Friday, April 29, 2016

Episode #166: Sun Sushi

Vancouver (Northwest), $$ (Moderately Priced)

Early last week, I went on another UBC adventure in an attempt to escape from the heat. Right after getting off the bus, I saw a crowd of students holding colourfully highlighted stacks of paper, waiting for their exams to start. I then went inside to see what UBC's exam rooms were like, and the first thing I saw was a sign with the words "Bird Coop" and "Dojo". I'm sure those are superb locations for writing exams. Next, I went to explore the science buildings, but I quickly noticed that it was even hotter inside than it was outside. On each entrance was a sign that said "UBC Heating System Upgrade". If that is their main concern, they really need to rethink their priorities. After suffocating for a few moments, I finally found what I needed: a large -80°C freezer. Too bad it was bolted shut! How could they be so heartless?! That's it. It was time for another sushi adventure, since, as we all know, sushi is the solution to every problem.

My plan was to go to Takumi Japanese Restaurant to enjoy some fancy authentic nigiri, but unfortunately, they changed their schedule and were no longer open for lunch on Tuesdays. I walked around for a bit and found Sun Sushi, and since it looked rather popular, I went in and gave it a try. The dining space is actually quite large and can seat at least 40 people. There were multiple chefs and servers on duty, and I had the luxury of being seated right beside a very excited diner who constantly sounded like a YouTuber on a megaphone.

Appetizer Tempura - B-

Despite my "Moderately Priced" rating, the prices were very budget friendly relative to other restaurants in the area. This Appetizer Tempura cost only $4.25 and came with zucchini, kabocha, prawn, carrot, and sweet potato (one piece each). The sweet potato was the highlight of this dish. The other items exhibited issues such as being cut too thick or being too dry. The batter was not too heavy, but it was unusually hard. 

Ebi Salad Dragon Roll - B+

To those of you who have been diligently following my blog, I am sure you are tired of me constantly ordering Dragon Rolls, so allow me to present to you the all-new, exclusive Ebi Salad Dragon Roll. This revolutionary roll comes with chopped shrimp, masago, and savoury BBQ eel! The salad shrimp tastes just like your typical imitation crab meat, but with a creamier, richer flavour. This roll also features mediocre sushi rice, so you'll definitely enjoy this roll if you are not picky about the small details. Order yours now! 

Sorry, I'm a business student after all...

Chirashi Sushi - B

Despite the menu being quite extensive, I could not find any particularly special fillers, so I just went for the Chirashi Sushi. I was surprised that for just $13.95, I received one piece of hokkigai (B), five thin pieces of toro (B), one piece of ika (B-), two pieces of salmon (A-), two pieces of tamago (B+), one piece of ebi (A-), two pieces of tuna (C+), and one piece of saba (B-). The highlight of this dish was the salmon sashimi, which had a rich, buttery flavour. The tuna was my least favourite because it tasted quite fishy, though its placement right next to the saba may have contributed to the fishiness. The rice would have benefitted from having a bit more moisture, and it felt slightly undercooked.

The service was unremarkable, but it was generally polite and efficient, at least during my visit. Food-wise, the quality tended to hover around average. It is evident that the lower prices are what makes this restaurant popular. If you wish to inflict more damage on your wallet, Hime Sushi and Takumi Japanese Restaurant are good choices nearby. 

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Episode #165: Ryuu Japanese Kitchen

Richmond, $$$$ (Luxury)

A few months ago, McArthurGlen Designer Outlet attracted so many shoppers that widespread traffic jams occurred, and traffic attendants had to direct incoming cars into free parking spaces to relieve some of the congestion. However, during my visit last week, the outlet had about as much life as the airport does at midnight. The gloomy jazz music on the speakers did not exactly help. There were many discounts in the clothing stores, but since I was only here for the sushi (who needs clothes when there's sushi?), I stepped into Ryuu Japanese Kitchen hoping there would be discounts as well.

Suffice to say, my hopes were a little crushed when I saw the high prices on the menu. However, my biggest disappointment was that the menu was not the menu that was posted online. There was no Aburi sushi, no oshizushi, and no Chef's Daily Special Lunch set on the menu I was given. As a last resort, I asked one of the servers if they served Aburi sushi as a special, but she just gave me a very confused look. My dreams were crushed at that very moment. How could they do this to me?

(menu - click to enlarge)

The choices in terms of special rolls were very limited, and they even considered the Dynamite Roll a special roll. With not much to pick from, I went for the Beef Bento and the pricey $15 Dragon Roll. The nigiri was so expensive that I decided not to order any until I was assured of the quality of the food. Come on, $3 for a piece of Hokkigai Nigiri? Strangely enough, the labelling on the chopstick wrapper suggested that Ryuu Japanese Kitchen and Neptune Wonton Noodle are part of the same restaurant group. I remember Neptune Wonton Noodle being fairly priced.

Miso Soup - B-

First to arrive was the Miso Soup from the Beef Bento, which came with seaweed, tofu, and green onion. The Miso Soup was lacking in flavour and tasted more like a light broth than miso soup. Uh oh...

This is the rest of the Beef Bento. The items looked standard fare and fell short of my expectations considering the $15 price tag.

Salad - B-

The Salad came with some mixed greens and a slice of tomato. I liked how the Salad was dressed with Goma-ae peanut sauce for a change, but the dressing was uneven and insufficient. Parts of the salad felt very dry. 

Assorted Tempura - B

The Assorted Tempura, with two prawns and one piece each of eggplant and zucchini, could be considered the highlight of the bento box. For the most part, the amount of batter was correct, and it was sufficiently crispy. The zucchini was the best of the bunch and tasted juicy and rich. One of the prawns was successful, while the other was too thin and tasted floury. The eggplant was also cut thinly and tasted floury.

Beef Teriyaki - C

Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse with the Beef Teriyaki. The steamed rice was mushy, and the beef was chewy. To top it all off, the carrot was also lacking in flavour. Based on the dish, I think they would be better off hiring one of those dudes at Koya to do the teriyaki for them.

California Roll - B

Next, the California Roll wasn't so bad. There was even a nice little teriyaki sauce accident on one of the pieces. The crab meat was creamy, and there was a significant amount of avocado. The sushi rice was a little stickier than usual, but other than that, it tasted like standard fare.

Dragon Roll - B

After the Beef Bento, I tried the Dragon Roll, which consisted of masago, tempura unagi, cucumber and avocado. The small pieces of unagi on top had a sweet, savoury flavour. However, this was a very pricey roll considering what I received. For $15, they could not afford to give me any imitation crab meat or prawn tempura! How was I supposed to get my protein for the day?! With just avocado and cucumber inside, the overall flavour was weaker than the typical Dragon Roll, which features either crab meat or prawn tempura (or sometimes both). 

The service was decent throughout my visit, and I also liked the modern decor, though it was styled more like an elegant Hong Kong cafe than a Japanese restaurant. The quality of the food was not sufficient to entice me to try the nigiri, so I left the restaurant after the Dragon Roll. I believe the proximity to the airport has something to do with the higher prices, but generally, the quality did not live up to those prices. I have dined at both Neptune Seafood Restaurant and Neptune Wonton Noodle, and from those visits, I know that Neptune Restaurant Group is capable of much more than what I received here at Ryuu Japanese Kitchen.

Ryuu Japanese Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Episode #164: Hiroba Sushi

Port Coquitlam, $$ (Moderately Priced)

Port Coquitlam is a delightful place to visit, but it is basically a Bermuda Triangle if you are travelling by bus. The bus routes in Port Coquitlam look like something I would get if I spammed the buttons on my graphing calculator in one of the obscure modes. As much as I enjoy and survive on Translink's services, something might need to be fixed if an "intelligent" university student like me cannot figure out what's going on. That being said, after a few eons of Raymond's Wrong Way Adventures, I managed to land myself at Hiroba Sushi.

Other than the handful of bright, colourful signs advertising the restaurant's special deals, the restaurant has one of the most elegant settings for any Port Coquitlam sushi restaurant. Hiroba Sushi is Korean-operated, and the extensive menu features many special rolls, including Aburi rolls.

(specials schedule - click to enlarge)

They also have a 20% discount on a particular category of items every day of the week. I came on a Monday and was pleased to see that the discount was on my favourite category: fancy nigiri. It's always nice when a restaurant cares about my personal preferences.

Cod Tempura - B

On the list of new menu additions was the Cod Tempura. Although the menu said there would be six pieces, I only received four. I guess the dipping and the paper lining also count as pieces. The cod had a sufficiently soft texture and a nice aromatic flavour when coupled with the creamy dill dipping, while the batter was slightly dry and overdone. Overall, it wasn't the best fried fish that I have come across, but it was decent.

Toro Nigiri - B+
Sockeye Salmon Nigiri - B+
Unagi Nigiri - B
Aburi Salmon Nigiri - B+

The Toro Nigiri had a rich flavour and a melty texture, and it would be excellent if there was more of the toro to accompany the rice. The Sockeye Salmon Nigiri was fresh with a pleasant smooth texture, while the Unagi Nigiri was not particularly soft and a bit dry. The Aburi Salmon Nigiri was creamy and accompanied by some pesto purée. It would be nice if the sushi rice had slightly more flavour.

Tuna Aburi Roll - B+

Next, the Tuna Aburi Roll consisted of cucumber, avocado, tuna, seared tuna, ponzu sauce, and purée. The cheese-flavoured purée was delectable and accented the flavours of the roll eloquently. I also enjoyed the interplay between the soft tuna inside the roll and the slightly rougher smoked tuna outside the roll, though I would have liked more of a smoky flavour from the smoked tuna. The ponzu sauce, the sliced daikon, and the red onion contributed a good amount of tanginess to the roll.

Yakitori - B-

The lowlight of my meal happened to be the Yakitori. It was overdone and therefore, the chicken was tougher than expected. However, the leeks were still juicy, and the teriyaki sauce was applied appropriately.

Flower Nigiri - A-

The food came in rather small portions, so I was still not full after my initial order. Since discounts are one of life's greatest pleasures, I decided to indulge in the fanciest piece of nigiri they had: the Flower Nigiri. Shaped like a luscious rose with a gorgeous white liquid coming out of it, the Flower Nigiri consisted of chopped scallop, salmon, and sushi rice. The sweet scallop was dressed with a chowder-like sweet creamy sauce, and the Atlantic salmon was seared. There was more of a smoky flavour here than in either the Aburi Salmon Nigiri or the Tuna Aburi Roll. 

The service was friendly and complemented the stylish atmosphere inside the restaurant. While there were no very spectacular dishes, the quality of the food was quite consistent. The prices are not especially cheap, and the smaller portions mean that you may need to spend more here than in other nearby sushi restaurants. Once out of the restaurant, I found myself on another quest to find the right bus stop, but this time, the difficulty level was set to "Mission Impossible" because I simultaneously had to escape from a lady who was loudly claiming that the entire sidewalk was hers and that no one else belonged on it. I suppose this is what happens when people don't eat enough sushi.

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

Friday, April 22, 2016

Episode #163: Kiku Sushi

Burnaby South, $$ (Moderately Priced)

This sushi adventure was another episode of Raymond's Accidentally-Going-to-a-Closed-Restaurant Adventures. My original plan was to try some purportedly decent budget eats at Yakko Sushi, but they were either closed for heavy renovations or being replaced by a new Japanese restaurant. Kiku Sushi was one of the closest Japanese restaurants that I have yet to try, so I used my epic ninja walking skills to maneuver through the never-ending traffic jam on Kingsway, almost caught a cold from the wind, and burnt roughly 5,000 calories walking the two or three blocks there. (I have no idea how much a calorie actually is.)

Kiku Sushi is a large Chinese-operated Japanese restaurant located in the same complex as the London Drugs near Metrotown. The menu is very extensive and features many different special rolls and appetizers. Since I arrived before 4 p.m., I was also able to take advantage of their Lunch Special Lucky Choice menu, from which you can choose three items and receive a miso soup for just $9.50. I'm not sure why they called it "Lucky Choice", but perhaps it refers to the idea that there are good and bad items on the menu, and you have to be lucky to choose the good ones.

Chicken Teriyaki - B+

The first item to arrive from the Lucky Choice menu was the Chicken Teriyaki, and I had above average luck with this one. The chicken was tender and the skin was appealingly crispy. There were lots of bean sprouts, though they were mostly undressed and not particularly special. The only odd thing with this dish was the teriyaki sauce, which had a rather thick consistency.

Goma-ae - C-

Unfortunately, I had horrible luck when it came to the Goma-ae. The sauce was both disgusting and disturbing. It had the consistency of toothpaste and tasted really off. No, adding water to the spinach does not help alleviate the problem. I also pulled out what looked like a large piece of dust from the spinach. Let's not think about this one anymore and just move on...

Coconut Prawn Tempura - C

With the Coconut Prawn Tempura, my luck epically failed on me a second time. In this dish, they tried to add minuscule pieces of coconut to the batter to give it a slight coconut flavour. This gave the batter a hard texture and a burnt appearance. The coconut and spicy mayonnaise did not really go together either. The only plus was that the prawns were sufficiently juicy. I appreciate the attempt to innovate, but tempura batter gone wrong wasn't exactly what I was looking for.

Miso Soup - A-

The Miso Soup was by far the best item from the Lucky Choice menu. I think I should have just let them choose all of the items for me. The Miso Soup came with tofu, green onion, and lots of seaweed, and it featured a pleasant balanced flavour.

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

After the Lucky Choice menu, I sampled some of their nigiri. The saba was not too salty and had a rich flavour, though it was not very soft. The Toro Nigiri featured excellent soft and melty toro, and the fish-to-rice ratio was roughly correct. The Sockeye Salmon Nigiri had neither enough flavour nor a smooth texture. Finally, the unagi was sliced thin and had a bit of a bony texture, even though it was not actually bony. The sushi rice was average and would have fared better with more flavour.

Salmon Hana Sushi - A-

My favourite item from my visit was the Salmon Hana Sushi, which consisted of chopped scallop and sushi rice wrapped with Atlantic salmon. The fresh, creamy salmon harmonized perfectly with the sweet and savoury scallops. The addition of mayonnaise helped blend all the flavours together. They also took the care to make this special roll come with special presentation as well. It looked like the pieces were trying to get into the house to escape the evil wrath of my chopsticks and my teeth, which made me sort of feel bad for eating it...

I received attentive service during my visit, though this could be because they sat me right next to the cash register, where most of the waitresses were hanging out. There were several successful dishes, though I lost two lives during the Lucky Choice special. If you visit Kiku Sushi during lunch hours, make sure you bring your luck with you when ordering from the Lucky Choice menu. Don't fall into any of the traps!

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Episode #162: Sushi Turn House

Coquitlam, $ (Budget)

As horrible as my vision is, I have an eagle eye for sushi restaurants and things that are on sale. Sushi Turn House did not do a very good job at making itself look fancy, but it did an outstanding job at catching my attention with its "$0.99 Sushi" sign. How could I say "no" when I could fulfill my life's greatest desire for just $0.99?

Unfortunately, when I stepped in, I found that it was $0.99 for only one piece of nigiri and not $0.99 for as much sushi as I wanted. However, the food was still inexpensive, and there was a good amount of takeout traffic coming through during my visit. While examining the menu, I quickly noticed that the sushi chef and the waitress both spoke Cantonese. Although I am a fluent Cantonese speaker, I pretended not to know any Cantonese and see if I could possibly listen in on any of their secrets.

Red Dragon Roll - B

The first item to arrive was the Red Dragon Roll, which consisted of spicy salmon, prawn tempura, avocado, cucumber, masago, and teriyaki sauce. I didn't really agree with the presentation because it reminded me of those uncut rolls that T&T used to serve. The restaurant is named Sushi Turn House after all, so couldn't they at least turn the pieces around to make the roll look more appealing? Presentation aside, the prawn tempura was juicy and tasty, and although the batter was thick, it was not hard. The salmon had a nice creamy flavour, but the rice was warm and a bit mushy. The most hilarious thing about this roll was the teriyaki sauce, which tasted a lot like Chinese black bean sauce. Oh my Chinese goddesses...

Tuna Sashimi - C+
Salmon Sashimi - B+

Next up was the Appetizer Sashimi, which came with three pieces of tuna and two pieces of salmon. I was not particularly fond of the Tuna Sashimi because it was weak in flavour and quite sinewy. The cutting of the tuna into thick chunks did not exactly help. The Salmon Sashimi was cut slightly thinner and featured a nice smooth sheen.

Unagi Nigiri - B-
Tai Nigiri - B-
Toro Nigiri - B-

Of course, I had to try some of the $0.99 sushi, so I went for the Tai Nigiri (the Unagi Nigiri and the Toro Nigiri were $2 each). The unagi was savoury, but it lacked a smoky flavour and was overwhelmed by an excessive amount of sauce. The Tai Nigiri tasted slightly fishy, but at least it was not too chewy. The Toro Nigiri surprisingly came with too little rice, which made it hard to pick up. The cut of toro was very generous, but it would be nice it had more flavour.

Seafood Fried Rice - B-

Seeing that the restaurant was Chinese-operated, I decided to try a Chinese dish: the Seafood Fried Rice. I was startled to find that this fried rice did not stack up to Kadoya's fried rice, even though this one looked more elaborate. The rice felt crumbly and was of mediocre quality. The cooked salmon was also a bit dry, but I did enjoy the savoury sweet scallops among the mix.

I received friendly service during my visit, and the sushi chef often looked around at the diners and assisted the waitress in ensuring attentiveness. However, when I was half finished my fried rice and went on my phone to check my email, the chef looked at me and then said to the waitress in Cantonese, "Help him pack it up. How can he possibly finish all that food? He's just a child." I knew he was only trying to help, but seriously? Just a child?? I am old enough to say that my driver's license expired several years ago! I know that growing up isn't easy, but perhaps it is impossible for me after all.

Sushi Turn House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Episode #161: Aji-Kura Ramen & Sushi

Vancouver (Southeast), $ (Budget)

Warmer weather has certainly arrived in Vancouver earlier than usual this year, which roughly translates to a long-lasting, durable allergy season. With my nose running like a boss, I went to visit Aji-Kura, a relatively new Japanese restaurant located on Victoria Dr. in one of Vancouver's various Chinatowns. As I had expected, the restaurant is Chinese-operated, and the food on the menu appeared to be quite budget-friendly.

The restaurant is not very large, but it features clean, modern decor. The menu is also quite extensive, so in order to try both their ramen and their special rolls, I decided to do a Sushi-a-thon. Best of all, they showed consideration for my sushi needs by including special rolls in their Lunch Special menu.

(Lunch Special menu - click to enlarge)

1st visit:

Usually, when I see low prices at an unfamiliar restaurant, my brain automatically equates that to smaller portions. I ordered what seemed like a logical amount of food to me, but the waitress asked me if I was sure about ordering so much food (here we go again). It turns out that I am not very good at reading the fine print, and thus, I accidentally ordered myself two miso soups...

Miso Soup - B

The two miso soups came from the Lunch Special combo and the donburi I ordered. With green onion and seaweed, the soup was standard fare. Although the consistency of the soup was on the thinner side, I liked how it was not too salty. 

Wakame - A-

The Lunch Special combo also came with a small portion of Wakame, which was amply dressed and came in thin, easy-to-chew pieces.

69 Roll - B+

Being a very mature person, I decided to pick the most appropriate special roll: the 69 Roll. I mean, if I can't experience the 69 in real life, then at least I can experience it through sushi, which probably works just as well. The 69 Roll came with torched wild salmon, unagi, cucumber, crab meat, and avocado. The salmon exhibited a good amount of searing, and the roll featured savoury unagi as well as copious amounts of crab meat. The pieces were on the larger side, and the roll was decent texture-wise.

Saba Nigiri - B
Inari Nigiri - B+
Chopped Scallop Nigiri - B+

I decided to pair my 69 Roll with some nigiri, and the nigiri demonstrated good rice formation. The saba was chewier and smoother in texture than expected, but fortunately, it was not too salty. The inari was sweet and juicy, and it would be great if the rice was also seasoned. The Chopped Scallop Nigiri was amply sweet and came with a good balance of ingredients, but I had to deduct some marks because the seaweed was falling apart.

Salmon Sashimi - B+
Tuna Sashimi - C-
Hokkigai Sashimi - A-

After the combo, I tried some of their raw fish via the Appetizer Sashimi. The Salmon Sashimi had a delectable smooth sheen and was sliced generously, though I had to dip it in quite a bit of soy sauce to get enough flavour. The Tuna Sashimi was served too cold, and after letting it sit for five minutes, the interior was still frozen. Unfortunately, tuna popsicle is not exactly one of my favourite foods. Moving on, the Hokkigai Sashimi had an appealing chewiness and demonstrated superior freshness.

Ebi Mayo Don - B+

Finally, I was presented with a huge Ebi Mayo Don. With six tempura prawns and a large bed of rice, this was easily twice the size of what I was expecting. Now, I don't know what kind of high I was on, but I managed to finish the whole thing (along with everything else above). I enjoyed the texture of the sushi rice, which had an appealing amount of stickiness and was amply dressed with mayonnaise. The small piece of lemon added a nice citrusy touch. The batter on the prawns was on the thicker side, and the tamago was not particularly outstanding. 

2nd visit:

Since the Lunch Special combo was such a good deal, I ordered from it again, but with ramen instead this time.

Miso Ramen - B+

This is literally the first time I have had ramen since I started this blog. Do not worry. To make sure my rating was reasonable, I ordered the same dish at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka soon after this visit to do a comparison (I'll also admit that what really lured me into Hokkaido Ramen Santouka were their ice cream floats). While the tonkotsu-flavoured broth was no match for the heavenly broth at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, the pork here was actually better. It was very tender and savoury, and the ramen noodles exhibited that distinctive ramen flavour well.

Sockeye Salmon Sashimi - B

Next, I went for the three-piece Sockeye Salmon Sashimi as part of my Lunch Special combo. Sliced into quaint elliptical prisms with a shear in the horizontal direction, the sashimi demonstrated questionable knife skills. It had a mild, sweet flavour but was not particularly smooth in texture.

Unagi Oshi-Sushi - B-

At just $9.25, this was an excellent deal, and the oshizushi was presented beautifully. This particularly oshizushi featured torched eel, wild salmon, yuzu, and creamy sauce. The construction of the individual pieces could have been neater, and the rice was slightly too dry this time. I also found the unagi overly chewy, and the tangy yuzu was not the best match for the sweeter unagi. To sum it all up, the sushi tasted okay, but the texture was problematic. 

Black Sesame Mochi Ice Cream - B

For just $1 more, I added the Black Sesame Mochi Ice Cream to my combo. This took a long time to come out, but since I wasn't in a hurry, I sat there and stared at my empty plates to see if they had forgotten about my ice cream. It turned out they did. When it did come, I found it slightly too cold, but the mochi had an enjoyable soft texture. It would be nice if the black sesame flavour was richer.

I wasn't a big fan of the service, as it was rather unenthusiastic and the waitress seemed to be having a bad day on both occasions. However, my wallet was a big fan of the prices. Overall, if you look past the service, Aji-Kura is a case of satisfactory food for very good prices. Perhaps the next time my mom goes shopping for groceries and weird Chinese soup ingredients in the vicinity, I can stop by to try more of their enticingly named special rolls. 

Aji-Kura Ramen And Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato