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

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