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.