Last night, after an afternoon of fetching some discount sockeye salmon from Fisherman's Wharf and after an evening of shopping at Aberdeen Centre and testing out world-class pianos at Showcase Pianos (also in the mall), 9 p.m. came just around the corner. What does that mean when you are in Richmond? That's right, time to participate in the war of late night specials! With an abundance of restaurants offering a late night special menu and extraordinarily little parking space, it is quite often a scramble to get into the restaurant of your choice. That was the situation at Matsuyama, a large Chinese-run Japanese restaurant located right in the middle of all the late night action. My family and I were one of the first to arrive for the late night specials and had to wait 20 minutes for a table. Right behind me was an entire parade of hungry customers which more than doubled the size of the queue ...
Despite the waiting area being very cramped, the dining area was quite the opposite, with an adequate and comfortable amount of dining space allocated to each table (unless you are a party of 6). The food came surprisingly fast considering the amount of people who were dining. Either they had 20 sushi chefs in there or some of the items were pre-made.
Six of our orders (Salmon and Toro Sashimi, Salmon and Tuna Sashimi, Dynamite Roll, Salmon Tempura Roll, Unagi Roll, Crab & Ebi Tempura Cone) came in just under 10 minutes. They previously had a problem with running out of certain kinds of sashimi due to the reduced prices (especially the toro), so now, all of the sashimi choices on the late night specials menu come with two kinds of sashimi. To give you a rough idea of how cheap it is, each order of sashimi (5 pieces) is $4.95, each roll is $3.25 (except the Dynamite Roll, which is $3.75), and the cone is $2.25. Nigiri is $0.99 a piece (with no deluxe choices like unagi, ikura, uni, etc.).
Salmon Sashimi - C+
Tuna Sashimi - B
Toro Sashimi - B+
The Salmon Sashimi was fresh, but it was lacking in flavour. Some of the pieces were cut too thick, which made it tough to chew. The Tuna Sashimi had quite a salty flavour and needed a bit more time to thaw. The Toro Sashimi was soft and had a nice, buttery flavour to it, but it had a bit of a metallic aftertaste.
Unagi Roll - C-
Salmon Tempura Roll - C+
Dynamite Roll - C
Unfortunately, the sushi rice was a disaster. The rice was all mushed together and there was way too much vinegar in it - overall, it was a tough barrier to chew. The unagi successfully matched the toughness of the rice barrier. The salmon tempura was lightly battered and actually quite decent, but this was obscured by an extraordinarily tough layer of seaweed. The sour rice also masked the taste of the prawn tempura, which was already lacking in flavour itself. My parents and my sister all decided that they had had enough of these rolls after about 2 or 3 pieces, so I had to be the garbage can. Oh, the horror ... sucks to be me. Towards the end, I couldn't stand the rice anymore myself, so some of the rice ended up in a real garbage can (hopefully).
Crab & Ebi Tempura Cone - B-
The Crab & Ebi Tempura Cone had the same rice issues, but to my relief, there wasn't that much rice in the cone. The mayonnaise on the crab was a bit too dry, but the prawn tempura was the highlight of the roll and was well-executed. The seaweed had the right amount of toughness - it wasn't too tough to chew or too soft to hold the cone together.
Prawn and Vegetable Tempura - A
The Prawn and Vegetable Tempura came with two large tempura prawns and three generous pieces of vegetable tempura (zucchini, yam, eggplant). The tempura did a very good job of preserving the moisture of the ingredients inside. There was also the right amount of batter on each item. The prawn itself was fresh, the zucchini was juicy, and my parents were quite pleased with the eggplant and yam. The light soy dipping sauce had steam coming out of it at first and complimented the tempura well. This was, without a doubt, the best dish of the meal.
Chicken Teri-Don - C+
The Chicken Teri-Don appeared to be a good deal at $4.95. The chicken had a nice thin layer of fried skin on top. I wish the teriyaki sauce was more spread out. Some parts of the rice were unbearably bland and so were most of the vegetables. Then, I got to the bottom of the bowl ... looks like the mushy, vinegary rice has come back to haunt me, once again ...
Beef Udon - B+
The Beef Udon also came in a generous portion and the udon noodles were pleasantly soft. The imitation crab meat was also a delight, while the beef was a little tough (it was still tasty though). The broth was well-balanced and savoury with help from the beef.
Masago Nigiri - C
Finally, we had the masago nigiri - the $0.99 nigiri can't be avoided completely, right? I guess if there isn't enough food to fill up the plate, it's a good idea to scatter masago all over the plate. There was a lot of masago and it had a nice bubbly texture but was a bit sticky. And I'm pretty sure you can guess what was lurking under all that masago ...
If you don't order anything with rice in it at Matsuyama, you would be quite satisfied with your visit. After all, there weren't any other major mishaps and the rest of the food was quite decent, especially the tempura. The service is better than what you would expect from a Chinese-run restaurant. Despite being over-crowded, the servers maintain a good attitude and won't snatch your empty plates away right under your nose.