Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Episode #100: Octopus' Garden

Vancouver (Northwest), $$$$ (Luxury)

In order to celebrate my 100th sushi adventure since starting this blog, I decided to make it very special by taking my mom to an omakase dinner at Octopus' Garden. My mom is an excellent cook, but for all these years, she's been having bang-for-your-buck sushi and enjoying sashimi for its quantity rather than its quality. I decided that it was time for her to experience something a little more refined and sophisticated. As expected, she was very shocked to learn about the rather hefty price tag: $75 per person! Up until this point, she had never had any food remotely close to that price range. She spent nearly an hour getting dressed up and making sure that her appearance was immaculate for the dinner!

Octopus' Garden is located just west of the Burrard St. Bridge and is owned by the head chef Sada-san. Octopus' Garden is one of the few sushi restaurants in Vancouver to serve omakase (literal translation: "I'll leave it to you"), a special dining experience in which the diner leaves the selection of dishes up to the chef. At Octopus' Garden, there are two types of omakase, one priced at $75 and the other priced at $100 (we went for the $75 one). A few food bloggers have mentioned that the omakase at Octopus' Garden can take upwards of two hours, so I snacked on gummies for the entire car ride there to ensure that I wouldn't be starving while I waited for my food. When I arrived, I was courteously seated next to the window (as the bar was completely booked), and I had a few moments to enjoy the Beatles music in the background before the first dish came.

The restaurant was not as large as I had expected. In addition to the regular tables, there is a bar that seats six people as well as a wooden boat (pictured above) that seats two. The boat is set up like one of the short tatami tables you would find in a traditional Japanese room, so you can either sit in a seiza position or sit cross-legged. I cannot sit in either of these positions (yes, elementary school assemblies were a form of torture to me), and would probably end up eating my meal in a sleeping position instead if I were seated at the boat. That would not look very graceful. However, for those who can sit cross-legged, it might be an interesting experience.

Grapes and Cashews

At the very beginning, we were given a small dish of grapes and cashews to entertain our palates. The omakase also includes the choice of a tea ($3 if ordered à la carte), so my mom chose the Matcha Genmai (green tea with roasted brown rice). I'm no tea connoisseur, but I wasn't heavily impressed by the tea. It also took a while for the tea to absorb the flavour of the brown rice.

'Sada's Own' Nomu Uni Shooter - A

'Sada's Own' Nomu Uni Shooter consisted of sea urchin, mountain potato, quail egg, and wasabi in a small glass of dashi broth, mirin, and rice. You're supposed to mix all of the ingredients together and then consume the whole thing in one gulp. The result is a highly pleasant savoury smoothness from the uni and quail egg, which blends perfectly with the broth. The rice prevents the shooter from tasting too much like a slimy, slippery concoction. On the side were two miniscule pieces of hamachi neatly placed on artichoke petals. The piece of hamachi is to be eaten along with the folded portion of the artichoke petal at the same time. I had an epic fail moment and accidentally consumed them separately even though the waiter told me not to.

Scallop and Ankimo Salad - A-

The Scallop and Ankimo Salad came with mixed greens, green beans, a few pieces of cucumber, a juicy grape tomato, quinoa, some lightly cooked scallops, and ankimo (monkfish liver). Seasoning was used to enhance the flavour of the ankimo, which had an excellent briny sweetness itself. The scallops had a nice bounce to them, and overall, the salad was a nice light and refreshing prelude to the heavier dishes which were about to arrive next.

Carrot Soup - A+

The first thing I noticed about the western-style Carrot Soup was the rich, irresistible aroma of melted cheese. I got a little ahead of myself and started savouring the soup before taking a photo of it, until my mom suddenly stopped me and asked, "Did you take a photo yet?" Oops! Well, this is what the carrot soup looks like after about 10 sips. With its flavour enhanced by the melted cheese and the small bits of green onion, this was one freaking delicious Carrot Soup! 

Blue Fin Chutoro Sashimi - B+
Salmon Sashimi - A
Hamachi Sashimi - A+
Managatsuo Sashimi - A+

I found the Blue Fin Chutoro Sashimi quite average as it was leaner than I had expected. The Salmon Sashimi, however, had a nice smooth sheen and an amazing buttery flavour. The pieces were sliced to the perfect thickness and size so that each piece provided a delicious bite-sized burst of flavour. The Hamachi Sashimi had the perfect smooth texture and was very fresh. The Managatsuo Sashimi (Japanese butterfish) came from a Japanese fish that I have honestly never heard of. With its delicate cod-like flavour and satin-like texture, this was my favourite type of sashimi from the whole platter. While I was enjoying the sashimi, my mom gave me a good laugh by saying that all of the sashimi tasted the same to her. Oh mom...

Scallop and Tobiko Nigiri - A
Albacore Toro Nigiri - A+
Blue Fin Otoro Nigiri - A+
Shima-Aji Nigiri - A+
Butterfish Nigiri - A-

With just five pieces of nigiri, I was blown away three times, and this was undoubtedly the climax of the omakase. The scallop was delightably soft and had a delicate briny flavour, while the tobiko on top added a nice crunch. The Albacore Toro Nigiri was simply amazing. The mouthwatering, buttery flavour of the toro and the masterfully constructed sushi rice just melted exquisitely in my mouth. The same goes for the Blue Fin Otoro, with its unmistakable fattiness and juiciness. The Shima-Aji Nigiri was also a huge delight, with its subtle, sweet flavour and perfectly smooth texture. The Butterfish Nigiri was decent and had a soft flakiness to it.

Teriyaki Buri - B+
Spinach - B-
Tempura Spot Prawn - B+

The cooks in the kitchen weren't as talented as Sada-san. The Teriyaki Buri (yellowtail) was tastefully dressed with some light teriyaki sauce, but it was overcooked. The Spinach was rather mature and both my mom and I had a bit of trouble chewing it. The spot prawns were very fresh and meaty with an excellent snap, but the tempura batter was a bit greasy and hard.

Black Sesame Ice Cream - A
Pistachio Macaron - A-
Red Bean Crème Brûlée - A

Next, the small dessert platter arrived. The Black Sesame Ice Cream was great with a sweet and distinct sesame flavour. The Pistachio Macaron had a soft, sweet filling, but it didn't have a prominent pistachio flavour. The sweet custard of the Red Bean Crème Brûlée blended smoothly with the small dab of red bean paste at the bottom. I would have preferred a thinner layer of hard caramel on the top, but overall, I still enjoyed the crème brûlée the most out of the three sweets.

At the very end of the omakase, we received our gummy octopi! What a great way to incorporate the name of the restaurant into the meal! My mom took one look at them and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! They're spiders!" I immediately felt the need to do a facepalm, although I could see where she was coming from.

For the highest price I have ever paid for any meal, I received some of the best sushi I have ever had. If the kitchen staff had executed the cooked dishes well, this would have been a nearly flawless meal. My server wasn't very proficient at English, but he was very patient even when I asked him to say managatsuo over and over again while I wrote down "nanagatsuo" in my notebook (a complete fail on my part). He was also very attentive, and the arrival of the dishes was well-timed. I look forward to experiencing the more luxurious $100 omakase someday!

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LotusRapper said...

That's so nice of you to celebrate this milestone (and what a milestone it is !) at OG, and to treat your Mom to the occasion too :-)

I've been to OG but it wasn't an omakase, and was also in the mid (?) '90s so my impression of them is quite different than all the recent omakase meals that bloggers and people rave about.

So did each of you get your own omakase, and you each received the courses shown above ?

Raymond Zeng said...

I've read through many of the posts by other bloggers, and it does seem that those who had the omakase or stuck mainly with the sashimi and the nigiri sushi are the ones who tend to write the most positive reviews. I suppose that's really where their strength lies! I would love to hear about your experience at Octopus' Garden from the mid '90s!

Yes, we each got our own omakase and we each received the courses shown above (except there was only one of the "Grapes and Cashews"). Other than the flavour of the macaron (my mom got a passionfruit one), everything we received was identical. They had it all nicely split for us so that there was no need for sharing!

Ash said...

Congratulations on your 100th sushi adventure!! :) And now I really want to go there for the sashimi and nigiri thanks to your mouthwatering descriptions...

Raymond Zeng said...

Hello Ash, you should definitely try out their sashimi and nigiri! It is a little pricey if ordered à la carte, so if you are looking for a full meal, I would suggest the omakase.

LotusRapper said...

Man, I have no recollection of that meal at all. It was a long time ago !

WingHin said...

Oh my goodness, congratulations on 100 posts! I've always wanted to go to Octopus Garden, do you think it's worth the price to just order nigiri/sashimi from the a la carte menu?

Raymond Zeng said...

Thanks! I haven't ordered their nigiri/sashimi a la carte, so I don't know for sure, but I've seen the $28 nigiri set on Dennis the Foodie's post ( It looks like it's fairly priced, but note that it doesn't contain the Blue Fin Otoro (which is valued at $10/pc). Also note that Octopus' Garden doesn't serve nigiri with every omakase meal (based on other food bloggers' posts I've read).

In summary, if you just want to sample their nigiri/sashimi, order it à la carte. You'll get more variety and it seems fairly priced. If you want to try a bit of everything, then go for the omakase!

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