Saturday, November 28, 2015

Episode #133: Yuji's from Japan

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

After the midterms season ended, I immediately felt the need to go for an omakase dinner, a special dining experience in which the selection of dishes is left up to the chef. I've heard many good things about Yuji's from Japan, but what really made their omakase attractive to me was the fact that it was for $50. For only $50, I could forget all about how I did on my midterms. An excellent deal, I would say.

I visited the restaurant on Chef Yuji's first day back from his trip to Japan, and during my visit, the restaurant was already bustling with activity. Things were off to a good start as the servers were very friendly, and the quality of the green tea was excellent. However, trying to be discreet with my note-taking was an epic fail as the dishes were highly creative, which meant that I had to ask one of the servers to repeat the descriptions for many of the dishes I was served. I am very grateful for his patience.

First to arrive was a tower of six appetizers. While I was awed by the presentation, what amazed me more was how this was brought to me intact. If I were the server, the result would most likely be a disappointed (and possibly angry) Chef Yuji staring at his creations lying on the floor in a splat.

Sesame-Covered Eggplant - A

The first appetizer I tried, the Sesame-Covered Eggplant, was a success. With a juicy piece of eggplant in the center and a crunchy, aromatic layer of sesame seeds on the outside, this was a delightful start to the omakase.

Snow Crab on Egg Custard with Wasabi - A+

I was very impressed with the second appetizer, which featured silky, soft snow crab and a refreshing egg custard. The amount of wasabi was just right and went surprisingly well with the custard, giving it a unique, spicy kick.

Cherry Tomato Gomaae - A-

The Cherry Tomato Gomaae came with two extremely juicy cherry tomatoes. The sesame sauce was decent but not really absorbed by the cherry tomatoes.

Chicken Tsukune with Mushroom - A

The Chicken Tsukune was solid as the meatball was comprised of tender chicken meat that absorbed the light teriyaki sauce perfectly. 

Grilled Bamboo Shoot - B+

There was nothing mindblowing about this one, but the miso glaze on each piece added a nice sweetness. The bamboo shoot was not too chewy and had sufficient moisture.

Taro and Squash with Minced Meat - A+

I love miso-infused taro, and they nailed it here! The squash was by far the juiciest and softest piece of squash I have ever had. This definitely tasted much better than it looked.

Miso-Marinated Sablefish - A
Shio-koji Chicken - A+

After the appetizers, I was presented with two more resounding hits. The Miso-Marinated Sablefish was very juicy and silky, and I enjoyed the aromatic fish oils. The fish was so soft that it just melted in my mouth. I would have given it an A+ if it had a slightly stronger miso flavour. Moving to the right, I was highly impressed with the Shio-koji Chicken. It had a delicious pepper-like, smoky flavour and was very juicy and tender. The shio-koji and slice of lemon worked together to provide a slight zing.

Assorted Tempura - A

Next came a dish consisting of various tempura items. The batter was excellent and was appropriately thin, crispy, and savoury. The sweet chili pepper was not spicy and pleasantly juicy. The Cipollini onion had a nice balanced flavour but fell apart. Next, the kabocha was sliced thinly but was full of moisture. The prawn tempura was meaty with a good snap, and the ika (squid) with shiso had a refreshing minty flavour and a decent rebound. Finally, I was quite intrigued by the large piece of kale tempura at the back. It tasted almost exactly like a fluffy, airy version of vegetable chips (but of course, this tasted much better than standard vegetable chips).

Chawanmushi - A

I'm not the biggest fan of eggs, which explains why I have never ordered a Chawanmushi before. However, this Chawanmushi transformed my brain from fearing chawanmushi to craving chawanmushi. The steaming egg custard was mixed with a tasty, heart-warming seafood broth and contained some cooked scallop, shrimp, tilapia, and spinach.

Bigeye Tuna Nigiri - B+
Hamachi Nigiri - B+
Yazu Nigiri - B
Sockeye Salmon Nigiri - A-
Tai Nigiri - B

I was very impressed with my omakase dinner so far, but the nigiri sushi was a blunder compared to everything that came before. There were just too many mistakes. The sushi rice tasted overcooked and was too hard texture-wise, while some pieces contained too much wasabi. In addition, the sushi rice was too tightly packed in the Tai Nigiri. Was Chef Yuji still in vacation mode?? Well, at least it was still better than T&T Supermaket's sushi rice.

Despite the subpar rice, the fish were very fresh. The bigeye tuna had a delicate, sweet flavour, while the hamachi was soft and creamy. The yazu, a younger variant of hamachi, was slightly chewy, but the sockeye salmon had an appealing, smooth texture. The tai, being creamy, smooth, and not too chewy, was also a delight.

Cream Caramel Custard Pudding - A

Thankfully, the omakase ended with a well-executed dessert, the Cream Caramel Custard Pudding. It was homemade and consisted of a vibrant blend of sweet flavours, accented by the melty layer of caramel on top. It was served at a cool temperature, which made it especially refreshing.

The highly enjoyable and creative dishes were complemented by the friendly and attentive service, which lasted throughout my dinner. Despite the nigiri mishap, I still highly enjoyed my visit. For an omakase, I would have liked to see more high-ticket items, and I felt that $50 was slightly on the pricey side. That being said, Chef Yuji's creativity made up for the price premium. Hopefully, when I decide to make a repeat visit, I will be able to experience the masterfully crafted sushi described in the online reviews.

Yuji's from Japan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Episode #132: Sushi Aria

Vancouver (Northeast), $$ (Moderately Priced)

One of the newest Japanese restaurants in Vancouver is Sushi Aria, which opened on October 31. The restaurant's name quickly piqued my interest because it combined two of my favourite things: sushi and music. I have always wondered what it would be like if someone sang a song about sushi in an opera voice. Curious as to whether the food or the staff would give me any insight into that matter, I decided to give the restaurant a visit.

Sushi Aria is Korean-operated and is located right beside the Copa Cafe on Cambie St. Although Sushi Aria is the one with the sleek, modern decor, spacious seating, and very welcoming servers, Copa Cafe is the one with too many diners (the place was literally jam-packed).

(menu - click to enlarge)

There were many interesting fusion items on the menu that I wanted to try, and I think we all know what happens in that situation. The waitress expressed serious doubts that I could finish all the food I had ordered, but never underestimate the eating capabilities of a university student. 

Miso Soup - B+

My dinner started off with a complimentary Miso Soup! The Miso Soup was hearty and came with bean curd, tofu, and green onion. The bean curd enhanced the soup, making it more savoury and rich.

Salad - A-

Imagine my surprise when I was also presented with a complimentary Salad! There was a nice colourful mix of green lettuce, purple cabbage, and thin carrot strips dressed with a slightly creamy, well-balanced vinaigrette. The copious amount of dressing at the bottom kept trying to attack my clothing by splashing out of the bowl. Okay, that's just me being clumsy...

 Gold Dragon Roll - B

The Gold Dragon Roll came with unagi, tobiko, paprika, avocado, crab meat, mango, and special sauce, and was beautifully presented with a vibrant mix of colours. The ingredients were fresh, and the mango and unagi both had appealingly soft textures. The California Roll base was neatly constructed, though taste-wise, it wasn't really remarkable. The crab meat inside somewhat overpowered the unagi and mango on top. 

Aburi Saba Nigiri - A-
Unagi Nigiri - B+

Although the saba was not the softest I have had, the Aburi Saba Nigiri had a decent smoky flavour and was not too salty. The Unagi Nigiri was sufficiently savoury, though the piece of seaweed was slightly tough. The sushi rice was well-formed and not too tightly packed.

Corn Bass - A-

When I saw Corn Bass on the menu, I thought of cooked bass fish served with corn. However, the price was only $3.95, so something seemed a little fishy (or perhaps "non-fishy"). I would literally be jumping up and down if there was cooked bass for just $3.95. Indeed, the Corn Bass consisted of 6 large "filets" of deep-fried corn with a honey-like flavour and no fish. Despite the fishlessness, this was my favourite item of the night. Each filet was slightly crispy on the outside and was filled with numerous delicious, juicy bits of corn. 

Tuna Gomae - B

The Tuna Gomae came with three generous slices of tuna and a good-sized portion of spinach dressed with sesame sauce. The slices of tuna were a little chewy in the center, though the exterior exhibited a smooth texture. I found the spinach a little too chewy for my liking. 

Salmon Oshi Sushi - B+

Of course, I needed to have my regular dose of Salmon Oshi Sushi, especially when it's $10.25 for 8 pieces. There was Atlantic salmon on top as well as small slices of sockeye in the middle for extra flavour. The excess amount of sushi rice made the oshi sushi very, very filling. On the bright side, I enjoyed the mildly spicy kick from the seared layer of savoury mayonnaise-based oshi sauce and the very thin slices of jalapeño.

Overall, the service was very friendly and accommodating throughout my visit, and the food was consistently a bit above average. The food also came quite quickly, and even though I was seated at a table for four, there was one point at which my entire table was covered with different dishes. Fortunately, I managed to elegantly and gracefully clear every dish like a corpulent king.

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Episode #131: PSI Sushi & Roll (Port Moody)

Port Moody, $ (Budget)

My favourite type of Nestle chocolate is Smarties because eating them makes me feel smarter. Last month, I went to Walmart and bought one of those boxes of bite-sized Nestle treats to hand out to the trick-or-treating kids, but unfortunately for me, the Smarties were the first to run out. To get my revenge, I went to Walmart again and bought an entire canister of Smarties so that I could stash it in my room and enjoy it "in moderation." However, in addition to indulging in excessive amounts of sugar, I also needed to indulge in excessive amounts of sushi, so I left Walmart to meet up with my dad at the newly opened PSI Sushi & Roll in Port Moody.

PSI Sushi & Roll is Korean-operated and runs a large, busy location in Surrey. Everything on their menu is quite affordable, and there is a good abundance of items on the menu. As their Port Moody location had just opened, there were very few diners when I entered the restaurant. I suppose the fact that I decided to eat at 3 p.m. also contributed to the lack of customers I saw.

Prawn Tempura - B+

One of my dad's favourite Japanese foods is Prawn Tempura, and he can never seem to get enough of it. This Prawn Tempura came with 6 soft, juicy prawns and two bonus pieces of green bean tempura. The batter was slightly thick for some pieces, but thankfully, it was crispy and not hard at all. The flavour of the prawns was preserved well.

Tuna Sashimi - A
Salmon Sashimi - A-
Ebi Nigiri - B+
Seared Tuna Nigiri - B
Seared Salmon Nigiri - A-
Masago Nigiri - A-
Chopped Scallop Nigiri - A-

Next, I got the Sashimi & Sushi Combo and had the tuna and salmon nigiri seared. Both types of sashimi were delicious and fresh, and the tuna was especially soft. Although the Ebi Nigiri was slightly chewy, it had a nice sweetness. The Seared Tuna Nigiri would have fared better with some dressing, but the Seared Salmon Nigiri had a nice drizzle of mayonnaise on top along with a nice smoky flavour. The Masago Nigiri had a soft, bubbly texture and a nice burst of flavour. The Chopped Scallop was soft, fresh, and sweet, but the rice was packed a bit too tightly for this one piece.

Awesome Roll - B

The Awesome Roll consisted of crab meat, cucumber, avocado, baked salmon, green onion, masago, and bonito, and is similar to Sushi Town's Awesome Roll. However, it was slightly rice-heavy, and the teriyaki sauce severely lacked impact. On the contrary, I did enjoy the spicy mayonnaise and the neat construction and presentation. Overall, Sushi Town is the clear winner on this roll (unless PSI Sushi & Roll was just having an off day).

Okonomiyaki - B

For $6.95, I was totally not expecting a 10-inch Okonomiyaki, so this was a very good deal! It was quite thick with lots of cabbage-based filling. There was a slight, appealing crispiness on the outside, and the mayonnaise worked well with the sweeter okonomiyaki sauce. Unfortunately, some of the pieces were a little burnt on the bottom.

We received friendly service and decent food for the most part. This is one of the most affordable places for sushi in the Port Moody area, and I would expect that it would gradually pick up more and more customers as it becomes more well-known in the area. However, previous restaurants that have occupied that building had significant trouble lasting more than about two or three years. Let's see if PSI Sushi & Roll can finally put a stop to the frequent changing of ownership. 

PSI Sushi & Roll Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Episode #130: Kin Sushi

West Vancouver, $$ (Moderately Priced)

West Vancouver is one of the most beautiful places in Greater Vancouver, but on evenings where dusk falls early, the streets become dark and eerily quiet. It's as if everyone left the town so that they could join the exciting traffic jam at the Lions Gate Bridge. Not wanting to sit on the bus with nothing to do except twiddle my thumbs and ponder about which questions I might have bombed on my midterms, I decided to have dinner at Kin Sushi, a small Korean-operated sushi restaurant in Ambleside.

Even though I didn't see anyone having Tonkatsu (pork cutlet), the restaurant had a prominent scent of Worcestershire sauce. The restaurant was surprisingly busy when I walked in, and I was provided with tea, chopsticks, and everything else, but no menu. If only I had psychic abilities... However, the service was very friendly, and the waitress apologized sincerely when I asked for the menu.

Miso Soup - B+

Due to my addiction to special rolls, I ordered the $12.95 special roll combo, which came with a special roll, an appetizer, a salad, and a miso soup. The Miso Soup came with dark miso paste, tofu, green onion, and seaweed. It was a bit watery, but because dark miso is richer, the soup had sufficient flavour.

Salad - B+

Next came the salad, which was rather large and contained mostly lettuce dressed with a creamy, tangy Japanese salad dressing. It was nicely presented with bite-sized pieces. 

Salmon Sashimi - A-
Tuna Sashimi - A

For my appetizer, I opted for the Appetizer Sashimi, which came with Tuna Sashimi and Salmon Sashimi. The cuts were on the smaller side, but both types of fish were fresh with no stringiness. The salmon had a smooth sheen, and the tuna was deliciously melty with a soft texture.

Red Dragon Roll - A-

For obvious reasons, I picked the most expensive roll, the Red Dragon Roll, which contained prawn tempura, crab meat, avocado, cucumber, and sockeye salmon. Some of the pieces of sockeye salmon tasted like smoked salmon, while the prawn tempura inside was quite savoury. Overall, the roll was neatly constructed, and there was a very good harmony of flavours among the ingredients.

Chicken Karaage - C+

After finishing the combo, I went for the Chicken Karaage, and the whole restaurant smelled like KFC for a minute. There was a generous amount of karaage, but unfortunately, most of the karaage was just batter. I wish I could say it was finger lickin' good, but the small amount of chicken was also dry. The only part of the chicken I enjoyed was its aroma.

Toro Nigiri - B-
Unagi Nigiri - B+

Still not full, I ordered the Toro Nigiri and the Unagi Nigiri. The Toro Nigiri was slightly dry and not the softest, but the unagi was really soft, melty, and dressed with sweet teriyaki sauce that brought out the flavour of the BBQ eel well.

The service remained very friendly and polite throughout the course of my dinner, and the few mishaps that occurred were handled well. The food was surprisingly inexpensive, especially considering that the restaurant is located in West Vancouver, an area known for its high prices. Most of the items were prepared well, and I could see why the restaurant was one of the very few places in West Vancouver that actually had people that evening.

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

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Episode #129: Sushi Maro

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

Choosing a restaurant to try out in the second week of Taste of Yaletown 2015 wasn't a difficult task, as sushi was the only sensible choice. After all, if I chose anything else, I would neither be able to blog about it nor satisfy my sushi needs. Having tried Bistro Sakana last time, I decided to try the Chinese-operated Sushi Maro, which was just a few doors over to the left.

Sushi Maro is slightly less fancy than Bistro Sakana, but the prices are lower as well. When I entered the restaurant, I was surrounded by the fragrance of a freshly cleaned washroom. Was someone using bleach to clean up a booboo on the kitchen floor? Fortunately, the washrooms themselves smelled better, and it did not take too long for the scent of bleach to dissipate. I began to think about the enticing Aburi sushi that was featured in my Taste of Yaletown dinner instead. Being a voracious eater, I also incessantly browsed the menu to see if there was an interesting dish I could order to spice up my dinner.

Miso Soup - B-

The first item to arrive was a complimentary Miso Soup (it wasn't listed as part of the Taste of Yaletown dinner), and it was a surprising miss. It was very hot and contained green onion and tofu. There was an obvious lack of miso paste, so the soup tasted quite watery. 

Rainbow Roll - A-
Aburi Salmon Sushi - A-
Aburi Tuna Sushi - B+
Aburi Scallop Sushi - A
Aburi Toro Sushi - B
Aburi Beef Sushi - A-

Next came the Rainbow Roll and the Chef's Selection Aburi Sushi, both of which were many leagues better than the Miso Soup. The Rainbow Roll, with its zesty bits of onion and chili spice, provided a refreshing harmony of flavours. The real crab meat inside provided a soft texture and a richer flavour, and the fish on top were fresh, albeit sliced a bit thin. 

The Chef's Selection Aburi Sushi was generally well-dressed, and the sushi rice was not packed too tightly. The salmon was soft and had a nice, savoury flavour. The tuna and toro were a bit overdone and lacked juiciness. The scallop was sufficiently soft, and the sprinkles of black pepper on top complemented the sweetness of the scallop perfectly. The beef was a touch chewy in places, but it was juicy and came in a generous portion.

Sashimi Salad - A-
Grill Chicken - A
Chili Mayo Ebi - A

The Sashimi Salad came with sockeye salmon (A-), tako (A), and tuna (A). I especially enjoyed the tuna for its very soft, melty texture, and the seafood fared well when paired with the yuzu sauce. However, there was a bit too much sauce at the bottom, which overwhelmed parts of the salad. To the right, the cooked food did not disappoint, as expected of a Chinese-operated restaurant. The Grill Chicken had a smooth texture and a thin crispy layer of skin, and was very tender and juicy. The Chili Ebi Mayo came with large meaty prawns, and the drizzle of spicy mayonnaise was accented by the delicious herbs and spices in the batter. 

Unagi Age Dashi Tofu - A

The dish I ended up ordering separately was the Unagi Age Dashi Tofu. I love unagi tempura and kind of expected the unagi to be fused with the Agedashi Tofu, but it just came a separate part of the dish. Nonetheless, both parts of the dish were executed brilliantly. The Agedashi Tofu was cut into a thinner, flatter shape, which allowed it to absorb more of the savoury flavour of the sauce. The unagi came in three large, soft pieces and paired well with the sesame sprinkles and the small helping of wakame (seaweed) underneath.

Deep Fried Matcha Ice Cream - C+

Towards the end of my dinner, the three waitresses and one waiter were overwhelmed by a full house of customers, leading to an awkward 30-minute gap between the Unagi Age Dashi Tofu and the dessert. Things would have been much better if there was Shaw Open. The matcha ice cream had a sweet green tea flavour, but the cake-like deep-fried breading was a little hard to break down. I accidentally launched a substantial amount of ice cream onto my nose while trying to eat it. Also, the warm breading accelerated the melting of the ice cream and quickly cancelled out its matcha flavour.

The service was good at the beginning, but deteriorated substantially when the restaurant became packed. Nonetheless, they took the effort to make sure that my tea was always refilled in a timely manner. Food-wise, I found many of the dishes to be quite sauce-heavy (sometimes a little too much so), but my opinion on sauces is "better too much than too little." Overall, I thought that the quality of the food was fair for the price, and I wouldn't mind returning to try more of their special rolls in the future.

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