Archive for August, 2012
When I read the one other blogger review on Urbanspoon, suffice to say I was a bit dubious. There were numerous other positive reviews below that weren’t accompanied by pictures, but surely, I thought, that number of people can’t be wrong! I’m a scientist at heart and appreciate all of the work the Weston A. Price Foundation has done in trying to straighten out the misunderstandings and flat-out incorrect information out there about nutrition, so reading stuff on the Ethical Kitchen website got me pretty excited to visit the place. It sounded really awesome and all “gung-ho” about traditional foods, locally sourced ingredients, and all that jazz. Ultimately, though, I ended up with a large serving of disappointment.
To begin with, the service here is horrible. Dismal. The girls behind the counter will cook your food and serve it, but don’t expect them to greet you as you come in or even show you some basic human courtesy. From the website, you would expect that the people working here would at least be a little enthusiastic about sharing the benefits of eating locally-sourced, traditionally-prepared foods… Nope. No enthusiasm whatsoever. The entire time I was here, both waitresses/cooks were frowning. No smiles or “Thank you”s or “Come again”s. There wasn’t even a “Can I help you?” as we stood around after walking in, trying to figure out how the “restaurant” was supposed to work. You seat yourself, and order at a counter. Your food is brought to you. Without a smile, of course.
With such poor service wrecking the experience, I can hardly comment accurately on the ambiance. The moodiness of the waitresses kind of cast a dark shadow over the rest of the restaurant. Were they a little friendlier, I imagine the small dining area would have seemed a little more homely and welcoming. It is sparse in décor, but that is fine, since it exudes an atmosphere of being a typical kitchen that you could find in any back-country home. As I already said: under other conditions, it probably would have been very pleasant.
Ethical Breakfast: ★★★☆☆
This was… decent. My one compliment: THE EGGS WERE SO GOOD! But this had nothing to do with the way they were cooked (over-done; the egg whites were rubbery, like eating tires!), but the yolks were incredibly flavourful. The quality of the ingredients here is amazing. As they should be, though, considering the prices are ridiculously high. Aside from the yummy egg yolks, the potatoes were blah. Everything was unbelievably greasy. I tasted one tomato and almost choked on all the oil that clogged up my throat. Techie, who I was dining with (alongside Emme) that day, stole the other tomato. There was no way I was eating it. The salad dressing was just oil, too. Flavourless. If the plating looks pretty in the photograph, chalk that up to my photography skills (what little I have, at least). In reality, the plate was really messy. The “home-made ketchup” was also unexciting. The egg yolks and sauerkraut are the only reasons this isn’t rated a one-star dish. Also, the description included the sauerkraut, potatoes, salad, and eggs, but there was an option for vegetables or beef. I went with vegetables. The two tomato chunks were the only vegetables aside from the salad (which was mandatory). I’m sorry, but WTF? Rip-off. I was so annoyed at this. Aside from the egg yolks, the sauerkraut was really good – yes, so good that I bumped up the rating to three stars.
Lamb Chops with Buttered Potatoes: ★★★☆☆
Techie ordered this, and his experience was similar to mine: incredible ingredients, but messy plating and overly greasy. His potatoes were way tastier than mine, but still ho-hum. (Pretty much anything would be tastier than the potatoes on my plate.) The lamb was also fantastic. Again, the ingredients are obviously of very high quality. The salad is just a flavourless grease ball, aside from the occasional bitter green that makes it, well, bitter. It’s only getting three stars because on top of the delicious main ingredient (lamb), this dish had better potatoes as an accompaniment.
Coconut Macaroon: ★☆☆☆☆
Cheese Bun: ★★★☆☆
Emme got these, since she wasn’t that hungry and had eaten earlier (i.e. broke the cardinal rule of dining with a food blogger (which I am completely making up, of course) and that is eating before going out to eat even though you KNOW you’re going out to eat). Both of these were gluten-free. The macaroon was tasteless and fell apart the second Emme lifted it off the plate. I can’t help but find this hilarious, in a way, since coconut is supposed to be super flavourful and delicious and all that, according to many. (I wouldn’t know, since I’m allergic to it.) But this… wasn’t. Plain (like the macaroon…) and simple.
The cheese bun was slightly better. There was a nice cheesy flavour, although it wasn’t very strong, and the texture was pretty good for a gluten-free good. It was mostly doughy, though a little dry, with a hint of grittiness to remind you that it is in fact a gluten-free good. The type of grittiness that you come across in many gluten-free goods, really. Anyway, it looked pretty ugly, in my opinion, but ended up being the one thing that Emme almost finished. The coconut macaroon pretty much went untouched, aside from one bite from the first attempt to eat it (after which it collapsed into a sad heap of pink coconut shreds).
I have to say, even though the egg yolks I had that day were probably the best I’ve ever had, and the lamb was one of the best cuts Techie has ever had, I was really not impressed with the Ethical Kitchen. The website is bursting with enthusiasm for being more eco-friendly, for sourcing local and organic ingredients, and for preparing foods the traditional way, but the restaurant itself is a poor reflection of the attitude of whoever made the website content. The limited menu and unavailability of a large number of their dishes were both disappointing. Maybe my expectations were too high, as well? I don’t know, but I probably won’t be coming back for a second try, in any case.
If you’re particularly picky about the type and quality of the seafood you’re eating, Shizen Ya would be a top choice for Japanese cuisine. Or, at the very least, Shizen Ya is the restaurant that most blatantly markets their offerings as “organic” and/or “OceanWise certified”. Unsurprisingly, the quality of cooking and food prep here is just as high as the quality of the raw ingredients. Although this specific Shizen Ya ‘branch’ is small, it is still a great restaurant contender when deciding where to go for Japanese food if you’re in the area. The manager has done a really good job of creating an atmosphere that reflects the restaurant’s name (shizen (自然) meaning nature or natural), in the sense that the ambiance is very mellow and the décor conveys a kind of “wholesome” feeling. The service here is also usually very friendly and accommodating, and your water glass and/or tea cup will both always be full. (This is probably due to the convenient size of the restaurant, but even disregarding the latter part of the statement, the waitresses (and store manager) all seem to be very nice. This should be a necessity at restaurants, in my opinion; it is called “service” for a reason.)
Triple Attack Brown Rice Bowl: ★★★★★ (for taste/quality, not satiety factor)
As aforementioned, the food here is also top-notch, based on a couple of visits. My personal favourite is probably the Triple Attack Brown Rice Bowl, which has slices of tuna and wild sockeye salmon sashimi alongside some boiled spinach and pickled ginger sitting atop a dome of brown rice. The fish is all very fresh tasting and thawed to perfection. As with most high-quality salmon sashimi, the pieces just melt into your mouth, and at Shizen Ya they are neither too cold nor warm. Like I said: thawed to perfection. I have had the Kheema Curry Combo for lunch once, too, and it was also very good, very flavourful, and really good value for what you pay. While I do love the “Triple Attack”, it probably won’t fill you up if you’re really hungry, where any of the combo meals would for a much better price. As a final side comment: the presentation is wonderful. I love the sprinkling of shredded nori on top not only for flavour but also for how it enhances the aesthetic appeal.
Beef Teriyaki Combo: ★★★★☆
When I came here with Techie and Emme, Techie opted for the Beef Teriyaki Combo. This may actually be the best combo meal on the menu. The sauce is just thick enough to make a good coating for the beef, and the cuts of beef are all of good quality – no blobs of fat or stringy bits. The accompanying salad is, well, a typical salad. It has a nice dressing, though; it tastes more of miso and less like the average “house-made dressing” that you find at other restaurants (that all seem to taste the same). I was personally pleased that the Spinach Goma-ae that comes with the combo was made with actual sesame paste, and not peanut butter (even moreso because Techie is deathly allergic to peanuts). There is a really nice balance between “nuttiness” (I know sesame is a seed… It just has a nutty-ish flavour when it’s all ground up) and subtle sweetness. Actually, I could say something similar about the teriyaki sauce, which avoided the sickly sweet taste that so many other restaurant teriyaki sauces have. All in all, a great meal at a pretty great price. (I kept it at 4/5 for two reasons: 1) I am totally biased and am not really a fan of teriyaki, and 2) it still is nothing “amazing”, although it is certainly better than the average beef teriyaki in Vancouver.)
Chicken Breast [Teriyaki] Combo: ★★★☆☆
This comes with the same accoutrements that the beef teriyaki combo does, so the same comments apply to the side dishes and the sauce. I don’t know why, but the chicken breast was a fair bit tougher than what Emme was used to, although still very good. It may just have been an oddity in the batch of chicken breasts, because I have ordered this myself and it was much better, relative to the one Emme ordered on this occasion. In any case, even with the sauce, it’s pretty standard. Shizen Ya seems to do everything well, so I will say that they did a good job here, too. A word about the brown rice, since I haven’t mentioned it until now: whether or not you like it is obviously highly individual. Personally, I love the taste and chewiness of brown rice, although when eating Japanese I will admit that I would prefer the more traditional white rice. The flavour of brown rice kind of competes with other flavours on the plate, although that wasn’t really a problem here. In any case, it gets a thumbs up from me, only because I have a personal affinity for the stuff.
Again, I must comment that the presentation was well-done – even for the teriyaki dishes. I thought it was kind of weird how there seems to be a lack of consistency in how they present the combos (sometimes like the way the beef teriyaki was served, with the rice and goma-ae on the same plate, and sometimes like the chicken breast teriyaki here, with the rice and goma-ae served separately), but it all tastes good in the end so I don’t think it matters.
Chicken Breast Gyoza: ★★★★☆
I thought these were done pretty well. They weren’t too oily, but still had plenty with flavour, even without the sauce (unpictured! And please excuse the horrible picture). The outside was the best part, in my opinion; while still soft, the cooked parts had a nice touch of crispness that I really appreciated in contrast to all the soft fillings. Speaking of the fillings: this chicken was seasoned well – nice ‘n’ tasty – and even the vegetables were cooked in a tasty manner.
Prawn Sunomono: ★★★★☆
This was yummy. Loved the freshness of the shrimp, and the really refreshing taste of the marinade. It had a less offensive taste than some of the other sunomono dishes I’ve had in the past. Again, a nice balance with the sweetness, which was offset nicely by the slight tang of the rice vinegar and subtle saltiness. The carrots were an interesting addition, and Emme (who always orders this!) really appreciated how the toppings were a bit more plentiful than the vermicelli. (Does anyone else find that, a lot of times, the sunomono served in many places is like 50% noodle, 45% horribly sweet “vinegar” dressing, and 5% actual topping?)
Salmon and Avocado Roll: ★★★★★
Well, the salmon and the avocado were both incredibly delicious. This was actually a new combination in a sushi roll for me (how lame am I? I vow to be a bit more adventurous with rolls, going forward…) and it worked really well. You can also tell they were formed by someone who actually knows how to make sushi by how well they stuck together. They were presented prettily, and they stayed pretty until I ate them. Nothing much else to say. The brown rice did not really detract from the flavour. Very yummy – and would order again as an appetizer or addendum to something else.
Tofu and Vegetable Miso Soup: ★★☆☆☆
Don’t bother with this! It may be “organic”, but this is the only thing I’d whine about. It tasted fine (like any other miso soup, really) but there were hardly any “vegetables” to speak of, and something like four really tiny cubes of tofu. The $2.50 that you could spend on this dish would be much better invested in the salmon and avocado roll (which is $2.95 – barely any more, but much better bang for you buck, I think).
Green Tea Crème Brûlée: ★★★★★
Do get the crème brûlée if you want to finish off your meal with something sweet. It has a nice, subtle taste of green tea – just enough to differentiate it from the average crème brûlée – but enough sweetness to prevent the bitterness of the tea from dominating. The top has a nice, crisp finish and the texture is wonderfully creamy below the surface. I really liked the faint green colour, too, to remind you that there is green tea somewhere in the dessert. (It has green tea, therefore it is healthy. Heh heh…)
If you’re in the neighborhood and have a hankering for Japanese food, pass up Minato Sushi (about a block and a half away) in favour of Shizen Ya! You and your tastebuds won’t regret it, and I don’t think the prices are really that different. (Even if they were – Shizen Ya would still be much better value.) It may be small, but it really delivers when it comes to good service, quality food, and a peaceful ambiance.