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Sam Salmon

"Japanese" Restaurants in Vancouver

45 posts in this topic

A person travelling around the city can't help but be amazed at the proliferation of 'Japanese' restaurants.

In the past month alone 2 new 'Japanese' places have opened up within in 10 minute walk of my place.

Already there were at least a dozen a 10 minute walk from 4th & Burrad (3 actually run by Japanese Chefs)-it's astounding that this fad hasn't hit bottom.

A quick calculation shows that at the present rate of expansion the year 2020 will see every Vancouverite with a private 'Japanese' restaurant-or each 'Japanese' restaurant with it's own private customer. :wacko:

Your thoughts?

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As long as they keep making them like Guu, Hapa, Kintaro and Gyoza King....bring it on!

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This trend will continue until people stop going. That seems unlikely when talking about the places Jerry mentions.


David Cooper

"I'm no friggin genius". Rob Dibble

http://www.starlinebyirion.com/

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I'm waiting for the day that Starbucks begin appearing in Japanese Restaurants, or maybe vice versa.

And there's a gas station here in Richmond that features a nice sushi selection in addition to the more traditional pepperoni sticks and jerky. If you dine of gas station sushi you're a far more adventurous eater than I. I basicly refuse to eat off those rotating sushi conveyors, nevermind sushi that's next to new wiper blades.

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And there's a gas station here in Richmond that features a nice sushi selection in addition to the more traditional pepperoni sticks and jerky.

So do they have a little gas pump shaped soy sauce dispenser? That I'd like to see.

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I am happy to report that we now have our own neighbourhood Japanese restaurant; Toshi. Also, love Octopus Garden near Kits Beach. Their Mr. Bean is addictive. I lived in Japan for 7 years and the first time I bought sushi in Tokyo it was at a convenience store similar to 7-11 and it was paired well with a cold Asahi beer from a vending machine on the street. Don't have a problem with gas station sushi as long as the quality is there (the rice is so important). Instead of Starbucks with sushi, I would prefer to see a good sushi place with Mondo gelato.


"One chocolate truffle is more satisfying than a dozen artificially flavored dessert cakes." Darra Goldstein, Gastronomica Journal, Spring 2005 Edition

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Butter, Toshi is fantastic if you sit at the bar and let the chef make food for you otherwise it's OK. I'm repeatedly dissapointed with their Spicy Tuna. It's never spicy enough. Their cooked dishes are also better than any I have had. The Gyoza is very different from anything that you've ever had.

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I agree with Peppyre, at Toshi's you have to sit at the counter to enjoy their tiny place. The last time I was there, the 5 servers were bumping into each other as well as into the chairs of those seated. They must be making tons of money to absorb such labour costs.

Also, I hear that rice balls and sushi a la 7-11 are being considered for the North American market as we speak.

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I couldn't agree with you more montrachet and peppyre. I forgot to mention that I usually don't eat sushi there and I have only been there for lunch. I prefer the hot food. The agedashi tofu is delicate and the tempura, fresh and crispy. Mmmmm. Will try a dinner at the counter and let you know. As for the service, yes, we went just after it opened and an article appeared about them in a newspaper (can't remember which one) and they definitely didn't expect the crowd. We probably waited more than 45 minutes for our food. We weren't working that day, but for the people who were taking a lunch break from work it was very obvious they weren't happy campers.

Regardless of the service, I love it in my neighbourhood (the best hood in Vancouver!)


"One chocolate truffle is more satisfying than a dozen artificially flavored dessert cakes." Darra Goldstein, Gastronomica Journal, Spring 2005 Edition

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Can I get the address of this Toshi's? We need somewhere for an early dinner on Saturday.


David Cooper

"I'm no friggin genius". Rob Dibble

http://www.starlinebyirion.com/

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Toshi's is a little tiny spot at Main & 16th. It's on the Northwest corner and the storefront is directly on 16th, right next to the alley. If you're feeling adventurous you will definitley enjoy it. The last time I was there, they had butterfish marinated in Miso in the dinner box special. Quite good.

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Can I get the address of this Toshi's? We need somewhere for an early dinner on Saturday.

If it's the same one, 181 East 16th Avenue; 604-874-5173

Here's a link to Tim Pawsey's review here

Jamie


from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Define what you mean Sam. From what I understand, it's pretty "traditional". Every time I go, there is at least one person exclaiming that it's exactly like the food they had back in Japan. It's very different from any other place that I've been and I think the fact that his "western" style sushi isn't very good is an indication of that. The more traditional dishes are fantastic.

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Is this place Japanese or 'Japanese'?

It's pretty much retro-traditional new-tsunami post-ironic redux Japanese, Sam, except, as Peppyre explained, when it's not.


Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Japanese means run/staffed by Japanese people-or if you prefer people of origin in Japan (apart from some few Koreans).

'Japanese' means anyone of origin in Asia who's taken a basic course in Sushi making/'Japanese' cooking.

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Ate at Nan Chuu, the Richmond Gyoza King spinoff the other night. Out-freaking-standing. So good. More refined than the Robson branch, seems more like Hapa ver. 2.0 rather than Gyoza King. The interior looks very similar to Hapa, dark, modern and cool in the way that makes you forget you're in the middle of strip mall hell.

Menu seems similar, all the Talent family favourites were there, but prepared in a far more delicate sophisticated manner. Ebi Mayo was presented in a potato basket so delicate, greaseless and crispy that it didn't seem strong enough to hold the shrimp. Fatty pork belly came in a sauce so rich and fragrant that I'm thinking of petitioning the inlaws to sub it for the usual lumpy gravy at the christmas meal.

Gyoza unimpeachable, as expected. Somen came toped with the usual assortment of Japanese condiments, plus one I'd never had before. A thick gel of salty plum, well for lack of a better descriptor, slime. I loved it, salty and sweet, other family members were less taken with the concept. Rice hot pot (something I've never had on Robson) was insanely delicious. Mound of rice, studded with the usual Japanese pickles/garnishes, served in a cast iron pot over a flame, which you dump miso broth over. Kinda a Japense version of congee, I dunno, I've never seen it anywhere else. Perfect dish to finish a meal of small plates, something that ensures you don't leave hungry.

Also had bacon wrapped quail eggs, (is there anything bacon wrapping doesn't improve?), toro and cow tongue, (which was grilled as opposed to braised at Robson).

Tax, couple drinks, $55.00 plus tip.

It's fair to assume that my input will be diminished, I don't see myself having much to say about anywhere else for the forseeable future.

It's on Alexandra Road (which seems to have a bunch of new restaurants I haven't tried pop up recently.) Next door to the Kam Do Bakery, across from the Sheraton hotel.

Reservations required.

And I coundn't tell if it was Japanese or Japanese. Good looking waiteresses regardless.

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Maybe this plethora of Japanese restaurant openings is similar to the influx of Chinese/Asian Style restaurants that sprouted up in the 1920's through 2004?

The good survived, the mediocre did not.

Perhaps the same will run true for this epidemic Sam? :cool:

Chef M

An intersting observation Chef Metcalf, because while Japanese-styled restaurants (both sushi- and izakaya-driven) have bred quickly--there are now more about 315 in Vancouver), Chinese restaurants, especially at the fine dining level, have seemingly consolidated. So while Keith had a truly memorable izakaya-styled meal at Nan Chuu, it makes one wonder where, depite ubiquitous noodle shops, many of the high end Chinese restaurants went.

To find out why, it's probably best to follow the money. Between 1986, when Hong Kong Chinese began to intensively invest here (with an eye to the turnover of their city in 1997) and the mid-90s, we saw the greatest surge of formal Chinese dining rooms, especially downtown. The Business Immigration Program (which allowed queue-jumping in exchange for invested capital in "approved" programs), fostered some of the growth. There were lin-ups for ESL programs in Lower Mainland elementary schools. Concorde Pacific began marketing its condo towers on the north shore of False Creek, often with show-and-tells in Hong Kong. Three hundred dollar bowls of shark fin and Monk-Jumpoing-Over-The-Wall soups, Johnny Walker Blue Label and expensive cognac lit up downtown nights. Why I remember it as if were only yesterday.

But then something happened. The real estate market hit some speedbumps in the early 90s, other investment opportunities did not support the Chinese entrepreneurs who had moved their families here (they became known as astronauts--with kids in school here, they commuted to Hong Kong for work). But the killer for many new immigrants, especially entrepreneurial ones, was the very high Canadian taxation, anethma to someone used to paying little tax.

The result was that some of the high-flying Chinese chefs who had followed the money here moved back home. In the face of diminishing competition, well-financed Chinese restaurants prospered, but several downtown, unable to pull the white crowd consistently, did not, and the nexus of Chinese fine dining, with a few notable exceptions, would move to Richmond.

So why did sushi and izakaya win? I think because they're more accessible, less expensive and, at the most basic level, require less skill (it's sort of like vocabulary--we don't use that many words day-to-day and sushi diners seem to order the same dozen items). They fit the modern mold of casual dining in the Lower Mainland, and goodness knows the Japanese have been better marketers: plastic meal models and photographic menus are a national pastime, and have made it much easier for we occidents-waiting-to-happen to see in advance exactly what we are ordering.

Jamie

PS--Elsewhere on this sub-forum, we thrashed out exactly how to determine if you're eating in a Japanese or Japanese restaurant. Lesson One: Ask the cut-man where he got his knives. What you want to hear is "thirty years ago at the end of my seven year apprenticeship in Kyoto." If they say KIA or LG on them, you may be in in the wrong place.


Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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So why did sushi and izakaya win? I think because they're more accessible, less expensive and, at the most basic level, require less skill (it's sort of like vocabulary--we don't use that many words day-to-day and sushi diners seem to order the same dozen items).

The "less skill" comment made me raise an eyebrow for a second, until I realized that most of my exposure to Asian cooking has been through Iron Chef and The Rickshaw. My perceptions as such were that Cheinese cooking was more about noodles and dumplings, while Japanese cooking was something more akin to high art. Yet, while Iron Chef does its best to push Japanese as the ultimate cuisine (it almost always reigned supreme :biggrin: ) Chef Kennichi introduced me to a whole other world of Chinese cooking.

Back to the topic at hand ... I think another reason Japanese cuisine may have out-performed other Asian styles has to do with texture. Sushi aside, items like tempura and kaatsu are closer texture-wise to Western textures than say ... some of those jellied creations I see in authentic Chinese food. The texture of sushi, while not completely familiar at the time to Western palates, was not "icky".

The bottom line is that I don't know if I would like high end Chinese. I've never really had it (I must try Shark Fin soup one day) but my perception is that it would be something I would have to get used to.

A.

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Sam, I was at Toshi again last night and the entire staff is from Japan. I was asking one of the servers that very question as she was writing down my name in Japanese characters. It's worth trying out if you can.

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Still not sure as to which type of "Japanese" restaurant you prefer Sam. Would it be the ones run by native Japanese who may or may not have any background in the preparation of authentic cuisine or the new breed of non-Japanese establishments run by those who have a basic concept of what works for the masses here in Vancouver. The resourceful ones can emulate, up to a point, many of the key aspects required to dish out "real" Japanese cuisine and then there are others who are able to surpass the offerings put out by a vast majority of mediocre Japanese places. As mentioned earlier, a good point is to ask the chef as to the origin of his weapon and if you get a viable answer, then ask for the "Omakase" course and let your palate be pampered. Don't bother asking either question in a restaurant that has a poster in the window advertising 18 pieces of sushi and miso soup for $5.95.

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Here is a rather sad note for a Japanese restaurant. :sad:

My wife runs with the group at the Running Room on Denman.

Yoshi's is right above the Running Room.

They called tonight to say that Yoshi is on a 2 week vacation and his freezer has broken down. The smell is incredible :wacko:

I feel for the chap who has to come back from vacation to that. I sure hope someone is able to get ahold of him. That would be a nasty surprise.


Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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Changing the direction of the subject ever so slightly....why is there no Robata-Yaki restaurants in Vancouver?

When I lived in Japan these were always some of our first picks.

The chef would sit/kneel in front of a grill.

Around the grill was all manner of fresh fish and vegetables that could be chosen by the customer to be grilled.

The customers sat semi-circle around the food and grill and watched the chef cooking then passed your fare to you on a wooden paddle.

Some of my best food memories of Japan come from Robata-Yakis ( and dining at Paul Bocuse for an outrageously expensive but wonderful seven course lunch one day).

Are there any in Vancouver? I think I have seen robata on a few signs, but are they authentic with the chef sitting in front of the customers?

Or is that just too much for the Vancouver Health Board to clear?

Jamie

But are the Chinese high end restaurants really authentic?

Seldom are the meals here ever as good as what I have eaten in Hong Kong and I always feel that they probably go back to the kitchen and notify them that the customer is a farang/gaijin/whatever.

Case in point.....last night we went to Kirin Mandarin.

We ordered a couple of dishes that should have had heat.

They were tame at best (although the lobster in garlic tomato sauce was very good....there was no zing).

The spicy tangerine peel beef, bland by my heat standards.

I guess I always think of how Chinese food was horribly Westernized by the Chinese restaurant owners to please our sensitive lilly white pallets that grew up on TV dinners and Macaroni and Cheese (or in my case, pressure cooked vegetables...no wonder I started cooking).

I think I need sleep, this is just drifting in all directions.

Ciao


Edited by Chef Metcalf (log)

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Changing the direction of the subject ever so slightly....why is there no Robata-Yaki restaurants in Vancouver? . . .

Are there any in Vancouver? I think I have seen robata on a few signs, but are they authentic with the chef sitting in front of the customers?

Or is that just too much for the Vancouver Health Board to clear?

Jamie

But are the Chinese high end restaurants really authentic?

Seldom are the meals here ever as good as what I have eaten in Hong Kong and I always feel that they probably go back to the kitchen and notify them that the customer is a farang/gaijin/whatever.

Case in point.....last night we went to Kirin Mandarin.

We ordered a couple of dishes that should have had heat.

They were tame at best (although the lobster in garlic tomato sauce was very good....there was no zing).

The spicy tangerine peel beef, bland by my heat standards.

I guess I always think of how Chinese food was horribly Westernized by the Chinese restaurant owners to please our sensitive lilly white pallets that grew up on TV dinners and Macaroni and Cheese (or in my case, pressure cooked vegetables...no wonder I started cooking).

Two main questions here I think Chef Metcalf:

1. Yakitori restaurants actually preceded the ubiquity of sushi parlours in Vancouver. They may have even pre-dated the Ding Ho Drive-Ins (remember: where urban myth had it that neighbourhood cats mysteriously disappeared when they ran a special on sweet and sour "boneless pork".) For many of us, yakitori was the first reference point for "Japanese" cuisine, much as the exotica of the Ho Inn revealed the mysteries of China. And yakitori's main proponent, Kobe on Alberni--the house of the flashing knives--is still going today I think. It doesn't feature highly on my screen, because personally I can do without the histrionics aka "showmanship" -- I prefer my rythymic gymnastics to be demonstrated by young women twirling ribbons and not men with sharp cleavers. BTW, Kobe uses a huge griddle at each station, not a grill. You're seated around it, and if you're a good sport, sometimes with people you don't know. Pretty easy to replicate at home but use real charcoal and a slowish fire.

If I remember the story correctly, the reason that you were presented your food on a paddle goes something like this: Japanese fishermen cooked their dinners at sea over hibachis but ate off their oars. No washing up, but tricky if a storm blew through during dinner.

There are lots of robata dishes available around town. But sometimes the robata is performed in the back kitchen (or occasionally in front of you over those little BBQs that look like jimmied toaster ovens) where the tempura is also cooked. The most typical dish is miso-marinated smoked cod (sablefish), which, when properly done over a medium-hot grill, comes off like butter. My favourite of all time was at Yoshi's on West 4th; he is now at the Bluewater Raw Bar, although, come to think of it, I haven't ordered it from him there because I'm usually too busy with his albacore--straight up or gomae.

Places with robatas: Aki at 745 Thurlow, perhaps the most authentic-feeling of the lot; Kamei Royale (1030 West Georgia, 2nd Floor); Mitsubishi (755 Burrard--entrance off Alberni) and Japone Japone (8260 Oak Street).

The three most common cooking styles represented locally are sushi-dominant (I'm sure you have your favourites); izakaya (bistro food like Hapa, Guu, Shiro-Bay, Japone et al); and okonomiyaki cafes that serve Japanese "pancakes" and other kitchen food. The two best of these are Modern Club at 18th and Dunbar and Clubhouse at 2nd and Alberta.

Here's an interesting website for young Japanese that describes favourites, many with an eye toward thrift.

2. How to order Chinese food is no more complicated than going out with Chinese friends or developing a relationship with a Chinese proprietor. Another alternative if you're worried that you're only seeing the Chop Suey/White Girl menu is to walk the room and, when you see something interesting, point and shoot, i.e. tell your waiter. That will guarantee that they turn up the heat and that you'll get plenty of tendon in your soup.

But as a white guy with a Chinese name, there's no better way than getting to know, say, Allan at Sun Sui Wah, the guys at Pink Pearl (I had a formidable Chinese meal there last year including Monk-Jump-Over-The-Wall soup, which I'm still paying for), or just the place in your neighbourhood. I've got the guys so well trained at my local in ForMiCa (Triple XXX-tacy Fortune Gardens) that they call me when a fresh shipment of salmon eyes is inbound, or to warn me when they're about to change the pickling fluid for the fermented geoduck spleens. Makes a snappy vinaigrette.

OK. Gotta go. The Seahawks are losing to the Cardinals, of all people, and clearly they require that I focus.

Hope this is helpful,

Jamie


Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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