Friday, September 26, 2014

Episode #32: Kawawa Japanese Restaurant

Burnaby South, $$ (Moderately Priced)

Today was one of those days in my university life where I felt really sleepy and was starving at the same time. To satisfy both, I decided to hop onto the 144 bus and sleep all the way from SFU to Metrotown, and fortunately, the bus took exactly one hour to get there which gave me ample time to sleep. Considering my state, I decided to go have all-you-can-eat at Kawawa Japanese Restaurant, located inside Metrotown. Since Sui Sha Ya, their main source of competition, closed down recently, Kawawa was quite busy even when I walked in just before 5 p.m. Out of all the restaurants in my knowledge, Kawawa offers the least expensive Japanese all-you-can-eat dinner ($21.95) in all of Greater Vancouver.

Kawawa is Chinese-run and this is evident from what the servers speak and the English-Chinese bilingual menu. They have an extensive variety of items in their à la carte menu, though the number of choices on the all-you-can-eat dinner menu are modest compared to those at other all-you-can-eat venues. I was seated in an aisle less frequented by the servers, but they were quick to respond when I held my order sheet above my head. The service was quite friendly and attentive, and they asked me how my food was before I even started eating!

Tuna Sashimi - C
Tai Sashimi - A-
Salmon Sashimi - B+

I started with the Salmon Sashimi, which was cut cleanly, had a decent amount of flavour to it and tasted quite fresh. It was excellent if compared to other all-you-can-eat venues. The Tai Sashimi had a soft, smooth texture and was cut thinly, maybe a bit too thinly, but this made it easy to chew. I also liked how it didn't taste like mashed potatoes (this seems to be a common issue). At this point, I sent a message to a group chat on Whatsapp saying that the sashimi at Kawawa was quite decent. I guess I spoke a little too soon, as I found out that the Tuna Sashimi was still half frozen. It was so cold that I couldn't taste anything and it was quite floppy (I don't know why and maybe I don't want to know why).

Special House Roll - C+
BC Roll - B-
California Roll - C
Chicken Teriyaki Roll - C
Dynamite Roll - C+

Next came a platter containing all the rolls I ordered. I suppose it is a challenge to arrange 5 different kinds of rolls on the same plate so that they look nice together. I suppose it is also a challenge to serve me the correct number of pieces. I received one more piece of the Chicken Teriyaki Roll than stated on the menu, which I wouldn't have minded at all if it wasn't all-you-can-eat or if it wasn't my least favourite roll.

The Special House Roll consisted of salmon, tuna, crab, and a very small amount of avocado and cucumber. I wished that at least one of the ingredients would be rich in flavour, so that the roll would have a central focus or highlight. I'll give it to them that the sushi rice here was soft and not too densely packed. The BC Roll was more like cooked salmon skin than grilled salmon skin. Since there was a lot of smooth skin, the unagi sauce made this roll somewhat resemble an unagi roll. The mayonnaise in the California Roll seemed slightly powdery and overly sweet to me. Unfortunately, it almost fell apart when I tried to pick it up. 

Next, I tried the Chicken Teriyaki Roll, which was served with bland and hard-to-chew chicken, and after eating all 3 pieces, I began to experience a bit of a toothache. But since so many of my Facebook friends insisted that I blog about Kawawa, I mustered up the courage to continue eating. The Dynamite Roll consisted of mostly rice and relatively little prawn. It tasted better than a T&T Dynamite Roll, though the batter could be softer in some places.

Prawn Tempura - C
Vegetable Tempura - C-

The Prawn Tempura each came with a decent, meaty piece of prawn. The prawn was soft without much of a snap. The main hindrance here was the tempura batter. On one side, the batter was rock-hard while on the other side, the batter was soft and gummy. Talk about effective use of constrast!

The Vegetable Tempura came with one piece of zucchini, one piece of yam and two pieces of what I think was carrot. The batter on the zucchini was entirely gummy, but they managed to preserve the moisture and juiciness of the zucchini. The yam was much denser than it should have been, and the carrot was slightly burnt on one side and cut so thin that I could barely tell what it was.

 Garlic Butter Mussel - B-

The Garlic Butter Mussel was soft and easy to chew, but could benefit from having a richer flavour. It was served at a comfortable temperature. I wish there was a bit less oil and more garlic butter.

Hotategai Motoyaki - F
Oyster Motoyaki - F

With the Hotategai Motoyaki and Oyster Motoyaki, things started to get ugly. What kind of motoyaki has that kind of colour?! Oh well, looks aren't everything. I tried a bit of the Oyster Motoyaki, and managed to dig out the oyster, which, although small, was okay. Unfortunately, the mayonnaise custard tasted and smelled like a horrific vinegar accident. Maybe they mixed up their vinegar and mayonnaise containers - I'll never know.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, they did. The Hotategai Motoyaki was twice as disgusting as the Oyster Motoyaki. This time, not only did the custard taste vinegary, it was thick and had a toothpaste-like consistency. To make things even worse, the entire bottom of the motoyaki was burnt, which left the scallop dried and shriveled up. The oil inside appeared black from being burnt and ... yeah, let's not think about this anymore and hope this was all just an accident.

Lemon Chicken - F

The Lemon Chicken was quite oily and a small part of it slid off the plate and onto my table as it was served to me. The Slip 'n Slide Lemon Chicken tasted really wrong. The chicken itself was bland while the lemon sauce was sour. Combine bland and sour and you get "chicken gone bad."

Chicken Karaage - F

The Chicken Karaage had batter that had the hardness of a gingerbread cookie. It made a very prolonged crunching sound as I bit into it. After a lot of chewing, I finally made it through to the chicken, which was somehow still not completely cooked despite the overdone exterior.

Ika Karaage - C-

The Ika Karaage tasted like KFC gone wrong. It was extremely hard to chew, requiring me to clench my teeth hard and tug with full strength. If a healthy adolescent has this much trouble chewing it, I don't know who they intended to serve this to. The herbs used gave it a one-dimensional salty flavour and personally, I would have been more satisfied if they had just served me plain squid.

Ebi Nigiri - B-
Saba Nigiri - C+
Kanikama Nigiri - C+
Masago Nigiri - C
Inari Nigiri - B+
Unagi Nigiri - C

Finally, things looked up again as the nigiri arrived. The Ebi Nigiri had a decent texture, though it would benefit from a richer taste and slightly less rice underneath. The Saba Nigiri had the right texture but was about twice as salty as it should have been. The Kanikama Nigiri tasted like a dried up crab stick which they tried to remedy by injecting crab stock into it. At least they tried. The Masago Nigiri had a nice slightly salty taste to it but could have more of a pop. Unexpectedly, the vinegar on the rice overpowered the grilled eel on the Unagi Nigiri. How is this even possible?!

 Short Ribs - B

The Short Ribs was prepared somewhere between rare and medium rare which allowed for the meat to be soft and tender. The Korean beef BBQ sauce worked nicely with the beef and this dish was decent if you were fine with rare beef.

 Yakitori - B-

The Yakitori consisted of tender chicken on the outside with blander white meat on the inside. This needed more preparation time to allow the sauce to seep into the center.

BBQ Fresh Corn - F

Uh oh, what in the world happened here?! This looked like a bubble wrap nightmare as each of the corn niblets appeared to be "damaged." Each bite left me with a few niblets stuck between my teeth, which was particularly challenging to get unstuck because the corn was so hard.

Creamy Corn Croquette - F

The Creamy Corn Croquette had a sweet, cake-like interior with ample bits of corn. While the interior was decent, the exterior was as hard to chew as the Ika Karaage. My sense of logic is failing me. How do they make the crunchy shell that hard to chew?! Did they accidentally coat the whole thing with squid?!

Mango Pudding - C+

And finally, some Mango Pudding to sweeten things up a bit at the end. It tasted more like pineapple jelly than mango pudding, but at least it helped me get rid of some of the corn niblets still stuck in my teeth.

Some of the sashimi was decent, while the nigiri and the rolls were acceptable considering the fact that this was an all-you-can-eat. If you stick with those categories, then Kawawa isn't as bad as some other online reviews suggest. However, the deep fried and robata sections are "must stay aways". Many grave sins against Japanese food were committed in those categories.

During my visit, I didn't experience the service problems others have complained about, and I commend the servers for displaying a very positive attitude throughout my visit. They asked me how the food was at least 5 times throughout my meal with such a bright, friendly smile that I just had to tell them it was fine. My tea was also constantly re-filled in a timely manner. As such, I gave them a nice tip (they deserved it) and then proceeded to the bathroom to clear the remaining corn niblets from my teeth ...

Kawawa Japanese Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Episode #31: Bene Sushi Restaurant

West Vancouver, $$$ (Higher Priced)

On a dreary, rainy day, I dragged my soggy self to Bene Sushi, a large Japanese restaurant in the heart of West Vancouver with a seating capacity of around 100 people. A clean, elegant ambience greeted me upon my entrance and I was seated approximately right in the center of the restaurant. Sometimes, you don't notice where the sushi bar is due to the enormity of the restaurant. I arrived just in time for the lunch specials before they ended, and I would highly recommend them due to the significant cost savings.

I got the Lunch Plate D, which allowed me to order a salad, gyoza, the Bene Roll (half order), the Las Vegas Roll (half order), the Chicken Teriyaki (half order) and 4 pieces of sashimi. I was apparently starving, and felt the urge to order some nigiri in addition to the Lunch Plate D to top up my meal. The restaurant was mostly empty because I came at just after 2 p.m., so the food came out in a timely manner, with the salad arriving in under 10 minutes.

Salad - A

Considering that this salad was part of a lunch combo, the salad was very large. In addition to the arugula leaves and laces of radish, there was also crab meat included in the salad. The crab meat went very well with the Japanese salad dressing, a cool, refreshing vinaigrette with an apple-like flavour. I liked how there was just the right amount of dressing to add flavour to the whole bowl of salad.

Salmon Sashimi - B-
Tuna Sashimi - A+

The Salmon Sashimi was rather soft and fatty and had little to offer in terms of flavour. However, the Tuna Sashimi was excellent and tasted very fresh while being not too salty. It held together well and had that desirable melty texture. It couldn't really get any better. Unfortunately, the pieces of sashimi were on the smaller side.

Chicken Teriyaki - A

The half order of Chicken Teriyaki came with an adorable ice-cream scoop-sized ball of rice. The chicken was tender and tasted like it was fresh out of the barbecue grill. The aroma was strikingly similar to that of Miku's signature Aburi sushi. Overall, it was a delight to taste and smell.

Gyoza - A-

On the other side of the plate sat three neatly aligned gyoza. They had a slightly crispy exterior with a soft interior made with finely ground pork, lettuce, carrot and vermicelli. The vermicelli gave the gyoza a bit of a unique edge. The gyoza had a mild taste overall but by no means bland, and for more of a zing, a dipping sauce was provided (right above the rice). 

Bene Roll - B
Las Vegas Roll - A-

The Bene roll (half order) consisted of prawn tempura, crab meat and spicy braised tuna. I found the spicy sauce to be a little too sweet and intrusive. I liked the soft, flaky crab meat, but the prawn tempura could be more prominent. The neat presentation was a plus.

The Las Vegas Roll (half order) consisted of cream cheese, avocado, crab meat, assorted fish and special sauce. The cream cheese was very soft and blended together perfectly with the other ingredients. The crab meat was enhanced by a sweet, cheesy sauce and the light, crispy layer on the exterior was well integrated with the rest of the roll.

Unagi Nigiri - A-
Seared Toro Nigiri - A-
Seared Salmon Nigiri - B

Since the Chicken Teriyaki was quite well-executed, I decided to test out their ability to successfully deliver seared nigiri. The Unagi Nigiri was freshly grilled and had a warm, savoury taste. The Seared Toro Nigiri had a soft, juicy layer underneath the thin, cooked layer on top. Adding a little dressing would enhance the taste of the toro further. The Seared Salmon, had a nice, marbly texture on the bottom and like the Salmon Sashimi, it desperately needed more flavour.

The service was attentive and well-mannered throughout the course of my meal. Most of the food was very well-prepared and worth the price premium. They just needed tastier salmon and a little more experimentation with some of the sauces on the special rolls. Sometimes, I wonder if they ever manage to fill up all those tables.

Bene Sushi Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Episode #30: Osaka Sushi

Burnaby North, $ (Budget)

As a way to combat the heat, I did a third "Sushi-a-thon" at Osaka Sushi, a small, Chinese-owned Japanese restaurant situated on Hastings a little to the west of all the busy action around Anton's Pasta. Before my sushi adventures took me all around town, I would come here frequently after my classes to grab a bite before heading home. Osaka Sushi did a decent job of satisfying my craze for special rolls back then when I needed an escape from having the Double Dragon Roll and the Awesome Roll at Sushi Town over and over again. For a small restaurant, they have an impressive number of items on the menu, most of which are very affordable.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., they have a Lunch Special which allows you to choose any 3 items (from a list of 36 items) plus miso soup for $8.95. What I like about this Lunch Special is that there is sufficient variety among the choices and the lunch special represents significant savings compared to ordering the items individually. Interestingly, I also noticed on the menu that they have written the word "imitation" in front of every instance of the words "Shark Fin" on the menu (this was a response to criticism on both Yelp and Urbanspoon). I guess the prices alone were not enough of a hint to some that the shark fin was fake.

1st visit:

On the first day of my Sushi-a-thon, I constructed my own Lunch Special with the Small Chicken Teriyaki Don, the Tai Nigiri and the Appetizer Tempura.

Miso Soup - B-

The Miso Soup had finely chopped green onions and small pieces of tofu. It was served at a steaming hot temperature (be careful!). It was a bit on the watery side and could use a little less salt.

Small Chicken Teriyaki Don - B+

The Small Chicken Teriyaki Don was pretty standard fare. It contained 4 pieces of pan-fried chicken with the characteristic crispy skin on top. I enjoyed the crispy skin, but I would have liked more of the chicken (the balance was a little off). The rice also needed more sauce, though I suppose if you flipped the chicken over and smothered the sauce, you would get a partially satisfying result.

Tai Nigiri - A-

The Tai Nigiri came with 3 pieces and the tai actually had a mild, sweet, fish-like taste to it (in so many other places, the tai is very bland). It was fresh and had a smooth texture while being a bit chewy. The sushi rice had a hint of vinegar (which was just right in my opinion) and was packed correctly, not too tight or too loose.

Appetizer Tempura - C+

The Appetizer Tempura came with 2 prawns and 1 piece each of sweet potato, kabocha and zucchini. It was quite greasy and the amount of batter wasn't even in the right ballpark. Instead of me using a thousand words to describe how much batter there was, here is a picture of one of the tempura prawns:

I mean, seriously?! I award this the gold medal for "Most Batter Used for a Single Piece of Prawn." Fortunately, most of the tempura batter was detachable, though in the end, I had peeled off enough batter to make a separate, totally legitimate appetizer consisting of just the extra batter.

The sweet potato tempura was the only piece to have the right amount of batter, but unfortunately, one side of it was burnt. The prawns were tasty and sufficiently meaty. If it weren't for the batter issues, the prawns would have been an A in my books. The kabocha (pumpkin) was thin but sweet, though it tasted a bit mashed. The zucchini was nice and juicy and was the best of the lot.

Dynamite Dragon Roll - B

The Dynamite Dragon Roll consisted of 2 pieces of shrimp tempura with avocado and eel on top. They were quite generous with the eel, which was smooth and garnished with ample sweet teriyaki sauce. To give it more of a punch, they could have grilled the eel a little more to bring out a more smoky flavour. The interior of the roll was quite crunchy due to the copious amount of batter used.

2nd visit:

On the second day of my Sushi-a-thon, I ordered the Bacon Scallop Skewers (erroneously listed as "Scallop Skewers" on the dine-in menu) and the Deluxe Combo ($11.95). Surprisingly, the Bacon Scallop Skewers came before anything else.

Bacon Scallop Skewers - A-

The Bacon Scallop Skewers came with 6 pieces of scallop, each having a bacon strip rolled around it. The bacon was slightly crispy and was savoury, and could have just a bit more of a smoky flavour to bring it closer to perfection. The scallop, though meaty, didn't contribute much in terms of taste. The teriyaki sauce was excessively diluted with oil, but there was lots of it and it harmonized well with the bacon.

The Deluxe Combo came a few minutes after the Bacon Scallop Skewers and the presentation was neat and very colourful. Banzai!

Masago Nigiri - A-
Toro Nigiri - A
Tako Nigiri - B
Unagi Nigiri - B+

With the Masago Nigiri, I could feel the individual fish roe which made a nice popping sound. It had a distinct, slightly salty flavour to it. The Toro Nigiri was soft, smooth, and had a welcoming burst of flavour with neither a fishy nor metallic taste. The Tako Nigiri was sliced rather thick so I spent an entire minute trying to disassemble it with my teeth. The Unagi Nigiri was unfortunately split into two pieces held together by the seaweed, but it had a mild, sweet taste with a soft texture that matched well with the sushi rice. 

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

The Salmon Nigiri was very soft and had a bit of a shrimp-like snap to it. The Tuna Nigiri had a nice, smooth texture and was melt-in-your-mouth but the rice had more taste than the tuna. The Ebi Nigiri had the right amount of rice under it and tasted just like a fresh, well-prepared shrimp from a shrimp ring.

California Roll - B-

The California Roll came with 6 pieces consisting of crab meat, avocado and cucumber. I liked the sesame seeds on top which provided another dimension of flavour to the roll. The crab meat was sweet but was a bit high on the mayonnaise. The sushi chef used a little too much force when rolling the sushi together. 

The nigiri at Sushi Osaka is commendable, and it's been a while since I've had this many different kinds of nigiri at a single restaurant without having to give a below-average grade. Service was very attentive and my tea was refilled in a very timely manner. The servers were friendly for the duration of my visit, but I wish they said the names of the dishes as they were brought out to me. The most memorable part of this Sushi-a-thon was the Toro Nigiri, and I can still taste the toro as I'm writing this post 11 hours after having it. Darn, I hate being hungry past midnight ...

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Episode #29: Hiro Sushi

Burnaby North, $$ (Moderately Priced)

Right next to Boundary Rd. where No. 1 Chinese Restaurant used to be now sits a new Chinese-operated Japanese restaurant named Hiro Sushi. Having had multiple lunches from other decent Chinese-operated Japanese restaurants in the area, namely Take Sushi and Osaka Sushi (yet to be blogged about), I had hopes that this restaurant would fare just as well. The restaurant was larger than I imagined and has a seating capacity of approximately 50. The walls are painted with scenery and the large sloped glass ceiling lets in a lot of sunlight during the afternoon hours. Several servers and several chefs were busy serving the guests, and the restaurant was about half full when I arrived for lunch.

A quick flip through the menu told me that prices were quite reasonable, being slightly on the lower side. I ordered the Sushi Box, which contained the following:

The Miso Soup was served almost immediately after I ordered, while the rest of the items came in a lunch box.

Miso Soup - A-

The Miso Soup was served hot and was on the milder side. It was garnished with small bits of tofu, onion and seaweed. I liked how it was neither too salty nor bland.

The lunch box came 8 minutes after the placement of my order and I was pleased to find that they took the time to arrange everything neatly. 

California Roll - A-

The California Roll was decorated with sesame seeds and filled with crab meat that was flaky and had a good balance of mayonnaise. It was also very neatly cut and the rice layer was not too thick. Though it was a little cold, the crab meat's mildly sweet taste made this California Roll delightful to eat. So far, things are off to a good start.

Green Salad and Fruit - B

The Green Salad consisted of mainly lettuce and was dressed with a citrus-based vinaigrette. The dressing was a little sweeter than the average Japanese salad dressing and has a unique "orange-y" flavour to it which I enjoyed. I wished that the dressing was spread out more evenly among the lettuce for a more uniform taste. I suppose the Fruit mentioned in the menu consists of merely one slice of orange.

Ebi Nigiri - B
Tuna Nigiri - B-
Salmon Nigiri - B+
Unagi Nigiri - B-

The nigiri provided with the Sushi Box was a nice way to sample a small assortment of the raw seafood. The Ebi Nigiri was very obviously marinated with ginger and was quite firm. The Tuna Nigiri had a decent, soft texture but was overly fishy in terms of taste. The Salmon Nigiri came with a large amount of salmon which was cut thick. The sushi rice could be looser in order to better match the texture of the fish. The Unagi Nigiri was missing the grilled flavour characteristic of unagi and was overwhelmed by the sweet unagi sauce that accompanied it.

Prawn Tempura - C
Kabocha Tempura - F
Sweet Potato Tempura - C+

One piece of Prawn Tempura, one piece of Kabocha (pumpkin) Tempura, and two pieces of sweet Potato Tempura were included with the Sushi Box. Unfortunately, this was where it all fell apart. There was too much batter on every piece of tempura and the overused oil made it taste like a crunchy snack gone wrong. That being said, at least I could still taste the prawn inside the Prawn Tempura. The sweet potato was rather voluminous and had the right flavour. The kabocha, however, did not have the right flavour. It was cut too close to the edge and cooked improperly, giving it a foul taste (I will censor the words I used to describe that). Let's just move on to the next item.

Red Dragon Roll - B-

The Red Dragon Roll consisted of spicy tuna, cucumber, deep-fried prawn, salmon sashimi, avocado and tobiko. The roll is quite large and filling. The spicy tuna was soft, mashed and had a moderate amount of spiciness. There was a good amount of fresh salmon sashimi on top. The deep-fried prawn (which was essentially prawn tempura) had the same woes as the tempura earlier. The excessive contrast in textures, with the prawn tempura being hard and crunchy and the salmon and spicy tuna being soft and smooth, reduced the harmony among the ingredients.

The service was focused on efficiency and the servers kept a straight face while sounding rather direct. That being said, they were attentive enough to time the arrival of my dishes well and to clean up dishes when I no longer needed them. I could say that my visit to Hiro Sushi was a satisfying one if I had not ordered anything with tempura in it. For the time being, it looks like they need to get their tempura-man checked out.

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Episode #28: Sushi Town (Hastings)

Burnaby North, Budget ($)

My friend Declan managed to convince me to take part in a bet with him, which, now that I think about it, wasn't such a smart bet after all. I lost by a ridiculously large margin and had to treat him for lunch at Sushi Town. At least this way, I could sample more dishes in a single visit, or so I thought ...

I discovered Sushi Town on Hastings as an inexpensive, decent alternative to SFU campus food 3 years ago and since then, I have been there so many times I lost count. It is a very popular restaurant which regularly experiences wait times (despite its rather odd location and run-down appearance from the outside) and is especially frequented by SFU students. On the other hand, they have enough chefs working at the sushi bar so that everything comes out in a minimal amount of time. The portions are quite large and it turns out that I still needed to make 2 visits (on Monday and Wednesday) after all to have enough to write about.

1st visit:

Korean Style Spicy Deluxe Chirashi Don - B+

Declan recommended this dish to me and it was a great way to sample several of the different kinds of raw seafood available. This item is listed on the menu in a somewhat confusing way - the name is too long to fit on one line, so it is printed on two lines with an extra line in the middle, making it look like two separate items. This Chirashi Don is enormous and comes with tuna, salmon, ika (squid), ebi (shrimp), hokkigai (surf clam), tai (red snapper), tamago (egg) and vegetables. Usually, the spicy sauce is mixed in with the ingredients but I had it separated and placed on the side in case it was too spicy for me to handle.

The tai (B-) was lacking in flavour, but was sliced into thin pieces which made it easier to chew. The tamago (B) had a strong egg flavour. I would have enjoyed it more if it had more sweetness to it and was softer. The salmon (A) came in abundance and was fresh and tasty. The tuna (B) tasted too salty and was a bit tough. The ebi (B) was also tough but was sweet with a slight gingery taste. The ika (A-) was mild in taste and had a desirable level of chewiness. The hokkigai (A-) was sliced very thin, but despite this, it still packed adequate flavour.

I enjoyed the sushi rice at the bottom which was well-seasoned, and the seaweed and masago added to the dish also helped enhance the flavours. I had a small spoonful of the spicy sauce (which was like kimchi sauce) and it would have been too spicy for me to handle if all of it was mixed in. There was also too much lettuce for the both of us to handle, but if you're looking for a filling dish, I guess this is a good thing.

Double Dragon Roll - B+
Awesome Roll - A-

The Double Dragon Roll consists of avocado, cucumber, masago, unagi and mayonnaise. The interior of the roll was dominated by the avocado, which resulted in a sweet, creamy and soft interior. This was well-balanced with the generous portions of unagi on the outside. The unagi was savoury but had a few bony parts (not to the extent that it was a major issue).

The Awesome Roll is widely considered their best roll and consists of crab meat, cucumber, avocado, mayonnaise, masago, salmon, green onion and bonito flakes. There was a rather heavy use of sauce with this roll, but the mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce together blended harmoniously and was especially tasty when supporting the bonito flakes. The crab meat was sufficiently soft and the salmon on top was slightly cooked but still mostly retained the smooth texture of raw salmon. 

By this time, I was full enough to call it a day, even though it was only lunchtime. 

2nd visit:

Toro Nigiri - C
Sockeye Salmon Nigiri - B+
Hotategai Nigiri - B

The Toro Nigiri looked a little suspicious with the white streaks being much less prominent than usual and the appearance of small dark red blood vessels scattered on one half of the nigiri. It was excessively fatty in an undesirable way and was mostly devoid of tuna flavour. The Sockeye Salmon Nigiri was fresh with a rather smooth texture. I wish there was a little more of the fish or less of the rice for a better fish-to-rice balance. Furthermore, the sushi rice should be a little softer. The Hotategai Nigiri could have been the best of the three as it was neatly cut and had the sought-after geoduck-like aftertaste. Unfortunately, it was as cold as ice-cream ...

Next, I ordered what probably ranks as the #1 most inexpensive method of filling yourself up at Sushi Town - the Tempura Udon. (A close competitor for this title would be the chilly Seafood Salad.)

Tempura Udon - B+

The Tempura Udon ($5.95) comes with 4 pieces of tempura (zucchini, carrot, prawn, yam) and a very generous bowl of udon. The tempura came with a gingery mild soy dipping sauce and was well executed other than there being a few bits of batter sticking out in places. There was a good ratio of prawn to tempura and a successful attempt at preserving the juiciness of the zucchini. The carrot was sweet, but the yam was cut abnormally thick (probably by accident as this was the first time this happened to me). The udon noodles had just the right chewiness and the soup was simple but well-balanced.

Tako Yaki - A-

The Tako Yaki was presented with a thin, crunchy exterior layer encasing a soft, pillowy flour layer on the inside. The tako (octopus) was prominent, chewy and provided good contrast with the rest of the Tako Yaki. The bonito flakes could have been cut and placed more neatly as it looked a lot like what you would see inside a pencil sharpener.

Other than the toro nigiri mishap, the rest of the food met my expectations. Service is adequate during less busy hours but may seem a bit rushed during "rush hour". There is a good assortment of items on the menu at bargain prices, but I wish they expanded their selection of special rolls as the existing ones are all quite popular. If you only have twenty dollars in your pocket, you can walk into Sushi Town, have a fulfilling meal, and walk out with half of your money left.

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

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Episode #27: Urban Sushi

Vancouver (Downtown), $$ (Moderately Priced)

Do you ever have one of those days where you don't feel like doing anything? Today was such a day for me, but I believe I have a very legitimate reason. I had the luxury of coming face-to-face with a 3-inch arachnid at 3 in the morning inside my house. Now, never mind arachnids - I have what you can call spiderweb-o-phobia as well. As such, I slept for 3 hours, which was somehow enough energy for me to last through a day of school and drag myself to downtown afterward for some sushi. Urban Sushi is a small Japanese restaurant on Granville St. conjoined with its sister restaurant, Urban Grill. It is open until 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and closes earlier on weekends, which most likely suggests that it is frequented by businesspeople looking for a quick lunch or an early supper after work (though tourists also seem to make their way into the restaurant as well).

The regular menu items aren't cheap, but the Daily Specials are frequently very good deals. Today's special menu contained 5 dinner sets, each accompanied by a miso soup or a beverage. There were some pricey beverages to choose from, such as the Virgin Mojito, Virgin Singapore Sling, among several other choices. I didn't want to be reminded that I am still a virgin, so I gladly opted for the Tropical Ale. (I accidentally drank a bit of it before taking a picture - it was initially filled to the rim.)

(Beverages are not graded.)

The Tropical Ale consisted of ginger ale, grenadine (pomegranate syrup), and pineapple juice. It was cool and refreshing and is a sparkling drink. It has a sweet and citrusy taste.

I chose Daily Special #5 ($11.95), which came with the Tropical Ale (my choice of beverage - listed at $5.25 if ordered separately), BBQ Short Ribs, Salmon Teriyaki, Salmon Sashimi (2 pieces) and Tuna Sashimi (2 pieces). After a reasonable wait (about 10 minutes), my aburi nigiri (not part of the special) came. On the menu, the nigiri is listed along with stars on the side to indicate which choices were available aburi style (seared). To my surprise, there was no star beside toro (tuna belly), but my server told me he could have it made for me if that was what I wanted.

Aburi Toro Nigiri - A+

The Aburi Toro Nigiri turned out to be a glorious success (all thanks to me). Not only did they nail the fish-to-rice ratio, but they also nailed the smoky flavour on the mayonnaise, which made for two very delicious pieces of nigiri. The sushi rice was soft and well-prepared, while the toro was tastefully garnished and delightfully juicy. They should definitely add a star to the toro nigiri as I believe this was one of the tastiest things they have ever made.

Aburi Salmon Nigiri - A-

The Aburi Salmon Nigiri was topped with sprinkles of chili and pepper for a little added spice. I liked how the salmon still maintained a marbly texture on the bottom, but I thought it needed a bit more flavour. 

Salmon Teriyaki - B
BBQ Short Ribs - B-

The Salmon Teriyaki was a bit over-grilled, which made it lacking in moisture. The pepper and sesame seeds added much-needed flavouring. The moisture issue was somewhat remedied by the ample teriyaki sauce provided under the bed of lettuce. The BBQ Short Ribs were well-seasoned with a bulgogi-like sauce - it had a gingery tinge and a hint of a charred flavour. The main issue with it was that it was quite tough to chew.

Salmon Sashimi - B+
Tuna Sashimi - A-

The salmon sashimi had an irregular cut (it was cut thicker than usual and resembled a column). The salmon was fresh with an aftertaste much like smoked salmon. I still prefer the thinner, flatter way of cutting the sashimi. The Tuna Sashimi was very soft and I could feel it melting as I ate it. It had a slightly metallic aftertaste and dipping it in the soy sauce overwhelmed the tuna itself.

With regard to the service, they try their best in terms of attitude but it would be nice if they were a bit more conscientious. During my visit, they forgot to give someone the menu, they asked me if my food came after I finished eating everything and they forgot to bring me the card machine. Maybe they were a bit tired since it was 6 p.m. (almost closing time). I was tired too, but at least I had a mostly enjoyable meal and could take a one-hour nap on the 160 bus. Urban Sushi will remain as one of my go-to places for a quick, informal meal for my downtown excursions.

Urban Sushi Japanese Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato