After some technical issues that left my computer bereft of… well, everything, I hardly felt like blogging. Not that I really could, anyway, given that all of the restaurant photos were gone… Finally dug around and got them off of my camera and back onto the computer once more!
Anyway… About a month ago – before Emme headed overseas on an important trip – she requested that we try out this Japanese place that she had passed one day on W 16th. Even when going out with friends, I’m usually the one coming up with restaurants to try out, so her suggestion surprised me. And Japanese food?! I’m always the one asking to eat Japanese – so much and so often that I sometimes drive my dining companions insane. In this case, I was quite happy to oblige and accompany Emme on her final restaurant outing before her trip.
Hachibei is a rather unassuming place – as it seems a lot of great sushi places are – and I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a restaurant I hadn’t heard of (or read about on Urbanspoon.com). It ended up being a very pleasant surprise, as it not only turned out to be “authentic” and staffed entirely (it seems) by Japanese people but also a place that other Japanese frequent (always a good sign!). Because we came early, we managed to get a table… but not fifteen minutes after being seated, the restaurant was absolutely packed. The space limitation is a downside, but even if you’re eating in cramped conditions and don’t mind your dining ambiance suffering a bit from the proximity of your neighbour, Hachibei is well worth a visit. Both the service and the food are excellent.
Emme ordered some edamame to start, and a warm, perfectly salted generous portion of the boiled soybeans came out. It was definitely a good way to start off to meal! As is my habit, I asked for a smattering of dishes — all of which came out before Emme’s, only because she ordered a full teishoku set. I shared the edamame with Emme until my mozuku su came out. It is a [relatively] easy dish to prepare, so there’s not much to comment on… but it was very good, and easier to swallow than other mozuku su dishes that I’ve had in the past, for some reason. I love the taste, but sometimes restaurants serve this up as far too “slimy”… This one was still slimy – it is seaweed – but less so? If that makes any sense. Loved the garnish of freshly grated ginger. It give a nice tang to the ‘marinade’.
As my main course, I ordered some salmon sashimi, which was indeed wild sockeye salmon and unbelievably delicious. The melt-in-your-mouth sensation that you get when eating super fresh fish was there 100%. The presentation of the dish was also, I thought, very nice. Not a lot of chefs will take the time or bother with adding garnishes like grated daikon or shiso leaves or parsley sprigs, but it can really add a “refined” and elegant feeling to a dish… especially when it’s a seemingly simple dish like sashimi.
I followed up the sashimi with a tomato salad, miso soup, and kappa maki. I’m happy to report that the soup had – gasp! – more than just broth and a sprinkling of green onions. Really, it kind of peeves me when some Japanese restaurants charge you a dollar (sometimes two) for a bowl of miso paste and hot water. This miso soup had at least a couple of bits of seaweed, and some fat, chunky cubes of tofu. Not the best, but better than the standard miso soup you’d usually get!
As for the salad… Well, it obeyed the basic requirements of a salad! Very fresh vegetables, a vinaigrette that bursts with flavour, and nicely presented as a bonus. The tomatoes were actually the best I’d tasted in a while. They weren’t your standard field tomatoes, and I suspect that they may have used heirloom tomatoes…However, I have gone back and had the salad again, and on the second occasion the tomatoes were just your typical ones. Perhaps they actually take advantage of seasonal vegetables when they can?! I’ve no idea, but I’ve rambled on for long enough about a salad…
Oshinko maki is a pretty plain roll, so again, there’s not a lot to say. Crunchy, sweet pickles… and house-pickled ginger! Love fresh ginger, when it isn’t dyed with all sorts of [highly unnecessary] food colouring. I couldn’t tell if this was takuan that the restaurant had pickled or if it was store-bought, but it was still good. The rolls held together well, and the sushi rice was actually flavourful enough that I could enjoy the rolls without soy sauce.
Emme decided to be adventurous and not get any of her usual dishes (beef or chicken teriyaki) and ordered up one of the specials of the day: Spanish mackerel teishoku. Yes, it’s definitely fair to say that one should really get a teishoku at Hachibei, rather than sushi (as I did). The teishoku sets are a great deal for what you get, and the quality of food is just as fantastic as any of the single items on their menu. The pickles that came with Emme’s meal, we could tell, were made in-house. The normal pickles – i.e. pickled cucumber – wasn’t salty and vinegary enough for Emme’s tastes, so she forfeited them to me. The agedashi tofu, which was one of the sides, was pretty good: a lightly breaded exterior, and sitting in a tasty dashi broth and sprinkling of bonito. Not the best, however; it wasn’t as crispy on the outside as it could have been, but we guessed that it was maybe because it was the first side dish done.
The spinach goma-ae that was sitting next to the tamagoyaki was wonderful. The sesame paste gave a great, robust taste to the boiled spinach. Emme usually hates spinach, and was surprised that the goma-ae ended up being her favourite side dish on the tray. There’s also something to be said for the tamagoyaki: it was firm and held together, but maintained its silky softness and was pleasantly sweet.
The main dish in the teishoku – the grilled Spanish mackerel – was very good, but a little too oily, Emme said. We understand that mackerel is pretty oily in general, but it was unfortunately bordering more on “greasy”. Still, it was perfectly cooked and wonderfully tender – no hint of toughness and definitely no unpleasant dryness.
All in all, it was a great dining experience! True, we did not enjoy having our neighbours sitting so close on both sides of our table, and it made me feel even more awkward about whipping out my camera and taking shots of our meal. My only complaint is definitely related to just that: because of the severely limited space in the restaurant, and in part because of its apparent popularity, the ambiance really suffers. On the other hand, the food is generally very good, the teishoku sets are a great deal and give you plenty of bang for your buck, and the service is fantastic. (In part, I’m sure the service is so good because the waitresses are working in such a small space and can quickly maneuver around tables to take orders or refill cups of water and/or green tea.)
Thanks to its good food and authenticity as a true Japanese restaurant, Hachibei has indeed made its way onto Emme’s and my [short] list of “go-to” Japanese restaurants.
Ambiance: 1.5 (This would definitely be higher on a day when the restaurant isn’t ridiculously busy.)
Value: 4 (The teishoku sets are a good deal! Looks like the rice and noodle bowls would be, too.)