Monday, June 30, 2014

Episode #4: Sushi UOmo

Burnaby North, $ (Budget)

Today, I was working in a computer lab at Simon Fraser University (I'm a student there!) and suddenly, I had the urge to buy a drink. For some strange reason, I ended up getting my drink in the form of green tea at Sushi UOmo, a new restaurant that opened up in North Burnaby approximately two months ago. The door was kept open when I arrived and both the waitress and the sushi chef looked welcoming. As I stepped into the restaurant, I noticed that the FIFA World Cup was being broadcast, which was just what I was looking for. The restaurant was filled with the aroma of freshly cooked Chicken Teriyaki (because someone had just ordered it), which did a good job of increasing my appetite.

Upon looking at the menu, it was evident that the owner was a big fan of Sushiyama. The dishes offered as well as the prices varied very little from the menu at Sushiyama. Since I am a regular of Sushiyama, I wondered if the quality of the food at Sushi UOmo would be good enough to be a substitute for Sushiyama, which is almost always full with a line-up accumulating near the front entrance.

I was too focused on watching the World Cup and was not ready to order until the waitress politely asked me for the third time if I was ready. I commend her patience.

Geoduck Sashimi - A-
Hamachi Sashimi - B+
Salmon Sashimi - C+
Tuna Sashimi - B

The Appetizer Sashimi contained one piece of geoduck sashimi (yes, geoduck!), two pieces of hamachi, two pieces of salmon and two pieces of tuna. All of the sashimi had a taste of freshness but the thing that strikes your eye most is the size of the pieces. The salmon sashimi and the tuna sashimi were huge! If you are looking for value in sashimi, this is it!

The geoduck sashimi had the chewy quality of geoduck and was slightly slightly sweet and slimy. The hamachi sashimi was quite smooth, but had a little too much of a fishy taste. The salmon was served at just the right temperature, but was weak in flavour and on the tough side. The tuna was softer and a little cooler than the salmon. I found the tuna a bit too salty.

Burnaby Heights Roll - A-

This is a torched roll containing prawn tempura, chopped scallop, mayonnaise, masago, lettuce, fish stick, avocado, cheese, cucumber and spicy sauce. The list of ingredients was so long that I didn't even bother looking through it before ordering this roll ... it was advertised on a sign outside the restaurant, so it must be good, right? Well, indeed it was. There was a lemony tinge to this roll and the two savoury prawns inside worked well with the light coating of cheese. However, the cheese was not completely melted so you could see that it was shredded cheese. This roll is similar to a Las Vegas roll.

Takoyaki - B-

The Takoyaki came with 4 pieces of rather large octopus balls (pun not intended). There was a good balance of Okonomi sauce and mayonnaise and the Takoyaki was decorated with thin pieces of seaweed and bonito flakes. The slightly crispy exterior was successful and the Takoyaki looked promising. However, once I bit into it, something seemed a little off. The octopus was thicker and stiffer than the octopus in your average takoyaki - the texture and taste reminded me of when my mom buys dried octopus from a Chinese herbal store and then boils it in soup.

There were a few minor mishaps in the food quality here and there, but overall, my meal was pretty good. Freshness was present in every dish, and I would save quite a bit if all of my sushi adventures took place at Sushi UOmo. All things considered, I was quite surprised to see that this restaurant was more empty than full. Perhaps its better days are still yet to come?

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Episode #3: Hanamori Sushi

Coquitlam, $$ (Moderately Priced)

Tucked away beside the Executive Plaza Hotel near Lougheed Town Centre is a small sushi restaurant by the name of Hanamori Sushi. In fact, it is so small that if you come with a party of more than three people, they will have trouble seating you. Last time I visited, I was surprised by the high quality of the sushi (especially the torched sushi) they serve, and that is why this restaurant ended up in my list of favourites.

Hanamori Sushi is run by a small team of Koreans and specializes in fusion sushi. They excel at presentation and you can tell that they have put effort into investigating what combination of ingredients works best for each item in the menu. The main chef who works at the sushi bar seems to be a very open person, and lots of customers recognized him by name. All of the tables and the entire bar were filled with customers, and there was even a small line-up for the washroom when I walked in.

The first item to arrive was the Tuna Goma-ae.

 Tuna Goma-ae - A

The Tuna Goma-ae was one of the most beautifully presented goma-ae's I have ever had. There was lots of very soft tuna which was covered with a small amount of sesame seeds and fish powder which completely eradicated the metallic taste of tuna. Instead, the tuna was quite savoury and mildly sweet. Salad greens are used instead of spinach in this dish (this still qualifies as goma-ae). 

Chicken Teriyaki Roll - B

The Chicken Teriyaki Roll contained chicken teriyaki and cucumber inside the rice casing. Pepper was sprinkled onto the chicken teriyaki, which gave this roll a more Western feel. The cucumber in this roll worked well, providing relief to the stronger taste of the chicken teriyaki and pepper combo. Unfortunately, the chicken was rather tough, so I could not give this roll an A-level grade.

Thai Salmon Crunch Roll - B+

The Thai Salmon Crunch Roll consisted of salmon tempura, cucumber, avocado, thai spicy sauce, pineapple sauce, and torched salmon on top. This roll seemed like a battle of flavours, with the thai spicy sauce being sweet and spicy and the pineapple sauce being sour. Personally, I would prefer this roll without the pineapple sauce as the avocado was a better match with the thai spicy sauce. The torched salmon retained a semi-marbled texture which provided good contrast with the cooked salmon inside the roll. The batter for the salmon tempura was closer to a Filet-O-Fish batter than a tempura batter.

Aburi Wild Salmon Nigiri - B
Torched Toro Nigiri - B

At this point of the meal, the sushi chef was very engaged in a conversation with the couple beside me at the bar and made his first major mistake. The two pieces of nigiri were placed on the same dish, while the sauce was only meant for the Aburi Wild Salmon Nigiri. By the time the waitress brought the dish over to me, the sauce had bled over and contaminated the Torched Toro Nigiri. Eek!

The Torched Toro Nigiri was masterfully seared and melted in my mouth with a lightly charred taste (this is a good thing) as I ate it. The sauce contamination made the sushi rice overly salty and wet, and as a result, I regrettably had to lower my rating for this otherwise amazing piece of nigiri by a full letter grade. The Aburi Wild Salmon Nigiri also contained chopped scallop (this was stated on the menu) and the similar textures of each combined with a creamy, slightly sweet taste worked well. The sauce for it was quite salty and sour and was too strong, which distracted my ability to properly taste the nigiri. 

I noticed that after the chef was done talking, he made the next set of aburi nigiri with each piece placed far apart on a much longer dish. However, just to be safe, I will remember to order the Torched Toro Nigiri by itself if I do a re-visit. Ah, the things that can happen when men multi-task ... 

Hana Mori Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Episode #2: Ki Sushi

New Westminster, $$ (Moderately Priced)

After a blissful morning and afternoon consisting of watching the FIFA World Cup, going to the movie theatre and then going for some $2 bowling, I was ready to top it off with some sushi. My family was happy to be my dining partners for the evening. It was a little hard to find parking due to the large size of the restaurant and its small parking lot. When we entered the restaurant, we luckily managed to get the last free table.

Surprisingly, out of all the items we ordered, the Okonomiyaki arrived first.

Okonomiyaki - B-

The Okonomiyaki was priced at $4.95, which led me to think that I would get a fairly small one. However, the Okonomiyaki was a full-sized one (albeit not large), cut into 8 pieces. The breading inside was soft with a slightly crunchy exterior. The balance of the sauces could use some improvement, as there was too much mayonnaise and not enough okonomiyaki sauce. The main seafood component was squid legs and there was a strong essence of lettuce in the Okonomiyaki.

Sockeye Salmon Sashimi - A-

The Sockeye Salmon Sashimi (large) came with 10 pieces of large, fresh sashimi. This was definitely one of the more appetizing components of today's meal. The sashimi was rather soft and cut in a consistent way.

Helen's Roll - B

The Helen's Roll consisted of salmon, black tobiko, tempura unagi, lettuce and cream cheese. I believe this is the first time I have actually had lettuce in a roll. Well, there was a very small amount of it and it did not really add or subtract to the roll. The roll was a little too dry but contained a good amount of salmon on top. Cream cheese was used sparingly, which helped to retain a good balance of flavours. However, there was very little unagi in this roll.

Vancouver Roll - B+

The Vancouver Roll was one of my favourites during my previous visits to Ki Sushi, and this time, they did not disappoint. This roll is essentially a variant of the popular Dragon Roll containing unagi, avocado, cucumber and prawn tempura. They did not use the name "Dragon Roll" because they already had a Dragon Roll on the menu. The roll has a soft texture on the outside and the shrimp helped to provide a denser core. The cucumber used in the roll was not intrusive and the unagi was adequately flavoured with help from the teriyaki sauce, though a little more sauce would have helped.

Chicken Teriyaki with Noodles - C+

The Chicken Teriyaki with Noodles came with a few pieces of chicken teriyaki resting on a terrifyingly large bed of yakisoba noodles. You would likely need a party of six, some very famished people, or a cow to finish this dish. This dish severely lacked teriyaki sauce, though the noodles were sprinkled with pepper, which helped prevent the noodles from becoming bland. The noodles were also a little too salty. The chicken was tender, but the skin on some of the pieces of chicken was a challenge to chew.

Bacon & Scallop Robata - A+

At $5.50, this dish looked like a total rip-off when it came. At the very least, the appetizing, barbecue scent that came from the two small skewers pleased my nose greatly. The bacon and scallop were both surprisingly soft and juicy, and these tiny skewers blew me away. Dipping it in the Japanese mayo sauce provided in the corner of the dish enhanced the taste further. I could do an all-you-can-eat of just this dish alone, but my wallet would be sobbing ...

Oyster Motoyaki - B

The Oyster Motoyaki came with a fairly large oyster, some mushrooms and spinach under a creamy layer of egg and mayonnaise. The dark green part of the oyster was too strong in terms of taste and nope, the mushrooms were definitely not going to fool me into believing that there was more oyster than there really was. That being said, there was nothing amiss about the top motoyaki layer, the softer, jelly-like parts of the oyster were delicious.

Ki Sushi remains one of my preferred restaurants for Japanese food in New Westminster, mainly for the extensive variety in the menu. There was a lot of Mandarin spoken by the servers, which might explain the variety of choices and the frequency my tea was refilled. They do a good job of pricing the menu items appropriately, with the misses priced lower and the hits priced higher. It also appears to me that the simpler the dish, the better it is executed at Ki Sushi.

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

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Episode #1: Alpha Sushi + Bar

Vancouver (Downtown), $$$ (Higher Priced)

Today, on a drizzly, cloudy day in Vancouver, I decided to begin my sushi adventures at Alpha Sushi + Bar. This restaurant, located in the southern part of downtown, is a small, Japanese-run restaurant. The inside of the restaurant had a slightly old-fashioned feel, which was accentuated by the menu I received which consisted of printed pages glued onto a hardcover history book describing the turn of the 20th century.

To my delight, I made it in time for Happy Hour. Here is the Happy Hour menu as of today:

(click to enlarge)

After a short wait, the first item to arrive was the Ebi Mayo:

 Ebi Mayo - A

The Ebi Mayo consisted of 6 battered prawns, a mayonnaise dipping sauce and some salad greens. Since the prawns were served very hot, I decided to eat the salad greens first (clever way to keep me entertained!). The mayonnaise had a slight reddish hue and was creamy and slightly sweet. The prawns were not large prawns and were covered with a soft, thin layer of batter. The batter was slightly too crispy in one or two of the prawns, but overall, I was very satisfied with this dish.

Richards Roll - B

The Richards Roll consisted of two tempura prawns, tobiko, cucumber, wrapped with unagi, avocado, sweet soy and wasabi mayo. The unagi on top was well-flavoured, but was cut very thin, so the tempura prawns became the main focus of the dish. The seaweed was too stiff and was a challenge to chew. However, the prawns were soft and full of flavour, and the sweet soy complemented the roll well. The roll is not spicy (except for the tobiko but this was barely noticeable) despite the "wasabi mayo".

Seafood Gratin - A-

This oven-baked dish contained salmon, scallops and prawns on a bed of butter rice, topped with cheese and cream sauce. The salad that came with it was dressed with a very "vinegar-y" sauce, which was a little too sour for me. The sauce was strong, but unfortunately, it sank to the bottom, so the leaves on the top had little flavour. The Seafood Gratin itself had an abundance of salmon and scallop (there were some prawns too). It was mild in terms of flavouring, but the creamy, soft layer of cheese and cream sauce on top made this a delightful dish.

The servers had a good attitude and were attentive throughout my visit. Interestingly enough, as soon as Happy Hour ended at 6:30 p.m., several customers walked into the store, just to miss the last call for the special menu. I walked out of the restaurant wanting to take the bus to West End, and saw that the bus was already at the stop. I resisted running across a red light, which resulted in me just missing the bus and having to chase after it. After running all the way to Bute St. (4 blocks away), I had to stop because I developed a massive coughing fit. Note to self: red lights can be evil.

Alpha Sushi Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato