Friday, January 30, 2015

Episode #59: Miku Restaurant

Vancouver (Downtown), $$$$ (Luxury)

Every year, the festival I look forward to most is undoubtedly Vancouver's Dine Out Festival. This year, I was "fortunate" enough to hit what you could call the "un-jackpot" by catching a cold right at the start of the festival. After an uneventful week of having to dream about sushi instead of eating it (yikes!), I finally recovered enough to make it to Miku Restaurant. Situated beside Canada Place overlooking Burrard Inlet, Miku has one of the most fantastic views of any restaurant in Vancouver.

Miku is well-known for its innovative modern Japanese dishes, particularly their Aburi sushi. The interior of the restaurant is very large, but despite this, they are virtually always busy and getting a table during peak hours is more often a challenge than not. Well, it always feels nice to know that there are an abundance of wealthy people in town, right? Either way, there were enough servers to handle the situation efficiently and my first dish arrived just as I finished copying the Dine Out dinner menu into my notebook.

The Miku Zen consisted of four small courses (seasonal items), meant to be consumed from right to left. I like how the servers at Miku take the time to introduce each item to you (and not in rapid fire!).

Aburi Maguro Sashimi - A

The Aburi Maguro Sashimi consisted of seared big eye tuna, tuna tartare and wasabi-masatake sauce. The tuna had more flavour to it than any other big eye tuna sashimi I have had, and it was a buttery, savoury flavour like miso. The sashimi has a slight tinge of spiciness from the wasabi.

 Jidori Chicken Nanban - A-

The Jidori Chicken Nanban consisted of fried chicken dressed with sweet and sour soy, house made tartar sauce and basil-citrus slaw. I really enjoyed the dressing, which reminded me of a light pesto sauce. The chicken could be more tender, but the meat inside had sufficient moisture.

 Pan-Seared Alaskan Scallop - A-

The Pan-Seared Alaskan Scallop was accompanied by a yukon potato purée and puttanesca (a tangy Italian dressing typically used with spaghetti). The flavours of the scallop were brought out very well and the scallop itself was quite juicy. However, I felt that the puttanesca was a little too strong to be the optimal pairing for the scallop.

Saikyo Miso Sablefish - A+

The eyecatching, bubbling Saikyo Miso Sablefish was perfectly grilled to a silky, smooth texture and had an irresistible buttery flavour. It was accompanied by yuzu-miso reduction, kale goma-ae and yuzu foam. The yuzu foam has a bright, citrusy flavour that does not overwhelm the sablefish. 

Next to arrive was a plate of six pieces of Miku's Signature Sushi. Interestingly, the Miku Roll failed to make it to this plate of signature sushi.

Coal Harbour Roll - A-
Aburi Salmon Oshi - A+

The Coal Harbour Roll consisted of red tuna, Hokkaido scallops, asparagus, wasabi pickles, hamachi, shiso, moromi-miso and spicy negi-shio sauce. The flavour of the red tuna was the highlight of the roll and the scallops had a noticeably smooth and soft texture. The wasabi pickles and spicy negi-shio sauce provide a little spice to the roll. The Aburi Salmon Oshi is a must-try and I have had it every single time I have visited Miku (I lost track of how many times). The high-quality rice and very soft texture of the oshi sushi sets it apart from any other Aburi Salmon Oshi I have had. The searing of the top layer gives the oshi sushi a mouthwatering smoky flavour.

Aburi Tuna Oshi - A
Aburi Ebi Oshi - A+
Sunrise Roll - A-

The miso glaze that accompanied the Aburi Tuna Oshi did a good job of accentuating the flavour of the tuna. The seared pesto dressing on top of the Aburi Ebi Oshi was a perfect pairing to the delicious, juicy prawn. The Sunrise Roll, which consisted of wasabi marinated tuna, cucumber, red tuna, pickled wasabi, golden tobiko and wasabi aioli, had a mild creamy flavour and the different layers of tuna was a delight.

Manjari Chocolate Orange Cream - A

The finale to the Dine Out dinner menu was the Manjari Chocolate Orange Cream, which consisted of caramel crisp, orange reduction and vanilla ice-cream accompanied by an orange-flavoured chocolate bar. The chocolate bar had a nice crispy layer at the bottom, and I also enjoyed how the ice-cream absorbed some of the flavour from the orange-flavoured crumbs lining the back.

With first-class service and consistently high-quality and inventive dishes, Miku has remained on my list of favourites for a long time. Memorable dishes from previous visits not included in the Dine Out Dinner Menu include the Miku Roll (an Aburi style roll) and the Ebi Fritter, the best battered prawn I have had to date. The most unfortunate part of my visit was that by the time I headed to the exit, the mint chocolates sitting in the bowl on the hostess' booth were all gone! Next time, I'll know better and snatch one of those before I head over to my table.

Miku Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, January 16, 2015

Episode #58: Sushi Nanaimo

Vancouver (Northeast), $ (Budget)

The last time I visited Sushi Nanaimo was nearly three years ago, and I wanted to see how it had evolved over the years. I remembered it to be pretty much an exact mirror of Sushi Town, but as I stepped into the restaurant and flipped open the menu, I could see that they had slightly revamped their menu to include items such as the Nanaimo Roll among other things. The restaurant is moderately large and the seating space is more spacious and comfortable compared to Sushi Town.

I stepped in at 3 p.m. to find the restaurant mostly empty, but they can get quite busy during peak hours. I wanted to ask the waitress about the Nanaimo Roll, but when I did, she listed the ingredients in rapid fire and the only word I heard was "spicy." I didn't want to make the waitress feel bad so I politely pretended that I heard everything. Furthermore, I wasn't exactly craving spicy food, so I decided to play things safe with the Dragon Roll. I've had enough Dragon Rolls to more or less know what to expect.

Salmon Sashimi - A-
Tuna Sashimi - B+

My dishes arrived very quickly and the first item to arrive was my half order of Salmon and Tuna Sashimi (half order: $5.95). The Salmon Sashimi was fresh and had a good amount of flavour to it. Interestingly, it was segmented along the white lines like toro. The Tuna Sashimi was moderately soft and a touch salty. It could also use a few more minutes of thawing time, but it was neatly cut.

Dragon Roll - A-

The Dragon Roll consisted of unagi, avocado, masago, bonito flakes, crab meat, and cucumber, along with teriyaki sauce and mayonnaise. The unagi had a smooth texture and a savoury grilled flavour. I also liked the mild spicy tinge coming from the sauces. There was a slight overage of rice and the sauces were a bit thick, but the roll was presented neatly and the flavours worked well together.

Dynamite Cone - B-

The Dynamite Cone came with two battered prawns and mixed with the mayonnaise, it reminded me of a Filet-o-fish. The batter was light and crispy, while the vinegar in the rice was quite evident. The bottom of the cone was compressed too tightly, making it a challenge to chew.

Chicken Teriyaki - B+

For my filler dish, I got the Chicken Teriyaki and it came neatly plated on an iron dish. The sesame seeds accentuated the flavours of the chicken, which was pan-fried to a nice, crispy texture. The chicken wasn't the most tender, but it wasn't hard to chew either. There was quite a bit of teriyaki sauce on the bottom, but it didn't reach high enough to make the chicken soggy.

Sushi Nanaimo is a decent place to grab a quick meal, and the service was quick, efficient, and adequtely friendly. It is essentially a slightly more refined version of Sushi Town with a touch of Sushi Garden. The menu items are very affordable and the Unagi Nigiri ($1.60) is the least expensive that I've seen. I was planning to use take-out boxes so that I could save some for dinner, but I ended up accidentally finishing everything. Darn the fact that I had a three-hour lecture before ...

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Episode #57: Maguro Sushi

Ladner, $$$ (Higher Priced)

Ladner isn't a big city, but it does have a big old-fashioned village. I ventured around the village and saw many interesting sights, such as Ladner Sushi and Go-Go Sushi. I underestimated the size of the village and didn't carry a map with me, so by the time I found Go-Go Sushi I was pretty lost about how to reach my intended destination: Maguro Sushi. Fortunately, the tall street clock in front of the plaza in which Maguro Sushi is located helped me find my way back. I feel so old-fashioned ...

Whereas Ladner Sushi and Go-Go Sushi each had one table of diners, all of the tables were filled at Maguro Sushi except one. As it was only 5:30 p.m., I was surprised that they still offered me a table all for myself. The prices, as well as the fact that the waitresses spoke Mandarin, also surprised me. I was pretty sure they weren't attracting customers based on their prices, so I was hopeful that the quality would be superb. The decor was nice and had a traditional Japanese feel.

Prawn Tempura - B+
Kabocha Tempura - C+
Sweet Potato Tempura - B
Potato Tempura - C
Carrot Tempura - C+

The Appetizer Tempura, which consisted of two prawns and one piece each of kabocha, sweet potato, potato and carrot, arrived very hot. The batter was missing a crunchy, flaky texture and ended up being a bit soggy from too much grease. My favourite of the bunch was the Prawn Tempura, which contained large prawns and were quite meaty. I wasn't a fan of the kabocha, which was cut too close to the edge, or the potato, which was sliced less than 1 cm thick and tasted like plain batter.

Woonia Roll - B+

I overheard several tables talking about the Woonia Roll, so I decided to try it myself. The roll consisted of spicy chopped scallop, deep fried halibut cheek, and tobiko. The roll had a nice balance of flavours and I liked how the spiciness did not overwhelm the flavours of the chopped scallop or the halibut cheek. There wasn't that much halibut cheek, but the batter provided a nice crunch. I found the spicy chopped scallop to be too creamy, mainly because it was cut into very small pieces and kind of just "melted."

Grill Cheese Tuna - C

The Grill Cheese Tuna came with 4 large pieces of lightly cooked tuna, garnished with spicy sauce, tobiko and grilled cheese. I didn't think that any Japanese dish with grilled cheese could go wrong, but apparently it can. That's if you happen to come up with the "brilliant" idea of mixing it with chili sauce ...

Amaebi Nigiri - A-
Unagi Nigiri - A-
Toro Nigiri - B+
Salmon Nigiri - B

The Amaebi Nigiri (sweet shrimp) had a nice sweet flavour like ika (squid). The Unagi Nigiri was savoury and had a nice grilled flavour, as if it was grilled on a plank. The Toro Nigiri didn't have a lot to give in terms of taste, but it had a smooth texture and was sufficiently soft. The Salmon Nigiri was made with wild sockeye salmon, but it was lacking the refined, smooth texture of high-quality sockeye. The nigiri I had were not large, but the fish-to-rice ratio of each piece was spot on.

Oyster Motoyaki - B

The Oyster Motoyaki was interesting because it had a goma-ae as its base, with peanut butter dressing! I still prefer the cheese-based motoyaki better as I felt that the peanut butter slightly overwhelmed the flavours of the custard and the oyster. The oyster was soft with none of the darker green part present. I then tried the white stuff sitting beside the oyster. Let's just say that ingesting 100% of my daily recommended intake of salt all in one bite wasn't the most pleasant experience ever.

The highlights of the meal were the nigiri and the Woonia Roll, while the other items were quite mediocre. The waitresses rarely smiled and my tea wasn't refilled, but I had less trouble flagging down a server than I usually do at other restaurants. I went to Maguro Sushi looking to experience the captivating, memorable visit I had there three years ago, but unfortunately, things seem to have gone from stellar to just average.

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

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Episode #56: Sushi California (2nd Visit)

Coquitlam, $ (Budget)

As an executive of the SFU Recital Society (one of the largest student-run clubs at SFU), I have been trying to persuade the other executives to hold a meeting at a Japanese restaurant, but I have not succeeded until now. This was partly due to the fact that the old executives got tired of all our previous meetings at Japanese restaurants (of which there were quite a few), denying the new executives the chance to go on these very special occasions. At last, the good forces won and we made it to Sushi California for a late lunch. Sushi California, a Korean-run restaurant, is perhaps the busiest restaurant in the Lougheed area and attracts a lot of locals and SFU students with its low prices and passable quality.

Spicy Tuna Roll - B-

Christina allowed me to sample her Spicy Tuna Roll (for a sampling fee of $4.95), which I found to have an excessive amount of rice. Unfortunately, the rice was a bit dry and hard. The tuna inside was moderately spicy and savoury. Of course, I never paid her the $4.95 due to the fact that the roll costs only $2.95. I repaid her with a piece of my Alaska Roll instead, and she seemed to be okay with that trade ...

Prawn Tempura - B+

Next, I tried a piece of Kristian's Prawn Tempura, which was quite crunchy and haphazardly arranged on the dish. It had a nice buttery sweet flavour from the prawn. He wasn't going to let me have it for free, but that's okay because we all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Fresh Hirame Nigiri - B+
Red Tuna Nigiri - C+

The Fresh Hirame Nigiri (flounder) was soft and had a smooth surface reminiscent of ika (squid). It tasted predominantly sweet, and had more flavour than the Red Tuna Nigiri, which was almost tasteless. The red tuna had a visually appealing dark red hue, but was very stringy and had perhaps a bit too much rice.

Alaska Roll - B

The Alaska Roll was the only roll I ordered myself and contained cucumber, avocado, masago, mayonnaise, salmon, and a vinaigrette dressing. The pieces of salmon were rather thin and small, but I guess that's what you get for a roll costing $3.95. Also interesting was the fact that each piece was twice as tall as it was wide. The best part about this roll was the sweet vinaigrette dressing and avocado pairing.

Chicken Soboro - B+

The Chicken Soboro was a new addition to Sushi California's menu. I ordered it to find out what a soboro was (as I have never seen it on a menu before). It came with seven toppings (chicken, tempura bits, red bell pepper, egg omelette, green onions, yellow bell pepper, seaweed) as well as rice in a stone bowl. The rice absorbed some of the flavour from the egg. My favourite topping was no doubt the chicken, which was tastefully grilled and dressed. I wish there was more of the chicken, but I also enjoyed the crunch of the tempura bits.

We barely received any service (other than the necessary acts of taking our orders and handing us our food), but then again, I can't exactly recall a time when I got good service from a budget Japanese restaurant with ten dining companions. The service from Sushi California was better for the times I visited all by myself. And as for our meeting ... well, I was too busy enjoying my food, but I will make a wild guess that it was very "productive."

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

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Episode #55: Sushi 990

Port Coquitlam, $$ (Moderately Priced)

Very rarely does my dad ever agree to join me on my sushi adventures if it is less than room temperature outside, but exceptions do occur from time to time. Thank you, above average temperatures. You're always welcome anytime. We ended up picking Sushi 990, a new Korean-run Japanese restaurant in the northern part of Port Coquitlam. The restaurant gets its name from the various combos that it offers for $9.90 each. I've always wanted to try the $19.90 special roll combo here, but I've been holding it off because I kept worrying that I wouldn't be able to finish the whole thing.

Of course, my dad wanted to order some hot dishes, but he didn't want to read the menu. He first asked me if there was BBQ Salmon Gama on the menu, to which I replied "no". Then, he asked me if there was tempura on the menu, and to my great surprise (and disappointment), I also had to reply "no". He then thought for a while and asked for two pieces of red tuna nigiri, to which I replied, "Dad, you're not going to be full ..." It was on the menu, but apparently it was sold out. Since there were practically no other choices left (as he isn't the biggest fan of udon), I had to make the call for him and ordered the Chicken Teriyaki.

Miso Soup - B+

The Miso Soup came with the Chicken Teriyaki and contained green onion and tofu. I gave it to my dad, who said it was very standard and told me to give it the most average grade for Miso Soup, which happens to be a B+. Apparently, it was also not too salty.

Chicken Teriyaki - A-

The Chicken Teriyaki came with a very generous portion of chicken and was plated quite nicely. The chicken was tender while the sweet teriyaki sauce was applied in just the right amount. I also enjoyed the sesame seeds and thin slices of green onion on top. The rice was soft and well-prepared. We both agreed that this was definitely an above-average Chicken Teriyaki.

Next came the slightly gigantic Special Roll Combo, which featured half orders of five of their various special rolls. It looked marvelous with all the different colours. Fortunately, my dad decided to help me out in finishing the dish. Unfortunately, he got full after one piece (*facepalm*).

Crispy Crunch Roll - B-

The Crispy Crunch Roll consisted of prawn tempura, avocado, and tempura crumbs. It did live up to its name, but I didn't really enjoy the sour tinge of the sauce. Furthermore, I realized that if Sushi 990 did serve tempura by itself, it wouldn't have been very good, as the oil was overused and the batter was a bit harder and crunchier than necessary.

Philadelphia Roll - A-

The Philadelphia Roll, on the other hand, was quite successful and looked really appetizing to begin with. The smoked salmon had a delicious, vibrant flavour and the cream cheese was nicely melted for better integration with the crab meat. It's very difficult to make me like any roll with cream cheese, but this one was successful at achieving just that.

Black Tiger Roll - B-

The Black Tiger Roll consisted of cream cheese, avocado, crab meat, and cooked shrimp. Interestingly, a small amount of mustard was added to each piece of shrimp. I found the crab meat to be a bit dry and the roll to be a bit too sour overall. On the plus side, the cooked shrimp had a nice natural, sweet flavour.

Hot Night Roll - B

The Hot Night Roll consisted of crab meat, avocado, spicy tuna, and tobiko. The tuna was soft and moderately spicy while the batter on the prawns was very crunchy. Each individual piece was quite large and filling, and sadly, I failed to finish the platter of special rolls as a result. Looks like I'll have to be rescued by the take-out boxes again ...

Poco Roll - B+

The Poco Roll had a very distinct appearance and contained prawn tempura, cream cheese, and avocado with crab meat and tobiko on top. I appreciated the novelty of having the crab meat on top, but it would be nice if the crab meat wasn't significantly cooler than the rest of the roll. Overall, the flavours worked well together and this was one of the better special rolls on the platter.

Our server had a friendly attitude and the sushi chef took the effort to greet every customer. However, we did have to ask for our tea to be refilled, although I wish they would have just served the tea in larger cups. The decent Chicken Teriyaki was the most memorable dish, though I'll have to confess that my eyes kept getting drawn up to the girls in the Korean music videos they were playing on the TV. Don't blame me ... I have a lot of excuses.

Sushi 990 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Episode #54: Aburiya Sushi

Maple Ridge, $$ (Moderately Priced)

My main problem with winter is that whenever the temperature dips below freezing, I do not feel like waking up at all. I figured that the only way to counter this would be a sushi adventure, so I planned an early morning sushi adventure (a.k.a. noon) to Aburiya Sushi all the way out in Maple Ridge. Aburiya Sushi is a new Korean-operated restaurant that opened up approximately two months ago, replacing the fancy Lava Room Dining and Lounge. A few clicks on Aburiya's website revealed that they did indeed serve Aburi (seared) sushi and had very good deals for lunch. That was enough to get me out of bed before noon but not enough to prevent me from dozing off on the bus. Sigh, winter problems ... 

The interior of the restaurant is very large and consists of multiple dining areas. I was seated in the largest dining area in a corner behind a divider, so I could do anything I wanted without being noticed. I guess I didn't need that privacy because the photos I took with flash turned out to be worse than the ones I took without (the flash made the table completely black, so everything looked like it was floating in space).

The lunch specials (PDF) were a steal, allowing you to choose three items from a select list for $8.95, four items for $11.95 and five items for $14.95. I guess they didn't think about including an option to choose six items for $17.95 (or seven items for $20.95), which would be helpful for people like me who want to try everything.

Salad - B+

The salad turned out to be quite large, dressed with a strong, tangy vinaigrette and accompanied by a generous helping of imitation crab meat. I enjoyed how the crab meat worked well with the vinaigrette, but the arugula leaves in the salad were quite mature, making them overly large and chewy.

Assorted Tempura (4 pcs) - B-

The Assorted Tempura consisted of one piece each of prawn, carrot, broccoli and yam. My favourite was the broccoli because it was nice and juicy and not thickly covered with batter. Unfortunately, the other pieces were quite greasy and covered in copious amounts of batter which were quite hard.

Chicken Yaki Soba (half) - B

The Chicken Yaki Soba was still steaming when it was brought to me and gave off an appetizing, aromatic flavour. The yakisoba noodles were quite chewy and almost al dente. The chicken was tender enough, but I wish it had more of a grilled flavour.

Aburi Salmon Oshi (3 pcs) - C+
Lion King Roll (half) - B+

The Aburi Salmon Oshi looked right, but turned out rather bland. For some reason, the salmon was close to being tasteless, so all the focus shifted to the rice, which was slightly mushy and also failed to provide much flavour. The Lion King Roll, which consisted of prawn tempura, crab meat, avocado, corn and mozzarella cheese, was much better. The mozzarella cheese and teriyaki sauce was a successful combination, and I also enjoyed the corn and sweet crab meat inside. The whole roll was delightably soft and full of moisture after being baked. 

 Salmon Sashimi - B-
Tuna Sashimi - B-

I wanted to try some sashimi too, but I had exhausted my limit of five items with the Lunch Plate C so I had to order the sashimi separately ($6.50). The cuts were quite generous and everything was plated nicely. The Salmon Sashimi had a soft and jelly-like texture, but it was lacking in flavour just like the Aburi Salmon Oshi from earlier. The slice of lemon cured the Tuna Sashimi from its slightly fishy flavour. It was still a few minutes away from being fully thawed.

Even though I was seated in a secluded corner of the restaurant, the servers came around to me quite frequently to make sure things were okay. The service was also friendly and attentive, though there weren't many diners, probably owing to the fact that it was New Year's Eve. The menu is quite extensive and there is a large selection of special rolls, though some of the food (like the Aburi Salmon Oshi) can use some improvements. As for virtually every other Japanese restaurant in Maple Ridge, I found the prices to be quite affordable.

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