Friday, July 28, 2017

Episode #227: Sushi Mania

Vancouver (Northeast), $ (Budget)

I am usually quite good with numbers, but recently, that hasn't been the case. This time, not only did I miscalculate the amount of time it would take for me to get to Sushi Mania on Main St., but I also bussed down to 32nd Ave. instead of 23rd Ave. Getting stuck in a traffic jam did not exactly help. After doing a few facepalms, I had to frantically speed walk to the restaurant so that I would not miss any sushi photo opportunities. I ended up being 30 minutes late to my own dinner, but thankfully, Gee, Pat, and Jaden were patient enough, and none of the food landed on the table yet.

Sushi Mania has a reputation for being affordable and decent as well as having a good variety of dishes. Indeed, we found many intriguing appetizers and special rolls, and much of the food that whizzed by us looked appealing. However, we agreed to keep the dinner light, as dinners with me are almost always followed by a visit to a dessert shop. The restaurant was quite busy, and we found the seating a little tight, but bearable.

Spicy Salmon Nuggets - A

After having a very good version of this from Ki Isu, I was looking forward to trying the same dish here. These delectable salmon nuggets were no disappointment. The salmon inside was very juicy, and the batter had just the right amount of crispiness. The spicy mayonnaise complemented the nuggets without overwhelming them.

Sushi Pizza - A-

Next, we had the Sushi Pizza, which came with salmon, tuna, crab meat, and avocado. The fish was fresh with smooth, appealing textures, while the crispy rice at the bottom was not hard. We also enjoyed the sweet imitation crab, but thought there could have been a bit more of it.

Crunchy Munchy Roll - B

While we were musing over the menu, one of us spotted something very cool-looking, and we were determined to order it before we even fully knew what it was. This turned out to be the Crunchy Munchy Roll, with spicy tuna, cucumber, and yam tempura bits. There wasn't a lot of spicy tuna, so the tuna provided little flavour to the roll. What produced most of the flavour were the yam tempura bits on top. These were crunchy and went well with the accompanying drizzle of spicy mayonnaise.

Black Dragon Roll - A-

Our next roll of choice was the Black Dragon Roll, which came with crab meat, avocado, cucumber, and seared unagi. The roll came in small pieces, but was neatly constructed. The searing of the unagi created a wonderful smokiness, which was easily the highlight of the roll.

Mania Roll - A-

The Mania Roll consisted of crab meat, avocado, cucumber, and seared chopped scallop. Once again small but neatly constructed, this roll came with excellently seared scallops. The soft textures of the scallop and the sweet crab meat were a delight.

Hokkigai Sashimi - A-
Salmon Sashimi - B+
Saba Sashimi - B-
Tuna Sashimi - B
Tai Sashimi - B+
Tako Sashimi - B

For some odd reason, our Assorted Sashimi arrived towards the end of our meal. The hokkigai tasted the freshest and had a nice sweet flavour. The salmon and tai also tasted fresh. The tuna and tako were slightly less fresh, and the saba was rather chewy and salty.

Even though the restaurant was packed the whole time we were there, we received friendly service. Most of the food exceeded our expectations, especially after considering the price. If this place was a little more convenient to bus to from SFU, I would be a regular. 

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Episode #226: Kimu Japanese Cuisine (2nd Visit)

Vancouver (Southeast), $ (Budget)

Every semester, I try to organize a sushi meet-up so the TAs in my office can meet and get to know each other. This time, however, my attempts to organize were more or less a fail. Despite drawing a huge availability schedule that spanned our chalkboard and personally bugging each TA to fill out the schedule, more than half of the TAs ended up cancelling hours before the dinner for various reasons. Somehow, 15 confirmed guests became 7, and plus-ones almost outnumbered TAs that actually share the office with me. Nonetheless, the dinner went on with Andrea, Angus, Anya, Ashton, Patrick, and Sean in attendance.

Even though the restaurant still displays a "Grand Opening" sign, it has actually been open for many months. It has been gaining popularity, and now, it is one of my go-to places for casual group dinners.  Their menu features a great assortment of fusion dishes, most of which are Instagram-worthy.

As is usual for dinners with me, no ordering took place until around 45 minutes after we had sat down at our table, by which point the restaurant began to get busy and the service became sparse. We placed all our orders at the same time, but for some reason, my food came way later than anyone else's.

Belly King Roll - B+

After awkwardly staring at my friends enjoying their food for a very long time (some of them were already finished), my Belly King Roll finally arrived. This roll came with avocado, negitoro, seared sake toro (salmon belly), jalapeño, capers, garlic chips, balsamic reduction, and pesto olive sauce. Despite its small size, the roll was very successful texture-wise, especially with the smooth and soft seared salmon. I thought the salmon could've used a bit more smokiness though.

Spicy Crunch Roll - B+

Since Sean was with us, we got the obligatory Spicy Crunch Roll. A deep-fried California roll topped with spicy tuna, tobiko, tempura flakes, spicy house sauce, and BBQ sauce, the Spicy Crunch Roll packed a lot of flavour, and it was nice that the batter was not too hard. The spicy tuna had a delectable, soft texture, but it was slightly overwhelmed by the aggressive use of chili sauce.

Beef Gomae - B

Next, I had the Beef Gomae simply because I'd never seen the dish at any other restaurant before. It was essentially beef sashimi accompanied by gomae. The beef was tender and went well with the sweet gomae sauce, but the tangy ponzu sauce on the bottom complemented neither the beef nor the gomae. I had to let the ponzu sauce drip down before each bite.

Rainbow Sushi Pizza - B+

In honour of one of our guests, who really likes colourful things, I ordered the Rainbow Sushi Pizza, which came with crab meat, salmon, tuna, ebi, hamachi, tai, unagi, tobiko, BBQ eel, and wasabi mayonnaise. The crispy layer of rice at the bottom was slightly overdone, but the mixture of creamy sauces and smooth cuts of fish worked well. The tai and unagi were the highlights among the seafood.

Hamachi Toro Nigiri - A-
Madai Nigiri - A-
Shima-Aji Nigiri - A-
Uni Nigiri - B+

Ordering my nigiri turned out to be quite laughable for my entire table because they had run out of most of the more expensive types of nigiri. After having my order rejected again and again (feels bad), I finally ended up with the nigiri above. The nigiri was fresh and came in generous cuts. The delicate sweetness of the shima-aji and the smooth texture of the madai were highlights. There wasn't a lot of uni in the Uni Nigiri, but it still had a nice, creamy texture.

While the service was a little sparse as we came at prime dinner time on a Saturday, it was at least friendly. Once again, I enjoyed the innovation and the consistency in execution. I can foresee more adventures to Kimu, as there are still many creative dishes that I haven't tried yet, such as the Dontoro Bites, the Volcano Eggplant Seafood Yaki, and the Honeymoon Roll. Okay, maybe that last one will have to wait...

KIMU Japanese Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, July 14, 2017

Episode #225: Sushi Den

Vancouver (Downtown), $ (Budget)

While waiting for our movie to start, Puzzlefighter and I were in Chinatown looking for Japanese eats. Puzzlefighter likes fancy nigiri even more than I do, but when we eat together, we always end up ordering insane amounts of food. One time, the two of us went to MYST and ended up paying more than $90 for dinner. I literally have no idea how we ended up in that predicament. It's not like we're particularly big guys. This time, since both of us were quite hungry, we went to Sushi Den to keep the bill within reason.

Sushi Den is a moderately large Japanese restaurant located near International Village. It is quite popular due to its cheap pricing and decent assortment of menu items. Unfortunately, this meant that there was no way that Puzzlefighter and I were getting out of there while still able to walk properly.

Toro Sashimi - A-

The Toro Sashimi was just $9 for 6 pieces, and we were pleased with the freshness. The toro was smooth and buttery, and it came in generous slices. Some of the pieces were noticeably softer than others.

Negihama Roll - B+

Next up, the Negihama Roll (chopped yellowtail with green onion) was neatly wrapped. The green onion gave off a nice zing and a slight crunch, while the seaweed was not too chewy. However, the flavour of the hamachi was not particularly rich.

Out of Controll - B

Since we went out of control on the ordering, we thought it would be fitting to get the Out of Controll, a special roll with "lots of stuff." We found salmon, tuna, tamago, and sockeye inside the roll, which was dressed with spicy mayonnaise and coleslaw dressing. Although it did seem like the chef went a little out of control, the fish was fresh, and the roll was very large and filling. We found the roll a little rice-heavy, which weakened the flavours of the fish.

Flower Tuna Nigiri - A-
Flower Salmon Nigiri - A-
Ikura Nigiri - B
Uni Nigiri - B+

Of course, we had to try both types of flower nigiri, which was essentially sashimi wrapped around masago and cucumber (no rice). The Flower Tuna Nigiri came with really soft and fresh tuna, while the Flower Salmon Nigiri contained fresh, buttery salmon. We felt that the cucumber was just there for visual appeal, as it didn't really match the flavour or texture of the fish. 

The Ikura Nigiri came in huge portions, and the creamy flavours of the uni and avocado worked well together in the Uni Nigiri. The seaweed wrapping was a little tough though, which made it hard to eat the nigiri neatly.

Tai Nigiri - B-
Unagi Nigiri - A-

The Tai Nigiri (snapper) was not tough, but came with a little too much sushi rice, which overwhelmed the flavour of the tai. The Unagi Nigiri, on the other hand, was really juicy and meaty. The unagi had an excellent smoked flavour.

Beef Short Rib Yakiniku - A-

The Beef Short Rib Yakiniku is a fun dish where you can grill your own short ribs on a small tabletop grill. Since I didn't want to set the restaurant on fire, I let Puzzlefighter do most of the grilling. When done correctly, the short ribs have a nice charred flavour. The mild marinade did not overpower the ribs, and the meat was not tough due to the thin cuts.

Ten Zaru Soba - B

After all the food above, we decided to get a filler to really hit it home. The Ten Zaru Soba came with 5 pieces of tempura (two prawns and one piece each of yam, sweet potato, and kabocha). We found the tempura quite greasy, but sufficiently juicy and crispy. The cold soba was refreshing, and the green onion and sesame seeds livened up the dipping sauce. We quite enjoyed the soba until Puzzlefighter found a slight error.

Yes, there was a stray udon noodle in the soba! While the udon noodle didn't really bother us, we thought they ought to be just a little more careful, in case other things slipped into their food...

Overall, the food was decent given the prices, and the service was friendly and adequate. Although the atmosphere isn't particularly fancy, it is a place where you can get a good variety of food for budget prices. Despite the amount of food we ordered, our bill was only slightly over $60 altogether.

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

Friday, July 07, 2017

Episode #224: Kisoya

Port Coquitlam, $$ (Moderately Priced)

I've always been confident that I knew about all the sushi restaurants within a 15-minute drive from my place, until Linda managed to come up with one that had completely slipped from my radar. After I got through a few moments of utter shock and horror, we agreed to have lunch at Kisoya.

Kisoya is a rather large (yes, I don't know how I missed it) Korean-operated Japanese restaurant located in the north part of Port Coquitlam. It is one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in Port Coquitlam and features an extensive menu with a wide array of special rolls. However, there is no modern Japanese fusion on the menu, so you won't find any Aburi-type sushi here.

Crabmeat Mushroom Salad - B+

One thing on the menu that caught my eye was the Crabmeat Mushroom Salad. On the menu, it looked like an imitation crab sundae topped with colourful berries for decoration. Most of all, it was served in a wine glass, and I don't pass up things served in wine glasses. The berries didn't make it into the final product, but there was an abundance of sweet crab meat. It erred on the drier side, and a little more mayonnaise might have helped.

Power of Love Roll - A-

Since sushi is always a good way to experience things, I decided to get the Power of Love Roll. This roll came with unagi, deep-fried salmon, cucumber, avocado, tobiko, and unagi sauce. With crispy deep-fried salmon on top and crispy unagi inside, this roll was a good mix of flavours. 

Spicy Chicken Box

When choosing lunch boxes, I always like to choose the box with the least vegetables, the most meat, and the most special items possible. This led us to the Spicy Chicken Box.

Miso Soup - B+

The Spicy Chicken Box came with a Miso Soup. The consistency was on the thinner side, but there was sufficient miso paste to give the soup a rich flavour.

Ebi Mayo - C+

The Ebi Mayo was made with panko batter and dressed with a mix of mustard and mayonnaise. The batter was slightly hard, and the prawns were noticeably overdone.

Washington Roll - B+

Next up, the Washington Roll consisted of crab meat, cucumber, avocado, fresh salmon, wasabi and peanut sauce. Like the Power of Love Roll, the ingredients in the Washington Roll worked well together. The salmon and avocado topping created a nice creamy texture, and the wasabi provided a subtle hit of spiciness to the roll. 

Salad - B+

Dressed with a tangy vinaigrette, the lettuce-based salad was fresh and sufficiently flavoured.

Spicy Chicken Teriyaki - B+

The Spicy Chicken Teriyaki came with tender chicken and savoury bean sprouts underneath. The chicken had a pleasant grilled flavour, though parts of it were a bit oily. The spicy sauce was quite spicy, but not overwhelmingly so.

Prawn Tempura - A
Yam Tempura - B+
Sweet Potato Tempura - B

Without a doubt, the best part of the lunch box was the Prawn Tempura, which came with crispy, juicy prawns that had a nice snap to them. Interestingly, the batter on the yam and sweet potato was considerably thicker.

Overall, considering that this was a restaurant that I had never even heard of, the quality of the food surpassed my expectations. However, the service was a little sparse even though we were pretty much the only ones in the restaurant. The atmosphere ended up rather quiet as a result, but then again, once you wander east of Coquitlam, bustling sushi restaurants are like sunny November days in Vancouver.

Kisoya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Episode #223: Shizen Ya

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

After dying a little on the inside from our UBC sushi crawl, Vancity Noms and I decided to take things a little easier for our next sushi adventure. That took us to Shizen Ya, a small restaurant chain with two locations in Vancouver, where we planned to have a light lunch.

Shizen Ya is the Whole Foods of the sushi restaurant world. Everything about the restaurant screams healthy and organic. There is a large vegetarian menu, as well as many gluten-free options. Their food contains no additives in addition to being MSG-free, and they use organic brown rice for all of their sushi. They also make the prices high just to give you that real Whole Foods experience. Since Vancity Noms is an avid fan of Whole Foods, this was the perfect sushi restaurant for her.

Chicken Udon & Sushi Combo

Our "light" lunch quickly turned into a feast in which our table was completely jam-packed with food. I couldn't resist getting the Chicken Udon & Sushi Combo, which was only $10.95, but I also wanted to try loads of other stuff. I ended up having to balance plates and menus on my legs in order to clear the table barely enough for some food photography. Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence with me.

Organic Salad - B+

The Organic Salad was an assortment of fresh greens accompanied by lots of dressing. The dressing was rather acidic and had a slight alcoholic zing to it. Mmm...

Salmon Roll - A-
Dynamite Roll - B+

I never thought I would like brown rice in my sushi, but Shizen Ya managed to make it work. The chopped sockeye salmon was super soft and created a nice, creamy texture. The seaweed was also easy to chew. The Dynamite Roll came with creamy avocado and juicy tempura prawn. The batter on the prawn was slightly hard, but the flavours worked well together.

Chicken Breast Udon Noodle Soup - B

The main filler of the combo, the Chicken Breast Udon Noodle Soup, came with white chicken meat and thick udon noodles. The broth was on the richer side, while the udon noodles tasted like standard fare. I thought it could have been tastier had they lightly grilled the chicken.

Toro Tataki Nigiri - A-
Wild Sockeye Salmon Nigiri - A-
Albacore Tuna Nigiri - A

After the Sushi & Udon combo, I had three pieces of nigiri that really blew my expectations. The Toro Tataki Nigiri was only seared very slightly, but had an extremely soft, melty texture. The texture was also perfect with the Wild Sockeye Salmon Nigiri. The Albacore Tuna Nigiri came with a thick slice of extremely fresh tuna, and the organic brown rice was packed just loosely enough to complement the soft, delicate textures of the fish. 

Spicy Salmon Roll - A-

Next up, the Spicy Salmon Roll came with the same soft and fresh sockeye salmon and a decent helping of creamy avocado. The spicy sauce was used conservatively and did not overwhelm any of the ingredients in the roll. 

Natural Bomber Roll - B+

Finally, just to blow up my stomach size a few more notches, I went for the Natural Bomber Roll, which consisted of tiger prawn "whole wheat" tempura, fresh real crab, mayonnaise, cucumber, organic spring mix lettuce, organic avocado, and creamy bomber sauce. The crab meat was pleasantly soft and tasted somewhat like the Brunswick canned sardines I regularly eat as 4 a.m. snacks. The prawn tempura was a little hard, but the abundance of fresh, tasty avocado and the richness of the mayonnaise-based creamy bomber sauce made up for it.

Service was not a problem despite how busy the restaurant got. Overall, I was quite impressed by the very fresh seafood and their ability to make me like brown rice. The fresh organic avocado was also a delight and a factor of success in many of the dishes. The excellent food here gave me a sudden urge to blow a whole paycheque at Whole Foods, but fortunately, I was deterred by how full I was. Maybe some other day, Vancity Noms...

Shizen Ya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Episode #222: The Grand UBC Sushi Crawl (Part Two)

After waking up from Vancity Noms' class and having an epic piano-off in the library (where we got a little too loud), the two of us were somewhat ready to resume our grand sushi crawl at UBC's Vancouver campus. I say "somewhat" because Vancity Noms was still somewhat full from eating way too much at the first stop of our crawl, and I felt like I had consumed way too much soy sauce. Whereas others would be burnt out from doing such a crawl, I was soy sauced out. However, the time was ticking, and if we didn't make our move, the sushi places would have started closing.

The Seven Sushi Places on UBC's Vancouver Campus
  • Honour Roll
  • Suga Japanese & Korean Restaurant
  • Mio Japan
  • Bento Sushi
  • Miyamae
  • Togo Sushi
  • One More Sushi
This post will cover the last three.


The whole time I had been exploring UBC, I never knew that there was an entire underground Asian food court at University Village. When I first saw it, I was quick to suggest to Vancity Noms that we should do a food crawl featuring all the stalls in the Asian food court, but quickly retracted the idea after realizing all the unfortunate things that would happen to my health if I did that. Not to mention that I would also be doomed if what happened during the Grand SFU Sushi Crawl were to happen again...

Miyamae serves a variety of bento boxes, which range from $6.95 to $11.95. I went for one of the higher-end ones since I had an unagi craving at the time.

Miso Soup - B-

The Miso Soup came with adequate miso paste, some seaweed, and some tofu. Although it was rich in miso flavour, it was also quite salty.

Dynamite Roll - C

If anyone were to make sushi that did not look appealing to me, this was about as close as one could get. The Dynamite Roll featured crunchy tempura prawn and a somewhat decent filling, but the sight of the rice made me go "Uh oh..." It was not only soggy and mushy, but there was also too much of it.

Slice of Orange - A
Salad - C+
Unagi Don - B

The one thing they did nail was the Slice of Orange. Although it wasn't exactly the prettiest slice of orange ever, it was one of the sweetest and juiciest slices of orange I have ever had. The Salad consisted mainly of lettuce, and I wasn't fond of the vinaigrette dressing, which tasted strangely like soy sauce. The Unagi Don came with very soft, but somewhat fatty unagi. The unagi sauce was sweet, and the don was sizable enough to be a good filler. 

Togo Sushi

After I'd finished the bento box, Vancity Noms suddenly had to leave, so I was left to make the long, perilous journey from University Village to Wesbrook Village in the dark all by myself. I decided to walk there in order to burn a few extra calories. I made my way through various hazards, which included trees with branches, students playing soccer, and eerily quiet residential areas, before arriving at Togo Sushi 15 minutes before they closed at 8 p.m. I was lucky enough to be the last customer whose order they took.

Togo Sushi is a small fast food chain with locations scattered across Metro Vancouver. I've always considered it to be the best of Metro Vancouver's fast food sushi joints, and I was hoping for no disappointment here. 

Seared Salmon Roll - B+

The Seared Salmon Roll was a new addition to the menu, and it was fairly well executed. It had a nice, smoked flavour that was accompanied by a good helping of spicy mayonnaise. The imitation crab meat was sweet, and the textures were on point. 

Inari Nigiri - B
Salmon Nigiri - B-
Toro Nigiri - C+

On the other side of the plate, the Inari Nigiri had a nice, sweet flavour and tasted somewhat eggy. The salmon in the Salmon Nigiri was creamy, but weak in flavour. The rice was a bit too tightly packed, but at least the fish-to-rice ratio was correct. Finally, the toro was soft, but tasted quite fishy. Throughout my visits to Togo Sushi, I've found that tuna is consistently one of their weaknesses. 

Nonetheless, what I had at Togo Sushi was good enough to be the highlight of my entire crawl. I'd originally planned to try the sushi at the nearby Save-On-Foods as well, but once I saw that they served exactly the same sushi as Nesters Market at SFU, I ran away as quickly as I could.

I had just one more sushi place left...

One More Sushi

By the time I walked all the way back to University Village, everything was dark and deserted, with signs of life few and far between. I walked into One More Sushi at 9:30 p.m., just half an hour before closing time, and I was their only customer.

If you are looking for something you can legitimately call a sushi restaurant at UBC, One More Sushi is the place. It was a large restaurant that resembled a Chinese diner more than a Japanese restaurant. The menu items were quite pricey, but the special that day allowed me to order a California Roll for half price. Even though I was stuffed, one simply does not say "no" to discounts on sushi.

California Roll - B-

The California Roll came with an abundance of sweet crab meat. However, there wasn't really enough mayonnaise inside, so things ended up a bit dry.

BBQ Black Cod - B

The BBQ Black Cod was served as a small filet along with some of the most teeth-exercising vegetables out there. There was some sweetness and some smokiness, but the cod could have been juicier.

Hotate Nigiri - B
Toro Nigiri - B

The hotate (scallop) was sweet and soft as expected, while the toro was fresh with a nice, melty texture. While the neta (the seafood on top) was above average, the sushi rice was mediocre as it was too tightly packed.

Mango Tuna Roll - B-

The Mango Tuna Roll came with fresh mango and some not-so-fresh tuna. The tuna was slightly fishy, and it was not very soft either. The roll was quite small, and at $8.50, it was very pricey for what it was.

After consuming 66 pieces of sushi (amidst other things) and getting both carbed out and soy sauced out (never again...), I can now present to you UBC's seven sushi vendors from best to worst:
  • Togo Sushi
  • Honour Roll
  • One More Sushi
  • Mio Japan
  • Miyamae
  • Bento Sushi
  • Suga Japanese & Korean Restaurant

One More Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato