Hamaei Japanese Restaurant is authentic and has a reputation for well-prepared traditional Japanese food. However, it is located in the midst of the mountainous terrain of North Vancouver, and the infrequent buses there make the place a challenge to get to. North Vancouver's confusing road system, with linear, parabola-shaped and cubic-function-shaped roads, does not help either. My brain can only comprehend so much math. I had heard about Hamaei since last year, but I decided to hold off my visit until the weather was warmer and sunnier. Ironically, I ended up visiting Hamaei on one of the rainiest days of 2016, all due to a sudden craving for healthy traditional Japanese food.
Evidently from the photo, I arrived at the restaurant a little too early, so I decided to walk around in the surrounding plaza just to get myself more soaked. Once the waitress flipped around the "Closed" sign, I went in and noticed that the dining space was cozy and comfortable with a prominent traditional Japanese accent.
Miniature Wakame Salad - A
While I was waiting for my food to arrive, one of the waitresses presented me with a complimentary Miniature Wakame Salad! It was well-seasoned and easy to digest.
Appetizer Tempura - A
I really wanted to eat healthy, but I couldn't resist getting an Appetizer Tempura. Just one bite into the prawn tempura was enough to convince me to add this restaurants to my list of favourites. The batter was light and crispy with a beautiful golden hue, while the prawns were juicy and rich in flavour. The zucchini tempura was equally delicious. Both the prawn tempura and the zucchini tempura were heavenly and deserved A+'s, but the sweet potato tempura and kabocha tempura felt slightly dry.
Gyutan - B
At first, I wanted to order the Duck Hot Pot on the specials menu, but when I asked about the size of the hotpot, the server suggested that it might be too much food for me since I had also ordered a large nigiri set. Forgetting that I am a glutton, I ordered the Gyutan (sliced beef tongue) and the Deep-Fried Eggplant with Ground Chicken instead. The Gyutan was sliced thinly, so it was not too chewy. It had a nice smoky flavour, but the salt was unevenly applied. As a result, some pieces tasted way too salty, while others tasted a bit bland. The kitchen accidentally prepared a Duck Hot Pot for me as well, and in hindsight, I wished I had ordered that instead since it didn't look especially large, especially for me.
Yes, I went for their Deluxe Sushi Combo, the largest and priciest nigiri set. There goes $23.50...
Tuna Maki - A-
Salmon Maki - B+
Starting at the top, the Tuna Maki came with fresh, rich, and melty tuna. The Salmon Maki didn't really contain enough salmon to make much of an impact, but at least the sushi rice was flavoured nicely.
Red Tuna Nigiri - B+
Tuna Nigiri - A
Salmon Nigiri - A
Madai Nigiri - B+
Hamachi Nigiri - B+
Hotategai Nigiri - A-
Amaebi Nigiri - B+
Hokkigai Nigiri - A-
Ikura Nigiri - A+
The Red Tuna Nigiri had a mild flavour and a soft, smooth texture. Next, I highly enjoyed the Tuna Nigiri and the Salmon Nigiri, for they were both fresh and had rich flavours. The Madai Nigiri and the Hamachi Nigiri were sliced into generous, thick pieces, but this made them a bit chewy. The Hotategai Nigiri had a sweet, sea-like flavour, while the Amaebi was creamy and paired with slightly too much rice. (The fish-to-rice ratio for all the other pieces was spot-on.) The Hokkigai was decent with a sweet flavour. The winner was the Ikura Nigiri, which was very juicy and filled with irresistible, savoury fish oils. The sushi rice was nicely packed and had just the right texture.
They also brought out the fried amaebi head! It was crunchy and made for a nice snack (yes, you can eat the whole head). So much for healthy eating...
Deep-Fried Eggplant with Ground Chicken - B
Staying on the theme of "healthy" food, I had the Deep-Fried Eggplant with Ground Chicken, something which I had never seen at any other restaurant before. The juicy eggplant was surrounded by a light coating of panko batter, and the dipping sauce was a tangy Worcestershire sauce. In my opinion, the Worcestershire sauce didn't work together very well with the flavour of the eggplant. There was also very little chicken, which was overwhelmed by the other ingredients.
I was very pleased with the friendly service, and with my visit in general. Not all of the dishes were stellar, but each item was prepared with care. So far, this is the best Japanese restaurant I have been to in North Vancouver. Other than my wallet, every part of me left the restaurant satisfied. Once outside, I got drenched once again before a bus came to whirl me further north into utter darkness. The only thing I managed to spot on this dark, perilous journey back to Vancouver was another sushi restaurant that I could visit on a future sushi adventure.