Thursday, February 26, 2015

Episode #66: Hitoe Sushi

Vancouver (Northwest), $$ (Moderately Priced)

While waiting for Hitoe Sushi to open for dinner, I decided to venture once again into UBC. I needed to get a small snack to keep me alive for the next two hours, so I thought I would get something small at one of the many fast food joints on campus. Unfortunately, fast food is way more popular at UBC than it is anywhere else in the Lower Mainland. At every Starbucks, Tim Hortons, White Spot, etc., there was a massive line-up that either went all the way to the door or beyond. Come on, people, eat less junk food and eat more sushi!

The restaurant has a very modest exterior. Their name, "Hitoe", is written in small letters on a piece of paper taped to the window (although their Japanese name, ひとえ, appears in a bigger font). Inside, the decor is also modest, but all of the staff were wearing Japanese outfits. Also, there is a large variety of Japanese-themed decorations to make the place feel more Japanese-themed. This is all fitting because Hitoe is actually run by Japanese people. When I opened the menu, the first thing that stood out to me was the large number of gluten-free items. The next thing I noticed was that the font was really small, but since I am a university student, that didn't bother me much.


The EEEEEEELLL Roll (yes it's spelled like that) consisted of tempura ebi, cucumber, crab meet, BBQ eel, avocado, masago, teriyaki sauce, olive oil and mayonnaise. It was a generous portion with 10 pieces presented neatly in a circle around a small seaweed salad. The seaweed salad was my favourite part of the whole dish. Regarding the roll itself, the unagi had a nice sweet flavour, but this was masked by the bland avocado and the overuse of vinegar in the sushi rice. 

Next, I had the Black Cod Set Meal (BBQ miso-flavoured black cod, steamed rice, takuwan, seaweed salad, appetizer sashimi, miso soup) pictured above.

 Miso Soup - A-

The Miso Soup was made with a dark miso paste, giving it a uniquely rich flavour. It certainly doesn't taste like your average miso soup, and there is an abundance of seaweed and tofu too.

Salmon Sashimi - B+
Tuna Sashimi - A
Sockeye Salmon Sashimi - B+

The Appetizer Sashimi did not come in big portions, but it certainly fulfilled the freshness criteria. The Salmon Sashimi had a decent texture with just enough flavour. The Tuna Sashimi was especially soft and with a nice balanced taste. The Sockeye Salmon Sashimi was just a smooth texture away from an A.

BBQ Miso-Flavoured Black Cod - B+

The BBQ Miso-Flavoured Black Cod was very soft and exhibited good moisture preservation. The unique sweetness from the miso was quite enjoyable, though it could have more of a BBQ flavour. 

The servers were especially friendly during my visit and even presented me with a packet of Pocky sticks on my way out! The prices were reasonable considering the location and if you like authenticity, then Hitoe can fulfill that. The place even has that "authentic smell" as you pass by it. However, it doesn't necessarily have a fancy atmosphere and the lighting can be improved. In my opinion, the food was slightly above average, and it was a bit of a shame that I was too full to try their aburi nigiri.

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Episode #65: Tentatsu

Vancouver (Northeast), $ (Budget)

To celebrate Chinese New Year, I went to the Chinese-run Tentatsu and accidentally ordered a feast! Located on Hastings, Tentatsu is popular for its decent prices and generous portions. Since the menu was so large, I tried not to take forever to order and hastily ordered the Lunch Set Combo E, which consisted of tempura and wild salmon. I didn't know that the wild salmon was going to turn into a full-sized wild salmon teriyaki and I also didn't know that the combo was going to come with miso soup, a salad, and steamed rice. Looks like reading the fine print might have been a good idea!

Miso Soup - B

The Miso Soup came with lots of seaweed and green onion. It needed a bit more miso paste, and was served very hot.

Salad - B-
Wild Salmon Teriyaki - A-
Assorted Tempura - B+

The Salad that came with the Lunch Set Combo E was dressed with a citrus vinaigrette that had a bit of a strange gingery snap to it. The Wild Salmon Teriyaki was the best item of the "feast", with lightly battered salmon that was full of moisture when presented to me. The amount of dressing on it was quite appropriate and went well with the bed of lettuce underneath. The Assorted Tempura, though the oil was a bit overused, was quite decent in terms of flavour preservation. The sweet potato, yam, and kabocha all had a good amount of moisture and sweetness while the 2 prawns exhibited an aromatic burst of flavour.

Princess Roll - B+

The Princess Roll consisted of unagi tempura, tamago, cucumber, avocado, smoked salmon and tobiko. The smoked salmon on top was fresh, but the tobiko and mayonnaise on top made the salmon taste strange (it ended up being almost sour). The tamago helped bring out the flavour of the unagi tempura well. Scraping off the tobiko and mayonnaise, the rest of the flavours matched quite well together.

Aburi Tuna Nigiri - B-
Aburi Toro Nigiri - B
 Aburi Saba Nigiri - B-
Aburi Tai Nigiri - B-
Aburi Salmon Nigiri - C+

Unfortunately, Aburi Nigiri doesn't seem to be their specialty. The pieces of fish were fresh and very generous, but the large quantities of rice underneath were too tightly packed. There also wasn't much of an Aburi (seared) flavour in most of the pieces. The Tai and Toro were the best of the bunch, with the tai being not too tough and the toro being quite juicy.

The service wasn't bad for a Chinese-run restaurant, but don't expect too much. Tentatsu is good if you're on a tight budget and need some filling sushi. On another note, the Chinese lunar calendar seems to make pretty accurate predictions. It predicted that I'll have a mostly unfortunate year, and on the first day, I had already forgotten to bring cash to school, accidentally ordered too much, and grabbed a faulty mint on my way out of the restaurant (there was only half a mint in the wrapper). Sigh ...

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Episode #64: Yamato Sushi

Vancouver (Yaletown), $$ (Moderately Priced)

During my walk from Juno Vancouver to Burrard Station after Episode #63, I passed by a small but very busy Chinese-run sushi place by the name of Yamato Sushi. I Googled it to see mostly good reviews and also discovered that they had Prawn Tempura Nigiri. How could I resist? Despite the fact that the decor was simple and slightly worn out, it was interesting to see candles on the tables.

Wild Salmon Sashimi - B+
Tai Nigiri - B+
Toro Nigiri - A
Prawn Tempura Nigiri - B

The Wild Salmon Sashimi was very fresh and flavourful and I would have given it an A if I had not found a rather large bone in it. The Tai Nigiri packed sufficient flavour and was correctly sliced thinner to avoid being too chewy. The Toro Nigiri was also very fresh and melted perfectly in my mouth. The Prawn Tempura Nigiri didn't really work out as well as I thought it would as it was lacking in flavour.

Dragon Roll - A-

The Dragon Roll consisted of unagi, avocado, masago and prawn tempura. The flavours worked nicely together and the tempura batter provided some crispiness to the roll. The sesame seeds helped accentuate the flavour of the unagi and although the mayonnaise was a bit thick in places, I liked how the roll wasn't drenched in sauce.

Chicken Teriyaki with Rice - B

The Chicken Teriyaki with Rice ($5.50) came in a larger portion than I had expected considering the price. They were generous with the chicken, which was generally well-prepared and tender. I liked how the carrot was full of moisture and not hard. The rice was a bit disappointing as it was hardly dressed and mushed together in places.

Overall, the food was fresh and exceeded my expectations considering the location and price range. The service wasn't terrible but it wasn't very good either as it felt a little rushed. I felt like I had to put up with a lot of things, such as cramped seating, a wobbly stool, and the fact that one of the servers had a difficult time controlling her allergies. I would recommend ordering take out instead of eating in during their busy hours.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Episode #63: Juno Vancouver Sushi Bistro

Vancouver (Yaletown), $$$ (Higher Priced)

Last week, I was shopping at Daiso and came across a guide to Vancouver for Japanese tourists right by the checkout counters. I decided to pick one up because the front cover had the word "coupon" on it and the phrase "Effective until June 2015" in Japanese, and you can never go wrong with coupons that are still effective. You have no idea how joyous I was to find dozens of pages of coupons to various Japanese restaurants around the city nestled near the back of the booklet.   

Strangely enough, only two of the restaurants seemed to make sushi (most of the other places being izakayas) so I decided to make the journey to Juno Vancouver Sushi Bistro, which is run by a small group of Japanese chefs. I walked into the bistro to find that it was quite small, but the aroma of seared sushi effectively sealed the exit for me. Furthermore, one of the parties sitting near the door couldn't stop complimenting the sushi. How could I resist?

Aburi Toro Nigiri - B+
Shima-Aji Nigiri - B
Unagi Nigiri - B+

After 20 minutes of having to endure watching my neighbouring diners savour and compliment their sushi, my first dish finally arrived. The Aburi Toro Nigiri was dressed with green onions and masatake sauce and was very soft and juicy while lacking a seared flavour. The Shima-Aji Nigiri was missing that uniquely creamy and delicately sweet flavour so it ended up tasting much like a regular Salmon Nigiri. I really liked the savoury flavour of the unagi, but to my surprise, it wasn't enough to cover the vinegar in the sushi rice.

Ebi Mayo - A-

The Ebi Mayo consisted of 6 beer battered shrimp with grapefruit, pistachios, organic greens and sweet mayonnaise sauce as toppings. The plump juicy shrimps were a delight against the sweet, nutty sauce. The use of pistachios gave the dish a unique zing. I also liked how the shrimps were fully peeled so that I could eat the whole dish without having to worry about getting my notebook soiled.

Aburi Salmon Roll - B+

The Aburi Salmon Roll consisted of seared sockeye salmon, red onion, caper, lemon, cream cheese and yogurt sauce. The miniature slices of lemon on top did a good job of moderating the impact of the rather large helping of cream cheese, but the sockeye salmon was successfully seared and its smoky flavour shone better with the slices of lemon removed. I couldn't decide which way I liked it better, as both were good but not quite excellent.

Mini Parfait - A-

Having spent $30, my coupon awarded me this beautifully presented Mini Parfait, which was made with black sesame ice cream, a mint leaf, grapefruit and blueberries. It was quite frozen, so it barely melted in the time it took me to take half a dozen photos of it using different angles and camera modes.

The service was quite friendly and above average. I enjoyed most of the food and the time they spent into adding unique touches to the food, but I felt that they could experiment more carefully to find the optimal pairings of ingredients for some of their dishes. There were several items that almost hit the jackpot.

Juno Vancouver Sushi Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Episode #62: Sushiful

Vancouver (Southeast), $ (Budget)

My original plan for Episode #62 was to go to Shinobi in Maple Ridge to celebrate the beginning of reading break, but the evil forces of public transportation prevailed and decided to make me miss each of my transfers by a few seconds. I came up with a back-up plan in a jiffy and headed over to the Korean-run Sushiful, a place that has received numerous rave reviews online. It was hard to resist. Who doesn't want to try a place that prepares exciting special rolls in the $5 to $8 price range?

Inside the restaurant, there's a wall that's dedicated to their motto: Don't Stop Till Sushiful. It was good to see that their motto was perfectly aligned with my personal beliefs. The decor was quite basic and resembled a take-out place with tables and chairs more than a restaurant, but the warm welcome I received from the hardworking server and the sushi chef cast my initial doubts aside. I was determined to eat until I was "Sushiful."

Dynaska Roll - C+

The first item to arrive was the Dynaska Roll ($5.95), which consisted of tempura prawn, cucumber, avocado, masago, Japanese salad dressing and salmon. It was neatly presented and cut into evenly sized pieces. Unfortunately, the tempura was really soggy and the prawn was devoid of moisture. I also felt that the flavour of the dressing was rather discordant with the prawn. I later reviewed the menu again and noticed that they did not serve any tempura dishes, so perhaps they had to use pre-made battered prawns.

Next, I received the Sashimi & Roll Combo, which contained a California roll and 8 pieces of sashimi (4 kinds). I found it interesting how the roll and the sashimi were facing opposite sides, so I had to turn the dish around to take proper photos of each.

Tuna Sashimi - B
Salmon Sashimi - B+
Tako Sashimi - C+
Hokkigai Sashimi - C

The Tuna Sashimi was lacking that melt-in-your-mouth feel of high-grade tuna. The Salmon Sashimi tasted the freshest of the bunch, and came in a thick, generous cut. The Tako Sashimi had an unnatural salty flavour, but I enjoyed how it was cut thin so that it would not be too chewy. The Hokkigai Sashimi was a bit disappointing because it had about as much taste as plain water.

California Roll - C+

The California Roll was decorated with sesame seeds and covered in a moderately thick layer of rice. The roll was quite mediocre in my opinion and had me thinking about supermarket sushi. On the plus side, there was no freezer burn issue here.

Unagi Nigiri - B-
Saba Nigiri - C+
Tai Nigiri - B-
Toro Nigiri - B+

Not quite sushiful, and still hopeful that they would deliver superb before I headed out the exit, I ordered a few pieces of nigiri. The Unagi Nigiri (BBQ Eel), at $1.60, is the cheapest in town and had a sweet cookie-like taste. The sauce on top was too strong and left me wondering if they ran out of unagi sauce and used a dab of oyster sauce as a desparate substitute. The Saba Nigiri (salted mackerel) had a salt overdose and the rice under the Tai Nigiri (red snapper) needed more flavour, though the tai itself was not tough and had some flavour to it. The Toro Nigiri was the best part of the meal, and had a smooth fatty texture along with some refreshing sweetness. Despite the low prices, the portion sizes of the nigiri were quite decent.

I found the service quite friendly and it was nice to see both the server and the sushi chef trying to make my visit as pleasant as possible. Unfortunately, the prices reflected the quality of the food much more than I had hoped for during my visit. Well, there is always a plus side - I did leave sushiful and my wallet was more than delighted.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Episode #61: Sushi Gallery

Vancouver (Northwest), $ (Budget)

UBC has an exceptionally beautiful campus right by the western fringes of Vancouver and I decided to tour it by foot since I had some free time. I indeed had a wonderful time, which included me tripping on construction, getting hit by a paper airplane, and getting lost half a dozen times. The only bad part of my trip was not being able to find anything useful in the clearance section at the on-campus Staples.

A short distance away from UBC is a very wallet-friendly sushi restaurant by the name of Sushi Gallery, which has some of the lowest prices for sushi that I have encountered in the Lower Mainland. Inside is a medium-sized dining area with straw chairs, wooden tables and casual decor. There are a variety of gluten-free and vegetarian options on the menu, including an assortment of 50-cent vegetarian nigiri. I'm obviously not a vegetarian, but at the same time, there was no way I could resist nigiri that was 50 cents a piece.

Miso Soup - B

The complimentary Miso Soup was self-serve and you are allowed as many free refills as you want. I chose the regular miso soup instead of the gluten-free one, but unfortunately, it was a bit watery and lacking in tofu. After reading several blog posts about Sushi Gallery, it appears that I was just unlucky because everyone else managed to scoop up some tofu. Despite this, the Miso Soup had a good balance of flavours and contained an abundance of seaweed.

Wild Unagi Roll - B+

The Wild Unagi Roll was elegantly constructed and consisted of eel tempura, wild salmon, avocado and masago. The wild salmon was fresh and had a smooth sheen and I enjoyed the faint crispiness from the tempura batter. There wasn't very much unagi in the roll and the sushi rice needed more vinegar. However, the sweetness from the avocado gracefully harmonized the flavours of the other ingredients.

Salmon Sashimi - B-
Tuna Sashimi - C-

The Mini Sashimi came with a much more generous portion than I had expected for $3.95. The Salmon Sashimi was cut thickly and exhibited some tough sections. It could have more flavour to it. The Tuna Sashimi was unfortunately served frozen and the interior was just like a popsicle. I had to let it sit on the side and unpopsiclize itself, a process which took half an hour.

 Seared Tuna Nigiri - B+
BBQ Eel Nigiri - B+
Toro Nigiri - A-
Enoki Mushroom Nigiri - B-
Seaweed Salad Nigiri - B+

The Seared Tuna Nigiri had a slight smoky flavour and retained a good amount of moisture. The BBQ Eel Nigiri was quite large and exhibited a softer-than-standard texture. The presentation was a bit sloppy with sauce overflowing everywhere, but it had a nice sweet and savoury flavour. The Toro Nigiri had a mild, creamy flavour and was delightably soft and smooth.

From the array of 50-cent vegetarian nigiri, I chose the Enoki Mushroom Nigiri and the Seaweed Salad Nigiri. It didn't feel like enoki mushrooms and sushi rice were a good pairing. However, the Seaweed Salad Nigiri, although not the most neatly constructed, was quite decent in terms of taste. The rice was not packed too tightly, which made it easier to chew.

Takoyaki - B-

The Takoyaki was served piping hot and was accompanied by a fruit and vegetable salad dressed with mango sauce and Japanese salad dressing. The Takoyaki were quite large but there didn't seem to be a lot of octopus, so it tasted overly pillowy and floury. There is a noticeable hint of ginger in the Takoyaki and the exterior shell had a light crispiness and was well done.

The restaurant remained half full for the duration of my visit, which was at standard dinner time on a Tuesday evening. There were two servers on the scene, and both of them were quite friendly. The rolls and nigiri appear to be executed better and the fresh wild salmon was a delight. Unfortunately, I was so full that it became physically impossible for me to take advantage of the unlimited miso soup refills. What ensued was another episode of Raymond's Hibernating-on-the-Bus Adventures.

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

Monday, February 02, 2015

Episode #60: Minami Restaurant

Vancouver (Yaletown), $$$$ (Luxury)

After finishing another daunting week of lectures, I was seeking some Aburi awesomeness when I suddenly remembered that Dine Out was still available. It was 2:30 p.m. and the only sushi restaurants I knew that served a Dine Out Lunch Menu were Miku and Minami. Of course, I ended up choosing Minami just so I could write one more episode. Don't worry, I got my priorities straight.

Both Minami and Miku are operated by the Japanese restaurateur Seigo Nakamura and specialize in modern Japanese fusion cuisine. Minami has a more Pacific Western influence than Miku but many of the best-selling items can be found at both restaurants. Minami, located in the heart of Yaletown, does not have the stunning view that Miku has to offer, but the interior atmosphere is cozier and more comfortable in my opinion. Most importantly, I have never had the problem of  Minami running out of mint chocolates at the door.

Miso Soup - A-

My Dine Out Lunch started off with the Miso Soup, which was garnished with seaweed, tofu and enoki mushrooms. The miso paste was leaning towards the stronger side and it tasted quite standard except for the addition of the mushrooms.

Before I could finish the Miso Soup, the Zen box and Specialty Sushi arrived at the same time and were quickly followed by the Ebi Fritter, which I ordered in addition to the Dine Out Lunch Menu. I'm not quite sure why they thought it was a good idea to bring out everything at virtually the same time, but at least I was seated at a table of 4 so I had enough room on the table for everything.

Aburi Bincho - B+

As the Zen box is designed to be eaten from right to left, I started with the Aburi Bincho (seared white tuna), which was accompanied by red seaweed and ponzu-oroshi sauce. It was similar to a tuna tataki and could use a bit more moisture, but the tuna was quite fresh.

Beet Salad - B

The Beet Salad consisted of roasted and pickled beets, maple-apple cider vinaigrette, and baby greens. The vinaigrette had a citrusy flavour and the beets were roasted for the right amount of time, allowing them to retain a mild amount of juiciness and a mild fruity flavour. The vinaigrette could be better integrated with the baby greens.

Tiger Prawn Cake - A-

The Tiger Prawn Cake was accompanied by an Asian slaw and sweet chili aioli. The coleslaw had an appealing mild level of spice, and the Tiger Prawn Cake had a Chinese fried meatball feel to it.

Fraser Valley Pork Cheek - A

The Fraser Valley Pork Cheek was served with roasted heirloom potatoes, maple-miso sauce, and juniper-blueberry compote. The potatoes were soft, but a bit dry by the time I got to them. However, the pork cheek was perfectly braised, and was delightfully juicy and surprisingly soft. It certainly tasted better than it looked. The blueberry compote added a subtle sweetness to the pork cheek that worked excellently.

Hamachi with Citrus Avocado - A-
Albacore with Miso Glaze - A
Minami Roll - A-
Aburi Salmon Oshi - A+
Aburi Ebi Oshi - A

The Specialty Sushi came with two pieces of dressed nigiri sushi, one piece of maki sushi and two pieces of Aburi (seared) oshizushi. The Hamachi with Citrus Avocado was fresh, but the citrus avocado kind of vanished when consumed with the hamachi. On the other hand, the miso glaze accentuated the flavours successfully in the Albacore with Miso Glaze. The Minami Roll consisted of spicy prawn, cucumber, Aburi short rib and wasabi masatake sauce. The short rib was soft and had a nice, smooth texture, while the cucumber took center stage with regard to the interior.

When I wrote Episode 59, I didn't really think Miku's Aburi Salmon Oshi would be topped, but it was. Whereas Miku's Aburi Salmon Oshi was 95% there, Minami's was 100%. It had the perfect smoky flavour and peppery tinge, and was slightly more aromatic than Miku's. Minami completely nailed this one. The Aburi Ebi Oshi was dressed with a creamy, lemony pesto sauce and the sushi rice that accompanied it was very soft.

Ebi Fritter - A-

The Ebi Fritter came with 5 large, meaty prawns covered in a light, crispy batter. The spices and herbs used in the batter gave it an extra dimension of flavour. The prawns needed slightly more moisture and significantly more balsamic reduction. Minami completely blew me away with this dish during my last visit, so I'm not too sure what happened here. It was still an above average dish of battered tiger prawns though.

Passionfruit Sorbet - A-

The dessert for the Dine Out Lunch Menu came in the form of a Passionfruit Sorbet with a lemon cookie and seasonal fruit. I'm glad that they didn't bring this out before I finished all the dishes above. The sorbet had a bright, citrusy flavour with a sweet tang and went well with the fruits. It was a nice, refreshing finish to a decent set lunch.

The service was attentive, friendly and a notch above your typical Japanese restaurant. Like Miku, they took the time to introduce each item to me. However, I felt that some things could be improved as the timing of the dishes was off and they were conducting an interview in the table next to mine. At the very least, I got the chance to savour some very memorable items, such as the 10/10 Aburi Salmon Oshi (which I want to give an A++) and the surprisingly good Fraser Valley Pork Cheek.

The best part of all was that the chocolate container by the door was completely packed with mint chocolates, so I delightfully grabbed one as I left. Score!

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