Saturday, May 30, 2015

Episode #88: Sushi Umibe

Maple Ridge, $$ (Moderately Priced)

During the days in which I don't have the luxury of a U-Pass, my dad often drives me to the sushi restaurant I am about to visit on the condition that I pay for his food as well. On the surface, this does not sound like a good deal at all. However, he is my dad and he eats so little food that my bill only goes up by about $5. This $5 was easily saved by venturing to the land of the inexpensive and sometimes decent sushi, also known as Maple Ridge.

On our way there, my dad accidentally drove just a hair past 207 St. and it took us almost 10 minutes to rectify this mistake. This involved so many tricky twists and turns that my dad started to believe this was a bad omen telling us not to visit the restaurant. The fact that the air quality in that area of town was particularly foul that day and the fact that the restaurant looked almost deserted didn't help. (Note that this was at 2:45 p.m.) When we hesitantly walked in, I quickly noticed that there was one diner in the restaurant who was alive and enjoying his meal, which helped me convince myself that everything was probably going to be alright.

Miso Soup - B+

The Umibe Combination came with a Miso Soup, Gomae, a California Roll, Tuna Nigiri, Salmon Nigiri, Ebi Nigiri, Tempura, and Chicken Teriyaki. My dad remarked that the Miso Soup was garnished with a small amount of green onion and tofu, and that it was served at a hot tempurature with rich miso paste.

California Roll - A-

Sushi Umibe nailed the basics with the California Roll, which was neatly constructed and enhanced by sesame seeds. The mayonnaise and crab combination was tasty with the right textures. My dad really liked this roll too and wanted my mom to be able to try it, so he had to keep telling me again and again to stop eating the whole thing.

Tuna Nigiri - B+
Salmon Nigiri - B
Ebi Nigiri - B+

The Tuna Nigiri was fresh and sufficiently soft, while the Salmon Nigiri exhibited a mild, buttery flavour. The Ebi Nigiri was my favourite as it was fresh and quite meaty. The sushi rice was adequately seasoned but packed a bit too tightly.

Assorted Tempura - C+

The Assorted Tempura was rather disappointing because it was fried using old oil and the batter was quite thick. The one piece of prawn was quite tasty and would have been a decent piece of tempura had it been fried with better oil. The kabocha was sweet but rather dry and the sweet potato was harder than expected. The yam was sliced into a peculiarly thin piece that resembled a potato chip.

Chicken Teriyaki - B+

The Chicken Teriyaki came with tender, juicy chicken dressed with a good amount of teriyaki sauce. It didn't come with rice, so I had to pay an extra $1.25 for a bowl of steamed rice. My dad enjoyed the Chicken Teriyaki and so did I, although it would be nice if the pan-fried skin was slightly thinner.

Gomae - B-

The Gomae was dressed with copious amounts of sesame sauce and fresh spinach. The sesame sauce could be ground more finely and spread out better throughout the spinach. 

Lobster Roll - B

The Lobster Roll consisted of cucumber, avocado, crab meat, prawn tempura, lobster, and tobiko along with 2 spring rolls and a salad. The spring rolls were dressed with spicy sauce and the pastry was a little hard, but there was enough flavour. Although this was the cheapest Lobster Roll I have had ($13.95), it was also the most stingy in terms of the amount of lobster provided. There was barely any meat in the tail and it was next to impossible to taste the small bit of lobster on top of each piece of the roll. Although the roll tasted decent, I would have enjoyed it much better if they had given it a different name, such as "The Splendid Roll That Comes With Glamorous Spring Rolls and a Beautiful Salad".

The service was decent and the waitress didn't appear to mind the fair number of times I changed my mind while ordering. The food came out quickly and there was a number of enjoyable dishes during our visit. The prices were on the lower side like many of the other Japanese restaurants in the vicinity. Overall, my dad and I found the restaurant neither very bad nor very good. Judging from the other online reviews, it appears that the restaurant either had better days in its past or happened to be jinxed along with my dad and I from the bad omens.

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Episode #87: Hachi Hana

North Vancouver, $$ (Moderately Priced)

Spring cleaning can potentially be a very dangerous activity. A few days ago, I had a small mishap while carrying some old window blinds to the dump truck. Feeling manly and trying to carry two blinds at once, I managed to pull a mysterious muscle in my chest, which resulted in the worst stabbing pain imaginable. I tried to think of ways to soothe the pain, and the first thing I thought of was sushi. Since it was a gorgeous sunny day, I took the Seabus over to North Vancouver and walked stiffly like a penguin into Hachi Hana.

Hachi Hana is Korean-operated and is one of the most popular sushi restaurants on Lonsdale Ave. I first visited Hachi Hana a few years ago and found their prices to be some of the lowest in the area. Since then, the prices have increased considerably, but so have the portion sizes. Well, the price increases sure worked because the restaurant was full of diners during prime dinner time on a Tuesday evening. I started my dinner with the Dinner Box B ($21.95), which came with Goma-ae, Tuna and Salmon Sashimi (a spicy tuna option is available), Nigiri Sushi (tuna, salmon, ebi, tai), the Big Dynamite Roll, a Chicken Teriyaki (a beef option is available) with Rice, a Miso Soup, a House Appetizer, and a Green Salad.

Miso Soup - A-

The Dinner Box B started off nicely with the Miso Soup, which was rich in taste without being excessively salty. It was garnished with green onion and tofu and served at a nice, hot temperature. By the time I finished the Miso Soup, my pain was barely noticeable. This is why I have never ever taken any Aspirin or Advil. Food works better for me than anything...

Green Salad - B+

The Green Salad came as a small bowl of mixed greens. The vinaigrette was tangy and citrusy in flavour. There was certainly enough flavour with this salad; by the time I got to the bottom, there was a small 1-centimeter-deep pool of vinaigrette left over. I always prefer this rather than a shortage of dressing.

Grilled Tuna - B-

The Grilled Tuna was on the house! From what I saw, every table received a complementary dish, which I thought was a very nice gesture. The tuna was graced with a few drops of lemon juice. It was a bit dry, but I also found it interesting how it was crispy like a grilled sandwich.

Seared Toro Nigiri - B+
Unagi Nigiri - B

Before the remainder of my dinner box arrived, I received the Seared Toro Nigiri and the Unagi Nigiri (which I had ordered separately). Both pieces of nigiri were remarkably large. The Seared Toro Nigiri was just a touch overseared, while the Unagi Nigiri had a soft texture and a delicious, sweet taste, at least on the top. The skin of the unagi was somehow crispy and burnt, which made for a very strange combination of textures and tastes when the nigiri was eaten as a whole.

As for the rest of the dinner box, everything was immaculately placed (except for one speck of rice) and I liked how one of the slots was in the shape of a boat. In addition, the portion sizes were huge! Unless you are the proud owner of a pen from Anton's Pasta, you would most likely have trouble finishing the whole dinner box. This was, without a doubt, the largest dinner box for one person I had ever seen.

Tuna Sashimi - B-
Sockeye Salmon Sashimi - C

The sashimi came with 3 large pieces each of tuna and sockeye salmon. The Tuna Sashimi had very little flavour, although it had a soft texture despite being cut into thick pieces. The Sockeye Salmon Sashimi was almost completely bland and lacked a smooth texture. Dunking it in as much soy sauce as possible made it a bit more edible.

Goma-ae - C

The Goma-ae was easy to digest and was the only item of the box to come in a small portion. As much as I like Goma-ae, this one was rather disappointing. I couldn't tell if they used peanut sauce or sesame sauce because the sauce was very watery and tasted like peanut shells more than anything. Maybe it was a peanut shell sauce?

Big Dynamite Roll - B-

The Big Dynamite Roll came with 5 enormous pieces consisting of prawn tempura, cucumber, avocado, and daikon. It certainly lived up to its name. The rice was tightly packed but some of the pieces still fell apart. The small bit of mayonnaise helped livened up flavours, while the tempura was crispy with some occasional hard parts.

Chicken Teriyaki - B+

The Chicken Teriyaki was well-executed. The chicken had a smoky BBQ taste and the bean sprouts and other vegetables underneath were well-dressed with teriyaki sauce.

