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!).