Monday, 5 June 2017

Episode #221: The Grand UBC Sushi Crawl (Part One)

Since the Grand SFU Sushi Crawl was totally not a traumatizing experience, I thought it would be a great idea to do a Grand UBC Sushi Crawl as well. With seven places to visit instead of five, I knew this crawl would require that much more endurance and careful planning. Using my good judgment, I got Vancity Noms, who managed to finish exactly zero pieces of sushi last time, to help me on this adventure.

The Seven Sushi Places on UBC's Vancouver Campus
  • Honour Roll
  • Suga Japanese & Korean Restaurant
  • Mio Japan
  • Bento Sushi
  • Miyamae
  • Togo Sushi
  • One More Sushi
This post will cover the first four.

Honour Roll

Our meeting place was Honour Roll, located in the centre of the AMS Student Nest. My morning idiocy took no breaks, and I spent several minutes messaging Vancity Noms to ask her where the Nest was while I was standing right in front of it. An all caps explosion ensued...

Back in the days of the old Student Union Building (SUB), the sushi stall was originally named Honour Roll. The name changed to Peko Peko when the new SUB opened, but has now reverted back to Honour Roll. Featuring a good range of slightly pricey pre-made rolls, we hoped that the sushi was honour roll–worthy.

Miso Soup - B

Since I badly needed something to drink after all the energy expended on finding the Nest, I went for the Miso Soup. It came with green onion and tofu and had a well-balanced flavour. However, the pieces of tofu were awkwardly coarse, as if they had been accidentally left to dry for a few minutes.

Real Crab California Roll - B-

Coming in six generous pieces was the Real Crab California Roll. We found it slightly dry, and it could've done better with a little more mayonnaise.

Smoked Salmon Roll - B

One of the more decent rolls that we had was the Smoked Salmon Roll. The smoked salmon was strong and rich in flavour and went well with the avocado. However, there was a small bit of saltiness intrinsic to the roll, which meant that the roll did not pair well with soy sauce.

Salmon Roll - C+

Next, we had the Salmon Roll, which was a bit too tightly packed. The salmon also had little flavour.

Avocado Roll - B

One thing I thought I'd never eat in my life was the Avocado Roll. I used to hate avocado as a kid. I would pluck every piece of avocado out of my sushi and then stare evilly at the avocado mound I had just created, thinking of ways to destroy the mound. However, since Vancity Noms ordered this roll, I took the plunge and had one piece. It tasted surprisingly decent, and the level of creaminess was just right.

Our overall impressions of Honour Roll were quite positive. Although the sushi was pre-made, it was superior to pretty much everything available at SFU. I was unable to stop Vancity Noms from eating loads of the sushi at Honour Roll. After she had consumed about 20 pieces of sushi, I had legitimate reasons to be concerned about how we were going to get through the rest of our crawl.

Suga Japanese & Korean Restaurant

Our next place to try was Suga Japanese & Korean Restaurant. For years, I had been wanting to come to this place for their 5 items for $25 lunch special, a lunch special that sadly disappeared off the menu by the time I finally made it to the restaurant. Unfortunately, this also meant that I would not be able to convince Vancity Noms not to order her super filling Tuna Sashimi Don...

Meanwhile, since I had to eat at four different places for lunch, I tried to keep the food quantity reasonable by ordering only one plate of food.

Tuna Sashimi - C
Salmon Sashimi - B+

We were off to a great start with the highly questionable Tuna Sashimi. It was not too fishy, but it was also not soft at all and tasted slightly cooked. The Salmon Sashimi fared much better. It had a smooth texture and was creamy and reasonably fresh.

Chopped Scallop Nigiri - C+
Toro Nigiri - C-

Next, I enjoyed some questionable nigiri. The Chopped Scallop Nigiri was not rolled properly (as evident in the photo) and was remarkably dry. There was also not much scallop inside. The Toro Nigiri came with way too much rice and way too little toro, making the whole thing taste bland like plain congee. Never again...

Una Q - C

The Una Q was a roll with a eel and cucumber. There was so little unagi that Sauce Q would've been a much more appropriate name for the roll. The cucumber inside was fresh and crunchy though, so I'll give them credit for that.

Suga Japanese & Korean Restaurant seems to be a particularly bad case of being stingy on the pricier ingredients and then trying to make up for it by giving you more of the cheaper ingredients. I'm not big on portion sizes at all, but for me, this was unacceptable. It didn't help that our server was clearly unenthusiastic throughout our visit.

Mio Japan

Located just steps away from Suga Japanese & Korean Restaurant is Mio Japan, a popular teriyaki place that also serves nigiri, sushi rolls, and sashimi. Vancity Noms was done at this point, but she remained a good sport and watched me as I devoured unreasonable amounts of sushi while taking forever to write down my notes.

Knowing that Mio Japan's specialty was teriyaki, I wanted to go for both the teriyaki and the sushi, but without help, I could only choose one or the other. Since I had to stay true to the name of my blog, I went for the Dynamite Combo.

Sockeye Salmon Nigiri - C+
Dynamite Roll - B-

The Dynamite Combo came with three pieces of Sockeye Salmon Nigiri and a Dynamite Roll. The sockeye salmon was moderately fresh, and the rice was not too tightly packed, but WTF was up with those cuts? Did they just cut the salmon sashimi style and then placed it on top of the sushi rice?? No, just no...

Moving on, the Dynamite Roll, although it came with only one prawn, was savoury with a nice creaminess coming from the avocado. The sushi rice was just a touch dry.

Bento Sushi

Since Vancity Noms had class later in the day, we ventured back towards the middle of the campus and found ourselves at Bento Sushi, a part of the mini food court at the David Lam Management Research Centre (beside the Sauder School of Business). As we were still in prime lunch hours, the entire food court was very busy.

In the display refrigerator was an assortment of pre-made sushi combos, each costing about $10. Feeling like a samurai after having wolfed down two meals' worth of sushi, I went for the Cali-Samurai Combo.

Tuna Nigiri - C
Salmon Nigiri - C
Ebi Nigiri - B-
California Roll - C

Unfortunately, the sushi ended up being very expensive for the quality. The sushi rice in the nigiri was so tightly packed that it was actually somewhat hard to chew through. The tuna in the Tuna Nigiri was rather mushy and tasted like mashed wet paper. The Salmon Nigiri was not flavourful, though the Ebi Nigiri was at least noticeably sweet. The California Roll came with creamy avocado but was very rice heavy, and the imitation crab stick was either weak in flavour or simply got lost in the sea of rice (or both).

After finishing the Cali-Samurai Combo, Vancity Noms had class to go to, and I needed a break from all the soy sauce I was consuming. With nothing good to do in the meantime, I crashed one of Vancity Noms' classes and wished upon my lucky sushi stars that I wouldn't be called to participate. It worked. Perhaps the fact that I fell asleep in the middle of the class helped.

Stay tuned for Part Two of the Grand UBC Sushi Crawl!

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

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Episode #220: Torafuku

Vancouver (Northeast), $$$ (Higher Priced)

For a long time, I've known about Torafuku, the Asian fusion restaurant known for its quirkily named menu items. There's the Eat Yo Veggies, the Get in My Belly, the Magic Mushrooms, the Finding Dory, the Poke Her, and many more. Dine Out Vancouver presented a great opportunity for me to finally try Torafuku, but there was one caveat: the dishes had to be shared between two people. Since my only free day was Chinese New Year's Eve, finding someone to go with me proved almost impossible. I thought about calling in to ask what would happen if I have no friends, but fortunately, at the last moment, Lara came to the rescue.

The restaurant was packed when we arrived, with the reverberant walls and windows, things got quite loud inside. Since there isn't really a designated waiting area, everyone waiting for a seat just crowded around the door. Luckily, we had a reservation, so it wasn't long before we got a table.

Garlic Butter Popcorn - A-

While waiting for our orders to arrive, we received a generous, complimentary offering of Garlic Butter Popcorn. The garlic butter gave the popcorn a unique flavour, which both of us enjoyed.

Kickass Rice 3.0 - B+

Kicking off our entrées was the Kickass Rice 3.0, a roll with torched pork belly, furikake, cucumber, avocado, red shiso, miso mayonnaise, and Torafuku spicy sauce. I got a kick out of the fatty, tender pork, and the sauces provided a moderately spicy kick. However, the toppings, when combined, created a pizza-like flavour that obscured the pork. The kickass factor was just moderate with this one.

Calamari 2.0 - A-

The Calamari 2.0 consisted of crispy squid, brussel sprouts, local mushrooms, compressed apples, nero aioli, and angry tiger sauce (whatever that meant). It was spicy, and I liked how the batter on the squid was not hard. However, Lara found it a little oily, and I found the squid slightly weak in flavour. The juicy mushrooms that accompanied the calamari were truly kickass though.

(FOB) Fresh Off the Boat - A-

To celebrate our inner FOB, we chose the Fresh Off the Boat, a laksa with crab, scallops, prawns, clams, salmon, market veggies, and flaky puff pastry. Despite the name, the seafood tasted very Western to me with all the black pepper and spices on top. However, the laksa was creamy and hearty, and the scallops were very soft and juicy. The pastry tasted a lot like a cracker and could've been a little softer.

Magic Stick - A

The Magic Stick, our first dessert, featured strong, sweet chocolate ganache with a crispy layer feuilletine at the bottom. The texture was the true highlight here. On the side were a mix of berries and some condensed milk ice cream.

Milk and Cookie - A-

Our other dessert, the Milk and Cookie, was a vanilla panna cotta accompanied by a stick of black sesame shortbread. The shortbread was pleasantly sweet, while the panna cotta tasted fruity due to the addition of raspberry jam on top.

We found the service on point, and overall, the food was creative in a successful way. The prices are a little steep given the portion sizes and the location of the restaurant, but people come here for the innovation, or in my case, for the amusingly named dishes.

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

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Episode #219: Minami Restaurant (2nd Visit)

Vancouver (Yaletown), $$$$ (Luxury)

As soon as the restaurant lineup for Dine Out Vancouver was released, I scoured the website to see if there were any new sushi restaurants I could try. Disappointingly, there were none. Since I have a tendency to dislike foods that are not typically consumed using chopsticks, I chose to stick with sushi. Lara was my dining companion that day, and having heard that she had never been to either Miku or Minami, we decided to head over to Minami for dinner (Miku was not participating in Dine Out).

Located on the tiny street of very posh and wallet-unfriendly restaurants in the middle of Yaletown, Minami is one of the five restaurants on the street that serve Japanese fusion (the others being Kibo, Kuma, Sushi Maro, and Bistro Sakana). Even though we went on a Tuesday, the restaurant was predictably busy. Nonetheless, the service remained efficient, and the timing of our food was on point.

Market Beets and Citrus - A-

First on our table was the Market Beets and Citrus, which came with grapefruit, Okanagan goat cheese mousse, wild baby arugula, basil pesto, yuzu marmalade, and soy balsamic reduction. We found the grapefruit soft and delectable, and it went well with the pesto sauce. The beets also had a pleasantly soft chew, with a texture akin to very juicy carrots.

Aburi Hamachi Nigiri - A-
Hamachi Nigiri - A-
Hokkaido Scallop Nigiri with Mentaiko - A+
Minami Roll - A-
Aburi Salmon Oshi Sushi - A
Aburi Ebi Oshi Sushi - A

Next up was a plate featuring some of Minami's signature sushi offerings, with two pieces of Aburi Salmon Oshi Sushi, arguably their most notorious item. Each piece of sushi was garnished with carefully chosen ingredients, and the texture of the sushi rice was essentially perfect. The highlight here was the Hokkaido Scallop Nigiri, where the creaminess and sweetness of the scallop was beyond that of any scallop nigiri I have ever had. The Aburi Salmon Oshi Sushi and Aburi Ebi Oshi Sushi felt slightly drier than usual, but were otherwise carefully prepared.

Coconut Poached Half Lobster Tail - A-
Miso Sakekasu Baked Sablefish - A+

For my entrée, I had the Surf, which came with the Coconut Poached Half Lobster Tail and the Miso Sakekasu Baked Sablefish. The lobster tail came with tender meat and a sweet, buttery sauce that complemented the sweetness of the lobster meat. However, it was quite difficult to get the meat out of the shell. While I luckily managed to slide the meat out of my lobster tail in one piece, Lara had to laboriously scoop the meat out of the shell bit by bit. The Miso Sakekasu Baked Sablefish was executed to near perfection, with crispy skin and a melt-in-your-mouth burst of savoury flavours.

Sesame Soy Glazed Obie Braiser - A-

Lara had the Surf & Turf for her entrée, which came with an Obie Braiser (braised Alberta beef) and the same Coconut Poached Half Lobster Tail above. The wasabi sauce applied on the beef gave it a strong spicy kick. The beef was slightly tougher on the outside, but very soft and succulent on the inside.

Hojicha Mousse - A+

The dessert for the Dine Out dinner menu was the Hojicha Mousse. The mousse was very soft and had a prominent green tea flavour. The garnishes on the side included white chocolate shortbread, ginger crumble, raspberry coulis, two blackberries, two raspberries, two blueberries, and a black stripe of some mysterious sauce that tasted mysteriously bland. The highlight (and what persuaded me to give out an A+) was the half teaspoon of very rich and sweet green tea on top of the mousse that brought life and vigour to this dessert. It's too bad that there wasn't more of it, as I would have loved a thick, sweet and syrupy drink. Okay, on second thought, maybe that might not be such a good idea...

The service was professional throughout our stay, and the food was unsurprisingly well-executed. Despite the slight hiccup on the Aburi Salmon Oshi Sushi, their signature dish, the mastery displayed in some of the other dishes made up for it. The innovation and the excellent attention to detail made this an enjoyable dinner for both of us. 

Minami Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato