Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Episode #146: Yokohama Japanese Restaurant

Steveston, Richmond, $$$ (Higher Priced)

Having tried all of the other sushi restaurants participating in Dine Out Vancouver 2016, I made my way through rush hour traffic from SFU to Steveston to try out the Chinese-operated Yokohama Japanese Restaurant. Hidden at the end of an alley, Yokohama Japanese Restaurant features a few teppanyaki booths, and the chef at each booth would grill your food on the spot, which occasionally resulted in bursts of flames. However, the restaurant also serves many different types of Aburi sushi, and wanting to try some of this, I went for the sushi option of the Dine Out menu.

The main theme of the Dine Out menu was lobster, and the sushi option came with a Lobster Miso Soup and a Lobster King Roll among other things. Of course, I also had a look inside the menu to see which goodies I could add to my dinner. Unfortunately, the menu was an absolute eyesore. I appreciated the fact that they included pictures of many of the dishes, but the formatting was terrible and there were all kinds of different fonts and font sizes. The only thing they did well was emphasizing the big-ticket items, and I could easily find the Aburi Wagyu beef. However, I wasn't exactly planning on spending more than $100 for dinner...

Lobster Miso Soup - C

Starting off the meal was the Lobster Miso Soup, which came with green onion, tofu, and a bit of lobster shell. There was not even a tiny chewable piece of lobster meat, and the Miso Soup had less depth of flavour than the average regular miso soup. The lack of lobster or lobster flavour was rather disappointing.

Yokohama Green Salad - B

The Yokohama Green Salad was dressed with a tangy Caesar dressing that mimicked the tangy flavour of Japanese vinaigrette salad dressing. I enjoyed the slightly acidic flavour of the dressing, but the creaminess did not really work for me.

Next came the entree with an assortment of sushi and sashimi. They took every effort to present this dish as amazingly as they possibly could. The server came to my table to blowtorch the sushi in front of me. If you look closely, you can see that they even lit up the cocktail glass stands for the sashimi! The only disappointment here was that there wasn't actually any lobster meat in the lobster shell.

Aburi Tuna Hakozushi - C
Aburi Salmon Hakozushi - C-
Aburi Saba Hakozushi - C+

After taking pictures of everything on the platter, I dove right in to the Aburi hakozushi (box-shaped sushi). Now, if you ever want to have your aburi sushi dressed so that you can no longer taste the fish, this is it. The Aburi Tuna Hakozushi was dressed with teriyaki sauce, which completely overwhelmed the tuna (the same goes for the apple sauce on the salmon and the mango sauce on the saba). Adding to the dread factor, some of the teriyaki sauce got mixed in with the apple sauce on the salmon. However, what really drove it home was the perfectly bland sushi rice, which tasted as plain as water. Did they forget to add the rice vinegar?! WTF! If I wanted plain water, I could have gotten some for free.

Lobster King Roll - C

The Lobster King Roll is a torched roll consisting of lobster tempura, crab meat, ebi, caviar, mango sauce. I think this should have been renamed the Lobster Missing Roll due to the lack of lobster. The "lobster tempura" came with extremely minuscule pieces of lobster and tasted more like fried grease instead, which I found rather revolting. This clashed with the copious amounts of mango sauce on top, which drowned out the flavour of the crab meat. Furthermore, I could not taste any seared flavour, and the roll ended up being quite chewy due to the severely overdone tempura batter. 

Salmon Sashimi - C+
Tuna Sashimi - B
Hamachi Sashimi - B+

The best part of the platter was undeniably the sashimi. The Salmon Sashimi had a soft texture and a smooth sheen, but it was cut into very small pieces and tasted bland. The Tuna Sashimi was better, being only slightly fishy with an adequately soft texture. The Hamachi Sashimi had a nice smooth texture and a creamy, buttery taste. However, it was missing the mahogany part, and it had a slightly weaker flavour as a result.

Yakitori - B-

Seeing that so many people were crowded around the teppanyaki booths (yes, the restaurant was actually quite busy), I decided to give them a chance by separately ordering a Yakitori, and fortunately, this was less disastrous than the sushi. The chicken had a light charred flavour on the outside, and this time, they weren't skimpy with the meat. However, the chicken was a bit rubbery and flavourless on the inside.

Green Tea Ice Cream - C+

Finally, the dessert for my Dine Out disaster... I mean dinner... arrived, and this was a double facepalm moment. Although it had a pleasant green tea flavour, the ice cream was served too cold and actually contained a few crunchy ice crystals in the middle. WTF! How do you friggin' mess up ice cream?! I am so done with the food...

The service was rather unenthusiastic, lackluster, and rude at times. My server made a slight error while describing the Aburi sushi (which I could forgive), but when I asked him to repeat the description, he just walked away without a word. I only gave a proper tip because the other servers did their job somewhat more professionally. There were not that many bright moments during my visit, but I was most disappointed with the serious lack of lobster meat in what was advertised to seem like a lobster-themed dinner. They gave me the shell and everything, but there was probably about 5 grams of lobster meat in total (maybe even less). If they did not plan on serving me a single nice bite of lobster, they should not have emphasized lobster on the Dine Out menu. I felt like I was cheated, and I will not return to this establishment again.

Yokohama Japanese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, January 25, 2016

Episode #145: Masa Japanese Restaurant

Vancouver (Northwest), $ (Budget)

Sometime last year, the old Kaneda Japanese Restaurant got replaced with the newer and fancier-looking Masa Japanese Restaurant. I once claimed that as soon as you cross Cambie St. heading west, restaurant prices immediately double, and for the most part, that has turned out to be the case. Seeing Masa Japanese Restaurant's modern wooden-brick-themed entrance and its very spacious second-floor dining space, I had always assumed it to be a pricey venue for sushi. I was quite surprised to see $2.95 California rolls and $1.25 salmon nigiri on the menu, but being the glutton that I am, I still managed to spend over $30 on lunch.

I wanted to try their Dine Out menu, but apparently, they only serve it for dinner. However, I need not have worried, as they had a variety of affordable, large lunch courses for me to choose from. Of course, I went for the biggest one, the Masa Course, which came with a beef steak, a deep-fried prawn, and too many other items for me to count. They provided each person with a serving tray, but I ordered too much food to fit on one tray, or even two, so I did my usual thing, which was to borrow the table beside me.

Miso Soup - C+

The Masa Course commenced with a Miso Soup, which was hot and rather substantial. However, it ranks among the saltiest miso soups I have ever had, and I could practically taste the salt dissolving in my mouth. Mmm...

Pickled Baby Onions - C+
Wakame - A-
Oshinko - B-

Next, a trio of appetizers arrived at my tabel. The Pickled Baby Onions were juicy, but had a very strong dill-like flavour, which I disliked. The Wakame (seaweed) was better with ample moisture and flavour. The Oshinko also had enough flavour, but it was overly dry and lacked the juicy crunch that I was looking for.

Masa Beef Steak - B-
Deep-Fried Prawn - A-

The Masa Beef Steak consisted of a thick, chunky cut of braised beef resting on a mashed potato salad. They provided me with a fork and knife, but did they really expect a clumsy guy like me to be able to cut that steak horizontally into three or more slices? Nope, I just took small bites out of it instead, and though it was not as tender as I had hoped, it was still more chewable than it looked. It was juicy in some parts, but the parts near the center were rather flavourless.

The Deep-Fried Prawn was reminiscent of Miku's Ebi Fritter, and it came with a large prawn. The batter was bread-like and appropriately adorned with spices. The prawn was flavourful with help from the sauces but also a bit chewy. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this item.

Sunomono - B+

The Sunomono was very colourful and graced with small strawberries, broccoli, a slice of lemon, a few mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, and some thinly sliced carrot. I could see the entire grocery store in there. It wasn't the most impactful Sunomono I have had, but there was a decent amount of citrusy tanginess to go along with the rice vermicelli underneath. 

Kale Gomae - B-

The Kale Gomae came with large pieces of kale dressed with sweet sesame sauce. The kale was somewhat hard to chew due to the size of the pieces. It was leagues away from Miku's version, and I wished the sesame dressing was spread more evenly throughout the kale.

The Salmon That Had a Bean Curd Umbrella - B+
Salmon Nigiri - B+
Tuna Nigiri - B
Sockeye Salmon Nigiri - A-
Ebi Nigiri - B

At last, we come to the final dish of the Masa Course, which came with a special roll. The waitress could not come up with a name for the roll, so I put my epic name-generating abilities to the task. The Salmon That Had a Bean Curd Umbrella came with inari (bean curd), crab meat, avocado, salmon, tobiko, and cream cheese. I liked how they used the cream cheese conservatively, and it produced a nice melty texture. The thin layer of bean curd added sufficient sweetness to the roll, which had a creamy, soft texture overall. 

Moving on to the nigiri, the Salmon Nigiri had a glossy texture and a creamy flavour, though it was cut a bit thin. The Tuna Nigiri was not exactly a highlight as the tuna was slightly mushy. The Sockeye Salmon Nigiri, on the other hand, tasted fresh and had a delightful sweetness. Finally, the Ebi Nigiri came with a thick and chewy prawn on some slightly dry sushi rice. This could be because it took me a while to get to the nigiri, but then again, I can't take the blame for the fact that they brought the dishes out way more quickly than I could finish them!

Aburi Salmon Nigiri - A-
Aburi Toro Nigiri - B

After finishing the Masa Course, I tried their aburi (seared) nigiri, and they tasted better than they looked... well, sort of. The Aburi Salmon Nigiri came with soft salmon, which had a tasty smoky flavour. The honey mustard added a subtle sweetness to the salmon, while the formation of the rice was quite good. The Aburi Toro Nigiri also had a soft texture, but it was lacking in flavour.

Ex-Girlfriend Roll - B

While enjoying the Masa Course, I was also thinking about my future like any responsible student would. In particular, I was thinking about what I would treat my ex-girlfriend to for dinner if that situation ever came up. (Let's hope it doesn't.) This vegetarian roll came with avocado, yam tempura, red beets, mango, and daikon. It did taste like an Ex-Girlfriend Roll alright. The delicious juicy mango on top symbolizes all the previous love in the relationship, but once you get down to the yam tempura, the slightly overdone hard bits of batter represent the hard feelings that led to the breakup. I could feel my heartstrings being pulled...

I found the service to be quite friendly, and they did not rush me out of the restaurant even though I stayed until 3:15 p.m., at which point everyone else from the lunch crowd had already left. I didn't have any surprisingly good dishes, but this is a decent restaurant considering the price and the location. If you're looking for budget sushi in the wealthy people's corner of Vancouver, it hardly gets better than this!

Masa Japanese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Episode #144: Sushi Oyama (2nd Visit)

Coquitlam, $$ (Moderately Priced)

One of my friends came to visit from Korea during his two-month-long winter break (now I want to study in Korea too), so I thought it would be fitting if we went to a Korean-operated sushi restaurant. Okay, it was more like many of our other choices in the vicinity were closed, so we just ended up going to Sushi Oyama. With a very large dining area and a dazzling water fountain, what could go wrong? Also, they must have tried to lure me in by adding a Nigiri Delight section to their menu. Needless to say, their strategy worked.

Chicken Teriyaki - B+

Surprisingly, my Chicken Teriyaki arrived first, and it was decent. The light sprinkle of sesame seeds added depth to the flavours, and the chicken was sufficiently tender. There was also a distinguishing sweetness, as if the chicken was coated with a thin layer of honey. The stir-fried bean sprouts were savoury, and they were served in a very generous portion.

Aburi Toro Nigiri - B
Aburi Salmon Nigiri - A-
Bacon Eye - B-

Next came my favourite food: the aburi nigiri from the Nigiri Delight section (for less than $2 a piece!). Served with more sauce than fish, the aburi nigiri actually tasted decent, though this was more due to the sauces than the fish itself. They are lucky that I award absolutely no points for authenticity. The Aburi Toro Nigiri was slightly overdone and not as juicy as I had expected. However, the Aburi Salmon Nigiri was soft with a slight smoky flavour that was accented by copious amounts of spicy mayonnaise. I let my friend have one of the Aburi Salmon Nigiri, and he liked it so much that he decided to order some aburi nigiri for himself.

At the far right is the Bacon Eye, which consisted of bacon, chopped scallop, cucumber, green onion, and mayonnaise. It may be hard to see, but there is actually a toothpick holding everything together. I almost had a prickly accident with it myself, so I think it should come with a sign that says "Warning - Choking Hazard: Not for children under 30 years." Aside from that, the Bacon Eye came with plentiful bacon and some soft, creamy scallop. The individual items were decent, but they didn't really work together (nor was it easy to eat all of the ingredients together). 

Awesome Roll - B+

I ordered the Awesome Roll to see how it would stack up to Sushi Town's Awesome Roll. This one was slightly more expensive, but also more massive and certainly spicier. Despite being large, the individual pieces retained a pleasant soft texture, and the lightly seared salmon on top was delectably smooth. As a former regular of Sushi Town, I can attest that on one of Sushi Town's good days, Sushi Town's version is better, but on one of their bad days, this would be the winner.

While I was busy eating and writing, my friend enjoyed two Spicy Tuna Rolls, and based on my previous visit, I can confirm that spicy tuna is one of Sushi Oyama's strengths. However, getting the bill correct is not one of their strengths. The service was quite friendly, but they kept mixing up the items on my friend's bill and my bill. They brought us about five different sets of wrong bills before they finally got it right. I'll admit that our various orders of nigiri sushi sort of exacerbated the problem. Is this why they charge so much for fancy nigiri at so many other restaurants?

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Episode #143: Kita Sushi

North Burnaby, $ (Budget)

A long time ago, in the very beginnings of my quest to seek the finest seared sushi in Greater Vancouver, I stumbled upon Kita Sushi and noted it for its tasty, well-crafted seared sushi. Its Scallop Tataki Roll, being heavenly and very affordable, resonated in my mind for several years. With only a short lunch break (3 hours), I decided to venture back to Kita Sushi and see if the seared sushi had withstood the test of time.

Kita Sushi is Korean-operated and is not a full-service restaurant. Many customers order takeout, but if you dine in, you would order and pay at the front and then wait for them to bring the food to your table. Ordering at the front has always been one of my biggest life challenges. First of all, I take so long to order that the cashier has to frantically find ways to relieve the awkward moments that ensue. Second, my vision is terrible, and actually being able to see the menu items on the board happens about as often as me successfully convincing myself to commit one of the eight deadly sins: the sin of not eating sushi for a week. Of course, I avoided all of the above by taking one of their plastic menus to my table.

Miso Soup - B+

I ordered an Unagi Don, which comes with a Miso Soup with some seaweed and copious amounts of green onion. It had a thin consistency, but it was not too salty.

Unagi Don - A

This was surprisingly good! Presented in a beautiful bucket thingy, the unagi was freshly seared, and I could hear and smell the blowtorching as I was waiting for my food. The unagi was graced with an excellent grilled flavour, and the unagi was very soft with a bit of fattiness, which made it all the more juicy. The steamed rice was above average, and the unagi sauce brought a savoury flavour to the rice. I will also add that due to the large portion size, this was quite a filling dish.

Salmon Sashimi - A
Tai Sashimi - B-
Tuna Sashimi - A-

Next, I had the Appetizer Sashimi, which came with two pieces of salmon, one piece of tai, and two pieces of tuna. The Salmon Sashimi tasted very fresh and had a mouthwatering creamy, buttery flavour. As a bonus, it was also cut to exactly the right thickness. The Tai Sashimi did not have a smooth texture and was weak in flavour. The Tuna Sashimi, on the other hand, was well-balanced in terms of flavour and did not exhibit any fishiness. 

Seaweed Gunkan - B+
Aburi Saba Nigiri - B-
Aburi Toro Nigiri - C+

Of course, I decided to sample some of their nigiri sushi, and the sushi rice erred on the dry side and was rather mediocre. I always try to resist having wakame (seaweed) because the strands keep getting stuck between my teeth, but evidently, resistance is not one of my virtues. The Seaweed Gunkan came with lots of seaweed and was not tough to chew. The Aburi Saba Nigiri was not too salty, but it did not really have any seared flavour, nor was it soft. There was also too much rice underneath. The Aburi Toro Nigiri was overdone, although the marinade provided some sweetness to the weak flavour of the toro.

Scallop Tataki Roll - B-

At last, I had the Scallop Tataki Roll, which consisted of seared scallop on top of a California roll. The scallop was creamy with a soft texture, but other than that, it was not very reminiscent of what I remembered it to be. The sushi rice was again mediocre, and some of the pieces were rice-heavy. The sweet imitation crab was flavourful but overpowered the weak seared taste of the scallop. The hot sauce, which greatly livened up the flavour, was daintily applied to only a few of the pieces. It was as if they couldn't get the sauce out of the bottle after a few drips and just gave up.

There were a number of enjoyable items during my visit, especially the Unagi Don and the fresh sashimi, but it appears that sushi rice is one of their weaknesses. The service consisted only of bringing to you your food and your eating utensils, which I was fine with considering that this is not a full-service restaurant. The male cashier at the front was friendly, so after finishing my food, I went up to the counter to deposit some coins into the tip jar. Imagine my frustration when all the larger-valued coins went in the coin slot in the blink of an eye, and this one nickel in my pile just refused to go in. Next, imagine the awkwardness as the cashier watched me struggle to get that measly nickel into the jar. In the end, I just bolted out the door...

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

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Episode #142: Kuma Japanese Restaurant

Vancouver (Northwest), $$$ (Higher Priced)

Once in a while, I will travel all the way to UBC's colossal campus and randomly explore some of the buildings, hoping that I will one day be able to navigate the campus without a map. My experiences there are always very interesting. Last time, I was hit by a paper airplane, and this time, I was hit by the fragrant aroma of pizza upon entering the bookstore. Feeling hungry, I went outside to the clock tower to see if it was dinnertime yet (my phone ran out of power), but each of the clocks gave me a different wrong time. Looking at the sky turned out to be more helpful. I then walked over to Save-On-Foods, not knowing it would be so far away, to buy a snack and appease my hunger. I ended up being hangry instead as Save-On-Foods turned into Pay-More-And-Line-Up-Forever-For-Foods. Oh my UBC...

Fortunately, I brought my portable phone charger (a.k.a. my laptop) with me, which allowed me to find my way out of UBC and head over to Kuma Japanese Restaurant, an authentic Japanese restaurant on Dunbar St. The waitresses were dressed in Japanese yukatas, and there was a very obvious effort to be as Japanese as possible. Even the music they played was traditional koto music, which made the place feel all the more desolate and spiritless. During my visit, it felt almost like a tragedy had befallen the place a few days prior, even when there were a number of other diners present.

Stanley Park Roll - B+

Arriving first was the Stanley Park Roll, which consisted of yam tempura, avocado, cucumber, and BBQ eel tempura. The roll was savoury and contained a good amount of unagi sauce and mayonnaise. There was not a lot of unagi, and I felt that the batter could have been crispier. The roll was also a touch rice-heavy, but overall, I enjoyed its pleasant harmony of flavours. 

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

The Saba Nigiri was not too salty and demonstrated an excellent fish-to-rice ratio. However, I have had softer saba in the past. The Sockeye Salmon Nigiri was the best of the bunch, and it was very fresh, smooth, and deliciously juicy. The Toro Nigiri was also fresh and not fishy, and had a nice creamy flavour along with a soft texture. 

Tuna Tataki Nigiri - A-
Unagi Nigiri - B-

The Tuna Tataki had a nice juicy underside and exhibited some well-formed sushi rice. The green onion on top added a nice zing to the flavour of the tuna, The Unagi Nigiri looked like it was burnt to a crisp, and unfortunately, that is pretty much what it tasted like. By being overdone, the unagi had a slightly hard texture, although the savoury, thick unagi sauce helped add some moisture to make the unagi more edible. I will also give them due credit for the above-average sushi rice underneath.

Chicken Okonomiyaki - A-

I have Seafood Okonomiyaki many times in the past, but this time, I decided to go for something new by ordering a Kansai-style Chicken Okonomiyaki as my filler. They should have called this the Chicken Okonomiyaki Tower instead because the portion size was rather gigantic and the okonomiyaki was shaped more like a sushi tower than a pancake. The pancake batter was quite melty and as soft as mashed potatoes; it was coupled with a few tender, succulent pieces of chicken. The Worcestershire sauce added some depth of flavour to the top layer, though it would be nice if some of it seeped through into the bottom layers of the pancake. 

As you can probably guess, I got extremely full after finishing the okonomiyaki and all the cabbage it came with, which is probably a good thing because this prevented me from ordering more food and going past the $40 mark. The service I received was very friendly and polite throughout my visit. The only thing I am wondering is, with above-average service and above-average food, what is with the gloom? I suppose it is possible that things might be livelier at lunch or during the weekend.

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

Episode #141: Sushi Bella (Kitsilano)

Vancouver (Northwest), $$$ (Higher Priced)

One fine morning, I sauntered into the eastern fringes of Kitsilano, catching a few whiffs of my favourite type of fragrance: the sublime, heart-warming scent of Japanese cuisine breathing life into the crisp, wintry air. The streets were adorned with a number of quaint, picturesque restaurants and boutiques, each of them just as tranquil as its neighbours. I had arrived too early for lunch, much to my chagrin. With my gut growling and my craving for Wi-Fi flourishing, I stood just a few paces from the entrance of Sushi Bella to snaffle some of their divine Shaw Open radiation and peruse some of the freshly minted messages in my inbox.

Okay, that was enough fun with my thesaurus. Sushi Bella is one of Greater Vancouver's most popular restaurant chains with a total of four locations. Being the first customer of the day, I was greeted by the friendly Korean staff and seated not far from the front entrance. Here, the strong sunlight pouring in from the south-facing windows created a sharp contrast with the darker lighting in the back of the restaurant (a.k.a. the uncomfortable kind of lighting). As soon as I got out my notebook, the waiter and the chefs suddenly stopped talking, and all that could be heard were the faint sounds of knives cutting through sushi and the soft jazz music in the background.

Miso Soup - B+

Taking advantage of their lunch specials, I ordered the $15 Sashimi Bento, and the first thing to arrive was the Miso Soup. The Miso Soup had a thin consistency, but was not too salty and served at a comfortably hot temperature. 

A few minutes later, the rest of my Sashimi Bento arrived. Given the portion sizes, I would say that $15 is on the pricier side.

Salad - B+

The Salad came with finely grated daikon and a slice of nearly overripe avocado on mixed greens. The dressing was a tangy vinaigrette, with an extra zing provided by finely grated onions. Most of the dressing sank to the bottom, and for good reason: avocado and tangy vinaigrette dressing produce a rather revolting combination.

Dynamite Roll - C+

The Dynamite Roll was served cold and tasted like it had just been pulled out of the freezer. I was not impressed. There was an abundance of imitation crab filling, but this filling was overly creamy and strangely stuck together in a clump.

Tuna Sashimi - C+
Salmon Sashimi - C+
Ebi Sashimi - B

There was no fishiness in the Tuna Sashimi at all, but it had a very interesting texture. Parts of it were very soft and tasted watery, while other parts were significantly firmer. It took me back to my childhood and reminded me of those water blisters that would appear on my mother's steamed buns when she forgot to remove the lid of the steamer after heating the buns up. The Salmon Sashimi was fresh with a nice creamy flavour, but all of this was destroyed by the flawed cutting. There was a weird, mushy flap extending from the bottom of each piece. Nope, let's not think about that and just move on. The Ebi Sashimi was the least flawed and had a pleasant sweet taste, but it was slightly too tough for my liking.

Chicken Karaage - B-

The Chicken Karaage was slightly crispy and dressed with a light layer of katsu mayo, which was delectably tangy and creamy and worked well with the chicken. Unfortunately, the chicken was not tender and hard to chew in places.

Lobster King Roll - B+

The final dish of my lunch was the Lobster King Roll, which came with lobster meat, avocado, cucumber, tuna tataki, roasted garlic aioli, and crispy garlic chips. It looked neat appearance-wise, but there was this one piece that kept falling over as if it were too exhausted and had just given up on life. Taste-wise, the creamy avocado blended the flavours together nicely, while there was enough lobster inside for me to clearly taste it. The tuna tataki on top was a bit overdone. In the end, I couldn't exactly say that this was a good deal at $15 (even with the lobster), as there was nothing king-sized or kingly about this roll. 

The best part of my experience at Sushi Bella was the service, as my server was polite and professional throughout my entire visit. Even the chefs behind the counter were friendly. Unfortunately, I found the food quite mediocre, and the knife skills of the sushi chef were certainly nothing to rave about. Furthermore, the food was very expensive for the quality I received. Did I come into the restaurant too early in the morning?

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

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Episode #140: Shota Sushi & Grill

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

Due to its far distance from SFU, I have not been blogging very much about sushi restaurants on the south side of Vancouver. However, on my first day back to class, I had a nearly five-hour-long lunch break, so I decided to venture into the Kerrisdale/Arbutus Ridge area. I strolled down the bustling shopping district and spotted two sushi restaurants: Asa Sushi and Shota Sushi & Grill. After walking back and forth between the two restaurants and disrupting the traffic on West 41st Ave., I decided to dine at Shota Sushi & Grill because the awning of the restaurant said "the Best Sushi in Vancouver."

Inside the Chinese-operated restaurant is a sizable, cozy dining area, and most of the seats were occupied by customers when I stepped in. I always like to try out the special things on the menu, but when I saw the daily specials, I was more than a little alarmed.

Now, I know that Tojo's is expensive, but this takes things to a whole new level. $169.95 for a two-course meal with Shima-Aji Sashimi and a veggie hotpot? Or better yet, how about a whopping $189.95 for some Tai Sashimi and a veggie hotpot? Well, if eating the sashimi magically makes me very attractive, then I'll give it a try. For now, I'm going to stick with Sexy Rolls for that purpose. I bet the Kampachi Sashimi is so expensive that the price does not even fit in the space, which is probably why they left it out.

Miso Soup - A

Fortunately, there were more affordable items on the other menus, such as the Famous Roll lunch combo for $12.95 (+$1 for certain choices), which comes with a special roll, a side dish, a Miso Soup, and a Salad. The Miso Soup that came with that combo was solid. The soup contained tofu, seaweed, and green onion and was served at just the right temperature. The balance of flavours was excellent; it was not too salty and had a prominent miso flavour.

Salad - A-

The Salad came with lettuce, mixed greens, and a giant rice cracker at the back for visual appeal. The usual Japanese salad dressing was combined with the peanut sauce used in a Goma-ae, creating a tangy but sweet flavour. As a result, the salad was unique and quite tasty.

Dragon Roll - A
Flamed Sushi - A-

To get the best value, I went for the most expensive roll, the Dragon Roll, which consisted of prawn tempura, cucumber, grilled unagi, avocado, masago, mayonnaise, sesame seeds, and unagi sauce. The prawn had a good snap, and the tempura batter was appropriately thin and crispy. The unagi had a pleasantly sweet grilled flavour, and the avocado provided the finishing touch by blending all the ingredients together. The Flamed Sushi, with two pieces of seared and dressed salmon, came in an unattractive dull brown hue. Spices accentuated the flavour of the thin pieces of salmon, which had a decent smoky flavour.

Hamachi Sushi - A
Wild Red Tuna Sushi - A-
Wild Sockeye Sushi - B+

After finishing the combo, it was time to try some fancy nigiri, which were just a bit less than $3 a piece. The Hamachi Sushi came in a generous portion, and its freshness and smooth texture made it a delight to eat. The Wild Red Tuna Sushi had a nice fatty texture and no fishiness. The Wild Sockeye Sushi tasted fresh, but the texture could be smoother. I found the sushi rice to be just average, especially in the Wild Red Tuna Sushi and the Wild Sockeye Sushi, as it didn't really have that smooth, fragrant, melt-in-your-mouth quality.

Yakitori - A-

Finally, the Yakitori was tender and fresh. There was definitely enough teriyaki sauce, but parts of the chicken could absorb the sauce better. The sesame seeds (the backup plan) worked to enhance the flavour of the chicken.

I was indifferent about the service as it was neither very good nor problematic. Food-wise, a few of the dishes were a little sauce-heavy (as is common with Chinese-operated restaurants), but the food was executed with care and attention. My lunch came to just over $30, which I thought was reasonable given the quality of the food and the location of the restaurant. That's much better than having to spend $189.95 on a two-course meal!

Shota Sushi & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato