Monday, January 15, 2018

Episode #233: Mika Sushi

Coquitlam, $$ (Moderately Priced)

Many of the restaurants on Austin Ave. in Coquitlam fall under one of two categories: extremely crowded with frequent lineups or barely alive. I've seen, on many occasions, cases where two restaurants with lineups of over an hour each surround a restaurant that is barely a quarter occupied.

Recently, Mika Sushi replaced the second location of Nao Sushi, whose main location in Burnaby is popular for its authentic Japanese dishes. Nao's Coquitlam branch was firmly in the first category when it opened, but it wasn't long before the hype died and empty tables abounded (my guess would be consistency issues, which I experienced in both locations). After a bout of cost-cutting measures and rude service (based on online reviews), Nao's Coquitlam branch closed its doors, and Mika Sushi took over.

Mika Sushi is Korean-operated but retains many elements of Nao Sushi. The signage features the same colours, and both the menu and the interior decor are virtually the same. They even retained Nao Sushi's lack of customers. The atmosphere was rather quiet when I stepped in. However, with Katie as my dining partner, there is no such thing as peace and quiet.

Wild Sockeye Salmon Sashimi - B+

We started dinner off with Katie's favourite Japanese food—sockeye salmon sashimi. Although the cutting was a little sloppy (and strange), the salmon tasted fresh. That being said, the texture of the salmon could've been smoother.

Aji Nigiri - A-
Engawa Nigiri - A-
Seared Toro Nigiri - A

Next up was a appealingly presented plate of nigiri. The Aji Nigiri (horse mackerel) came with a slight overdose of green onion, but was smooth and fresh. The rice was packed appropriately. The Engawa Nigiri (flounder fin) also had an excellent smooth texture and a mild but discernible sweet flavour. Interestingly, they thought that one piece of flounder fin per nigiri was not enough value, so they stacked two pieces on top of each other. The Seared Toro Nigiri, one of Nao Sushi's best items, turned out excellently here as well. It was juicy and seared just the right amount.

Dragon Roll - A-

Another hit of the night was the Dragon Roll, an eel roll topped with avocado. The eel was pleasantly soft and savoury, and the avocado was dressed with a creamy mixture of wasabi mayo and unagi sauce. The sweet flavours complemented each other. The roll was a bit rice heavy, but this was barely noticeable because there was sufficient flavour.

Atlantic Roll - B-

Our other roll was the Atlantic Roll, which came with avocado, masago, salmon, and a citrus-based vinaigrette. The avocado inside was appropriately soft and creamy. However, this time, the roll was noticeably rice-heavy, and the vinaigrette on top was much too acidic to work with the rest of the roll.

Chicken Teriyaki - B

For our filler, we had the Chicken Teriyaki, which was initially savoury with a nice thin layer of crispy chicken skin. However, there was too much teriyaki sauce, and it wasn't long before things started to turn soggy. Some pieces of chicken were noticeably tougher than others.

We experienced friendly service throughout our visit. The food was modestly priced, but not cheap enough to attract diners based on just value (Mika Sushi is surrounded by budget-friendly restaurants). Like Nao Sushi in its prime days, the nigiri was solid, with the other food a little less consistent. Although Mika Sushi is decent overall, it will have to offer more in order to become a restaurant people will line up for.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Episode #232: Yui Japanese Bistro

Vancouver (West End), $$ (Moderately Priced)

Aburi sushi made by former chefs from Miku and Minami? For cheaper prices? Yes, please!

Ever since I first tasted Miku's Aburi Salmon Oshi Sushi more than 6 years ago (holy crap, I'm getting old), I've been looking for other places where I can also enjoy good Aburi sushi accompanied by less hefty price tags. After all, I'm not a small eater, and a trip to Miku means at least $80 out the wallet before I'm somewhat full. Yui seemed like the perfect place when I wasn't feeling quite as fancy. I got the help of Vancouver foodie Jeanne (@popofrouge) to try out their lunch service.

Situated among a sea of office towers, the Chinese-operated Yui was expectedly busy during lunch on a weekday. The only spots available for us were at the sushi bar, right in front of the Aburi station. What an excellent view! Well, for everyone except me.

Normally, food enthusiasts highly enjoy sitting where they can observe, eat the food as soon as it's made, and engage in friendly conversation with the chef. However, my brain is literally wired to do only one thing at a time. If I try to take notes and talk at the same time, I will actually start spewing out gibberish. Thankfully, I think the chef clued in and focussed on making his sushi instead.

Chicken Chashu - A-

The Chicken Chashu looked like an interesting way to start my lunch. It came with soft-stew free-range chicken, accompanied by amakuchi (sweet) soy sauce and a side of grain mustard. The chicken was sliced somewhat like pork chashu but in much thicker pieces. It was lightly grilled, very tender, and savoury with help from the sweet soy.

Aburi Ebi Oshi - A-

Closely mirroring Miku's version, the Aburi Ebi Oshi ($11) was dressed with lime zest and creamy oshi sauce. It had a vibrant citrusy tint and a good amount of creaminess, but tasted slightly rice-heavy. 

Aburi Saba Oshi - A-

The Aburi Saba Oshi ($11) came with miso oshi sauce and a light sprinkling of seaweed. The saba was not excessively salty, and the miso sauce helped generate a delicious, savoury flavour. However, I thought that the saba itself could've been seared a little less, which would give it a softer texture.

Yui Plate

Next, I went for the lunch plate that contained the greatest variety, which happened to be the Yui Plate. At $11, it's not a bang for the buck, but it's a relatively cost-effective way to sample the highlights at Yui.

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

The Aburi Tuna Nigiri was delightfully fresh with a soft texture. The miso glaze and scallions were a perfect complement to the tuna. The Aburi Ebi Nigiri was dressed with a dab of pesto sauce and could have used a little more moisture. The Aburi Salmon Oshi was delectably creamy with an excellent smoky flavour. The jalapeño slices would work even better if they were thinner.

Dynamite Roll - B+

The roll that accompanied the Yui Plate was the Dynamite Roll. The sweet imitation crab meat went well with the creamy avocado. The prawn tempura was crispy, but the batter was hard in places. 

Overall, we had an enjoyable experience at Yui. We experienced no problems with the service. The food isn't exactly Miku, but it comes reasonably close given the lower prices. The difference was mainly in the sushi rice, where Miku's has a smoother texture and is more flavourful. In either case, Yui works as a good casual alternative to Miku for a quick meal... unless it's so busy that a line-up starts to form.

Yui Japanese Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Episode #231: Ebisu on Broadway

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

There are two things I love about Ebisu: sushi boats and relatively cheap drinks. Ebisu's ability to accommodate large groups and its extensive menu (with items in different price ranges) makes it perfect for larger gatherings. Since my own home is not exactly fit for partying in, I frequently refer to the two Vancouver Ebisu locations as my party homes.

To celebrate the end of another exciting semester of TAing, I held an end-of-semester sushi adventure with fellow TAs Angus, Anya, Chris, Jeff and Maria. We were only able to make it for lunch, so we kept the relatively cheap drinks to a minimum. Most importantly, I had to ensure that I wasn't giving everything an A+. We focussed on enjoying our appetizers, rolls, and boats.

Miso Soup - A-

My first item to arrive was the Miso Soup from my BBQ Unagi & Roll Boat. The Miso Soup contained tofu, green onion, and seaweed. It was light and well-balanced.

BBQ Unagi & Roll Boat

The BBQ Unagi & Roll Boat came with two half rolls, a small unagi don, chicken karaage, assorted tempura, and two orange slices. For $13.95, the value was certainly there.

Dynamite Roll - B+

A combination of crunchy prawn tempura, crunchy cucumber, and sweet creamy mayonnaise made the Dynamite Roll a delight. The pieces were also a good size.

California Roll - B

The California Roll was standard fare. The avocado slices were on the larger side, and the imitation crab was sufficiently sweet.

Unagi Don - A-

The Unagi Don comes with three pieces of soft unagi, which had an aromatic smokiness. The seaweed on top provided extra flavour to the don and complemented the steamed rice.

Chicken Karaage - B+

The Chicken Karaage came with tender, crispy chicken. However, I thought that some spices would help liven up the flavour.

Assorted Tempura - B+

Next up, the Assorted Tempura came with two prawns and one piece each of kabocha, yam and carrot. The prawns were meaty, juicy, and crispy, though slightly oily. The kabocha was slightly mushy, while the yam and carrot were a good balance of sweet and savoury flavours.

Orange Slices - C

The only real flop of the boat was the Orange Slices. Cut into small, easily manageable pieces, the Orange Slices were juicy, but they were some of the sourest orange slices I have ever had. They may as well have been lemon slices. (Yes, I did write down notes on my orange slices, and yes, everyone was eagerly waiting for this moment.)

Besides the sushi boats, one other great deal on the lunch menu was the 3 for $12.99 lunch special, where you can choose 3 items from a select list of around 50 items (plus a miso soup, steamed rice, or soft drink) for just $12.99. Since my appetite does not wake up until late afternoon, I opted for just one item from the list (for $4.99).

BC Blazer (half order) - A-

Among the most deluxe items featured in the special was the BC Blazer, a roll with seared salmon, bonito flakes, and green onion on top of a California roll. This is a roll I would come to order again on subsequent visits. Overall, the roll had a rich, creamy, sweet flavour and was a pleasant amalgamation of soft textures. The green onion and bonito flakes on top of the roll provided a small amount of crunch for textural contrast.

Salad - B+ 

Somehow, in the midst of my note-taking, I ended up jacking someone's Salad to try myself. With copious amounts of vinaigrette dressing, the lettuce-based Salad was delectably creamy and savoury.

Mentaiko Yaki Udon - A

The Mentaiko Yaki Udon was a hidden gem in the menu that I would probably never have come across had Chris not offered to split it with me. The rich, savoury udon noodles had just the right amount of firmness, while a mildly detectable spiciness brings the dish to life. The creamy roe has a pleasant bubbly texture and works wonderfully against the udon noodles. The best part of this yakiudon is how it doesn't have the charred, greasy flavour of most yakiudon dishes but still packs plenty of flavour.

Overall, the staff was friendly and accommodating. Unlike the Robson location, which can get pricey during prime dinner hours, the Broadway location offers reasonably price food at any hour of the day. There are lunch specials, happy hour specials, and dinner boats that are a good deal if you have at least two people in your group and can eat a fair amount. The drinks are also slightly cheaper at the Broadway location. That being said, the Robson location has its own advantages too (to be discussed in a future episode).

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