush via eating the roll. We tried!

Salmon Scud Nigiri - A-
Aburi Tuna Nigiri - B
Aburi Ebi Nigiri - B+

Another interestingly named piece of sushi was the Salmon Scud Nigiri. The word "scud" refers to wind-driven clouds, and yet, I failed to sense any wind coming out of the nigiri. I was mildly disappointed. However, the salmon was fresh and nicely seasoned, while the tempura crumbs added a pleasant crunch to the nigiri. I also liked the garnish of green onion on the Aburi Tuna Nigiri, but the tuna itself was slightly overdone. Lastly, the Aburi Ebi Prawn Nigiri had a nice chew to it and was dressed with spicy mayonnaise to produce a rich, savoury flavour.

Lunch Box B

After all the opening flourishes, it was finally time to move on to our lunch sets. Patrick had the Lunch Box B, which came with a Salad, Chicken Teriyaki, Edamame, Assorted Tempura, Tuna and Sashimi, and some Miso Soup.

Salad - B+

The Salad was fresh and contained sufficient moisture. If anything, it would be nice if the Japanese salad dressing was spread out more evenly throughout the mixed greens.

Chicken Teriyaki - C+

Unfortunately, the Chicken Teriyaki was a bit of a flop. The chicken tasted burnt in places and was overdone. The teriyaki sauce acted as a saving grace by providing much needed flavour to the bean sprouts and the chicken.

Edamame - B+

One item that rarely comes with bento boxes is the Edamame. I'll admit that I'm not the biggest fan of edamame because (a) it is not the easiest thing to grade, (b) the beans flew all over the place as I tried to squish them out, much to Patrick's amusement, and (c) you know how most youngsters feel about vegetables. This particular Edamame was in line with the edamame I've had at other places, and it had a nice nutty flavour to it.

Assorted Tempura - B-

The Assorted Tempura in the bento box came with two prawns and one piece each of carrot, yam, and zucchini. The batter was quite thick and had a prominent potato chip flavour. The prawns were meaty and juicy, and they were the best among all the pieces. The vegetable tempura tended to be either too dry or sliced too thinly.

Tuna Sashimi - B
Salmon Sashimi - B+

The Sashimi came in neat cuts and was sliced to just the right thickness. The two pieces of tuna were amply soft, but had a slightly fishy aftertaste. Meanwhile, the three pieces of salmon had a delightfully smooth texture, though it was rather weak flavour-wise.

Chicken Karaage Teishoku

For my lunch set, I had the Chicken Karaage Teishoku, which came with a salad (identical to the salad above), some Chicken Karaage, steamed rice, a Miso Soup, and a daily appetizer. It wasn't until I got to the steamed rice that I realized that I might have ordered just a little too much. 

Chicken Karaage - B

The Chicken Karaage came with tender chicken and a rich flavour, but fell a little short of our expectations because it was on the drier side. It would also be nice if the exterior layer was more crispy.

Miso Soup - B
Marinated Lotus Root and Green Bean - B

Towards the end of my epic meal, I had the Miso Soup, which came with seaweed and green onion. It was not too salty, but the consistency was too thin for my liking. Beside it was a common teishoku appetizer, the Marinated Lotus Root and Green Bean. I liked how the lotus root was not dry at all, and the green bean had a slight crunch to it, though neither of these had a strong impact flavour-wise.

The two of us managed to finish all of the food, but in the end, I felt like I had just eaten the whole Pacific Ocean. The waitresses saw what happened and gave us a very stunned look. However, my eating tendencies have attracted tons of stunned looks in the past, so this was nothing new to me. All in all, the quality of the food and service met my expectations considering the price range. If price is your main concern, head over to Sushi Garden, where you will see some of the best prices for sushi in the city. If you would like something a little more refined but still within a reasonable price range, Satomi Sushi is the place for you.

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