Sockeye Salmon Nigiri - C+
Tuna Nigiri - B-
Tai Nigiri - B-
Ebi Nigiri - B

Since I don't believe in wasting food, I ate the Sockeye Salmon Nigiri and the Tuna Nigiri despite the blandness issues. The Tai Nigiri was weak in flavour and chewy, while the Ebi Nigiri had a nice sweetness and a nice snap. I found the sushi rice slightly gummy and chewier than normal. 

House Appetizer - A-

I'm not completely sure if this was intended to be the House Appetizer, but it was the only thing I received that could count as one. This was a fresh and refreshing appetizer (or should I say dessert?) and the sliced orange had an excellent, sweet taste.

I found the service quite friendly and my server even came around several times to make sure that everything was okay. Besides being stuffed so full it was hard to breathe, things were okay for the most part. I would have preferred smaller pieces of sashimi that actually had flavour rather than large, bland pieces of sashimi. For me, larger portions can make up for higher prices, but not for both higher prices and lower quality. However, the steady stream of customers seems to indicate otherwise.

Hachi Hana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Episode #86: Hiraku Sushi

Coquitlam, $$ (Moderately Priced)

One of the fastest-growing areas of Greater Vancouver is Burke Mountain (in northeastern Coquitlam), which now has an eclectic mix of modern homes as well as a shopping plaza known as Meridian Corner. The shopping plaza, albeit small, contains all of your usual businesses: a bank, a pharmacy, a fast food vendor, and a sushi restaurant. There is no grocery store, but who needs groceries when you have sushi?

Hiraku Sushi, a Korean-operated Japanese restaurant, first caught my attention when I saw its sparkly lights as my dad was driving by the area. When I walked into the restaurant at about 4 p.m. with my dad, I was quite astonished by how popular the restaurant had become. There were 3 sushi chefs at the counter, 3 servers, and several other chefs in the back. The dining area, which was at least moderate in size, was half full, and by the time 5 p.m. came around, the restaurant was truly bustling with activity. The gentle piano music along with the clean, modern decor made for a nice, comfortable atmosphere.

Tuna Sashimi - B+
Salmon Sashimi - A-

The Appetizer Sashimi contained 3 pieces of tuna and 2 pieces of salmon. The sashimi was cut into very large and generous pieces. The Tuna Sashimi melted in my mouth, but had a slight fishy taste. The Salmon Sashimi was cut thickly and had a delicious, buttery flavour.

Grilled Tuna Toro Sushi - B+
Grilled Salmon Toro Sushi - B+

The grilled versions of the tuna and salmon were just as generous. Instead of being thick, the grilled tuna and salmon were cut into very long pieces. Add small ikura eyes and you can have some beautiful grilled toro nigiri dragons. Or snakes. The Grilled Tuna Toro Sushi was slightly crispy on the outside, but had a soft texture underneath. A dab of sauce would help bring the flavours alive. The Grilled Salmon Toro Sushi was slightly overseared, but remained juicy. 

Burke Mountain Roll - A-

The most expensive special roll on the menu ($12), the Burke Mountain Roll consisted of prawn tempura, cucumber, avocado, yam tempura, sockeye salmon, unagi, green onion, and tobiko. My dad and I both enjoyed this roll, which was a tasty mix of umami flavours. The tempura was well-executed with lightly crispy batter, while the cucumber could be cut into smaller pieces to avoid being too crunchy. The sockeye salmon and unagi were both fresh and adequately featured.

Salmon Teriyaki - B

To fill my dad up, I got him the Salmon Teriyaki, which was served with a small bowl of steamed rice. The salmon was nicely grilled and the bean sprouts below were adequately dressed with teriyaki sauce. The quality of the salmon itself was so-so, but the decent preparation kind of made up for it. Of course, my dad couldn't finish all of the teriyaki, so I ended up stuffing myself full too.

The service was adequate and the food was consistently executed at an above-average quality. The pricing of the dishes was very reasonable, and there were a lot of items on the menu that appeared to be worth trying. Compared to other sushi restaurants in Coquitlam, Hiraku Sushi has quite a good balance of everything I look for in a restaurant, and I will likely make multiple repeat visits in the future.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Episode #85: Hanako Japanese Restaurant

Surrey Northeast, $$$ (Higher Priced), $$ (Moderately Priced) for lunch

Once again, my dad offered to drive me to Hanako Japanese Restaurant to help me save a considerable amount of travel time. After ending up in the wrong city last time, it was time for us to use one of the basic necessities of the 21st century - Google Maps. Fearing that the restaurant would be full at prime lunch time, we set out early and arrived at the restaurant shortly after 11:30 a.m. We entered the restaurant in high spirits as we had made zero wrong turns on the way there. In addition, the restaurant was only a quarter full and the sky was beautifully overcast.

Hanako Japanese Restaurant is an authentic Japanese restaurant located just a block away from Guildford Town Centre. It has been in operation for a long time and the interior of the restaurant somewhat reflects this, although everything was very clean and tidy. In addition to the regular menu, there is a specials menu that consists of some very luxurious items such as the prestigious Blue Fin Otoro at $10/piece. I hadn't mentally prepared myself to destroy my wallet, nor did I bring enough cash with me to add Otoro to the items I planned to order, so I handed the specials menu back to one of the waitresses and ordered wallet-friendly things such as the Teriyaki & Tempura Lunch Box.

Miso Soup - A-

The first item of the Teriyaki & Tempura Lunch Box to arrive was the Miso Soup. My dad was the recipient of this Miso Soup as he only likes to eat hot/warm things (with the exception of sashimi). That was fine by me as my dad is a very picky eater and tends to give me helpful descriptions of the food he eats. The Miso Soup was garnished with fine pieces of seaweed, green onion and tofu. It was an above-average Miso Soup with a well-balanced taste.

After a 20-minute wait, everything else that I ordered arrived almost simultaneously. I had to play a bit of table tetris in order to get everything into photographable positions. Pictured above is the remainder of the Teriyaki & Tempura Lunch Box.

Salad - B

The Salad consisted of salad greens accompanied by a vinaigrette, some crispy bits, and a slice of tomato. The citrusy vinaigrette needed to be spread out better, but the bottom layer tasted decent with the additional flavour from the olive oil resting at the bottom. 

Prawn Tempura - A
Sweet Potato Tempura - A-
Kabocha Tempura - B-
Green Bean Tempura - A-

The Prawn Tempura (2 pcs) was a delight with a crispy, light layer of batter and a skinny piece of prawn that had a good snap. The Sweet Potato Tempura had a nice sweet flavour and was cut to the right thickness. The Kabocha Tempura needed a bit more sugar, while the Green Bean Tempura was sufficiently soft and juicy.

Breaded Cod - B+

The Day Special came with what I believe to be Breaded Cod (I was too focused on savouring the food and forgot to confirm with the servers). The cod was soft and the batter was crispy without being hard. The tangy sauce and the slice of lemon livened up the flavour of the Breaded Cod.

Chicken Teriyaki - A-

The Chicken Teriyaki came with some large cabbage leaves underneath. The chicken was simply but carefully executed. I enjoyed the tender chicken and the slightly crispy skin and my dad enjoyed the high-quality rice that accompanied the Chicken Teriyaki. Don't worry, I actually gave my dad most of the chicken to go along with the rice.

Hanako Roll - A

The Hanako Roll consisted of sockeye salmon, grilled salmon skin, masago, cucumber, avocado, spicy tuna, and a few pieces of daikon. Since the Hanako Roll is not a hot/warm thing, I gladly gobbled up the whole roll. I thoroughly enjoyed the colourful burst of flavours the roll provided, and I was impressed by the fact that I could actually taste all of the different ingredients used in the roll.

Tuna Sashimi - A
Ma Tai Sashimi - A-
Tako Sashimi - B
Sockeye Salmon - A

The Assorted Sashimi was actually the first to land on our table but the last to land in my mouth because I had to move it aside in order to take photos of the other dishes. I guess I inadvertently saved the best for last because the sashimi was not only generous but also surprisingly fresh. The Tuna Sashimi melted deliciously in my mouth while the Ma Tai Sashimi (genuine sea bream) was silky smooth with a delicate sweet flavour. (I think Madai is the correct spelling but the waitress seemed really sure about the "Ma Tai" spelling on the menu. Who am I to disagree with a Japanese person on Japanese?) One of the pieces of the Ma Tai Sashimi was soft (which I luckily managed to get). The Tako Sashimi was cut a little too thick but had a fresh-from-the-sea taste, while the Sockeye Salmon was the best of all with a rich flavour and a smooth sheen. 

The service was quite friendly and I was quick to notice that the waitresses served the dishes with graceful, elegant gestures. It was almost like watching a ballerina with food. The restaurant did get quite busy, but was never 100% full during my visit. In any case, I can confidently say that Hanako is one of the best Japanese restaurants in Surrey. In fact, my dad liked it so much that he now insists on taking my mom out to Hanako. 

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Episode #84: Sushi Momo

Langley, $$ (Moderately Priced)

After hearing about my plan to take a 90-minute bus trip to Hanako Japanese Restaurant (beside Guildford Town Centre), my dad offered to help me save an hour by driving me there. Somehow, we got cursed by the wrong turn fairy and ended up in the middle of Langley instead. My $15 phone plan unfortunately does not include 3G, so we had to select a Japanese restaurant based on outside appearance alone. We couldn't use the heuristic of choosing the restaurant with the most diners because every restaurant that we passed by happened to be almost empty. In the end, my dad chose Sushi Momo because it had the most comfortable seating.

Sushi Momo is Korean-operated and offers a 10% discount to seniors. The interior decor had a clean feel and they were playing 80's pop music on the stereo, which added to the "un-urban" feel of being in Langley. While I was combing through the large assortment of dishes and combos, my dad noticed something peculiar about the washrooms. To get to the men's washroom, you have to go through a long, winding path, which leads to a flight of stairs to the second floor on which the washroom is located. The women's washroom, however, is located on the main floor. Do men really need more exercise?

Miso Soup - B

I ordered the Dynamite Combo, which came with a Dynamite Roll, nigiri sushi (5 pcs), and a Miso Soup. The Miso Soup was garnished with tofu, green onion, and a few small pieces of bean curd. The temperature was good but it was overly salty.

The rest of the Dynamite Combo was nicely presented. It's also the first time I've seen unagi in a roll and nigiri combo!

Dynamite Roll - C+

The Dynamite Roll consisted of yam fries, tempura yam, tempura prawn, crab meat, and lettuce. Although I liked the extra crunch provided by the yam fries at the top, I was bugged by the sauce, which was as sweet as canned cherries.

Unagi Nigiri - C-
Tuna Nigiri - B
Salmon Nigiri - B

I was initially excited to have unagi in my combo, but that excitement disappeared when the unagi tasted like they mixed up their unagi and Worcestershire sauces. How am I supposed to like tangy unagi?! Oh, the horror! The Tuna Nigiri and Salmon Nigiri were substantially better. The salmon was fresh and buttery and the tuna was sufficiently soft. However, I had to deduct some points since the sushi rice was lacking in flavour and the fish looked like it was cut using a miniature pair of scissors.

Baked Salmon Roll - B-

The Baked Salmon Roll came with crab meat, cucumber, avocado, baked salmon, mayonnaise, green onion, and sweet soy sauce. The salmon has a seared look but it tastes baked, and I thought that the salmon and green onion combination was nice. The roll itself is not baked and is substantially cooler. The crab meat inside was rather coarse with a bit of a powdery texture and the roll was slightly heavy on the rice.

Salmon Teriyaki - B
Carrot Tempura - B-
Zucchini Tempura - B+

The Salmon Teriyaki also came with a Miso Soup and two pieces of tempura (carrot and zucchini). It wasn't a big portion, but the salmon was fresh. The sauce was overly sweet and started to overwhelm the salmon. The Carrot Tempura was a bit hard and dry, but the Zucchini Tempura was nice and juicy with the right amount of batter. It would be nice if they provided tempura dipping sauce.

Then, the waitress caught me taking notes and actually came to my table to confront me about it. My dad and I told her that I was taking notes so that I could introduce the restaurant on my blog. Instead of being any help at all, she just said "That doesn't help" and walked away. I thought she was really enraged, but one minute later ...

Raspberry and Tempura Banana Dessert - A-

... she brought back a complimentary dessert for both my dad and I! She didn't apologize or anything, but she suddenly remained quite friendly for the rest of my meal. I'll definitely add this to the list of things I don't understand about women. The Raspberry and Tempura Banana Dessert was the best-executed item of the entire meal. The tempura was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside and went especially well with the sweet raspberry. 

The service was decent for our entire stay except for the moment disaster struck when the waitress saw me taking notes. The food was not expensive, but not cheap either, and the portions are not large. It helped that my dad was able to get us the 10% seniors' discount. The quality of the food was in line with the standards for sushi in Langley. The sauces were the biggest issue, and by not constantly using the wrong sauce, they have the potential to become one of the best sushi restaurants in Langley.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Episode #83: Yagoto Sushi Dining

Vancouver (Northwest), $$ (Moderately Priced)

Yagoto Sushi Dining is an authentic Japanese restaurant that opened in the Kitsilano region of Broadway almost one year ago. The location and the name of the restaurant had me thinking that the food was going to be quite expensive, and I held off trying the restaurant until a reader of my blog suggested that I go to try it. Since I had a slight overdose of BBQ in my last episode, I was in need of some healthy food to balance it out, so I decided to have lunch at Yagoto.

Spinach Gomaae - A-

Starting off healthy, I ordered the Spinach Gomaae, which contained fresh spinach that was accompanied by lots of sesame seeds. I liked the dressing which was quite thorough, though at times, I found it a little too rich.

Next, I ordered the Sushi and Sashimi Combo, which contained Sashimi (6 pcs), a salad, a Miso Soup, and a California roll. 

Sockeye Salmon Sashimi - A-
Tuna Sashimi - A
Hamachi Sashimi - A

The Sashimi came with 2 small pieces each of sockeye salmon, tuna, and hamachi. The Sockeye Salmon Sashimi was just a tad chewy in the center, but was otherwise decent with a fresh taste and a smooth texture. The Tuna Sashimi had a rich flavour, while the Hamachi Sashimi had this delicious marbled texture and delicate sweet flavour that was hard to resist.

Salad - A-

Adding on to my list of healthy foods for the day was the salad that came with the combo. It was nicely dressed from top to bottom with a homemade vinaigrette that is slightly less tangy than the standard Japanese dressing. I enjoyed the addition of olive oil, which helped accentuate the flavours of the salad.

Miso Soup - A-

The Miso Soup was served with seaweed and green onions at a comfortable, mildly hot temperature. There were no significant mishaps with this one.

California Roll - C+
Unagi & Prosciutto Roll - A-

With too much rice and bland crab meat, the California Roll was disappointing, especially when compared with the calibre of the other dishes. The Unagi & Prosciutto Roll, with BBQ eel, avocado, and prosciutto, fared much better. The prosciutto and the unagi unexpectedly worked well together, and most of all, the BBQ eel had this irresistible rich and smoky flavour. Forget about healthy eating - all I need is more BBQ eel!

Saba Nigiri - A-
Unagi Nigiri - A-

The Saba Nigiri was served with a bit of grated ginger and had a soft texture and a well-balanced taste (not too salty). The Unagi Nigiri was still steaming when it arrived, and was deliciously smooth with the perfect fish-to-rice ratio. The sushi rice was sufficiently soft and well-constructed.

The service was friendly and the food turned out to be very reasonably priced. With the exception of the California Roll, every other dish was made and presented with care. I tried my best to refrain from BBQ food in order to engage in healthy eating, but obviously, that was too much of a challenge. Oh well, eating delicious BBQ food results in copious amounts of joy, which I'm sure is good for my mental health ... good enough!

Yagoto Sushi Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato