Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wow, You’ve Got Something There! – Miku, the Original Vancouver Aburi Masters

Aburi masters,
O.G. of the Charcoal Torch,
the distinct Miku.

This is post 100.  To celebrate let’s torch up some sushi.  My born in Vancouver but currently based in Toronto sister, The Planner, was in town and she had a hankering for Vancouver sushi. 

The funny thing about cravings is if you don’t satisfy it with a good enough offering, the craving ends up being more intense instead of going away.

So with that in mind, I thought let’s go to Miku to get a view of the ocean, which The Planner missed dearly as well.

I hadn’t visited the new location for Miku yet and was excited to sit at the sushi bar.  The Planner allowed to me to pick the dishes for our meal and I selected:
  • Pickled Market Vegetables
  • A platter of the Aburi Sashimi
  • Their Famous Salmon Oshi Sushi
  • Saikyo Miso Baked Sablefish

The pickles might seem like an odd choice.  However, I had a craving for them and wanted their ability to cleanse the palate and stimulate our appetites.  There were crunchy and not too sour.

With a front seat perch, the sushi chefs seemed to have their hands full as the ticket machine just continually spat out orders after order.  Not surprisingly, our baked Sablefish from the kitchen came out ahead of our raw fish orders.

The cooked entrée was beautifully plated.  It consisted of two shrimp dumplings, the Sablefish, topped with a Yuzu foam while sitting on top of veggies (snow peas, beans, mushrooms and radish), and a dashi broth. 

All the accompanying items were executed well.  The filling of the shrimp dumpling was nice and sweet.  The Sablefish was cooked perfectly.  However I thought it was under seasoned and didn’t have the same depth of flavour as similar dishes from other Japanese restaurants in town.

The sashimi arrived next and WOW!  Stylishly presented, the charcoal torched slices of sockeye salmon, maguro and hamachi were fantastic.  In particular the sockeye salmon was super sweet and full of umami flavour.  Combined with the subtle charring from the aburi technique, this local orangey red piece of sashimi was amazing.

On their own, the sashimi was great but each type of fish came with its own sauce.  There was the peach coloured mentaiko sauce for the salmon, the chunky wasabi masatake sauce for the Maguro and a mint green avocado puree for the Hamachi.  

Both The Planner and I liked the creaminess of the mentaiko sauce.  It very much reminded me of the Greek Tarama dip in terms of taste and texture.  We ended using the mentaiko sauce for all fish on the platter.

Finally, Miku’s most renowned dish arrived.  The Salmon Oshi Sushi derives its name from the type of sushi it is: Oshizushi (a.ka. box sushi or pressed sushi).  With a clear view of the sushi chefs, I watched as they placed the rice and salmon in the oshibako mold, press down and then pop out the long rectangular piece of sushi. 

The chef expertly cuts the molded sushi into bite size pieces.  Another chef tops the sushi with a creamy sauce and slices of Jalapeño.  He then deftly employs the aburi method of using a torch and a piece of charcoal to quickly flame the sushi.

The result is a delicious piece of aburi salmon sushi that melts in your mouth.  The grains of rice, despite being pressed, instantly break apart when you place it in your mouth.  The rich fatty taste of the salmon is heightened from the heat.  The special sauce adds a layer of creaminess. Even the thin slice of Jalapeno has an important role as its spiciness adds a kick to help balance out the sushi from being to heavy tasting.

The Salmon Oshi Sushi is imitated at eateries around town and justifiably so as Miku’s creation is just awesome.

To conclude our meal, The Planner and I ordered our own desserts.  I wanted something light and selected the Tropical Brunoise, which essentially was a fancy fruit salad that came with a crispy passion fruit cannoli.  Sweet and refreshing, it hit the spot.  The only thing I would change is I wish they served it in a bowl instead of a plate as I had problems scooping up the last few cubes of fruit.

My sister chose the more decadent Cherry Cassis Slice.  I assumed she enjoyed it as she ate everything and had a smile on her face.

Overall this visit confirmed my long-standing opinions of Miku:
  • the sushi created here is among the best in the city
  • its cook food is merely ok
  • the original desserts are a nice way too end a meal; better than the common Green Tea Ice Cream
The sushi is executed so well at Miku, it just out shines everything else the restaurant serves.  In short, when you visit this tony waterfront restaurant stick to raw stuff, especially the aburi items. 

Miku Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wow, You’ve Got Something There! – Health Overload from Shishinori

Welcome, Namaste.
Shishinori: so healthy,
Very Vancouver.

In my quest to find a reasonable facsimile of the Poke I had on the North Shore of Oahu, I travelled to Shishinori.  Located on the Cambie corridor near the City Hall skytrain station, this new eatery is minimally furnished with touches of Japanese cuteness, including an anime show that is projected on the back wall.

I was interested in trying their Hawaii Ahi Poke bowl which came with 3 flavour options: Shoyu, Spicy and Wasabi.  I went with the shoyu option, up sized my bowl to a meal, paid for my order, was given a number and patiently waited for my meal to come to my table.

Upon its arrival, I was pleasantly surprised by the portion and presentation.  It looked appetizing and I had an overwhelming sense of smugness that I made a very healthy food choice today. 

The bowl came with a large green salad comprised of spinach and watercress, a poke served on brown rice, and garnishes comprised of fruit and edamame.  To complete my meal, I was given a mushroom miso soup and iced green tea in a mason jar.

The miso soup and tea were good but not really noteworthy.  The star of the meal was the bowls themselves.

The shoyu Hawaiian Poke looked right with fresh chunks of pink Ahi tuna, seaweed, chopped green onions and sesame seeds.  However with the first bite, I knew it was not exactly what I had in Hawaii.  The shoyu flavouring tasted more like a teriyaki sauce than just a plain soy sauce.  Although salty, it was predominantly sweet, and a bit too much in taste and amount. 

I felt Shishinori used this sauce as a way to add flavor to the brown rice and to the bowl in general.  The remaining elements of the bowl rely predominantly on their own natural flavours as the salad is minimally dressed and the other elements (mango slice, avocado, edamame etc) are not enhanced with anything.

Despite the disappointing poke, I did enjoy my very healthy meal.  I like the inclusion of spicy watercress and the sweet slices of mangos.  I felt super good after finishing my meal.

A few weeks later, I felt I needed a food detox and decided to visit Shishinori again.  I ordered the Salmon Paradise bowl meal, after the server explained that it was cubes of salmon mixed with seasonal fruit and served with a dressing.  All I thought to myself, “Isn’t that a Salmon Poke?!?!”

Indeed it was somewhat like a Salmon Poke, mixed with cubes of apples and avocado, served with a heaping amount of spinach salad, half a soft boiled egg, brown rice, and fruit and edamame garnishes.  Once again it looked overwhelmingly good for you, chalk full of vitamins and antioxidants. 

Unfortunately that cloying sauce returned in salmon portion of the bowl.  Although the rich taste of the salmon, and natural sweet and tart flavour of apple were able to stand up to the teriyaki like sauce and shine a bit.

Alas, my search for Hawaiian Poke must continue.  However, despite the sauce, this was not the worst rendition I’ve had.  There’s an eatery out there with dish identification issues, as they use an acid in their version which essential makes it a ceviche not a Poke, despite what the menu says.

Essentially the two items I got at Shishinori were giant vibrant salads served with brown rice and a raw protein.  In both cases I liked the freshness of the ingredients, how each of the components worked well together and the overall presentation of the dishes.  I just wish the staff would switch to a light soy dressing instead of depending on that syrupy sweet sauce. 

Perhaps it’s the vision of the rich hues of colour on the plate, the crunchy texture of the veggies, or the fact you probably ate half the daily recommended serving of plant matter in one sitting, I did feel energized, had a bounce in my step, felt very zen and light.

I would definitely return for a healthy meal and since its nearby neighbours are Whole Foods and Lululemon Lab, I think Shishinori will do just fine.

Shishinori on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Wonton Mein Saga: Tsim Chai Noodles Shrimp Pork Hybrid Wontons

Shrimp and Pork Wontons?
Blasphemy? Nope, delicious
At Tsim Chai Noodles.

Recently, I made an impromptu trip to Richmond after work and ending up visiting an old favourite for lunch.  It had been a long time since I went to Tsim Chai Noodles near the Richmond Public Market.

I sat down in its no fuss dinning room and ordered my customary wonton noodles with veggies for a complete meal. 

The soup was a good superior broth with an impactful seafood taste and full of umami flavour.  The noodles were toothsome and had a nice texture to them.  I felt these noodles were cooked perfectly as they stayed relatively chewy throughout my meal.

In a bit a of a switch up, for the healthy & green portion of my lunch I got Yu Choy, instead of the more common Gai Lan or the dreaded Iceberg lettuce.  The leafy veggies were vibrant green and cooked until tender but not mushy.

As for the wontons, they were properly wrapped, sizable and cooked well.  For the filling, they had both shrimp and fatty pork to them. 

When you bite into these soup dumplings you get a wave of sesame oil and a strong shrimp flavour. However towards the end, there’s a rich fatty pork taste.

Overall, I liked these wontons a lot as nothing tasted watered down, and the 3 distinct flavours of the dumpling worked harmoniously.

For some, the inclusion of pork is a big no-no in wontons, but for me I actually prefer some chopped pork as long as it’s not the dominant feature.  When done right like Tsim Chai, the pork adds a subtle contrasting taste that helps break up the large amount of seafood flavour in wontons.
If you think about it, wonton noodles soup can be pretty monotonous in flavour with a heavy shrimp component in the soup and then the bountiful shrimp in the dumplings.  As a result, the inclusion of pork can break up that wall of seafood umami while not being too jarring as it’s a nice mild sweet white meat.

I really enjoyed my wonton noodle soup at Tsim Chai Noodles; so much so I think they are my preferred wonton noodles soup in the Lower Mainland.  After finishing my meal there, I wondered why it took so long for me to return.  

Tsim Chai Noodles 沾仔記 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Wow, You’ve Got Something There! – Shoyu Ramen From Yah Yah Ya

UPDATE - PLEASE NOTE:  Ooops, I made a huge BOO BOO.  It turns out that the special broth from Yokohama is called "iekei" not "lekei or Le Kei".  My sincere apologies to Yah Yah Ya ramen.  Still very good ramen and everybody should go try this place out!

Yah Yah Ya? Hell Yeah!

Yummy Le Kei broth Ramen.

Weird, not in West End.


There are general geographical food rules of thumb I follow and as a result I have enjoyed pretty good meals even when I go into a restaurant blind.  For example, eat Vietnamese east of Main Street in Vancouver.  Another one would be: Best Ramen found in Downtown Vancouver. 

There are exceptions to the rule but they are hard to find.  Recently I discovered a fantastic exception to the ramen rule in Richmond called Yah Yah Ya.

The name of this newly opened ramenya just brings a smile to my face.  Even before they opened, I had heard the owners were trying to bring something new to market: Le Kei Broth.  The broth and style of ramen originates from the city of Yokohama.  The Le Kei broth is similar to a Tonkotsu broth but what makes it distinct is the inclusion of soy sauce and sometimes chicken bones during simmering process.

In addition, the ramen featuring Le Kei broth also comes with chicken oil and is traditionally served with roasted nori and spinach.

Keenly I headed off to Richmond to try this new Le Kei broth.  Yah Yah Ya is located in Richmond’s many restaurant filled strip malls.  The space is small much like most ramenyas in the region and neatly decorated.

Much like Kintaro, there are some customizable options such as desired texture of the noodle, richness of the broth and the amount of oil added to the ramen. 

I ordered their proclaimed number one ramen, Shoyu Ramen, which comes with nori, spinach, pork chasu and half an Ajitsuke Tamago.  To make the ramen to my liking, I went with hard noodles, normal soup and the normal amount of oil.  In addition, I ordered a plate of gyoza as well.   

First, the oil is noticeable taste wise at the beginning of your meal.  It adds an initial layer of richness, which dissipates as the amount of oil diminishes as it coats each strand of al dente noodle you draw out of the bowl. 

The Le Kei broth was awesome.  It has the depth and complexity of a long simmered broth but tastes light and sweet.  It’s been a while since I’ve encountered a soup so delicious all I wanted was to drink every last drop.

The pork chasu was fork tender but when consumed on its own I felt it was bland.  However when it was combined with some Le Kei broth, the chasu perked up and had a stronger umami flavour.

I also found the traditional spinach noteworthy as well.  It wasn’t just a component utilized to add texture to the dish.  Although the spinach did add crunch, it also lent its ferrous flavour to the soup as well.  By the end of the meal, I could detect a spinach taste in the soup.

The gyoza I ordered was solidly executed.  Based on the ridging, they appeared to be handmade.  The skins had a slight chew and the filling had a pleasant flavour highlighted by a strong ginger taste.  I also liked that you get to mix your own dipping sauce for these pan fried dumplings.  The staff brings out white vinegar, sesame seeds, soy and chilli oil for you to use.

Overall I really enjoyed my meal at Yah Yah Ya.  I felt the shoyu ramen was fantastic.  I felt the different components of the dish really supported and complimented one another, yielding a complex and tasty ramen.  For me it’s worth trekking out to Richmond to have a bowl of ramen steeped in Le Kei broth.

Yah Yah Ya Ramen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wow, you’ve got something there! Almond Crunch & Oreo Cream Puff from Chewy Junior

Cream puffs called Chewy Junior;
Too close to my work.

Beard Papas has some company now.  Chewy Junior, hailing from the city state of Singapore, has arrived in Vancouver.

Located at the western edge of Gastown across from Steamworks, Chewy Junior finally opened its doors in late August. 

I was curious about these Singaporean cream puffs as I walked past the renovating space for months looking at the posters featuring their confections.  They seemed more complex than Beard Papas but not as polished as Beta5’s elevated, highfaluting versions. 

So on a particularly rough work week, I needed some treats to get me through and it resulted in me eating 4 varieties of Chewy Junior’s offerings.

This shop currently serves 2 kinds of cream puffs: chocolate dipped and not chocolate dipped.

On my first visit I went with one of each: Oreo and Blueberry Cream Cheese.
Overall both types are not very big, measuring 3 inches in diameter and between 1.5 inches – 2 inches in height.

The Oreo cream puff is a chocolate dipped type.  The Oreo crumb coating is adhered to the top of the pastry by a thin layer of chocolate, hence why they are referred to as chocolate dipped. 

Inside the slightly chewy choux pastry, a cocoa infused whipped cream can be found.  I was worried all this chocolate would be too sweet for me.  However I actually quite enjoyed the Oreo.  I found the elements of the unsweetened filling, slightly bitter Oreo crumbs and under coat of sweet chocolate complemented each other very well, resulting in tasty cream puff.

The Blueberry Cream Cheese cream puff was topped with glazed blueberries encircled with a tangy cream cheese ring.  Within, instead of a chocolate whipped cream, a Chantilly cream was deployed.  Personally I found the Chantilly cream too sweet for my liking. 

Also, I understand the cream cheese is used as barrier to prevent the blueberry topping from slipping off the pastry (you can see what happens when I attempt to cut the thing in half - there were issues).  However, I found the tanginess of the cream cheese a bit odd.

On my second visit, I went with 2 chocolate dipped cream puffs: the Almond Crunch and the Double Chocolate Crunch.

The Almond Crunch had wafer thin slices of toasted almonds covering the top of the cream puff.  Much like the Oreo, the almonds were “glued” on with a layer of chocolate and used the same cocoa whipped cream.  Since I like almonds, I really enjoyed the Almond Crunch.  I felt the all the components were present, lent their distinct flavours to the sweet snack and were in harmony with one another.

The other cream puff I purchased, the Double Chocolate Crunch, was too boring for me.  The pastry was dipped in chocolate and topped with white and milk chocolate coated round crunchies.  With the chocolate infused whipped cream, chocolate layer and chocolate crunchies, there was no contrasting flavour.  I guess if you love chocolate this may be the puff for you but for me I just found it too plain.

Overall, I liked the Almond Crunch and Oreo Chewy Junior due to the varying and complementary flavours found within each preparation.  I can see people questioning the value of these cream puffs.  However, for people like me who only have a moderate sweet tooth, Chewy Junior is perfectly satisfying.

Chewy Junior's on Urbanspoon