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