Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Episode #38: Sushiholic

Vancouver (West End), $$ (Moderately Priced)
www.sushiholic.ca

Today, I decided to go to a new Japanese restaurant in the quaint village of West End whose name perfectly describes myself. They have another branch at Broadway and Rupert and that branch has gained quite some popularity. I believe that their location at Denman is larger and more spacious than their original location. Looking at the menu, I saw that fried items were very well represented in comparison to the other categories, and it was quite tempting for me to order only fried items. However, since that is the perfect recipe for a sore throat, I went on a mini nigiri sampling spree at the end instead.

Kaki Fry - B

I was started off with the Kaki Fry (deep fried, breaded oysters) which contained six soft, juicy oysters. The oysters were not very large, and I found the amount of batter to be a bit disproportionate for the size of the oyster. It certainly packed a lot of crunchiness though. The sauce on the right was a sweet tangy sauce mixed with mayonnaise (the same sauce typically used for takoyaki) and was a good accompaniment for the vegetables. I also found the mysterious star symbol rather interesting - it's like "Place the oyster here and something magical will happen."

Awesome Roll - B

The Awesome Roll consisted of crab meat, avocado, cucumber, masago, baked salmon, and some yam fries dressed with spicy mayonnaise on top. The most awesome part of it was the abundance of crunchy fries on top and the slight spiciness of the mayonnaise added dimensions to the overall flavour of the roll. The artificial crab meat was very sweet while the avocado was under-ripe, which, texture-wise, resembled an unfortunate piece of unmelted chocolate that somehow wandered its way into the mix. Otherwise, the roll was decent and mostly awesome.

Seared Toro Nigiri - A
Seared Salmon Belly Nigiri - A-
Unagi Nigiri - B
Tai Nigiri - A
Ebi Nigiri - B

And at last, the results of the mini nigiri sampling spree. The Seared Toro Nigiri was dressed with a mild, savoury sauce that greatly enhanced the flavour of the toro, and the resulting rich, juicy smoothness was a delight. The Seared Salmon Belly Nigiri had the top half seared (the right way to do it) and had a sweet taste as well as a small, non-distracting dab of wasabi inside. The Unagi Nigiri paled in comparison, and was not only small but also lacking in moisture. The Tai Nigiri, on the other hand, was very fresh and had a smooth texture and the perfect amount of flavour for tai. The Ebi Nigiri was a bit too chewy and was marinated with ginger.

The service was adequate and was neither something to rave about nor complain about. The food was fine (it would be quite decent if a few small things were fixed) and the prices were quite reasonable. However, the washroom was not reasonable. It was so small that I had trouble cramming myself in there. Plus, I had to stand to the side in order to use the toilet because the sink was in the way (there wasn't any other place to put the sink because the washroom was so small). I'm a pretty slim guy and if I have trouble fitting myself in, something is wrong. Go to the library instead (it's just a block away) for a more comfortable washroom. That being said, Sushiholic, with an adequate variety of menu options, can be a good place for a sushiholic to satisfy his or her desires.

Sushiholic Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Episode #37: Fuji Sushi

Port Moody, $$$ (Higher Priced)
www.facebook.com/fujisushi

Perhaps the most well-known of the Japanese restaurants in Port Moody, Fuji Sushi is authentic and has had a successful past, gaining a substantial number of regulars. They recently undergone a renovation, which transformed the restaurant from having a light theme to a darker theme. I guess it looks more like a Japanese restaurant than before, but in my opinion, I found the lighter theme (from before) more inviting. In fact, I thought the restaurant was closed and still under renovation when I walked by until I saw the chefs inside.


After the renovation, I also noticed that many of the prices had gone up. They also added a wide range of more expensive items to the menu, such as special rolls and aburi nigiri. Wanting to sample a bit of everything and sticking with the basics, I decided to order to Sashimi Combination ($19.95), which contained Miso Soup, a salad, Agedashi Tofu, Tuna and Salmon Sashimi, California Roll, 5 pieces of tempura, a mashed potato appetizer and Chicken Teriyaki. 

Miso Soup - B+

The Miso Soup was served hot and the miso paste was quite flavourful, but I found it a bit on the salty side.

Salad - A-

The salad contained fresh lettuce and tomato and the tangy vinegar-based dressing was a light, mostly liquidy vinaigrette.

After I finished the salad, the rest of the combination arrived:


It may not look like it, but the combination is actually quite large and filling.

Agedashi Tofu - B-

The Agedashi Tofu had light, crisp batter on the outside with a large piece of white tofu in the middle. I'm not sure if this was a good idea as the inside would have tasted much better if it was closer to the sauce. I prefer the smaller bite-sized pieces as those tend to be more savoury. It also could have used more sauce.

Tuna Sashimi - A-
Salmon Sashimi - B

The tuna sashimi had a bit of a sandy texture and was sliced quite thin, but it was adequately soft. It had a decent mild and balanced taste to it. The Salmon Sashimi was quite smooth and slippery (to the point that I had quite a bit of trouble picking it up with my chopsticks) and was a solid display of knife skills. However, it was quite lacking in taste, and was rather unwilling to absorb the soy sauce.

California Roll - B-

The California Roll contained relatively little crab and had a strong presence of avocado (which bordered on being overripe). The sushi rice was decent, but overall, I found the roll to be mushy due to the excess amount of avocado. The cucumber was also noticeably hard and could be cut into thinner pieces for better integration with the rest of the roll.

Sweet Potato Tempura - B
Prawn Tempura - A-
Zucchini Tempura - B-
Carrot Tempura - C+
Onion Tempura - C

As for the tempura, the batter was laid on very unevenly and a most of the batter had a soft bread-like texture instead of the desired light crispy texture. Perhaps they had an accident when preparing the tempura but decided that I would probably tolerate a minor slip. My favourite piece out of the tempura was the prawn, which was thick, meaty and tasty. The Sweet Potato Tempura was cut to the right thickness and was soft, but the batter on this piece was hard in some places. The zucchini was thin and juicy while the carrot had a snappy texture. If the Onion Tempura was an attempt to mimic onion rings, then I must say it was a rather poor attempt. The slice of onion they used was huge and because of the soft batter, I felt like I was eating a large slice of unchopped onion. I failed to finish it. 


There was a small mashed potato appetizer in the middle of the combination box. There were small chunks of various vegetables inside for added variety. For mashed potatoes, it was quite decent but I won't assign a grade to it because me and mashed potatoes just don't get along. Yep ...

Chicken Teriyaki - A-

The Chicken Teriyaki was executed the best out of all the various items in the combination. The teriyaki sauce was delicious and brought out the flavours of the chicken quite well. They also did an excellent job of stir-frying the vegetables underneath.

Oyster Motoyaki - B

The Oyster Motoyaki was not part of the combination, but was one of the smaller items I could get without ending up too full (funny enough, this seems to be a common problem of mine). They were surprisingly generous with the amount of oysters in the motoyaki and the custard had a nice, creamy texture. The only issue was that the custard tasted excessively acidic (maybe the mayonnaise was too strong? or too much mayonnaise was used?). A bed of sliced onions lined the bottom of the motoyaki and the mild-tasting oil went well with the onions.

The service was very friendly overall and the servers' bright attitudes clearly distinguished them from those at other restaurants. The food I received was a bit of a hit-and-miss game and despite the decent service, I don't think the price premium was justified. In fact, I remember the food as being substantially better before the renovation. The restaurant was mostly empty at prime dinner time on a Thursday night and I believe they would need to lower their prices or come up with a few first-class news-inspiring dishes if they wish to continue their past success.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Episode #36: Sango

Port Moody, $$$ (Higher Priced)
www.facebook.com/sangores511

Sango is a Japanese fusion restaurant located in Suter Brook Village (across the street from Newport Village), one of the latest additions to the city of Port Moody. The restaurant is quite large, has a great ambience and is suitable for large parties. If you are familiar with Kami Sushi, you may notice that the menus of the two restaurants are remarkably similar.

Wanting to try sample a variety of nigiri, I ordered the combo called "8 piece sushi with California roll", which contained ... well, the name says it all:


Moving on to describe the different pieces of sushi:

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

The nigiri was generally fresh and neatly cut. The Tuna Nigiri was generous with a thick cut. It had just a slight fishy aftertaste, but was otherwise alright. The Salmon Nigiri had a fresh, sweet, buttery taste with a nice smooth sheen. The Tai Nigiri delivered in terms of taste and was a bit on the chewy side, but for tai, it had a smooth texture. They used a rather large shrimp for the Ebi Nigiri which packed a significant burst of flavour, but it would be nice if it was softer.

California Roll - B-

I felt like California rolls were not their specialty. Maybe I should have stuck with the fusion items since they advertise themselves as a Japanese fusion restaurant. The mayonnaise in the California roll was rather dry and the avocado was a touch overripe, but at least the roll itself held together well. A little more crab meat would also have been appreciated.

After I finished the combo, I got the Miso Roll:

Miso Roll - B+

The Miso Roll consisted of shrimp tempura, eel, sockeye salmon, special sauce (most likely a light teriyaki sauce with some miso mixed in). The highlight of the roll was the sockeye salmon, which was fresh and had an appealing, smooth texture. The taste of the shrimp was noticeable and the batter had a light crunch for some of the pieces. The crab meat was a bit dry (same issue as above) and the unagi was sliced thin with some bony sections. Overall, there was a decent attempt to create harmony with all the different flavours.

The restaurant wasn't very busy during my visit (I walked it at about 5 p.m.), so I received friendly and attentive service throughout my stay. In fact, the servers came to me three times before I was ready to order, though I'll admit that I'm quite slow at ordering. The regular Japanese items were decent, but not spectacular, so it felt like I was paying some premium for the ambience. I was craving salmon during this visit, but perhaps I should return and try some of their fusion items, which is allegedly their specialty.

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

Friday, 10 October 2014

Episode #35: Sakura Sushi

Richmond, $$ (Moderately Priced)
www.sakurasushi.ca

I have heard great stories about Sakura Sushi, an authentic Japanese restaurant near Richmond Centre, for a while now, but I have always put off visiting it due to its rather unsightly appearance from the exterior. From the outside, it looked like an old Chinese meat shop who relied on its regulars to stay in business and could not afford any upgrades whatsoever. Take out the word "sushi" from all of the signs and "sushi restaurant" would be one of the last things to cross my mind with this image:


Walking inside, I found myself in a half-occupied small dining area (seating about a dozen people) with very simple, modest decor. The cooking staff and waiting staff all conversed to each other in Japanese and I had no clue what they were talking about (I don't really know Japanese), but they seemed to be having a good time. One of the servers greeted me in a friendly manner and I proceeded to look through the menu and at the signs around the restaurant to decide on what to order. Behind me was a sign that said "Eel is nutritious and a lot of vitamins." Well, I guess I'll have eel then.

Miso Soup - A-

I was started with a complimentary Miso Soup, which was well-balanced and leaning towards the milder side. It was garnished with green onions and tofu and I liked how it was not too salty.

Next, I had the Appetizer Sashimi, which came with 3 pieces of tuna and 2 pieces of salmon.

Tuna Sashimi - A
Salmon Sashimi - A-

The Tuna Sashimi was very fresh and sufficiently soft. Taste-wise, it was excellent without being fishy or excessively salty. Now, what's up with the ridiculously small pieces of salmon sashimi? It's hard to come up with compliments while experiencing a negative surprise, but at least it was fresh wild sockeye salmon. It packed quite a bit of flavour and had a nice, smooth texture. (I tried.)

What the Hell Roll - A-

I don't know how this roll got its name, but here's my theory: The staff came up with an excellent idea for a new special roll but needed to decide on a name. They couldn't come up with any good names and someone in frustration yelled "What the hell!" Then, someone responded with "Oh, that's a great name!" I don't know ... or maybe they just liked hearing customers say "what the hell."

The What the Hell Roll consisted of unagi on top, salmon and avocado. The unagi was tastefully grilled and was coated with a rich, savoury teriyaki sauce. The salmon had a soft, smooth texture and had enough flavour to be noticed underneath the stronger unagi. The avocado used in the roll was very fresh. I don't really have any complaints other than wishing that the roll was served a little warmer.

At this point, my phone battery died (even though it was at 62%). What the hell! Fortunately, the server gave me permission to switch tables and helped me move my food so that I could charge my phone in a nearby outlet while eating.

Yakitori - B-

The Yakitori consisted of two skewers with leeks and tender chicken. I'm not sure if there were more leeks or chicken. It needed more of a grilled taste and I found the consistency of the sauce to be too thick. (This is observable from the photo above.)

Unagi Cheese Nigiri - A+
Aburi Toro Nigiri - A-

The Unagi Cheese Nigiri was a good example of clever culinary innovation. The small amount of cheese used on top of the unagi worked very well to accentuate the flavours of the unagi, creating an excellent warm, grilled and appetizing burst of flavour. The Aburi Toro Nigiri was successfully seared with soft, melty toro on top of a bed of soft sushi rice. There was just a little too much rice under the toro, preventing the nigiri from achieving the optimal fish-to-rice ratio.

I wasn't really full after my initial order, so I decided to get one more item - the Dynamite Roll.

Dynamite Roll - B

The tempura prawn in the Dynamite Roll was fried with a high-quality oil, so it was not excessively greasy. The prawn was served warm, while the surrounding rice was cooler. The rice was just a tad mushy (it was rolled with too much force) and the vinegar was a bit strong, making it stand out.

I kind of expected Sakura Sushi to be a budget restaurant (based on its appearance) but it didn't take me long to realize that this was not the case at all. What sets Sakura Sushi apart from other sushi restaurants (aside from the fact that it's authentic) is the consistent use of high quality ingredients. The quantity of food itself hardly justifies the price, but I guess they've tried to remedy this by offering a coupon on their website (www.sakurasushi.ca) as well as stamp cards. Too bad I didn't know about this beforehand! What the hell!

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

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Episode #34: Sushimoto

Burnaby North, $$$ (Higher Priced)

My fourth "Sushi-a-thon" took place at Sushimoto, a small Japanese restaurant located right beside Holdom Station. Now, if you weren't specifically looking for the restaurant, you would most likely pass by it without even noticing it was there. Despite all this, it is popular among those who are looking for a convenient take-out, and it sets a high standard for aburi sushi (seared sushi) in Burnaby. I have been a regular at Sushimoto for a while and I'll admit that for a long time, I've thought that the restaurant was run by Japanese people until I heard the staff converse in Korean. Perhaps there might be a Japanese mastermind behind all the unique dishes Sushimoto has to offer.

Sushimoto has a wide assortment of spicy items, while there is a limited selection of hot food items. Years ago, walking into the restaurant for the first time, one of the first things I noticed was that there was a display of Japanese figurines beneath the sushi bar, though I'm not the kind of guy who would know which game/show the figurines came from. The restaurant has a very high ceiling and the sushi bar is elevated compared to the dining area, which makes for a less intimate experience. In addition, the reflective lighting made my task of taking photos very inconvenient (I tried my best). In either case, the servers were well-mannered, and even though there weren't enough customers to warrant them remaining in the dining area, I found the service to be more than acceptable during both of my visits.

1st visit:

On my first visit (September 30), I ordered the Daily Assorted Sashimi, which came with 2 pieces each of salmon, tuna, tai and hokkigai.

Tuna Sashimi - A-
Salmon Sashimi - A
Hokkigai Sashimi - A-
Tai Sashimi - A

Overall, the sashimi was very fresh and well-executed. The Tuna Sashimi was neatly cut and exhibited a mild, salty flavour with no fishiness. It melted in my mouth, though I wish it had just a little more flavour. On the other hand, the Salmon Sashimi was rich in flavour and had a nice, smooth sheen. The Hokkigai Sashimi had the right amount of chewiness and was remarkably large. My favourite was the Tai Sashimi, which was cut thin enough to avoid excessive chewiness. It had the perfect delicate, sweet flavour and combined with a smooth texture, it was irresistible. 

BBQ Tuna Roll - A-

The BBQ Tuna Roll consisted of a California roll base, seared spicy tuna, spicy mayonnaise and green onion (negi). The pieces were on the smaller side, but the presentation was exquisite. I found the roll to be quite spicy (perhaps a little too spicy), but I liked how the spicy sauce (which had a sweet tinge to it) complemented the soft crab meat and accentuated the smoky flavour of the roll.

Tempura Udon - A-

The Tempura Udon came with an appetizing, soft, thinly-sliced aburaage (fried soybean), two tempura prawns, one piece of narutomaki and some seaweed and green onion. The aburaage absorbed the moisture and flavour from the udon broth, which itself was on the stronger side. The slight but noticeable hint of mirin brought an extra dimension of flavour to the soup and made it taste more authentic. The prawns had an appealing, chewy texture though the batter was rather greasy (and soaked in the soup). The udon noodles had the right chewiness and had an even thickness throughout.

2nd visit:

Aburi Salmon Belly Steak Nigiri - A
Aburi Toro Steak Nigiri - B
Aburi Tai Belly Kabayaki Nigiri - A

The sushi rice was soft and well-crafted and they nailed the fish-to-rice ratio on all three pieces of nigiri. (You have the option to ask for more rice under the nigiri at no additional charge.) The Aburi Salmon Belly Steak Nigiri was served with unagi sauce with a dab of spicy sauce, which gave it a mildly spicy aftertaste. It had a melty, smooth texture and was absolutely delicious. The Aburi Toro Steak Nigiri looked promising but unfortunately, it was overdone and the fish was cooked almost all the way through. It also needed more of a smoky flavour. The Aburi Tai Belly Kabayaki Nigiri tastes a bit like unagi, with a savoury, rich sauce covering a delightably soft piece of grilled tai.

Las Vegas Roll - A

The Las Vegas Roll consisted of a dynamite roll base, seared spicy tuna on top, green onion, spicy mayonnaise and spicy sauce. This roll was moderately spicy and the tempura batter inside contributed a light crunch. The prawn contained a delicate sweet flavour and was noticeably soft. The tuna on top had a flaky texture - I wished it was a little softer.

Oyster Motoyaki - A-

The Oyster Motoyaki was made with misonnaise (miso paste + mayonnaise). The miso paste and the mayonnaise each accentuated the other and made for a rich, smooth and creamy custard. There was a small, whole oyster in each of the cups and the taste of the oyster was somewhat moderated by the more powerful custard. Sesame seeds were sprinkled on top for added flavour, while the motoyaki could use a little less oil.

Virtually all of the food was consistently well-executed and demonstrated thoughtful presentation and taste. The prices are well-justified and reasonable in my opinion, though the smaller portions explains the "higher priced" rating. In my three years of being a regular at Sushimoto, I have yet to experience a definitive miss in either the food or the service there. Well, if I ever decide to try 10-pin bowling for the first time at the bowling place next to it, I'll be sure to stop by Sushimoto for sushi afterward (as long as time permits!).

Sushimoto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, 3 October 2014

Episode #33: Gami Sushi

Richmond, $$ (Moderately Priced)

Every time I look at a map of Richmond, I always assume that the area south of Granville Ave. is largely a residential neighborhood with little to offer in terms of food and shopping. After going there several times to inspect the area, I realized that there are plazas everywhere! You can find everything from sushi restaurants to Safeway and Shopper's Drug Mart in there. Not to mention that there are 4 Subway restaurants among these plazas. The plaza on No. 3 Rd. and Williams Rd. seemed to be one of the newer plazas at first glance, and just a little over a month ago, Gami Sushi, a Korean-operated Japanese restaurant, had its grand opening there.

I walked into the restaurant to find clean, modern decor accompanied by soft jazz in the background. The restaurant seems small, but actually has a seating capacity of around 40 guests. Despite their size limitations, they try to replicate an upscale Japanese restaurant, and their menu contains many unique items such as Coconut Crunch Salmon, Snapper Tempura Salad and the Super Lobster Roll. The Super Lobster Roll ($19.95) had a rather lofty price tag, so I had the less-pricey Oh GAMI Roll ($13.95) and the Lobster Motoyaki ($7.95) instead. I still get my lobster and it's an extra item for only $2 more.

Lobster Motoyaki - A-

The Lobster Motoyaki consisted of lobster coated with a layer of cheese over a bed of finely chopped baby bok choy and spinach. The dish itself isn't very large, but there was a significant amount of lobster in the motoyaki, and the rich taste of the cheese went well with the lobster.

Oh GAMI Roll - B+

The Oh GAMI Roll consisted of 2 tempura prawns, cucumber, crab meat, seared unagi, salmon, tuna, chopped scallop, avocado, 3 kinds of tobiko and sauce. Oh Gami! That's a lot of ingredients! I liked how they made the roll into 10 pieces instead of making each piece colossal to accommodate all the ingredients. The first thing I noticed as I bit into the roll was the delightful light crunch coming from the batter of the shrimp, which I thought was just a tad overdone. The crab meat was rich in taste and went well with the unagi sauce and mayonnaise, which worked together to create a smooth, melty texture. It would be nice if there was more of a seared taste for the various seafood on top of the roll.

Wild Salmon Nigiri - B-
Toro Nigiri - B
Tai Nigiri - A-

There was a bit too much rice compared to the amount of fish for the nigiri (it isn't supposed to be a game of how much rice you can stuff under the fish). The Wild Salmon Nigiri had a rather blunt taste (it tasted a little metallic to me) but had a soft texture. The Toro Nigiri was somehow softer on one side than the other. The best of all was the Tai Nigiri. It was generous in terms of portion size, and it was cut almost as thick as the toro but it was juicy and not tough. It also had a prominent mild, sweet flavour and tasted the freshest out of the three.

By Richmond standards (where prices are slightly higher than other suburban areas in Greater Vancouver), I found the prices to be quite reasonable for what I received. The quality of service was on par with the quality of the food, and I quite enjoyed my stay in the comfortable setting of the restaurant away from the busy city action. I then proceeded to continue my quest of sleeping on the bus, the Skytrain and the West Coast Express all in the same day. For SFU students, it's that time of the year ...

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