Sunday, April 26, 2015

Episode #80: Ki Isu Japanese Restaurant

West Vancouver, $$ (Moderately Priced)

A long time ago, I visited Ki Isu in Yaletown with a friend and we both ended up enjoying the food there. That was way before I started writing this blog, so now, in order to include Ki Isu, I had to choose one of their two locations to visit - Yaletown or West Vancouver. The decision wasn't that hard to make because the West Vancouver location is rated 2% higher on Urbanspoon. So here I was, napping on buses for nearly two hours just to get to that 2%-better sushi. At least I was using that time wisely.

Ki Isu is a Korean-operated Japanese restaurant and is one of the more affordable sushi places in West Vancouver with a large assortment of fusion items on the menu. The atmosphere of the restaurant was quite lively even at half past five, and by 6, there were people waiting for seats and the waitresses were running around the restaurant at an almost-comical speed. The restaurant wasn't even that large, so I'm not sure how much running around actually helped. I'll give credit to the waitresses for not dropping any of the dishes and for only making me raise my hand for 5 minutes to place my order.

Tuna Goma-ae - A-

The Tuna Goma-ae came with five rather large pieces of Albacore tuna with scallions draped on top. There was no spinach, but there was more than enough tuna to justify the $4.95 price tag. The tuna was a bit on the colder side, but maintained a soft texture and went well with the well-balanced sesame dressing.

Spicy Salmon Nuggets - A

I've never seen Salmon Nuggets before, so my expectations were quite low - I would be satisfied as long as they were better than McNuggets. When they first arrived, they looked like a bad case of messed-up gyoza, but it didn't take me long to get addicted to them. The salmon was deliciously juicy and the batter was crispy and not hard at all. The level of spiciness was just right and did not overwhelm the flavour of the salmon.

Crunch Crunch Roll (B's Roll) - A-

The Crunch Crunch Roll (B's Roll) (half order pictured above) consisted of tempura bits, masago, and tuna dressed in mayonnaise. Don't ask me what B stands for - all I can tell you is that it's better than a B. Inside the roll, the seaweed-mayonnaise combo was tasty and the tuna was sufficiently soft. The tempura bits were a bit large, but overall, the flavours worked nicely together in this neatly constructed roll.

Unagi Nigiri - A-

While most of the items on the menu are moderately priced, the nigiri sushi is curiously luxury-priced. The one piece of Unagi Nigiri in the picture above cost me $3.95. I originally wanted to get a piece of Anago Nigiri too (because two pieces of nigiri on a plate makes for a more attractive photo), but unfortunately, they were sold out of anago. The unagi was decent with a nice smoked flavour, but it wasn't tantalizing enough to be worth $3.95.

Brown Rice Salmon Cake - B

For the last item of my dinner, I got the Brown Rice Salmon Cake, which consisted of brown rice stacked with crunch, avocado salad, tangy jalapeño salmon, and kizami nori (seaweed). The server told me that they ran out of brown rice, so technically, I got the "Black Rice Salmon Cake" instead. I enjoyed the sweet, creamy flavour of the avocado and the salmon, but the black rice underneath made everything too sweet. It would be nice if they held back on the amount of black rice to put under each piece (or if they bought more brown rice so they wouldn't run out before prime dinner time).

The quality of service was acceptable, but was limited by how busy the servers were. Some of the diners around me began to feel sorry for the two servers, seeing how overworked they were. Other than that, it was a pleasant visit with plenty of well-crafted food that exceeded my expectations. The decent food and reasonable prices are what brings so many locals to Ki Isu. It looks like Urbanspoon made the correct choice for me!

Ki-Isu Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Episode #79: Sushi Loku

Vancouver (Northeast), $ (Budget)

During my online search for a sushi restaurant on Broadway to try out, I came across Sushi Loku. I opened their website and the first thing that I saw was the words "Best sushi on Broadway" in a big font. Well, I guess I needed to look no further. After all, what can possibly go wrong with a restaurant that is confident enough to say "Best sushi on Broadway"?

Sushi Loku is a medium-sized, Korean-operated restaurant that has been converted from a former café. When I walked in, I was hit with the smell of a retro American diner. Fortunately, things smelled a little more sushi-like over in the main dining area. Also, it was great to see a large variety of dishes at very affordable prices on the menu!

While I was waiting for my food, I was served a teapot of Genmai Japanese Green Tea. It had a nice rice-infused flavour and when I opened the lid of the teapot, I could see little grains of brown rice floating around. This was one of my favourite parts of the whole meal.

Tuna Sashimi - B+
Salmon Sashimi - B-
Sockeye Salmon Sashimi - B+
Hamachi Sashimi - B-

I ordered the Appetizer Sashimi, which came with two pieces each of tuna, salmon, and sockeye salmon as well as one piece of hamachi. It had quite a bit of variety for just $8.95! The Tuna Sashimi was fresh with a soft texture and a balanced taste. Both kinds of salmon could use more flavour and the Atlantic salmon was chewier than expected. The Hamachi Sashimi was most likely the farmed variety as it was quite fatty and not very rich in taste.

Tuna Tataki Roll - A-

The Tuna Tataki Roll consisted of prawn tempura, crab meat, avocado, seared tuna, green onion, and ponzu sauce. It was neatly constructed and the tuna had a delicious seared flavour. The tempura had a nice crunch to it, and the use of ponzu sauce made this roll taste unique. Be careful though as ponzu sauce and soy sauce don't really mix well together.

Prawn Tempura Roll - C+

I've never seen a Prawn Tempura Roll as a hosomaki (small roll with seaweed on the outside) before, so seeing this on the menu made me quite curious. It didn't really work out as well as I thought it would. The roll was rolled up a bit too tightly and the crispiness from the prawn tempura disappeared.

Beef Sukiyaki Don - B

The Beef Sukiyaki Don was served in quite a large portion and consisted of soft beef in a rice bowl with Japanese-style scrambled eggs, green onion, onion and sweet soy sauce. The beef was sufficiently soft and rich in flavour. The egg gave the rice bowl a bit of a katsu-don aroma. While the rice was mushy in places, I liked how it was adequately dressed.

The service was adequate and friendly, although by 3 p.m., the servers were already setting up for their break-time meal. The prices were very reasonable and were about halfway between my $ and $$ ratings, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and categorized them under $. The Tuna Tataki Roll was the highlight of the meal (along with the tea), and it seemed that several other diners were thoroughly enjoying their special rolls as well. I don't know about "Best sushi on Broadway", but "Affordable sushi on Broadway" sounds about right.

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Episode #78: Rokku Asian Cuisine

Surrey Southeast, $$ (Moderately Priced)

To celebrate a mostly successful team presentation which marked the end of one of my courses at SFU, I went down to Rokku Asian Cuisine for some fusion Japanese food. Unfortunately, I couldn't invite my teammates to come with me because some of them had other classes, so I texted them pictures of the food on Whatsapp. Close enough ... at least they can enjoy the food with their eyes.

Rokku Asian Cuisine is Chinese-operated and is one of South Surrey's newest Japanese restaurants. Perhaps the most notable thing about the menu is that there is a sizable selection of bubble teas on the back page, which I did not even notice until the server asked me if I would like bubble tea. My initial reaction was WTF? It also turns out that their bubble tea is only $1.99 with a $8 order during their Happy Hour (3 to 5 p.m.). Even though this was technically a steal, I turned down the offer so that I would have more capacity to try more dishes (bubble teas are quite filling).

Salmon Gomae - A-

The Salmon Gomae came with spinach on many small slices of salmon sashimi dressed with sesame sauce. The spinach was refreshing and easy to chew. As for the salmon sashimi, they did use the leftover pieces close to the skin that can't be served in a sashimi dish. However, the salmon went very well with the sesame dressing, and they wouldn't be able to give me nearly as many pieces of salmon for $5.95 if they used cuts that could be served as sashimi, so there wasn't much for me to complain about.

Seared Salmon Nigiri - A-
Seared Toro Nigiri - B+
Seared Saba Nigiri - B+

The Seared Toro Nigiri and the Seared Saba Nigiri didn't really manage to project a seared flavour and the seared toro was a total miss in terms of authenticity. However, the textures were correct and they saved the toro with spicy mayonnaise sauce. The Seared Salmon Nigiri was successfully seared and its smooth, creamy flavour was enjoyable. 

Lobster Roll - B+

The Lobster Roll consisted of lobster, avocado, cucumber, grilled salmon and cheese. I ordered this roll so that I would have an appetizing photo to text to my teammates. Now, I don't know if I would call it a Lobster Roll, because it was more like a Salmon Tataki Crunch Roll with Lobster Tempura in the middle. Despite the lack of lobster in the roll (there was only a very small amount of it inside the roll), both the "Salmon Tataki Crunch Roll" and the lobster tempura tasted decent. Oh, and you also get a small Wakame Salad under the lobster tempura.

Wasabi Mayo Prawns - B-

The Wasabi Mayo Prawns came with 6 tempura prawns and deep-fried cellophane noodles dressed in wasabi-mayo sauce. Unfortunately, I didn't see the word "deep-fried", so this ended up looking a bit unhealthier than I expected. The cellophane noodles tasted exactly like potato chips, and if you like wasabi chips, then you might like this dish. Unfortunately, I am one of the rare species of people who don't like potato chips. As for the prawns, they were quite meaty, but the batter has room for improvement.

My server was quite friendly and I liked how she was dressed in a kimono. A lot of the food was not technically prepared the correct way, but they still managed to make each dish taste decent in the end, so I'll give them credit for that. After all, I look for taste rather than authenticity. Next, I attempted to take a walk down to the beach where Moby Dick is, but I got lost about 50 times due to the ultra-confusing layout of roads just north of the beach. I celebrated with a sorbet after successfully finding a narrow staircase leading down to the beach.

Rokku Asian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Episode #77: Kingyo Izakaya

Vancouver (West End), $$ (Moderately Priced)

Every day for lunch, Kingyo Izakaya produces 10 of their Kingyo Assorted Deluxe Bento Box, which is one of those Japanese lunch sets containing a ton of small dishes that I wish I could have on a daily basis. Normally, I have classes to take at SFU at around noon every weekday, but as soon as one of my professors decided to cancel a class, my first thought was to use that opportunity to line up at Kingyo to get this special, exclusive lunch set. As usual, the traffic tried its very best to prevent me from getting there in time. I arrived there after an excruciating hour and a half of bus rides and managed to snatch the 11th spot in line before the restaurant opened.

I only managed to get the lunch set by literally placing my order at the door. As I sat down and waited for my food, I noticed that all of the staff, as well as many of the customers, were Japanese. There were definitely a few moments when I felt like I was actually in Japan. The first time I visited Kingyo, the hostess actually greeted me in Japanese and continued to ask me where I would like to sit in Japanese. Unfortunately, my Japanese skills are quite basic and my reaction time to spoken Japanese is too slow, so I just spoke in English instead.

Tamagoyaki - B-

The Tamagoyaki was unexpectedly served at a cool temperature. It had some grated daikon on top and although it was dressed with teriyaki sauce (which is sweet), I found that it could be sweeter. It also had a small amount of spiciness, which helped to liven up the flavours.

Fried Salmon - B+

The Fried Salmon had a very light layer of tempura batter and was served in a tangy sauce. It was also served cool.

Miso Soup - A+

I know you're supposed to drink the Miso Soup last, but it smelled really good and I couldn't stop myself from taking a sip. One sip turned into another, and soon, there was no Miso Soup left in the bowl. The rich miso paste, combined with a unique flavour due to the addition of carrot and radish, made the Miso Soup highly enjoyable. 

 Tuna Tataki - B+

At first glance, I was worried that they put spicy sauce on the Tuna Tataki, but this was not the case. The red dressing was a furikake-like seasoning that helped to bring a more savoury side to the tuna. The tuna itself was fresh but could be softer.

Marinated Vegetables - A-

The marinated vegetables had a nice savoury flavour overall and both the green beans and the eggplant were soft and juicy.

Kakuni - B

The Kakuni (braised pork) was slightly overdone. However, the potato purée and the teriyaki sauce made a good combination and I liked how the pork was accented with a bit of spice.

Fried Tuna - B+

The Fried Tuna was accompanied by dill cream sauce and a slice of lemon on top. Although I would have liked to see more crispiness with the fried tuna, the dill cream sauce went well with the tuna and gave it a bit of a fish-and-chips feel.

Agedashi Tofu - A-

The Agedashi Tofu exhibited the desired level of crispiness and the interior texture was decent. I like how they added the dried baby shrimps on top for extra flavour.

Pickled Vegetables - A-

Out of all the pickled vegetables I've had, this was above average. The flavour and texture of each piece was on point.

Shrimp Salad - A

The Shrimp Salad came with cocktail shrimp, watercress, and snap peas. The tangy dressing was applied in just the right amount and the cocktail shrimp were rather rich in flavour by themselves.

Fried Chicken - B+

The Fried Chicken was tender and tasted fresh. Although the batter wasn't hard, it would be nice if some more dressing was applied to prevent it from being dry. The bed of cabbage underneath was dressed with gyoza sauce.

Pressed Mackerel Sushi - A+

The Pressed Mackerel Sushi, not a part of the deluxe bento box, consisted of lightly seared marinated mackerel pressed sushi, sweet kelp, sesame, takana pickles topped with original green onion ginger and mustard dressing. I literally fell in love with this dish at first bite. The saba (mackerel) came in thick, generous slices that were very soft and juicy. It was beautifully presented and the searing was done perfectly.

The servers were friendly and patient and overall, the service added to the enjoyment of my lunch. Even though there was a sizeable crowd forming at the door, the servers did not rush my experience at all. Although I'm a sushi person and not an izakaya person, I wouldn't mind coming back to Kingyo Izakaya as the authentic and well-prepared meal was one that I very much enjoyed. Furthermore, they do serve some pressed/nigiri-style sushi, so my visits to Kingyo can qualify as sushi adventures! 

Kingyo Izakaya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Episode #76: Zen Japanese Restaurant

West Vancouver, $$$$ (Luxury)

After finishing all of my midterms for the semester, it was time for a bit of indulging, and by that, I mean fine dining in West Vancouver. It was a beautiful cloudy day, which is the perfect weather for sushi. Actually, every kind of weather is perfect for sushi, but you get the point. Zen Japanese Restaurant is one of the most well-known sushi restaurants on the North Shore and has been featured in Vancouver's Dine Out Festival. My first visit to Zen was a few years ago and it concluded with mixed feelings. However, I only ordered one item that time, so I decided to give it another try.

When I walked into the restaurant, my server greeted me and led me to my table with a stern expression. She was slightly friendlier with the other guests, so I assumed that she was having a bad day or thought I wouldn't leave a tip because of how old I look (or maybe both). I looked inside the menu to find a large number of innovative and interesting dishes, but not wanting to spend too much, I ordered the Chef's Selection Sushi ($29.95) and the Prawn 3 Ways ($14.95). I planned to order more food afterward if I was impressed.

The Prawn 3 Ways came with (from right to left) Seafood Butteryaki, Tails Up, and the Popcorn Shrimp Roll. Now, there are many places where you can fill yourself for $14.95, but at Zen, it seems that $14.95 buys you a snack-sized dish.

Seafood Butteryaki - B+

The Seafood Butteryaki is subtitled "Zen's signature teppan grilled prawns and scallops". The prawns had a good texture and a good snap. The butter was quite rich in flavour and overpowered the prawns.

Tails Up - C+

The Tails Up consisted of fried marinated Japanese kisu stuffed with sweet prawn pâté served on Japanese saikyo miso sauce. The batter was sufficiently crispy and the sauce had a bit of a wine-like flavour to it. I felt that the sauce went against the prawn rather than with it, and I'm not sure how this can happen with a pâté, but one of the shrimp legs was still intact.

Popcorn Shrimp Roll - C

The Popcorn Shrimp Roll consisted of lightly fried cocktail shrimp with organic spring greens and marinated vegetables rolled with soya wrap. Unfortunately, the asparagus wasn't the freshest and it took the spotlight. Removing the asparagus, the roll was quite decent and the sauces matched the popcorn shrimp well. At this point, I was a bit disappointed that the Prawn 3 Ways turned into "3 ways to prepare prawns so that you can't taste the prawns anymore". However, I was still hopeful that perhaps something good will happen with the next dish. 

The Chef's Selection Sushi came with 9 pieces of Zen specialty nigiri sushi and a torched salmon sushi tower. It was beautifully plated and seemed like a much better value than the Prawn 3 Ways at first glance (even though it was twice the price). 

Seared Scallop Nigiri - A
Amaebi Nigiri - A-
Tobiko Nigiri - B
Unagi Nigiri - A

Indeed, the nigiri did not disappoint. The Seared Scallop Nigiri had a brilliant smoky flavour and a slight spiciness for an extra zing. It was deliciously soft and smooth. The Amaebi Nigiri had sufficient sweetness and a nice, creamy flavour. The Tobiko Nigiri had an enjoyable pop to it, but it didn't pack much flavour. The Unagi Nigiri was quite large and was dressed with just the right amount of unagi sauce. It had a smooth texture and a delightful BBQ aroma.

Seared Ahi Poke Nigiri - A-
Seared Salmon Nigiri - B
Seared Tuna Nigiri - A
Shiromi Nigiri - B+
Jalapeño Hamachi Nigiri - A-

The Seared Ahi Poke Nigiri came with a light seared taste and the dressing matched well with the smooth texture of the ahi tuna. The Seared Salmon Nigiri was overpowered by the daikon, though the salmon tasted fresh. While the Seared Salmon Nigiri lacked a seared taste, the Seared Tuna Nigiri did not, and its smooth texture made it highly enjoyable. The Shiromi Nigiri (flounder) had a smooth texture and a small shiso leaf to give it an extra dimension of flavour. The Jalapeño Hamachi Nigiri didn't have any spiciness to it, but the hamachi had a nice, well-balanced flavour.

Torched Salmon Sushi Tower - A-

The Torched Salmon Sushi Tower was quite attractive in appearance. The thin layer of seared salmon and its accompanying mayonnaise was decent and was reminiscent of Miku's Aburi Salmon Oshizushi. The avocado added a layer of creaminess and sweetness which I enjoyed. However, I am pretty sure that there is a better choice than Japanese sweet chili sauce as a final topping for the tower. 

My server finally smiled at the very end of my visit after she discovered that I would actually give her a tip. While the Prawn 3 Ways was quite disappointing, the nigiri sushi was remarkably well-prepared. My biggest issue was that I was only half full after spending $50+ (including tax and tips). Not wanting to take another $50 gamble on overpriced food, I decided to head back to Downtown Vancouver and buy a Japadog so that I could engage in one of my favourite pastimes: walking down Robson Street with seaweed flying everywhere.

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

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Episode #75: ShuRaku Sake Bar and Bistro

Vancouver (Downtown), $$$$ (Luxury), $$$ (Higher Priced) with the lunch specials

Always being on the lookout for Japanese food that I have never seen before, I came across a picture of the Hitsumabushi from ShuRaku Sake Bar and Bistro and decided that I had to try it. ShuRaku is an authentic Japanese restaurant and is the sister restaurant of Zest with a less formal and more izakaya-like feel. I had been to ShuRaku once before the start of my blog and was quite pleased with the quality, so I decided to return once again to do some "research" for my blog.

The restaurant has a sleek and appealing ambience inside. The menu isn't that large, but there are enough items to choose from. As I arrived before lunch ended, I had the opportunity to try out the ShuRaku Gozen, which was one of those Japanese lunch sets with a gazillion items.

Miso Soup - A-

While I was waiting for my food, I was presented with a complimentary Miso Soup, which contained seaweed and tofu. I will call it complimentary because even though I was supposed to get one for the lunch set, I got another Miso Soup when the lunch set arrived. The Miso Soup was decent with a well-balanced taste.

Dynamite Roll - B+

The Dynamite Roll, which I ordered on the side, consisted of tempura prawn, tobiko, mayonnaise, avocado, and cucumber. It had a creamy taste from the avocado and the prawn had a nice snap to it. The rice could complement the roll better.

Hitsumabushi - B+

The Hitsumabushi is a traditional Japanese dish from Nagoya and consists of a bowl of seasoned rice topped with unagi. The white container on the left holds dashi broth, which is meant to be poured into the bowl of rice after you've consumed half of the rice (and presumably all of the unagi). The eel had a nice savoury flavour to it, but it was a bit fatty. There was adequate seasoning for the rice and the takuwan (pickled daikon) was well-executed. This was originally supposed to be on the dinner menu, but they allowed me to order it anyway.

Here is the entire ShuRaku Gozen lunch set minus the ice cream for dessert. Yep, I get another miso soup.

 BBQ Back Rib - C+

I found the BBQ Back Rib to be slightly overdone, making it tough around the edges. The sauce was quite rich and sweet, and although it went okay with the ribs, it was too strong for the lettuce.

Tuna Sashimi - A
Sockeye Salmon Sashimi - A+

The Tuna Sashimi was fresh and melted in my mouth nicely. The Sockeye Salmon Sashimi had the perfect smooth texture and a special, delicate sweetness to it. This was definitely the highlight of the lunch set.

Burdock Kinpira - A-

The Burdock Kinpira was marinated so that it packed a lot of flavour. It was predominantly savoury with a slight spiciness to it. It was also cut thin so that it would be easy to chew.

Shimeji Mushroom & Asian Chive Ohitashi - B+

This was a small and light dish with a mild taste. The Shimeji Mushroom and the Asian Chive Ohitashi complemented each other well.

Snow Crab Sunomono - A-

The Snow Crab Sunomono came in a tall, narrow cup and had a mild flavour due to the conservative use of vinegar. Although I would prefer more of a kick from a sunomono, I suppose they held back on the vinegar so that we can taste the snow crab better. The snow crab had a smooth, subtle texture compared to regular crab meat.

Vegetable Spring Roll - B+

The Vegetable Spring Roll was dressed with garlic mayonnaise and had a large diameter (please excuse the math term). The exterior was quite crunchy and the interior flavours were enhanced by the sauce. I also enjoyed the soft cabbage filling inside.

Potato Salad - B+

The Potato Salad was served cool and had some onion and scallion to give it a zing. The portion was quite large, and it was decent for what it was.

Green Tea Ice Cream - B-

The dessert that came with the ShuRaku Gozen lunch set was the Green Tea Ice Cream. Unfortunately, it need some further thawing as it was quite frozen.

The service met my expectations and was quite friendly overall. Most of the food was executed and presented well, and it was on par with my first impression of ShuRaku. Although the prices tend to be quite high, the portion sizes did not disappoint. ShuRaku is one of my preferred places to go to in Downtown Vancouver and I wouldn't mind returning again in the future to try their dinner menu.

ShuRaku Sake Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato