Among the most physically well-hidden Japanese restaurants in Vancouver is Ajisai Sushi Bar. Despite its location in the middle of an alley leading from 41st Ave. to a London Drugs situated on the other side of the block, it is also one of the most notorious restaurants for sushi and frequently experiences lengthy wait times. With this in mind, I chose to visit on a Thursday night at 6 p.m. before the evening dinner rush.
Ajisai is a Japanese-run sushi bar, and the absense of tempura or noodle dishes further emphasize their focus on raw fish. Some of the waitresses spoke barely enough English to take orders, but at least they were patient and acted quite cute about it (don't get me wrong). The plus side of this is not having to endure the sometimes horrendous butchering of the Japanese names of some dishes.
I started with the Special Assorted Sushi, which contained all of the items you see on the dish above minus the anago nigiri. I couldn't resist when I saw anago on the menu. It all started with that TVB drama about anago (whose name I forget).
Amaebi Nigiri - A
Unagi Nigiri - A-
Chopped Scallop Nigiri - A-
Uni Nigiri - B+
The Amaebi Nigiri came with a large, sweet shrimp with a characteristic slightly sticky feel and a taste resembling sweet chopped scallop. The Unagi Nigiri was rather small, but the word "small" hardly applies to the amount of flavour it gave off. I guess they also added two pieces of tamago in the middle to make up for the smaller size of the Unagi Nigiri. The Chopped Scallop Nigiri was fresh and came with a few bits of masago that popped in my mouth. I was quite pleased that the seaweed used the hold the nigiri together was easy to chew. The Uni Nigiri was a bit interesting as it had a completely smooth, slippery appearance but I enjoyed the delicate, sweet flavour of the uni.
Red Tuna Nigiri - A-
Hamachi Nigiri - A-
Salmon Nigiri - B
Toro Nigiri - A
The Red Tuna Nigiri had a jelly-like texture and a mild amount of flavour reminiscent of tai. The Hamachi Nigiri had a mild taste with a slightly chewier texture along the dark spots. It wasn't the richest of deep reds nor the richest in terms of flavour, but it sufficed. The Salmon Nigiri was made with sockeye salmon, but I found it rather mediocre due to it being overly chewy and missing a smooth sheen. My favourite nigiri of the combo was the Toro Nigiri, which melted perfectly in my mouth.
Tekka Maki - A+
At the top edge of the dish sat the humble-looking Tekka Maki (tuna roll), which unexpectedly blew my mind away. The mashed tuna had a rich flavour and the seaweed and rice were the perfect chewiness. I never knew I could like a tuna roll this much ...
Anago Nigiri - A
The one piece of nigiri I ordered on the side, the Anago Nigiri, was savoury and delicious. It has a slightly rougher texture compared to unagi as it is a salt-water eel instead of a fresh-water eel. I also liked how a small piece of seaweed was added underneath the anago to accentuate the flavour.
Sukiyaki Roll - A+
The Sukiyaki Roll consisted of sukiyaki beef, tamago, lettuce and a hint of mayonnaise. I must be getting very lucky with my selection of rolls today as this one was just as mind-blowing as the Tekka Maki. The slightly fried egg worked accompanied the soft beef exceptionally well and the mayonnaise added the final magical touch to the roll. With the mayonnaise, I was able to feel an essense of delicious grilled cheese which made the roll really unique. I would be happy to eat five orders of this for dinner.
Ankimo - B
The Ankimo ($8) came with 6 pieces of monkfish liver, a few thin slices of seaweed and cucumber along with a vibrant ponzu sauce. The ankimo was further garnished with a small amount of ginger on top. Ankimo is considered a Japanese delicacy and has a distinct texture and a unique, shellfish-like taste. Ajisai's version was alright, but I found it a bit too dry. I still prefer Nao Sushi's version.
BBQ Black Cod - A
The BBQ Black Cod ($12) was served while it was still steaming, and they did an excellent job of making it juicy. It had a slightly flaky texture to it. I would enjoy it even more if it was cooked with a bit of miso. I'm sure you recognize the lemon and the asparagus, but the mysterious condiment on the right is moromiso (barley paste). I thought it brought out the flavour of the cod well, but at the same time, it could potentially feel a bit offensive. Try it in moderation at first.
I found the service to be friendly and quite attentive, though a less-than-full house may have helped matters. Most of the items were carefully and thoughtfully prepared, but the rolls I had today stood out the most to me. While there aren't any special rolls with a fancy display of sauces on the menu, some of the simpler rolls that are on the menu can be quite mouth-watering and addicting at the same time. The tea is addicting too.