Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Episode #195: Sushi Loku (2nd Visit)

Vancouver (Northeast), $$ (Moderately Priced)

Looking for a restaurant to dine at on Labour Day required quite a bit of labour. Picky Diner and I would brainstorm a list of restaurants that we could visit, and I would call each one in turn only to find out that all of them were closed. Our laborious search finally came to an end when I discovered that Sushi Loku was open. I had visited Sushi Loku once before, but since then, I have seen many reviews and Instagram captions that suggest that Sushi Loku may be better than I made them out to be. The restaurant literally looks like Aburi heaven on Instagram. It was time for me to give them a second chance (not that I had much of a choice either).

On my first visit, the interior of the restaurant still retained the scent of the retro diner that used to be there before. Now, that scent was completely gone. They have tidied up the dining space, and the whole place was bustling with diners. Much to my surprise, we even had to wait 15 minutes for a table. From what I could see, there were three waitresses and five chefs on duty, each working hard to keep up with all the orders. It sometimes took some effort to get a hold of the servers.

Salmon Sashimi - A
Sockeye Salmon Sashimi - A-
Hamachi Sashimi - B
Tuna Sashimi - A
Toro Sashimi - A
Tai Sashimi - C+

Having heard good things about the sashimi, Picky Diner and I shared an order of Assorted Sashimi (18 pieces). We were quite pleased with most of the fish. Both types of salmon were very fresh and exhibited a delectably smooth texture. The tuna was very soft, and the toro melted perfectly in my mouth. The only piece that didn't really perform to expectations was the tai. It was remarkably fishy and chewy, and it tasted somewhat like I had grabbed a fishy-smelling fish from the dead fish section of a fish market and just started nibbling on it.

After finishing the last piece of the fishy tai, we then noticed something else that was fishy. We saw tables that had ordered after us almost finishing their food and getting ready to leave. Where was the rest of our food? It had been more than 50 minutes since we placed our order. When we inquired one of the servers, we discovered that they had forgotten to place the rest of our order in! Our server, who was new to the job, promptly came over to apologize several times and presented us with two complimentary miso soups.

Miso Soup - A-

Featuring tofu and green onion, this complimentary Miso Soup was one of the better ones I have had. The balance of ingredients was just right.

Aburi Beef Nigiri - B+
Aburi Hamachi Nigiri - A-
Aburi Salmon Nigiri - B+
Aburi Toro Nigiri - A

The Aburi Beef Nigiri was meaty with a wasabi-like zing to it. The garlic chip that accompanied gave the beef more of a punch. The Aburi Hamachi Nigiri (which Picky Diner had and rated) was also decent, though it did fall apart (I don't usually consider this to be a problem). The Aburi Salmon Nigiri was a little weaker in flavour, but the wasabi on top sort of compensated for that. Finally, the Aburi Toro Nigiri came with some deliciously soft toro accompanied by a hit of spicy ponzu that was not overwhelming. 

Magma Roll - B

Since I lack the skills to pick items from a menu in a reasonable amount of time, I had Picky Diner choose our special roll. We agreed to get something Aburi-related (seared), so we had the Magma Roll, which came with crab meat, avocado, chopped scallop, masago, spicy mayonnaise, and teriyaki sauce. It was just like a California roll with chopped scallop randomly placed on top. I say "randomly" because the ingredients did not really work together that well. The spicy sauce provided more flavour than the searing, but I did like the soft scallop and how the pieces were bite-sized.

Ebi Mayo - C-

Unfortunately, our dinner took a downturn with the Ebi Mayo. It reminded me of a certain unpleasant experience I had at Okoman Sushi. Yes, it tasted like they mixed up their box of tempura batter with their bottle of glue. The "batter" here was gummy, not crispy at all, and rather gross. The prawns themselves were slightly overdone. Flavour-wise, Picky Diner remarked that the Ebi Mayo tasted like lemon chicken.

Oshisushi Negi Toro - B

Normally, the goal with Aburi sushi is to create a rich, creamy, and buttery flavour accented by a smokiness that lights up your taste buds. When we looked at the Aburi section of the menu, we were scratching our heads over why almost all the choices contained either balsamic or ponzu sauce. We decided to try out the Oshisushi Negi Toro, which came with seared tuna, green onion, and ponzu sauce. Much to my surprise, the tangy ponzu sauce actually worked. The only issue was that there wasn't enough tuna, so the oshisushi tasted a little rice-heavy.

The servers appeared to be overwhelmed, but they were still able to give us friendly service. However, we did have to stay in the restaurant for a full two hours to finish our meal. At least we had our cameras to entertain, and in my case, my notebook as well. My verdict? Both the atmosphere and the food have improved since my last visit, but the food still wasn't always as stellar as it looked. They're getting there though.

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

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Episode #194: Sushi Wow

Vancouver (Southwest), $$ (Moderately Priced)

Recently, Tamsen invited me to do a real-life escape game with him. I was once an avid fan of online escape games, but having not played an escape game in more than a year, my skills had gotten rusty. Of course, that wasn't going to faze me. I promptly started playing six hours of escape games every day for a week to re-train myself and even lost sleep doing so. It felt just like I was cramming for a final exam. On the day of the escapade, I ended up with only three hours of sleep and could barely text in proper words, let alone sentences. Everything felt just right. Except that just before we did our escape game, I needed to indulge in my secret formula for getting ready for anything—sushi.

I first spotted Sushi Wow when Tamsen and I last had sushi in Marpole, which was at the now-closed Risty's. Sushi Wow is a small but seemingly popular Korean-operated restaurant serving a wide assortment of special rolls. They also have several affordable bento boxes for lunch, but those weren't exactly easy to share (I have a bad habit of wanting to try everyone's food), so we refrained from ordering those.

Salmon Sashimi - B+
Tuna Sashimi - B+

Our lunch started with an order of Salmon and Tuna Sashimi. Given that the restaurant is not authentic and seemingly budget-friendly, the pieces were smaller than expected. The salmon had a nice smooth texture, but not a rich buttery flavour. The tuna tasted fresh, yet it could be softer. Tamsen, having been to Sushi Wow multiple times, noted that the sashimi is often served too cold and occasionally has frost in it. This time, our sashimi was indeed cold, but not to a point where it was problematic.

Mango Tango - B+

The Mango Tango roll consisted of prawn tempura, crab meat, avocado, mango, crunchy potato sticks, and honey mustard. The prawn tempura was savoury and worked well with the mango like a couple gracefully dancing a tango. The sweet crab meat inside largely offset the weakly flavoured sushi rice.

Granville Roll - B

Named after the street the restaurant is located on, the Granville Roll came with prawn tempura, avocado, cucumber, chopped shrimp, tobiko, teriyaki sauce, and mayonnaise. I liked the creamy mix of mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce, while the cucumber and prawn tempura were both quite crunchy. The bland sushi rice was slightly more evident in this roll.

Okonomiyaki - B-

Looking for a cooked item to try out, I saw the $4.95 Okonomiyaki on the menu and suggested that we ordered it. What could go wrong with the cheapest okonomiyaki I have ever seen? I suppose that at $4.95, they stack the pieces for you so that you think there's more than there really is. Also, I suppose that they won't make it taste like a proper okonomiyaki, or they risk putting others out of business. Thick and crispy on the outside, this particular Okonomiyaki tasted like a cross between Chinese radish cake and spring rolls. It actually tasted okay to me, but just completely not what you would expect.

The service was attentive, but not very friendly. A smile would have helped. However, the food was decent given the price, and I also liked how there was such a large selection of items to choose from. After we were done, we bulked ourselves up with some bubble tea and headed over to our escape game at E-Exit. As expected, Tamsen did most of the problem-solving (and got us out), while I just ran around in circles working up a sweat. I am obviously an excellent teammate to have.

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

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Episode #193: Banzai Sushi House

Richmond, $ (Budget)

Continuing with our theme of "the bigger the better," Sean, Patrick, Joanna and I headed over to the Vietnamese-operated Banzai Sushi House for dinner after going to Sushi Ville for lunch and visiting two ice cream places in between. If it weren't for Joanna suggesting that we exercise, we would have basically been eating non-stop. What did we do for exercise? We walked along the Stanley Park Seawall. Now, if you thought that we made it all the way around, you had overly high expectations for us. We walked like 15% of it before we decided that ice cream was more interesting and thus headed back to our car.

By the time we got to Banzai, I believe I was the only one who was actually in the mood for more sushi. Everyone else was either too exhausted and falling asleep or not even close to being hungry yet. However, by virtue of the divide-and-conquer method, we each sort of managed to sample a decent variety of dishes.

House Roll - B-

I learned from Sean that Banzai is the sister restaurant of Samurai and is known for its large portion sizes, but nothing could have prepared me for this. With tuna, salmon, tamago, crab meat, tobiko, and avocado all packed in there, the House Roll was a whopping 4 inches in diameter. Each piece of salmon and tuna inside could have been one legitimate piece of sashimi. I almost never have trouble picking up my sushi, but with this one, the struggle was real. I enjoyed the soft tuna, the creamy avocado and the sweet crab meat, but the sushi rice was quite bland and the salmon was a bit chewy.

Alaska Roll - C+

The Alaska Roll, which was slightly less intimidating in size, came with the same sweet crab meat and the same tough salmon. Without the sweetness from the tamago and the softness of the tuna, the tough salmon was more obvious here than in the House Roll.

Salmon Roll - C+
Spicy Tuna Roll - C

Usually, the quality of the sushi rice is less noticeable in a roll if there is less of it, but here, the rice was packed on like the whipping cream on a Starbucks Frappuccino. It was a little hard to taste the flavour of the salmon in the Salmon Roll, and the Spicy Tuna Roll ended up being almost non-spicy.

Prawn Tempura - B-

For our cooked item, we had the Prawn Tempura, which came with seven juicy prawns that had ample moisture and flavour. Unfortunately, the batter was hard and does not really have a nice crunch.

Unagi Nigiri - B-
Toro Nigiri - B
Ikura Nigiri - B-

The last obstacle I had to surpass was the attack of the jumbo nigiri (which I rearranged in the photo to only show the pieces that I had). If you asked me one thing I would recommend from this restaurant, it would be the toro. The toro was fresh, juicy, and melty. It was one of the best pieces of toro I have had in a while. The unagi, albeit a little fatty, had a nice smoky flavour, and the ikura provided a savoury burst of fish oils. 

The service we received was timely and friendly. Our server regularly came to ensure that things were in order. Banzai Sushi House satisfies a certain purpose, and that is to make you full and make your wallet happy at the same time. I'd be hard-pressed to find any other sushi place where I could get full with less than $15. Although I did not have enough stomach room for a full order of sashimi, it seems apparent that sashimi is one of their strengths. From what we tried, the salmon wasn't excellent, but the tuna and toro were both very fresh and enjoyable. 

Banzai Sushi House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato