Archive for February, 2011
When I compare the ratings that others have given restaurants to the ones I think they deserve, I can’t help but wonder if I’m really too critical or if my expectations when dining out are too high… That said, however, I will say now that this review is based on a visit to Fish on Rice (the one on W Broadway) during the spring of 2010 – a little under a year ago – and I don’t know if it’s gotten better since then as I have not once revisited it.
If it makes any sense to say this: Fish on Rice looked promising from the street. It had a big sign coloured a lovely eye-catching red, with the name of the restaurant printed in equally big but easy-to-read letters out front. After climbing up the stairs to get to the restaurant, we were seated after a brief wait for the waitress to clear the table, which we ended up switching from in favour of a different table that wasn’t so awkwardly close to another large seating group. I’m assuming they were just trying to seat us together so that we would be easier to serve, but it annoyed me regardless – and Emme and Pitah (my other code-named companion, who’s actually Emme’s hubby) as well. We actually stayed at the initial table they sat us at for about ten minutes, but couldn’t hear ourselves talk, or even think, over the noise of the party of people sitting in the same “alcove” as us. Anyway, we annoyed the waitress by moving… and she clearly let us know by slamming down our water glasses and tea cups when “helping” us switch tables. Not a very graceful way to handle the situation, even if your customers are being picky about their table.
The décor, if I recall correctly, is nothing special. Nothing in particular stood out to me, aside from the fact that decorations seemed scarce and the bare minimum seemed to have been done to make the restaurant look like a typical Japanese restaurant. It is, for sure, staffed by Chinese though. Thus, after this realisation, we did expect to be receiving curt service… but it was quite a bit worse than that. The waitress continued to openly “flaunt” her annoyance and was rude when taking orders and when responding to questions about the menu and requests for more water. In fact, I think I can safely say that the service here was the worst I have ever seen in any restaurant in Vancouver as a whole; for Emme, Pitah, and I, it is actually the one thing about Fish on Rice that we remember particularly well. Aside from the rude service and minimal décor, the restaurant was extremely cold and we had to eat with our coats on. I don’t know if the heater was broken or something, but it made for a most uncomfortable dining experience. The music, at the very least, was decent.
We passed up AYCE and ordered à la carte, just because none of us were feeling ravenous enough to consume mounds of food – which the AYCE option offered (well, hopefully that’s what the AYCE offers here and anywhere in general). Emme and Pitah both got lunch boxes, as yes we were there in the middle of the day, but I don’t have shots of either (mostly because I didn’t have a blog at the time, but also because Pitah finds my food photography habit strange). Emme had Lunch box C, which came with a California roll that was sloppily put together and totally unappealing. Emme, who’s usually reluctant about eating sushi anyway, was definitely not convinced that this was a time to give up her hesitance to eat sushi for this California roll — and I don’t blame her. She commented at the time that the batter on the tempura was okay, and that part of the dish was nicely done… but the teriyaki chicken – the “main component” of the lunch box – didn’t taste like teriyaki chicken at all. Emme was suspicious of the fact that they may very well have cooked it in some sort of Chinese version of teriyaki sauce, if that makes any sense. In any case, however, she said it tasted off. Pitah’s lunch box, Lunch box F, came with tuna and salmon sashimi and tekka maki — all of which he happily forfeited to me, though he tried some of the tuna himself. Raw stuff doesn’t really fly by those two, so Pitah was pretty glad to get rid of his salmon sashimi (their loss – more for me! Bwahaha). Pitah’s easily satisfied, so he didn’t really comment on any aspect of his lunch box.
As for myself, I ordered up some miso soup to start. I must say, I never thought it was possible to do miso soup poorly, but apparently it is. Start by serving it lukewarm and almost completely cooled, as though it’s been sitting on a counter somewhere for quite a while, and then don’t add anything to it — no wakame seaweed, no tofu, and certainly no green onions. And there you would have it: sub-par miso soup! The only thing qualifying it as miso soup is indeed the inclusion of miso paste, but even then the flavour was weak. Had the dish been hot, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but since it was cooler it was much easier to tell that the broth was not as flavourful as it should have been.
As another appetizer, I got some edamame for Emme and I to share. This was fine — salted nicely and warm — but admittedly a very easy dish to do. For what they charged us for it ($3.95), though, they could have easily doubled the portions. It seems it’s a common trend amongst many Japanese restaurants in Vancouver to serve small portions of edamame, unfortunately.
Adding a bit more green to the meal, I got horensou ohitashi, or spinach with a soy-based dressing. A lot of people prefer horensou goma-ae, or spinach with a seasme paste topping, but I life ohitashi better for it’s lightness and saltiness. Also, I actually don’t have any complaints about this dish. There was lots of spinach and bonito, and neither too much nor too little sauce. It was really quite tasty, and although the presentation was quite a failure (I have been to many restaurants that have done much better jobs making either their ohitashi or goma-ae dishes look far nicer than this), I still liked it.
My “main course” was my Sockeye Salmon Sashimi. Despite Emme’s disappointment with her lunch box, I was actually really happy with my sashimi. The redness of the salmon was rich and deep, and it actually had a lovely sheen that sang of freshness – though in reality I know it’s just been thawed… Clearly, though, the chef did a good job of thawing it perfectly! It maintained a melt-in-your-mouth quality and was delicious. Strangely, though, I was not given any ginger, which was quite disappointing (just like the miso soup was disappointing…). An additional strange point to note is that Pitah’s lunch box sashimi was not nearly as bursting with flavour and as fresh-tasting as mine. I don’t know what the reason is, but consistency of quality should be something that restaurants aim for. Fish on Rice clearly missed the target – if it was aiming at all to begin with.
With food that can be good, but is really just “solid” or “decent” at best and apparently inconsistent, and with horrid service and a lacklustre interior, will I be returning to Fish on Rice to check to see if it has gotten better? Despite being in an area that I visit frequently, my answer is a resounding “absolutely not“. Of course, it’s definitely worth considering that I didn’t have AYCE, and maybe it is good here – but I can’t comment. All I can say for sure is that by fault of the terrible service alone, I would avoid coming back.
Food: 2.5 [lacks consistency in terms of quality and flavour]
I have to ask: why is the food at Greek restaurants so overpriced? Am I and Emme the only ones that find it to be pretty poor value for what you get, most of the time?
Always being one for trying new places, especially when they have decent ratings on Urbanspoon.com, I convinced Emme to visit Maria’s Taverna with me despite the fact that she and I both know that Greek restaurants definitely tend to be a bit pricey. Maria’s Taverna is no different, really, with most dishes costing more than $15 – pizzas, pastas, souvlaki, etc. Upon entering, we were seated quickly as it was still relatively early and the restaurant was empty save for one family of three. The ambiance was quite all right; the restaurant was clean, the décor (consisting of pictures of beautiful Greece) was decent, and the skylight is a nice touch and probably brightens the restaurant up nicely during the daytime. Unfortunately, we didn’t see our waiter for quite some time after that, actually. We were kept waiting a long while before the waiter decided that yes, customers are more important than reorganizing wine bottles (when no one is even drinking wine…?). After finally catching his attention and getting some water on the table (we were thirsty!), we managed to get our orders in. We would’ve ordered hummus as an appetizer, but decided that our meal selections would be enough, in the end.
Emme went with the Chicken Souvlaki, which, like all other souvlaki orders on the menu, came with a baked potato, a Greek salad, pita bread, and some sort of rice pilaf. Well, it didn’t come with pita, but a separate basket of pita came, so hopefully that was meant to be the pita that was listed on the menu as a part of a souvlaki meal’s package… Anyway, Emme took a bite and was not impressed. It was just “okay”. The chicken wasn’t really flavourful, even with the tzatziki, and the rice pilaf was just bland aside from tasting oily and slippery. Also, the feta on the Greek salad was not, as you can see here, real feta. (It’s one of those cheaper “feta crumbles” types that you can pick up in the grocery store… You know, next to the authentic, but more expensive, feta packed in brine?) And seriously: a Greek salad is meant to consist of olives. Plural. Not “an olive”. Tsk. Anyway, we were both disappointed, though the pita in the bread basket was good.
I love fish, so of course I didn’t go for the chicken, lamb, beef, etc. souvlaki, but the Prawn Souvlaki instead. Like Emme’s chicken, my shrimp wasn’t particularly that flavourful. It was good. But that’s all I can say for it. For my salad, I asked for the feta and the dressing to be on the side, if you’re wondering why it’s missing. In its place, the kitchen either missed or ignored my request to have the dressing on the side, because my veggies and single olive were all sitting in a puddle of oily goop. The potatoes, we suspected, were microwaved; there is a texture different when you boil vs. bake vs. nuke a potato in the microwave. It was mushy enough that you could have turned it into mashed potatoes on the spot, if you wished it. It was also extremely buttery — so much so that the actual flavour of butter overpowered the taste of the potato when you bit into it. The rice pilaf was just as greasy, and unfortunately the lemons we received must’ve been a bit old since very little juice came out of them.
Aside from the mediocre food, the service was terrible for pretty much the entire night. After ordering, the waiter did not come back once to fill our water glasses and was seen again only when he brought out our meals… and next, when he came to take the plates away and to deliver the bill instead. He was curt in his service – neither friendly nor rude – but I think the main problem is that his “service” was so limited, and he seemed to have no idea how to properly prioritize the things he should’ve been doing.
I hope that the high rating for Maria’s Taverna on Urbanspoon.com is for the branch downtown rather than its Kitsilano branch, as both Emme and I found dinner at the Maria’s Taverna on W 4th to be disappointing and, frankly, really bad value for what we paid.
Value: 2 [Overpriced, considering the quality you get.]
Taste of Vietnam is a small, nondescript little Vietnamese place just past Oak St. at W Broadway. Despite its sign outside, advertising some of the different dishes you can order within with some pictures of tasty looking choices, I walked by it many times before actually deciding to try it one day.
Décor is simple, if not virtually nonexistent. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I suppose. The restaurant is plain and doesn’t hold up any front of being a fancy restaurant or anything in the least. The exterior is an eye-catching red with a contrasting blue sign denoting the name of the place. While it was nice to have dim lighting in the evening for a more soothing atmosphere, I found it could have been just a little bit brighter. In any case, don’t expect a particularly wonderful ambiance or anything, should you decide to pop in one day. Noise level really depends on who’s in there, of course, but the restaurant is very small so it can get noisy very quickly.
I first visited it with M and N, early one Friday night. I was seated promptly, as the restaurant was completely empty at the time, and served a warm, welcoming cup of Jasmine tea. I checked out the menu while waiting for M and N to arrive and tried to determine the difference between the supposedly different types of noodles listed: Mi or hủ tiếu vs. bún vs. the infamous phở. It was my first time trying Vietnamese food, but unfortunately the waitress didn’t seem able to answer any of my questions… She couldn’t speak English very well, though she was very smiley and genuine in her attempts to help me.
After M and N arrived, we ordered our dishes, even though I still had no clue what the difference between all the noodles was (though I get it now, after looking it up). N actually got Lemon Grass Chicken & Shredded Pork with Steamed Rice ($7.95) but I didn’t catch a picture of it. She said it was good, but a little bit greasy. M went with Stir Fried Beef with Vegetables ($12.95). She was quite satisfied with it – it was filling and tasty enough, and the sauce wasn’t too overpowering. Both M and N were in agreement that the peanut sauce on the side was really good, though.
On that particular occasion, I went with Veggie Noodle[s] in Soup ($6.95 for the small). This isn’t phở, so I can’t pretend that I was having phở for the first time or anything… The menu said this is “hủ tiếu“. Anyway… I was really, really disappointed with this dish. The broth was so oily, and I was pretty unhappy to have extremely greasy fried tofu pieces in the bowl. (It wasn’t in the description… I just wanted veggies, hey!) The veggies must have been simmering a long, long time because they had absolutely no crunch and were practically falling apart even as I tried to pick them up. Yes, the bowl did come with a side plate of mung beans and lovely fresh herbs… And unfortunately, I think that’s just about the only part of this dish that I liked. The broth had almost no flavour, and even N agreed that the soup was far too oily. (N has had Vietnamese a couple of times before, so I’m pretty sure she knows at least a bit about the cuisine and what stuff should look like!) In any case, I would not order this again.
I’m definitely a salad lover, so I also ordered the Prawn Salad ($6.75 for a small). Um… Again with all these fried thingies on top?! There was just a lot of oil sitting around the salad, but hardly any flavour, so I highly doubt it was a proper salad dressing. The shrimp was tasty enough, but the mango didn’t taste very fresh and the carrot had no crunch whatsoever (and it wasn’t steamed).
I tried Taste of Vietnam once more at a later time, deciding to give it a go with Emme. I was hoping for a better experience, since I was the one who suggested we go there for dinner – it was close by and convenient, I thought. The time I visited with Emme, the service was actually much worse. One of the waitresses was extremely rude and really seemed like she couldn’t care less whether or not the customers were content, although the waiter that was working alongside her was much more polite and much friendlier. The waitress got frustrated when I asked something about a particular dish (I wasn’t bothering about the noodles again, don’t worry!) and stormed off without taking my order after responding with “I don’t know, I don’t care!”. So, that wasn’t a good start to the visit…
The waiter came to help us later, but seemed to get really confused with a substitution request that Emme made. She wanted the Lemon Grass Chicken with Steamed Rice — only she wanted fried rice instead of steamed rice. There was a little bit of confusion, but the waiter understood eventually. (So let’s call her dish Lemon Grass Chicken with Fried Rice, and we were charged $10.95 for it.)
Emme’s comments on the dish were that the chicken was indeed nicely cooked through, but there was absolutely no “lemon grass” flavour or aroma, making for a rather tasteless grilled chicken. The fried rice was okay, if not a little bit too buttery. Again, the dipping sauce (called Nước chấm, apparently?) was very nice – and a necessity in this case since there was no other way to give some flavour to the chicken besides dipping it in the sauce a bit.
We both ordered one Shrimp Salad Roll ($2.75) each. This was very good. It was truly really tasty after being dipped into that delicious peanut sauce. The rolls kept together well, the shrimp was tasty, and all of the vegetables in the roll, at least, were fresh, crispy, and pleasantly crunchy.
On top of the Prawn Salad again (which came swimming in oil and fried onion crisps, despite my having requested that the “dressing” come on the side and that they omit the fried onions…), I ordered some more veg on the side with some rice.
You’d think that a side order of steamed vegetables would be impossible to do poorly. Well, unfortunately it is possible. These soggy and overcooked veggies were reminiscent of the ones I’d been served in the soup the first time I visited Taste of Vietnam. They were steamed to the point of falling apart when you tried to eat them.
So, with rather mediocre food (though I can’t comment on the phở, mind you!), service that can either be friendly or quite the opposite, and an ambiance that isn’t particularly spectacular, I can hardly recommend the restaurant… I know there are better places for authentic Vietnamese cuisine around Vancouver somewhere, though.
Hitoe Sushi… Oh, how you are close to my heart. ❤
Hitoe Sushi is perhaps my favourite place in Vancouver to get delicious Japanese food and a truly authentic Japanese dining experience. That probably sounds absolutely ridiculous to those who are skeptical of the place because of its unassuming appearance, or to those who may have (for some reason unfathomable to me) had a bad experience there, but… je m’explique: Although Hitoe Sushi appeared at first — even to me and Emme — to be a run-down and sad little sushi place, we were beyond pleasantly surprised after dining there for the first time last summer. Hitoe Sushi does not look like much, and it’s not exactly in the best location, being in a much quieter section of W 4th than other more popular restaurants. From the outside, it looks like it might just be another cheap sushi joint. But in reality, it is so, so much more.
To begin with, yes, décor is pretty low-key, but… the interior is still quite cozy and welcoming. It also seems quite authentic, and traditional Japanese art adorns the wall and counters in some places (along with a little tapestry with all the frequently consumed fish on it, with their kanji and its furigana!). It is not a high-class restaurant with white table cloths and exquisite dishware, but with such great food and fantastic service, you really end up not caring about all that anyway. I guess the one phrase to keep in mind when considering Hitoe Sushi is “don’t judge a book by its cover” — or a restaurant by its storefront, in this case. The ambiance is quite soothing, as the lights in the evening are bright enough to illuminate the room (and the menu when you look at it, of course) but dim enough to create a mellow atmosphere. Obviously the noise level will depend on whether or not a family or big party of people is in there, but it is generally nice and quiet. I have seen many other Japanese people — individuals, couples, and families — dining here, which is always a good sign.
Service is outstanding. This may be because it is such a small restaurant, but you will rarely have difficulty getting refills on your tea or water and the waitresses and waiters are all very, very friendly and accommodating. There are only a couple of main servers that work there, so another great aspect of Hitoe Sushi is that you will probably be remembered if you return. The restaurant can admittedly get pretty busy around dinnertime, with what seems like a flood of takeout orders coming in over the phone and by those who come in person, but even then the servers will not ignore nor abandon you as servers in other restaurants may (that actually happened to me and Emme in Shiro!). The itamae will also be happy to recommend items if you ask, and will sometimes even take your orders directly! The staff are all personable, cheerful, and provide truly wonderful service. Oh and yes, they are indeed Japanese! So service is “authentic”, as is the food.
Putting décor, ambiance, and service aside… Hitoe Sushi will not disappoint you when it comes to the food, also. I have gone many times, but this review is just based of my two most recent experiences (so yes, I can still guarantee food quality!). Emme and I visited not too long ago, as this is Emme’s Japanese restaurant of preference in Vancouver (like me! Though unfortunately she is now almost unwilling to try any other places). It was a Friday night, and I’m actually not sure what the story is on this, but I believe that Edamame is complimentary on Fridays (and even Thursdays?), as a decent-sized serving of warm and lightly salted Edamame was presented to us after our orders were taken. In other restaurants, we have been unsatisfied with the Edamame since it seems common that tiny portion sizes of the dish are served for a steep price… Thankfully, Hitoe Sushi is not so stingy.
I always order a smattering of little dishes, but the Seaweed Salad is always a favourite. I don’t know what to comment on since the fact of the matter is that it is simply delicious. The red bell peppers may seem like an unusual addition, but they really enhance the presentation (as do the kaiware, or radish sprouts) and add a pleasantly sweet crunch to the salad. The lettuce and veggies are always crisp and fresh, and the seaweed is packed with flavour, as is the dressing. Even if you are not a big salad eater, I would still recommend this!
I enjoy ordering veggie-based rolls most of the time, too, so excuse me for being so repetitive… but both the Kappa Maki (cucumber roll) and Oshinko Maki (pickled radish/takuan roll) are consistently delicious. They are almost perfectly formed, the sushi rice nicely complements the filling (and it is real sushi rice), and the rolls have never fallen apart on me – whether I ate the rolls first or after eating other things. Again, presentation may not seem traditional, but the banana leaves are a nice touch and interesting twist and make for a more extravagant appearance. The ginger is the real stuff – no fluorescent pink, chemical-tasting ginger here. To date, I have not once been presented a poorly made sushi roll at Hitoe Sushi.
Emme really loves sunomono, and got a serving of Ebi Sunomono. Again, lovely presentation — which, in my honest opinion, is actually really important when it comes to Japanese food. A lot of Japanese dishes rely on simple, very flavourful ingredients and thus one has to work a bit harder to produce something that is visually appealing as well. Well, the chefs at Hitoe Sushi certainly have that covered! As for the taste? Yes, the shrimp was fresh, soft, sweet, and just flat out delicious. The dressing was perfect, and neither too vinegary nor too sweet. There was also a nice balance between the noodles and all of the other ingredients; this is related to Hitoe Sushi not being stingy about portions, I believe! Other Japanese restaurants have presented me, in the past, with sunomono where the noodles are practically the only thing in the dish. So no, at least in my and Emme’s opinion, whichever sunomono you order at Hitoe Sushi, you will not be disappointed.
As is probably clear by now, I am indeed a sushi lover. This one particular time I decided to go with two pieces of salmon nigiri along with two other favourites, but all of the nigiri I have had at Hitoe Sushi has been marvelous. I have never come across a chewy piece of salmon, or a piece of ika that was too tough to swallow. It seems to me that all nigiri here is consistently delicious. Again, the rice is genuine sushi rice, and it is the perfect size to match the piece of sashimi that goes along with it. The salmon have always been fresh to the point of maintaining that “melt-in-your-mouth” sensation and tasting like little pieces of heaven (well, in my opinion!). The ebi is, of course, always nicely done and the hokkigai is always pleasantly fresh and never too chewy, also! I have tried tako, hotate, ika, and a variety of other nigiri here and they are always delicious, so go wild when it comes to nigiri. I haven’t experimented much in tasting their vegetarian nigiri, and the only one I tried to eat once was a kaiware nigiri, which I ordered out of ignorance… I couldn’t eat it because I didn’t realize that kaiware (radish sprouts) have such a powerful bitter taste! (Like watercress… blegh. But that is a personal preference and not a reflection of the restaurant at all!)
I realize that this post is becoming too long with me constantly touting the awesomeness of Hitoe Sushi, so I’ll [try to] be more to the point.
I have had the Sockeye Salmon Sashimi at Hitoe Sushi before, and, like the salmon on the tops of the nigiri sushi, it was absolutely outstanding. The salmon tasted so fresh and retained that “melt-in-your-mouth” deliciousness, and the deep red hue was gorgeous, as was the texture. Scallops are also one of my absolute favourite (shell)fish, and the scallops (the Hotate Sashimi) at Hitoe Sushi are, actually, the best scallops I have tasted in Vancouver, cooked or uncooked. They are thawed to perfection, a nice size, of very high quality, and have that special sweetness that you look for in super fresh seafood. The presentation of the dish is gorgeous and the taste is absolutely spot on.
Emme’s not a fan of raw fish and instead really likes ordering the Chicken Teriyaki-don, which she says is particularly good. Again, the sauce is well-balanced and is not sickly sugary or too sweet or anything like that. The chicken is tender and tasty and the entire dish looks beautiful. The dish is also somehow always served pleasantly hot, so diners who are turned off by the idea of a “cold” dinner don’t have to worry — at least not here. Another dish Emme has enjoyed on a different occasion is the Gyuu-don special of some sort, which comes with a side of miso soup. Again, this is “Emme-approved” and is very flavourful and satisfying. The caramelized onions marry beautifully with the beef, and the serving of rice is generous and actually also very good. (It is real sushi rice and quite tasty in its own right!)
I’ve gone on long enough about how great this restaurant is in this post… I would definitely recommend this place to others, and have actually done so to a couple of Japanese-food-fans that told me it was their new favourite place for sushi after trying it. It certainly doesn’t look like much, and don’t expect to be wowed by a stunning interior design or fabulous interior, but both service and food are excellent and result in a great dining experience… It would be good to keep in mind though that Hitoe Sushi really does specialize in sushi of many different varieties; it does offer some bigger dishes (there are a few donburi types offered, and you can get udon too), but sometimes I worry about bringing friends who don’t like sushi here to eat, since their options are limited. This isn’t a weakness of the restaurant or anything, of course — Hitoe Sushi does not sell itself as a full-fledged Japanese restaurant and its name obviously indicates that sushi is what you should expect when you visit.
In any case: Great restaurant. Excellent food. Excellent service. It is that excellence that keeps me (and even Emme) coming back again and again.
Ambiance: 3 [The bathroom could be a bit cleaner!]
By recommendation of a restaurant manager (at a different restaurant, of course!) who is also familiar with Japanese food and culture, as I myself am, I suggested to Emme that we give Shiro on Cambie St. a try one night instead of visiting our typical, favourite Japanese place. As we’ve both enjoyed authentic Japanese cuisine before – in Japan, on the streets, in restaurants, and even in a ryokan – we both have quite high standards and visited Shiro with great expectations because of the recommendation we’d heard. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but we managed to snag the last parking spot in the small parking lot outside the restaurant, early one evening, and ventured on inside. Despite being so early, there were already quite a few tables that were occupied. Although we could have sat at a table, we opted for the sushi bar instead, since I in particular am always hugely entertained by watching the itamae at work. We were given green tea, short glasses of water, and menus, and for a while that was about all the service we received. The restaurant was very busy, apparently, and the waitresses had their hands full delivering food, catering to other customers, and trying to fulfill take-out orders over the phone. Eventually we flagged down a waitress in the tiny restaurant (which is indeed quite cramped!) and placed our orders.
Emme, not much of a sushi fan (or of raw fish, i.e. sashimi), went with Chicken Teriyaki that came with a bowl of plain white rice and miso soup. The chicken was cooked well and flavourful — the sauce was not overpowering and not too sticky nor too sweet. Rather, it acted as a suitable complement to the dish and didn’t destroy the chicken flavour. The veggies were not overcooked and were good accompaniments to the dish, and tasty like the leading component of the dish (the chicken).
Emme’s meal also came with an Ebi Sunomono, which was quite small but also quite tasty. It was unexpected that the shrimp were shredded as they were, and there definitely could have been more cucumber, but the sunomono still fulfilled its job as being a refreshing dish and somewhat of a palate cleanser… A nicer presentation with a bit more besides just the noodles would’ve been a bonus, though, and not hard to do.
Along with the sunomono, the chicken teriyaki also came with an order of Assorted Tempura. The tempura was fine; the batter was quite thick, but this was not necessarily a bad thing. The exterior of the tempura pieces was pleasantly crispy and the interiors soft and cooked through.
Emme also asked for a serving of one her absolute favourite Japanese dishes (which also happens to be one of the simpler ones!): Edamame. Edamame is what it is… It’s hard to go wrong with it, really. However, for what you pay to get it at Shiro, we definitely were in agreement that you should get a bit more. The dish was tiny, and it’s hard to imagine that this is usually meant to be shared amongst a group of people – or even amongst two or three. The edamame wasn’t really salted very well, although it was served warm and still very good.
I ordered many little small dishes to satisfy my appetite, as I usually do when I dine at a Japanese restaurant. I tested out some of their nigiri sushi and ordered four pieces, one each of Hokkigai, Hotate, Salmon, and Ika. The ika nigiri piece was just a little bit tougher and more rubbery than I usually expect, and I did in fact have a bit of a challenge eating it, but it still tasted okay. The hokkigai was delicious, and perhaps the best raw surf clam I’ve had in Vancouver to date. The hotate and salmon were both absolutely delicious; the hotate was perfectly sweet and the salmon was so fresh that it did indeed practically melt in my mouth as outstanding salmon sashimi is wont to do. (As a side note, I will also say that the ginger was particularly good at Shiro as well!)
To go with all my raw fish, I got a Kappa Maki (cucumber roll) for some nice crunch. The cucumber was indeed very fresh and crunchy – and also plentiful. I have actually been to places before where the roll seemed to mostly be rice… Thankfully, this time around that was not the case. I also really liked how all of my sushi was directly handed to me by the sushi chefs, who were working at an amazing speed the entire time and pounding out piece upon piece or roll upon roll of fantastic looking sushi.
I had miso soup and a sunomono on the side as Emme did, although I only asked for a plain Wakame Sunomono, which was just about the same as Emme’s. Presentation is fine, but a slightly bigger portion would make it more worth purchasing!
As I have mentioned before, I love veggies and so got another dish to go with my meal: Horensou Ohitashi. While I thought the presentation was very nice, the dish itself was far, far too dry. Usually there is a nice amount of “special dressing” on the dish (with a soy sauce base, I believe), but this time there was absolutely none. In fact, the spinach was completely overrun by all the katsuobushi, which I usually adore. Without the dressing, however, this dish just did not work as it should have, and it is usually quite easy to produce a wonderful-tasting ohitashi… Thus, I can’t help it that I was quite disappointed that it didn’t taste as flavourful as it could have.
In any case, the pieces of nigiri were all outstanding, as was the cucumber roll and Emme’s chicken teriyaki. The edamame could use an upgrade in terms of serving size (and salt!), as could the sunomono, and the ohitashi really needs more sauce and less katsuobushi. Overall, it was still a tasty and satisfying meal.
Shiro, as I’ve said before, is a very small restaurant, and as a consequence it suffers from feeling just a little too cramped when it is busy. This is probably in part due to its popularity – but for that it cannot really be blamed, since the food is very good. The ambiance is really just “okay” and not particularly pleasant nor unpleasant. But it’s clean – although cramped – and that is one of the more important aspects of it.
On a busy night, service may not seem very good since the waitresses have to handle take-out orders via the phone as well as entertain present customers, organise those customers who are waiting, clean tables, take actual orders, deliver food, and keep tea and water topped up… Unfortunately, Emme and I visited on a hectic evening, even though we went early, so the service we received was limited, although the waitresses were pretty friendly and clearly tried to be accommodating. The reality is, however, that we did wait quite a while before our orders were taken. Luckily, during the meal, we received constant refills for our water and tea, for which we were both thankful.
One specific aspect of Shiro that tipped me in favour of the restaurant was its authenticity. The sushi chefs are Japanese, décor is pretty much all Japanese, and the waitresses are all Japanese. The experience is consequently enhanced and all the more real, and the quality of the food is definitely of a very high standard. Also… you know a Japanese restaurant is good when a couple of the patrons are Japanese themselves, and are obviously regulars! Emme and I can be quite picky about the Japanese restaurants we go to, and authenticity in terms of food and service is one thing we almost always look for.
I must note that although Shiro has a very extensive menu – or so I thought – Emme, who doesn’t speak Japanese as I do and has more of a typical “Western palate” (if that makes any sense), said that her choices on the menu felt limited… I didn’t find that to be the case, but perhaps others may feel that way if they’re not sushi fans – I can’t really say for sure. Anyway, it was still a good dining experience; the ambiance may have been lacking, but the food was great and the service was friendly (although not the best — and hiring additional servers would probably not help much since there is not really enough space for lots of them to be moving around the dining area simultaneously!).
Sophie’s Cosmic Café seems to be (well, it seems to me) one of those places in Vancouver that everyone is told to visit at least once. I don’t know how long it’s been around, but with all its funky décor that speaks of decades and generations past, you’d think it’s at least held its ground on W 4th St. for quite some time. Actually, I’d visited it well over a year ago for brunch with Emme, and after that just pushed it to the back of my mind, labeled as just a place for breakfast or brunch. While Sophie’s definitely does breakfast dishes well (though I’m saying that based on the brunch I had there in the summer of ’09), it has quite an extensive dinner menu as well. And this time ’round, it was for dinner that I visited Sophie’s with my two good friends – M and N, I’ll say, until they ask for ‘code names’, heh.
I’d been waiting in Sophie’s for about ten minutes, wondering when M and N were going to show up, when… M and I realised we were both in the restaurant, just at different tables — we hadn’t seen each other. Hah! Good thing we texted each other… or I wonder how long we would have both been sitting alone, “waiting”? Anyway, N arrived last and after a bit of catching up and initial greetings, M and I were starving and cut the chatter so we could order. Burgers are supposedly one of the specialties of Sophie’s (and by looking at the place and considering the fact that it’s supposed to be like a “diner”, you would suspect that the burgers, fries, and milkshakes have to be good – just because of the “diner” image) so all three of us ordered different ones.
M is the most adventurous of the three of us, and ordered a bacon burger with mushrooms (called the 7 oz Cosmic Workout Burger, I believe), topped with smoked cheddar (by recommendation of the outstanding waitress we had!) and with fries and a salad on the side. (I can’t remember the cost, but all of the burgers at Sophie’s seemed to be in the range of $11 – $14.) The bacon was crispy but not too greasy, the smoked cheddar was indeed very good, and the mushrooms flavourful. I have to say, to pull off a burger with bacon without overdoing it on the grease is pretty impressive, and M really enjoyed her burger.
M also quite liked the fries, which were somehow just right. Not too thick nor too thin, and also not horribly oily or greasy in any way. They were the perfect crispness – not soggy nor too crunchy – and fluffy and tasty. There was no need to add salt, and M happily finished them off (and let me steal her salad, which was, I imagine, much less appealing than a batch of delicious-looking fries).
N got the BC Wild Salmon Burger ($12.95), which I actually wanted to eat, to be perfectly honest, but… for the sake of trying to include variety in blogging, I passed on it in favour of something else. Anyway! Looks like it was a fantastic choice, since the lovely salmon fillet that came with the burger was grilled to perfection and glistened with freshness and smelled heavenly. (I love fish, so please excuse me if you find it absurd for a fish to smell “heavenly”.)
And I can honestly say that I will definitely order the salmon burger the next time I visit Sophie’s. Not only did it look great, but N happily nodded when I grated her for answers about the dish – “Is it good? Is it good?!” Yes, it’s delicious. Truly grilled to perfect, so that the salmon melts in your mouth when you bite into it – no stiffness or chewiness in this salmon. Also, the aioli sauce is very flavourful and really complements the salmon nicely. The lemon is a nice touch, and although it may seem cliché, I really do think that adding a bit of dill would only do the burger more justice and make it even more wonderful. To be quite to-the-point, it was good.
N asked for salad on the side to balance out the meal and keep it relatively light, and the veggies were of course fresh and tasty as well. She passed the cucumber and tomato onto me, and I had my own salad, so I can vouch that all salads are of consistent quality. The cucumber was crunchy and crisp, and the tomatoes juicy and ripe. The mixed greens were fresh, as was the carrot. Really, though, it is what it is – a side salad and nothing more. The vinaigrette was a little more on the oily side, though, and could’ve done with been more vinegary.
I asked for the Chicken Breast Burger ($12.95), and also got a salad to go on the side. You have a couple of options for how you want your chicken breast to be cooked — grilled plain, or Cajun-styled. According to the waitress, the Cajun-style chicken breast is really spicy, so I passed on it and just got my chicken breast grilled – plain and simple.
The chicken was delicious. Like the salmon, it was grilled to perfection. It had lovely grill marks on it and was full of flavour without being overly greasy. I topped it with a little Dijon mustard and the entire burger was fantastic. I did notice, however, that all of our burgers were lacking pickles that night… I love pickles, and I had been to Sophie’s once before this and had a burger, and hey, that burger came with a pickle. Where were the pickles?! Very sad. [Note: The BC Wild Salmon Burger pictures were from an earlier trip to Sophie’s. The night I went out with my friends M and N, none of us had pickles with our burgers.]
Aside from the lack of pickles, the only other complaint I have is about the burger buns. Yes, they are very tasty, but they’re also very flimsy and not very fluffy. Even after you assemble your burger, it’s quite hard to hold it together since the bun is kind of floppy. I’m not sure I would demand bigger burger buns, but perhaps ones that are slightly firmer while still being fluffy and soft… if that’s possible. (White Spot has good burger buns! Not to compare the two, but…)
Anyway, my complaints are small and my satisfaction great. M and N were also, I believe, quite happy with their meals and also comfortably full afterwards. The prices may seem a bit steep, but the portions are generous and the food quality is pretty much guaranteed to be consistent. It is good food. Maybe not gourmet fare, and the dishes don’t contain any real “complex” flavour combinations, but everything was tasty and the meals were filling and a pleasure to eat.
The service at Sophie’s was great – and it has been like that on the few occasions that I have been there. The waitresses are all very personable and friendly, yet quick and efficient workers. For such a busy restaurant, they do a good job of keeping things moving and keeping customers satisfied. It may be a bit difficult to flag them down when they’re really busy, but something like that can’t be held against them, I believe. Only once have I actually had to wait ten minutes to get a refill on water, and even then it was on a very busy evening. Otherwise, great service.
The ambiance is what makes Sophie’s special, since the dining room is heavily decorated with all sorts of paraphernalia from the past, and it seems that every time you visit, you can find something new or spot something that didn’t quite catch your eye before. The fun décor and cozy atmosphere make for an enjoyable dining experience, in my honest opinion — whether you’re there for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Sophie’s Cosmic Café is a great place to visit whether you’re with friends or family, as there seems to be something on the menu for everyone and good food is abundant. Even vegetarian items have a place on the menu, although I would definitely encourage everyone to give the burgers a try – chicken, salmon, beef, or otherwise. They all seem great to me! We didn’t buy dessert (just a little too pricey for our tastes – and we were already stuffed!) so I can’t comment, but there were quite a few people sipping milkshakes – if that says anything at all to you!