Considering how much I’ve grown to love Japanese food since arriving in Vancouver, it’s hard to imagine a time when I was still very much a “newb” when it came to sushi, sashimi, and anything that wasn’t tonkatsu, really. [For the longest time, tonkatsu and miso soup were the only dishes I would order when my family would go out to a Japanese restaurant for lunch/dinner. Sad, huh?] In any case, Applause was my favourite Japanese restaurant after it was introduced to me two years ago, so this review is actually based on a couple of visits there… with a conclusion more based on the most recent experience – since that’s the most relevant, now.
The Sunomono dishes are standard — they’re good, and a nice solid way to start off the meal. The dressing is as it should be: light, vinegary, slightly sweet, and refreshing. The fish and/or shellfish are tasty, the lemon slices always fresh, and the cucumber nice and crunchy. My only gripe would be that there isn’t enough seaweed, but I know a lot of people probably don’t like it so they don’t put a lot… [or any at all, as was the case two years ago, it looks like.]
The seaweed salad – Chuka Salad on their menu – is also a great choice if you like seaweed. I’m not sure about how it was two years ago, but I had it recently, and it had the pleasant taste of the sea with a tang of sesame (from the seeds, but also from the dressing, I think).
Miso Soup is such a basic dish that you’d think it’s really hard to do incorrectly, but Applause’s miso soup unfortunately left much to be desired. There were a few, tiny pieces of tofu and only a couple of shreds of wakame seaweed. There didn’t seem to have been any attempt to garnish it with negi, or green onions, when I went recently… and it was also strangely lacking in flavour. Not sure if that’s because of the miso paste or a problem with the broth, but it was just “meh“.
Definitely get the Edamame, if you do typically like it. The portion size was generous, and the sprinkling of salt was just as generous. The plate was warm, as were the beans themselves. That’s how you serve edamame. Both Emme and I enjoyed it, although it is an easy dish to prepare.
The Holenso Ohitashi was good as well. The sauce was tasty but light, and of course the katsuobushi (bonito/fish flakes) added a nice aesthetic element, as they traditionally do, and salty kick.
We also got the Nasu Dengaku, or eggplant baked in a miso sauce, to share between us… Though Emme wasn’t really a fan of the taste. I liked it and thought it was well done, but I have to admit that it was over the top when it came to oil. It tasted just a little too heavy for an appetizer, and the excess of oil killed some of the overall flavour.
The Vegetable Gyoza were really delicious. They seem faintly spiced, which really kicks the flavour up a notch and probably fools a lot of people into thinking that the vegetables inside are really delicious… Of course, I love vegetables, so even without the spice, I know I would have though it was awesome. They are a little too greasy, but I liked that they weren’t too chewy but still had a nice, slight crust from being pan-fried. The sauce was good too. I’ve also tried the Ebi Gyoza here, and those dumplings were also really good, so I imagine that any type of gyoza you order are going to be tasty.
I’m sad to say this, but the first sashimi I ever tried was the Wild Sockeye Salmon Sashimi at Applause… and it has remained a bad memory, if that tells you anything. I was almost put off of sashimi! This sashimi, from two years ago, was definitely old (I know that now, considering all the other sashimi I have eaten). It was very rubbery and hard to bite through; I had such a hard time eating it that I almost didn’t notice the fact that it really had no flavour at all… and it was sockeye salmon!
I haven’t dared to try the salmon sashimi there again after that, but I can say that the other sashimi dishes here are fantastic. The Tai Sashimi has always been perfectly thawed, has a very pleasant taste, and that sought-after “melt-in-your-mouth” quality. The presentation is always quite pretty, as well.
The nigiri sushi, I think, is very hit-and-miss, depending on the pieces you pick. The hokkigai from two years ago was horrid. I could barely get it down my throat, since it was so chewy, tasteless, and just like my salmon sashimi in times of how hard it was, actually. The hotate, though, was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Applause is actually where I fell in love with the taste of scallops, if that says anything about how good it was. The ebi of two years ago left a lot to be desired (I think it was probably old), but the tai was great… I only started to like red snapper after tasting it, too.
The most recent nigiri sushi I tasted at Applause were much better. The hokkigai was miles better, and tasted as great as the tai and ebi did. The outlier this time was the ika, which was far chewier than it’s supposed to be, and loaded with wasabi underneath the sashimi piece, as if they were trying to disguise the fact that the ika was just… horrid. Like a tasteless piece of rubber, I’m sorry to say.
The Kappa Maki was very good; well-formed so that they held together until I was ready to eat them, and with crunchy cucumber pieces and, as the rest of the sushi had as well, real sushi rice that was slightly sweet and vinegary. Yumm.
Emme ordered the Ebi Mayo for herself, and was very pleased with the dish. The shrimp had a very nice crunchy exterior but didn’t lose their taste underneath the batter, which was also not too thick nor too thin. You would expect the dish to come out greasy and to be over-filling and heavy, but it was neither things and one of the highlights of Emme’s dinner, I think.
Emme ordered Yakisoba on our most recent visit, though I’ve had it in the past. It was as I remembered it, though: Very oily, a little bit too heavy… and a little bit too skimpy on the shrimp and chicken! It looks like a lot because of all the mung bean sprouts hidden underneath, so it’s a bit disappointing to dig in and find so little chicken and/or shrimp – and/or any other vegetable, actually!
Putting aside the food for the time being… The ambiance in Applause is actually quite nice. The traditional décor is tastefully done, and the way that they either have screen dividers or cloth tapestries between booths is really fantastic. It’s nice to feel like you have your own little “space” and makes for a more comfortable dining experience, overall. The music is Japanese, which just adds to the authenticity of the place, but it’s never really seemed too loud in the small restaurant, no matter how many groups are in there. It’s also always pleasantly warm in the winter and cool in the summer. (At least they know how to control their thermostat, unlike some other places Emme and I have visited…) Thumbs up for nice décor and ambiance.
The service is also usually pretty good, although on our most recent, it was nothing short of disappointing. There were three waitresses, but they unfortunately were having a difficult time catering to a full restaurant. They are all very friendly, though, and are genuine in their desire to serve you well, as evidenced by how hard they will try to explain a dish clearly when you ask about it. Food is delivered quickly, which is definitely a plus, but you’re effectively abandoned for some time after all of your dishes have arrived — if the restaurant’s slightly busy — which is a bit hard to swallow (like the ika nigiri) when you really need water at some points in your meal. (E.g. Discovering a surprising treasure stash of wasabi under an inedible piece of ika.)
As for value, though… I have to say that I don’t really find Applause’s prices, which are slightly steeper than a number of other fantastic Japanese places, justified in that regard. It truly used to be my favourite Japanese place in Vancouver, because the quality of the sushi did improve over time… but the overall quality, I’m sad to say, has gone down. With the knowledge that I can get fantastic sushi and sashimi elsewhere in Vancouver for even less than what I would pay here, Emme and I won’t be returning to Applause for a while. Don’t let that put you off, though; it is very good. But I can get “very good” elsewhere, and, at the moment, there is nothing that makes Applause stand out above other places – aside from its authenticity (and there are other authentic Japanese places with better food, so…!).
If you’re in Marpole, it’s definitely worth a visit. However, don’t go too far out of your way to give it a try. (I’m still keeping it on my “like” list, though – because I do like it!)