Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Episode #238: Sushi Bar Nagomi

Gibsons, $$$$ (Luxury)

While a four-hour bus ride to the east can take me to Harrison Hot Springs, a four-hour bus ride to the west can take me to Sunshine Coast, a perfect destination when hot weather is in the forecast. Wanting to save my appetite, I left the house early in the morning without having eaten breakfast, hoping to grab my first bite at Sushi Bar Nagomi.

However, a stalled vehicle delaying my ferry by over an hour was not exactly part of my itinerary. By the time the ferry actually departed, I had already explored every nook and cranny of it. I wasn't that hungry, but I was so bored that I decided to order a Pirate Pak from the White Spot onboard since I had never had one before. Trying to be polite, I actually asked them, "are adults allowed to order Pirate Paks?" Yes, I heard a few chuckles around me, and yes, I resorted to food for entertainment.

Just over five hours after I left home, I finally arrived at Sushi Bar Nagomi, a quaint sushi restaurant built inside a house in downtown Gibsons. Run by a Japanese chef (Chef Hiro), the restaurant served a mainly traditional Japanese menu with mainly nigiri, sashimi, donburi, teishoku sets, sushi rolls, and appetizers, among other things.

The restaurant's name, Nagomi, has two meanings in Japanese: authentic taste and cozy. It easily fulfilled both of these. I wanted to take my time at the restaurant, but because of the delayed ferry, I arrived only 45 minutes before they closed at the end of lunch service. I hastily picked a few things from the menu and made sure not to order so much that I'd be keeping the staff behind due to my slow eating and blogging process.

Sesame Tuna Poke - A+

The Sesame Tuna Poke came in a surprisingly small portion considering that it was $9.50. However, it was also so surprisingly well-executed that I would have paid double the price for it. The diced, marinated tuna was extremely fresh and soft, and the wasabi mayonnaise applied in conservative amounts gave it the perfect amount of kick. Complementing the excellent smooth finish of the tuna was a small helping of fresh, creamy avocado. A tangy, refreshing light soy sauce brought all the ingredients together and made this one of the best appetizers I have ever had.

Hiroll - B

Named after Chef Hiro, the Hiroll consisted of wild salmon, bay scallops, a tempura prawn, avocado and mayonnaise all wrapped in a soy sheet. The soy sheet provided an egg-like flavour with a fluffy texture. The ingredients were fresh and were a delight when eaten individually, but flavours were getting lost in the mix. I couldn't actually taste the tempura prawn without taking the roll apart.

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

The nigiri, for the most part, beat my expectations. The Saba Nigiri was soft and not too salty, and the rice was well made and flavoured. The salmon exhibited some flawed cutting and did not taste as fresh as the other pieces. However, the Toro Nigiri was very creamy and buttery and was soft enough to melt in my mouth.

Overall, I highly enjoyed my rather short experience at Sushi Bar Nagomi. The service was very friendly, and they did their best not to rush me even though it was time for them to close up. Most of the food was very well-prepared, and Sushi Bar Nagomi stacks up to the authentic places I've been to in Metro Vancouver. I will most likely make a return visit the next time I come to Sunshine Coast to escape the hot weather.

Sushi Bar Nagomi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Episode #237: Sushi Fu

Port Coquitlam, $ (Budget)

One restaurant in Port Coquitlam I have wanted to visit for a long time is Sushi K Kamizato. My dad and I visit Port Coquitlam for leisurely purposes every so often, sometimes to try out new sushi restaurants. Unfortunately, my dad works most evenings, and Sushi K Kamizato is only open for evenings. In order to satisfy my Aburi cravings on this particular occasion, we went to Sushi Fu, one of the newest additions to Port Coquitlam's constantly evolving sushi scene.

Sushi Fu is Chinese-operated and features a large, budget-friendly menu with a special that allows diners to choose 3 items (from a select list) + a bowl of miso soup for $8.50. The interior was cleanly and comfortably decorated for the most part, except for the oddly coloured walls, which were green enough for me to camouflage some wasabi without anyone noticing. Don't worry, I'm more well-behaved than that.

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

Starting off with the Appetizer Sashimi, the salmon was soft and buttery with an excellent smooth texture. The tai was slightly tough but came with ample flavour. The tuna was the freshest, with a wonderful soft texture and a rich, non-fishy flavour.

Appetizer Tempura - B

The Appetizer Tempura came with two prawns and one piece each of sweet potato, carrot, and yam. The batter was average and a bit heavy in places. The prawns were juicy though a bit thin, and the vegetables retained good flavour and moisture. 

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

The seared nigiri was surprisingly well-executed. A thin layer of mayonnaise applied to each piece of nigiri really helped bring out a smoky flavour, and this was supported by a sprinkle of aromatic sesame seeds. I highly enjoyed the freshness of the salmon and the very juicy toro. The saba, besides being cut a bit too thick, was also deliciously juicy. This was one of the dishes that would make me alter my response to "excellent" instead of just "good" when asked how my food is.

Hawawii Roll - B

Since my eyes tend to gravitate towards oddly spelled things on a menu, I naturally went for the Hawawii Roll. Perhaps they were trying to replicate the very relaxing experience of playing on a Wii in Hawaii in a sushi roll rather than making a typo (although really, who actually does that on vacation?). This roll, with prawn tempura, cucumber, avocado, imitation crab, mango and fish roe, came in large, neatly constructed pieces. The roll was visually appealing, although I thought the sweetness of the mango sauce wasn't a good pairing for the savoury prawn tempura. The prawn, however, was meaty and delicious.

Overall, I was more than satisfied with my visit to Sushi Fu, especially given the affordable pricing. The service was also very friendly during my visit. If it weren't for the fact that Port Coquitlam isn't the most convenient for me to transit to, I can see this being a place I would visit regularly.

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

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Episode #236: Kitami Japanese Restaurant

Harrison Hot Springs, $$$ (Higher Priced)

After having lunch at Yukiya Sushi, I decided it was time for some exercise in order to burn off some of those calories. By exercise, I meant going to a hot springs pool and doing absolutely nothing for an entire hour. That moment was perhaps the healthiest I felt the entire month. By the time I got out of the pool, I felt like I had burned enough calories to resume my eating adventures once again.

Just a few steps from the core of Harrison Hot Springs is Kitami Japanese Restaurant, serving diners who wish to have sushi in a slightly more refined setting. However, the restaurant had about as much life as an abandoned mine shaft. All the private rooms were closed off, and it took almost two minutes before someone even noticed that I had walked into the dining area.

The menu was not expansive but featured most of the typical traditional Japanese dishes. The combos helped to offset the higher prices. I would soon learn that the portion sizes were quite big too, as the waitress showed genuine concern when I placed my order, which consisted of only a bowl of udon and a sushi combo.

Ebi Tempura Udon - B

The Ebi Tempura Udon came in a large bowl with two large prawns and some appropriately firm udon noodles. The prawns had a good snap, but they did not taste particularly fresh and were coated rather heavily with batter.

Moriawase (Assorted Nigiri)

To keep the bill reasonable, I went for the Moriawase combo, which came with 7 pieces of nigiri, a tuna roll, and a bowl of miso soup.

Miso Soup - B+

The Miso Soup came with the usual green onions and a unique mix of radish and carrot. This was good for enhancing the flavour of the soup, but I thought they could've lightened up a bit on the radish and carrot so that we can enjoy the soup itself more.

Ebi Nigiri - C
Unagi Nigiri - B+

The Ebi Nigiri tasted strangely sour and came with too much wasabi. I guess the moral of the story is... avoid Ebi Nigiri in Harrison Hot Springs! The Unagi Nigiri, on the other hand, had a pleasantly soft texture and came with rice that was not packed too tightly, although slightly dry.

Tuna Roll - B+

The Tuna Roll was neatly constructed and came with wasabi inside. The tuna had a soft texture, though it was weak in flavour. This is $5 if ordered separately.

Tuna Nigiri - B-
Sockeye Salmon Nigiri - B
Tako Nigiri - B-
Hokkigai Nigiri - B+
Tobiko Nigiri - A-

Onto the top row, the Tuna Nigiri was soft but came with mushy rice. The Sockeye Salmon Nigiri had an interesting smoked salmon flavour, while the Tako Nigiri was rather chewy. The plum sauce on the tako and the wasabi inside created a strange mix of flavours. The Hokkigai Nigiri surprisingly came with two thin pieces of hokkigai, which worked to produce a rich sweetness, while the Tobiko Nigiri was perfectly bite-sized with an enjoyable bubbly texture. 

I found the service friendlier at Yukiya Sushi, although the quality of the food between the two restaurants was similar. With slightly higher prices at Yukiya Sushi, I cannot definitively say which is the better choice out of the two restaurants. However, I can say that both meals were very filling, and I had to do slightly more exercise the next day to burn off those calories. Well, "slightly more" just meant actually walking around instead of sitting in a tub.

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

Friday, February 02, 2018

Episode #235: Yukiya Sushi

Harrison Hot Springs, $$$$ (Luxury)

What do I do on a fine, sunny day with no commitments? Bussing to faraway places has always been one of my favourite pastimes, so I took the opportunity to research the farthest eastward I can bus and still make it back home on the same day. It turns out that I can bus all the way to Harrison Hot Springs. 4.5 hours of travel time to get there? No problem. Well, except for the fact that I used my phone so much along the way that I ended up at Harrison Hot Springs with 5% left on the battery... whoops.

Harrison Hot Springs is home to two sushi restaurants: Yukiya Sushi and Kitami Japanese Restaurant. Yukiya is the more casual of the two, with basic wooden tables and a mix of folding and non-folding chairs. I heard both Chinese and Korean spoken among the staff.

Fortunately, the staff were very friendly, and they made every effort to replenish my phone battery. With that, I no longer had to worry about relying on my camera for the time and the sun for the direction. I enjoyed the gorgeous view of the mountains behind Harrison Lake as I waited for my food to arrive.

Dragon Roll - B-

First to come was the Dragon Roll, which featured prawn tempura, imitation crab meat, BBQ eel, and avocado. At $19, this was quite expensive by Vancouver standards, but in Harrison Hot Springs, your choices for sushi are limited. The prawn tempura was pleasantly crispy, and the imitation crab meat had a nice sweetness to it. However, the avocado was not sufficiently ripe, and the unagi was not as smoky and soft as it should've been. The vinegar on the sushi rice was slightly heavy.

Chicken Teriyaki & Sashimi Bento

I did not expect the Chicken Teriyaki & Sashimi Bento ($19) to be particularly filling, and nothing could've prepared me for how the sashimi was presented. Never would I have expected an overflowing salad stuffed with what looked like a million different pieces of sashimi. This might have been more aptly named the Chicken Teriyaki & Giant Sashimi Salad Bento.

Salad - C+

The Salad was a cabbage-based salad with a few slices of carrot inside. It was dressed with a sweet and tangy apple vinaigrette. Better flavour pairings were possible, as the acidity of the vinaigrette made it taste like something had gone bad.

Chicken Teriyaki - B+

The Chicken Teriyaki was spiced and tender, and the black pepper sprinkled on the rice made it more flavourful. The chicken tasted like it came out of a western restaurant rather than a Japanese one, but it was decently prepared nonetheless.

Gyoza - B-

The two pieces of Gyoza were served at an appropriately hot temperature and primarily filled with cabbage and pork. The interior was very juicy but a tad mushy. Meanwhile, the exterior had sufficient crispiness, but parts of it tasted floury. 

Scallop Sashimi - B+
Tai Sashimi - A-
Hokkigai Sashimi - B-
Tuna Sashimi - B
Salmon Sashimi - A-
Ebi Sashimi - C

The Sashimi was assorted in terms of both variety and levels of freshness. At the top of the freshness scale was the tai (snapper), which was surprisingly soft with a delicious sweet flavour, and the salmon, which was vibrantly fresh and buttery. At the bottom was the ebi, which was rather dry and flavourless.

Overall, my experience was not far from what I had expected. The food quality was not great, but I suppose it was passable. Prices were very high compared to what can be found in Vancouver, but that applies to most of Harrison Hot Springs due to higher transportation costs and lower competition.

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

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Episode #234: Hon Sushi

Burnaby South, $$ (Moderately Priced)

For the longest time, I did not have any data on my phone. While this meant rejuvenating, undisturbed naps on the bus and $15/month phone bills, there were also some drawbacks. I sometimes had to rely on the power of luck and random guessing to locate things, and meeting up with friends I had forgotten to get the numbers of sometimes turned into a nightmare. However, what really brought things to light was this one time I went to a restaurant with no Wi-Fi to enjoy some XLBs with my family when all of a sudden, I opened Snapchat to see an hourglass next to a three-digit streak. My world was about to fall apart.

I immediately dropped the XLB I was holding, ran out to the street, and then stood outside each restaurant to see if it had free Wi-Fi I could borrow for just one minute. Pedestrians were watching me with concerned looks on their faces. Fortunately, I managed to save said streak, and after a few awkward moments with my parents, I finished my dinner in peace. To prevent this from ever happening again, I went to Metrotown, got a data plan, and proceeded to nearby Hon Sushi to celebrate my victory against the no-data life.

Hon Sushi is a large Korean-Japanese fusion restaurant located on Kingsway near Old Orchard Shopping Centre. The dining room was not the only thing that was large. The menu was so big that it took me a good 10 minutes just to read through it. There were 3 pages of Korean dishes, and they even served the large Korean hot plates with toppings along the circumference of the plate (the kind found at Ta Bom).

Takoyaki - A

My lunch started off with a very delicious serving of Takoyaki (octopus balls). The balls were not very large, but they were soft and pillowy with an excellent crispy exterior. Inside each ball was a flavourful piece of octopus with just the right amount of chew. On top were well-balanced drizzles of sweet takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise.

Chopped Scallop Nigiri - B+
Unagi Nigiri - B+
Tuna Nigiri - B
Salmon Nigiri - B+

The rice in the Chopped Scallop Nigiri was a bit too tightly packed and under-flavoured (as with the rest of the nigiri), but the sweet scallop on top tasted fresh. The unagi had a smoky flavour and was amply dressed, while the tuna exhibited a decent soft texture. The salmon was pleasantly buttery and fresh.

Aburi Tuna Nigiri - B-
Aburi Salmon Nigiri - B+

The Aburi Tuna Nigiri lacked flavour and was a little over-seared. The rice here needed more flavour as well. However, the Aburi Salmon Nigiri had a delicious, smoky flavour, and the juiciness of the salmon was preserved through the searing.

Angel Roll - C

Hoping to end my meal with a heavenly roll, I chose the Angel Roll, which came with tempura prawn, imitation crab, scallop, cucumber, avocado, and cheese. The concept was promising, but the execution was flawed. The scallops were over-seared (and thus hard), while the crab meat ended up being mushy. The mushy crab meat was paired with mushy rice. The cheese was not melted into the roll properly, and the scallops kept falling off the roll. It was as if an angel constructed the roll after consuming 24 shots of vodka. The only thing this roll had going for it was the prawn tempura... after being pulled apart from the roll.

Service was not a problem during my visit, but the sushi rice clearly needed improvement. The one item that I had without any sushi rice (the Takoyaki) was very well executed. I did not try any of the Korean menu items, but perhaps (and hopefully) they are a little more angelic than the Japanese dishes.

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

Episode #233: Mika Sushi

Coquitlam, $$ (Moderately Priced)

Many of the restaurants on Austin Ave. in Coquitlam fall under one of two categories: extremely crowded with frequent lineups or barely alive. I've seen, on many occasions, cases where two restaurants with lineups of over an hour each surround a restaurant that is barely a quarter occupied.

Recently, Mika Sushi replaced the second location of Nao Sushi, whose main location in Burnaby is popular for its authentic Japanese dishes. Nao's Coquitlam branch was firmly in the first category when it opened, but it wasn't long before the hype died and empty tables abounded (my guess would be consistency issues, which I experienced in both locations). After a bout of cost-cutting measures and rude service (based on online reviews), Nao's Coquitlam branch closed its doors, and Mika Sushi took over.

Mika Sushi is Korean-operated but retains many elements of Nao Sushi. The signage features the same colours, and both the menu and the interior decor are virtually the same. They even retained Nao Sushi's lack of customers. The atmosphere was rather quiet when I stepped in. However, with Katie as my dining partner, there is no such thing as peace and quiet.

Wild Sockeye Salmon Sashimi - B+

We started dinner off with Katie's favourite Japanese food—sockeye salmon sashimi. Although the cutting was a little sloppy (and strange), the salmon tasted fresh. That being said, the texture of the salmon could've been smoother.

Aji Nigiri - A-
Engawa Nigiri - A-
Seared Toro Nigiri - A

Next up was a appealingly presented plate of nigiri. The Aji Nigiri (horse mackerel) came with a slight overdose of green onion, but was smooth and fresh. The rice was packed appropriately. The Engawa Nigiri (flounder fin) also had an excellent smooth texture and a mild but discernible sweet flavour. Interestingly, they thought that one piece of flounder fin per nigiri was not enough value, so they stacked two pieces on top of each other. The Seared Toro Nigiri, one of Nao Sushi's best items, turned out excellently here as well. It was juicy and seared just the right amount.

Dragon Roll - A-

Another hit of the night was the Dragon Roll, an eel roll topped with avocado. The eel was pleasantly soft and savoury, and the avocado was dressed with a creamy mixture of wasabi mayo and unagi sauce. The sweet flavours complemented each other. The roll was a bit rice heavy, but this was barely noticeable because there was sufficient flavour.

Atlantic Roll - B-

Our other roll was the Atlantic Roll, which came with avocado, masago, salmon, and a citrus-based vinaigrette. The avocado inside was appropriately soft and creamy. However, this time, the roll was noticeably rice-heavy, and the vinaigrette on top was much too acidic to work with the rest of the roll.

Chicken Teriyaki - B

For our filler, we had the Chicken Teriyaki, which was initially savoury with a nice thin layer of crispy chicken skin. However, there was too much teriyaki sauce, and it wasn't long before things started to turn soggy. Some pieces of chicken were noticeably tougher than others.

We experienced friendly service throughout our visit. The food was modestly priced, but not cheap enough to attract diners based on just value (Mika Sushi is surrounded by budget-friendly restaurants). Like Nao Sushi in its prime days, the nigiri was solid, with the other food a little less consistent. Although Mika Sushi is decent overall, it will have to offer more in order to become a restaurant people will line up for.

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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Episode #232: Yui Japanese Bistro

Vancouver (West End), $$ (Moderately Priced)

Aburi sushi made by former chefs from Miku and Minami? For cheaper prices? Yes, please!

Ever since I first tasted Miku's Aburi Salmon Oshi Sushi more than 6 years ago (holy crap, I'm getting old), I've been looking for other places where I can also enjoy good Aburi sushi accompanied by less hefty price tags. After all, I'm not a small eater, and a trip to Miku means at least $80 out the wallet before I'm somewhat full. Yui seemed like the perfect place when I wasn't feeling quite as fancy. I got the help of Vancouver foodie Jeanne (@popofrouge) to try out their lunch service.

Situated among a sea of office towers, the Chinese-operated Yui was expectedly busy during lunch on a weekday. The only spots available for us were at the sushi bar, right in front of the Aburi station. What an excellent view! Well, for everyone except me.

Normally, food enthusiasts highly enjoy sitting where they can observe, eat the food as soon as it's made, and engage in friendly conversation with the chef. However, my brain is literally wired to do only one thing at a time. If I try to take notes and talk at the same time, I will actually start spewing out gibberish. Thankfully, I think the chef clued in and focussed on making his sushi instead.

Chicken Chashu - A-

The Chicken Chashu looked like an interesting way to start my lunch. It came with soft-stew free-range chicken, accompanied by amakuchi (sweet) soy sauce and a side of grain mustard. The chicken was sliced somewhat like pork chashu but in much thicker pieces. It was lightly grilled, very tender, and savoury with help from the sweet soy.

Aburi Ebi Oshi - A-

Closely mirroring Miku's version, the Aburi Ebi Oshi ($11) was dressed with lime zest and creamy oshi sauce. It had a vibrant citrusy tint and a good amount of creaminess, but tasted slightly rice-heavy. 

Aburi Saba Oshi - A-

The Aburi Saba Oshi ($11) came with miso oshi sauce and a light sprinkling of seaweed. The saba was not excessively salty, and the miso sauce helped generate a delicious, savoury flavour. However, I thought that the saba itself could've been seared a little less, which would give it a softer texture.

Yui Plate

Next, I went for the lunch plate that contained the greatest variety, which happened to be the Yui Plate. At $11, it's not a bang for the buck, but it's a relatively cost-effective way to sample the highlights at Yui.

Aburi Tuna Nigiri - A
Aburi Ebi Nigiri - B+
Aburi Salmon Oshi - A

The Aburi Tuna Nigiri was delightfully fresh with a soft texture. The miso glaze and scallions were a perfect complement to the tuna. The Aburi Ebi Nigiri was dressed with a dab of pesto sauce and could have used a little more moisture. The Aburi Salmon Oshi was delectably creamy with an excellent smoky flavour. The jalapeño slices would work even better if they were thinner.

Dynamite Roll - B+

The roll that accompanied the Yui Plate was the Dynamite Roll. The sweet imitation crab meat went well with the creamy avocado. The prawn tempura was crispy, but the batter was hard in places. 

Overall, we had an enjoyable experience at Yui. We experienced no problems with the service. The food isn't exactly Miku, but it comes reasonably close given the lower prices. The difference was mainly in the sushi rice, where Miku's has a smoother texture and is more flavourful. In either case, Yui works as a good casual alternative to Miku for a quick meal... unless it's so busy that a line-up starts to form.

Yui Japanese Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato