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]