VieAMaggi.com

Real, raw, & relatable me. Enthusiastic food & lifestyle blogger living in Vancouver, BC!

Category: Japanese Page 1 of 16

Manpuku Bento

Every Friday my gym buddy and I end our session with a meal to recoup our dispensed calories. Our goal, filling and comforting for cheap. Today we made that destination “Manpuku Bento”, knowing we would be in the area on another errand.

The down side, no dine in and it was far too cold to dine outdoors. But once we saw the menu, our hearts were set and we found our selves going in, ordering take out, and waiting in the cold for our order.

The shop is a small corridor. Only permitting room for one. You walk in, choose from their limited menu and order at the counter. For covid precaution sake, they ask you to wait outside. Shame, because there is much to see inside. A collection of premade Japanese sweets from local chefs, and plenty of sauces and sides to customize your meal to come.

The menu is very easy to navigate. Clear to read with plenty of photos, allowing you to let your eyes do the choosing. We got all our favourites below and was not disappointed. Even after devouring it cold. Cold, because I insistent on finding the perfect park for my picnic photo below, only to actually eat in the warmth of my car.

Each order comes with miso soup. Not your standard mix, but an extra savoury and salty broth with plenty of carrot and daikon slices, and onions lingering at the bottom. This was some of the most flavourful miso soup I have ever had.

The Chicken Karaage was declared the best in Vancouver and on earth, (by their own menu). Three large pieces of Japanese style deep fried chicken over rice with a little bit of cabbage slaw and a wedge of lemon. The chicken was surprisingly tasty. We did think it would be good, but was surprised by how good. I just wish it was cut down into smaller pieces for easier eating and sharing. I also would have liked some pickled vegetable or sauce on the side to rejuvenate the taste and add some depth after the first piece.

Although having said that this sort of food is best as one dish in a group, shared so that you can mix and match flavours and not get bored with just eating one item from start to finish.

My guest’s favourite of our three items was the Katsu Don. Pork cutlet, caramelized onion, egg, and their house made donburi sauce over rice. This ate more like a full meal with the sauce and sides I wanted above. The sweet sauce complimented the pork well, it wasn’t too heavy. It and the meat drippings were sopped but by the rice adding to the cohesion of the dish.

I found the Beef curry rice disappointing. It was the sweet sauce I was expecting, but flat. Salt would have helped, but the curry lacked depth. Eating it with the chicken above improved the situation. So if ordering this I advise adding on a pork cutlet or karaage piece.

Overall, for the cost and ease in ordering I can definitely see myself coming back and taking out more to go. Recommended for a quick lunch or for anyone looking for a home cooked-like meal.

Manpuku
288 E Pender St, Vancouver, BC V6A 1T7
(604) 687-0849
manpukubento.com

Seiza Japanese Cuisine

Looking for a grown up, night out on Main Street, my guest and I found ourselves at Seiza for some sushi and sake. The space has a modern vibe, befitting of a lounge, leading you to drink, and that we did.

Social distancing is cleverly enforced by the use of plastic bears painted to look like pop culture icons and concepts, including Pennywise from IT and Homer from the Simpsons. (I believe this is considered couture art.)I wanted a closer look, but sadly, where they sat you weren’t allowed to share their table. Though I did enjoy admiring them from afar. And in the spirit of cohesion, their smaller framed brethren hung on the wall as decor, as well.

Seiza’s menu is dense and chic, a hefty listing that spans pages and categories. Although with little descriptions and even less photos it is hard to order without asking a barrage of questions to your server first. Though with his help, we stuck to many of their house specialities, as a first time try.

Like the “Zombie brain”, named for its perceived look, this was a whole avocado split into quarters and stuffed with crab meat, then battered and deep fried, before getting a generous drizzle of spicy mayo. It was messy and mushy, yet satisfying in its crunchy meets squishy texture. (The name suddenly makes sense here.) As for taste it was delicious, great with beer, or after when you need to sober up from all the beer.

Speaking of beer, as we were in a Japanese restaurant, we decided to go for Japanese libations. A combination of hot sake and cold Sapporo to set the tone. The sake getting chased down by the refreshing, light beer on special for $1 off. Apparently this type of pairing is commonplace, but new to me, and I cherished the experience.

But back to the food: There was a sheet of specials to order off of. When I hear and read specials I think discounted food the restaurant wants you to try. However after being enticed, we learned that not all of them were on discount. An obvious point when we compared the regular menu with this abbreviated listing. Nonetheless we went for the uni cream udon at full price. I feel that ordering uni at any Japanese restaurant speaks to its caliber, in quality of ingredients used. And unfortunately the one normal looking piece of uni was hiding 2 grey and discoloured pieces, and this action spoke volumes. And at over $20 for this serving I expected better, considering the portion size was on the smaller size with 3.5 pieces of shrimp and 2 florets of broccoli. The flavour was at least there and the cream sauce tasty without actual uni flavour. I enjoyed the noodles the most. However the udon shouldn’t be my favourite part when it’s only the third word in the dish’s name: “uni cream udon”.

The rolls fared better in our opinion, however they were no different or standout from any crazily dressed and additionally topped rolls you can get anywhere. Due to my guest’s shellfish allergies and fish preferences we kept it salmon all the way, trying three different methods of salmon sushi preparation.

The first is the “Sexy salmon roll”, I am guessing for the way it looks, and then the way it makes you feel: no carbs in this so a slimmer you it insinuates. Here they used crab meat instead of rice. Although a clever no carb substitute, I found its sweetness overpowering, hiding the freshness of the salmon, which should have been the star of this offering.

The “Salmon oshizushi” gave you cooked salmon, which I don’t think was the intention. It was a lot more torched than I wanted, but at least I got the salmon flavour I was looking for here. This was the best out of the three, but I have had much better else where.

The “Ironman roll” hid everything under Japanese mayo and spicy washed tobiko. The menu listed Sockeye salmon, chicken, avocado, and tobiko as its ingredient make up. However I didn’t see or taste avocado, and the chicken was only filler. This sweet and tangy roll did pair well with our beers though.

And just for something to balance out all the punchy flavours, we got a regular Spicy yam tempura roll that wasn’t so spicy.

Overall this isn’t necessarily a destination or a stop if you are craving Japanese food or sushi. But decent as a pub, offering fusion fare with flare.

Seiza Japanese Cuisine
3068 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5T 3G5
(604) 428-5700
seiza.ca

Mr. Japanese Curry

Ever since I had my first taste of curry in Japan, I have been obsessed. The mix of sweet and creamy with a little heat, is unlike any other of its kind. So when I learned of a new little spot in Vancouver offering Japanese curry, I wanted to not only try their offerings, but support this new restaurant venture as well. A restaurant trying to make a name for themselves in this unprecedented time. Opening just before the onset of Covid-19, in a shop that use to host donairs.

The name informs you of exactly what you will be getting. And if there is any doubt, you can smell what’s cooking a block away, or take a gander at the collection of detailed plastic curry on display, in the front window. During my visit their food was only available for take out. A soft opening and test run, accepting orders online, and opting for the delivery of them.

Mr. Japanese Curry is dedicated to providing authentic homemade curry in either beef, chicken, or vegan sauces. Each option also includes a bevy of toppings to choose from, to best customize each plate to your tastes. Every serving comes with their Super Premium Short Grain Koshihikari white rice and a sprinkle of fried onions. Having tried one in each category and being able to see and taste the difference between all three, I highly recommend doing the same. Trying all the different curry sauces to get the full experience, and finding the one you like the best is half the fun. Each is a recipe unique to the restaurant, learned from food technicians in Japan.

Ordering is easy off the overhead menu, with its coloured photos. And if and when dining in reopens, you are able to serve yourself at their cutlery and drink station.

The following is what we had, in the order they came up, starting with their vegan curry. They are proud to offer a tasty plant based curry, in collaboration with the popular and very local “Vegan Pudding Co.”. This was a rich and creamy curry despite the lack of milk products being used. Served wonderfully with fried mashed Japanese pumpkin patties. It was delicious, you couldn’t tell that this was made without cream or butter, nor did it have the overwhelming flavour of coconut milk. The sauce is so tasty that you need only to enjoy it with their perfectly prepared rice. And the fried onion sprinkle offers a nice little crunch in between. In actuality, you don’t want to fill up on rice, but it just goes so well with everything, that you don’t waste a single grain.

We continued to work our way up to heavier with a more flavourful curries with the “Tonkatsu Curry” next. This is their chicken based curry served with a breaded and deep fried pork cutlet, sliced up for easier consumption. This was a curry that was just as light as the vegan option above, but with very different savoury notes. In terms of flavour, this was my favourite of the three, the pork cutlet being the highlight. Each piece was tender and a little fatty for a juicer bite.

The heartiest of our three plates was their signature “Mr. Curry” platter. A beef curry that they referred to as “Stamina Curry”, served a piece of fried shrimp, thinly sliced pork belly in a homemade garlic sauce, a hard boiled egg, and melted cheese. There was plenty going on here to keep you interested. You could mix and match ingredients, curating the perfect bite. The crispy shrimp, the tender meat, the fragrant onions, and the creamy cheese sauce that pulled it all together. It has a stew-like quality to it: comforting and filling.

Overall, a great option for Japanese curry in a neighbourhood, offering something different in the area. Order all three because each is different and worth trying. Great as family food; or late night, drunk eating. This is a flavour I will crave again, and a hidden gem with nothing else like it in Vancouver.

Mr. Japanese Curry
446 W 8th Ave, Vancouver, BC V5Y 1N9
(604) 879-4400
mrjapanesecurry.com

Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba, Lougheed Town Centre

The latest location of Kokoro has opened in Coquitlam, giving me easier access and more reasons to enjoy their unique saucy udons. Their physical seating area is still closed for dine in due to the pandemic. However, with the nicer weather and plenty of benches and ledges to sit on in their vicinity, you can easily take your order to go and perch up nearby to finish it, while it’s still warm. I found myself visiting twice in the span of a month, and here is that recap.

For first timers they recommend their best seller, the “Niku Mazesoba”. Slow braised pork chashu, spicy minced pork, half a soft boiled egg, minced garlic, green onion, seaweed flakes, ground Saba fish, chives, and sesame; all over their in-house made multi-grain noodles. Like all their other variations, this one is jam packed with flavour, strong garlics and seasonings that leave you with a rich bowl that I can never seem to finish, and a mouth in need of brushing. Although when the craving for something comforting like this hits, only this would do. But be warned, for those who don’t like the flavour of anything seafood related, the Saba fish flakes are pretty prominent. And I personally can do with less green onion and chives, (though they do make for a great presentation), and more of the noodles instead. You are often left with so much more toppings than chewy strands. They offer up complimentary scoops of white rice to sop up the excess with, but why not just give more noodles to begin with; so that way it wouldn’t be as rich?

The “Curry Mazesoba” has the same flavour base as the “Niku” above, but with the highlight of a spicy Japanese-style curry. A growing heat and plenty of garlic had me stopping 3/4 of the way. Spicy minced pork, half soft-boiled egg, seaweed flakes, spinach, minced garlic, ground Saba fish, green onion, onion, and sesame; with a healthy serving of Japanese curry over their house made multi-grain noodles. A different way to enjoy this flavour packed bowl, but once again I wanted less green onions and onions and a lot more noodle to help balance things out.

I find the best way to refresh your palette and elongate the meal is to accompany the above or the below with one of their “Tokyo iced milk teas”. Brewed with 100% organic black tea, and served in an easy to carry along, plastic, ziplock drink bag. A twisty straw aids in the drinking process. It offers a refreshing, cooling sip that makes for a perfect break in eating.

The “Cheese Mazesoba” is exactly the same as the curry, but exchange curry for a good amount of cheese. But be warned it does congeal quick, and when it does, it doesn’t add the same nuance of stringy pulled cheese. Although overall, you don’t really get much of the cheese’s flavour past everything else.

The “Tan Tan Mazesoba” I liked for its peanut butter flavour, otherwise it is once again just like all the other variations above with spicy minced pork, half soft-boiled egg, seaweed flakes, spinach, minced garlic, ground Saba fish, green onion, onion, and sesame; over their house made multi-grain noodles.

Overall a great addition to the Coquitlam area, offering something unique and specialized out of downtown. Plenty of parking, with delivery and takeout options a-plenty, they are making it easy for you to visit.

Kokoro
531 North Rd #109, Coquitlam, BC V3J 1N7
(604) 917-0719
menyakokoro.com

Dosanko, take out

As we move on to week 5 of quarantine and the need to shutter many non essential businesses, many popular restaurants are trying to find some routine in these forever evolving, uncertain times. Dosanko is one such establishment, who have remained open for take out the entire duration thus far. They have been offering limited menus, keeping what little staff they can employe. Slowly adding more to what’s available, which now includes seasonal offerings.

With cherry blossom season in full swing, Donsanko has brought back their Sakura onigri. A pink rice ball with the look and taste of cherry petals, a popular food trend and flavour in Japan during spring. Its photogenic and rare nature was enough to have me making the drive down. And since I was here, I decided to make lunch out of it. The following is from their lunch menu, in lunch-size portions.

The onigris are a great snack option. Hand moulded and kept solid, bundled in wax paper. Each labelled, each with perfectly prepared sushi rice and a strip of seaweed hiding the centre of your choosing.

The cherry blossom did not disappoint, it was as glamourous as I had hoped, and tasted better than I thought it would. It was bright with the freshness of the shisho leaves. There was a little tang, coupled with floral notes from the blossoms. But the real treat was the surprise filling that I discovered upon the first bite in. As much sweet crab meat as they could stuff, while maintaining the iconic triangular rice ball shape. I highly recommend this one.

I also grabbed a couple of their regular onigris, but sadly they didn’t measure up to the above. They were good, but with unseasoned rice and just the protein to carry them through, it fell flat.

The “Spicy Tuna” is lightly seared albacore tuna with their house made spicy mayo and nori bundled up. The fish is very mild, I wanted some more spice in this or some sauce for it. Plus some additional seasoning in the rice and some additional texture to maw through would have been nice. But overall, they do make a nice snack. The rice is served at the perfect temperate, so its best to eat it quick, before it gets too warm and sticky.

The “Zangi” is Chicken Karaage, aka fried chicken with a sesame sauce. Like the fish above, it left like it was lacking something. Additional seasonings and some kick to have the filling stand out against the moist rice. This was quick to fall apart, its flavour better suited in the sandwich below.

The “Tonkatsu & Curry Plate” gave me the bold flavours I was looking for. House made Japanese curry that wasn’t the sweet kind I was expecting. It was savoury and rich, with a slight spice; best balanced by the tangy pickled vegetables served on the side. Each element was perfectly prepared. The pork was tender with crispy breading, it had the right amount of fat for a nice juicy bite. I appreciated the extra ground meat in the sauce, enough for all the steamed rice. You could taste it over the curry that didn’t overpower.

But my favourite out of my order was the “Cheese Crusted Oyako Sandwich” with fried chicken, egg salad, greens and parmigiano reggiano cheese. All the deliciousness above, packed in tight between two buttery sweet slices of toast. Everything in perfect balance of one another. Crispy chicken, tangy sweet mayonnaise, and a luscious egg salad. I could do without the lettuce that became wilted by the time I got to it.

In short everything was so good that I want to go back again soon. Back to support them, and back to try more off of their comfort menu.

Dosanko Restaurant
566 Powell St Unit #100, Vancouver, BC V6A 1G9
(604) 251-2020

Home Page

Gyoza Bar, Dine Out Brunch 2020

This morning we were at “Gyoza Bar”, here to try their Dine Out Vancouver brunch menu. $15 got you a 4 piece set with plenty of value to take advantage of, before February 3rd, 2020.

It opens at 12pm on a Saturday and the crowds flooded in soon after. A large space with plenty of seating. A lounge feel with a bar backed by bricks, that transitions into an open stainless steel kitchen. We grabbed a small narrow table by the door, with plenty of light and enough space for our two square set trays below.

Since it was the weekend we started with a couple of their new drinks. The “Blue Hawaiian” is the classic tropical cocktail with blue curaçao, pineapple, lime, and vodka. Fairly sweet, leaving you with a back of your throat soreness. I much preferred the “Chu-Hai” with pink grapefruit, lemon, orange bitters, soda, and gin. The citrus flavour was pronounced, and the drink refreshing as a whole with the spritzy soda. But with both you don’t get enough alcohol to actually taste it.

The $15 Dine Out brunch menu is this spicy tuna rice bowl teishoku set.

It comes with their daily miso soup. And today it included cut up woodear mushroom and seaweed.

The salad is a mix of greens, red onion, pickled cabbage, and cherry tomatoes, all coated in a sesame and citrus vinaigrette. Then finished off with a mashed tofu paste. I didn’t know what I was looking at, I never had tofu like this before. It added some heartiness and texture to the side, making it a more fulsome start.

Our server recommend that we enjoy the soft boiled, lightly soy sauced egg mixed into the rice dish below.

The main is like a poké with a spicy tuna mash and avocado purée over sweet citrus rice. It is topped with red onion and sliced cucumber which offer the only variation in crunch. The flavours were there, but the textures lacking. It was all the same soften gumminess, so that you grew bored of chewing. You got the flavour of the spicy tuna loud and clear, but wanted it more solid. Tuna sashimi, or perhaps some deep fried onion sprinkled over top for crunch?

And because it was my first time and called the “Gyoza Bar”, we made sure to try an order of their “pork teppan gyoza”. I liked the grilled skin of these pork and chive dumplings, but wanted more pizzazz and flavour from the filling. Though I guess that is what the side of spicy miso and umami soy is for.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Based on this limited experience, I would like to come back for a more filling meal. To be able to try more dishes in order to get a better feel of their regular service. But at this point, all I can say is that this set is a deal. Don’t deny your cravings.

GYOZA BAR
622 W Pender St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1V8
(604) 336-5563
gyozabar.ca

J&G Fried Chicken

My original visit to this fried chicken joint came with my responsibilities as one of the judges for “Vancouver Foodster’s” chicken wing challenge. I was tasting my way through the competitors, and this was one of them. I may have originally came for just their chicken wings, but found myself staying for their fizzy fruit drinks, yam fries, fried dessert, and popcorn chicken.

With two available locations, I visited their stand alone shop downtown. It, as opposed to their food court presence within Crystal Mall, in Burnaby. Located at the tail end of Robson Street, they are easy to spot with their well lit sign. Past it is their all glass facade, with a oversized chicken statue by the door. Walking in, there is an invitation in neon to try their “Fun 2 Eat”, Taiwanese style fried chicken.

The restaurant has a small square foot presence with kitchen and counter up front, and a handful of smaller tables that run down the length of the shoppe. We would order at said counter and then grab a couple of high top stools by the window, looking out on to the sidewalk.

The menu is a single page back and forth. Well used with scuff marks and 1/4 of the menu options blocked off by paper. More tempting to order from is the television screen broadcasting informative slides and high resolution photos.

We would start with their chicken wing entry and work our way through their regular offerings. The former was a combo that came with three pieces of chicken: 2 drums and 1 thigh, served with hand cut yam fries and deep fried mini buns.

The chicken was fired to order, with the grease stains to prove it. Piping hot and incredibly juicy, be warned, you want to allow your meal to cool before biting down. This was fresh chicken marinated in five spice, sesame oil, garlic, and soy sauce. The chicken’s thin and crispy coating was the product of their special formulated wet batter dip. For added flavour you can get the chicken spicy in varying degrees. Overall, it had a very unique essence, and one I haven’t had until here and now. Deep with a layered umami flavour, and a tad on the salty side. To help change the taste I would have liked a dipping sauce, maybe a sweet and sour or a zesty mustard?

I highly recommend ordering it and any of their chicken with a couple of their refreshing drinks, to cleanse your palette in between bites. I was immediately drawn to the colour and whimsy of their gradient ones. The purple to orange blend was flavoured in peach, and the white to black: a strawberry with hints of pink. I suggest stirring the drink up before taking a sip. This helps to dilute the sweeten syrup at the bottom of the cup. Each fruit flavour was beautifully effervescent with tiny bubbles that popped on the tip of your tongue.

“J&G’s” take on yam fries was a sweet one. With a sugar and sour plum coating it ate like a hearty, starchy dessert. You didn’t quite know what to make of it, so found yourself going back for more. Soft yet firm, and completely interesting.

The fried buns was a nice, neutral sweetness to end on. Best hot and crispy with a generous smattering of condensed milk. I just wish there was a lot more of it, as it was what gave the dessert its flavour and flair.

We also had to try their popcorn chicken. It is one of their staples and their best selling item. I found it much more palatable that the chicken above. Soften white breast meat that pulls a part. It too had a 5 spice, herbal blend seasoning, but more mild. They were similar in taste to the chicken bites that you get at bubble tea cafés, making them a great anytime snack. I just wish they were served in smaller chunks. As is, these required multiple bites to finish, and were clumsy to eat with using the skewer they provided.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
It was delicious, but indulgent, not something you could have two days in a row, but a flavour you would find yourself craving. We definitely walked away feeling full with our meal sitting heavy. Don’t deny your cravings.

J&G Fried Chicken
1706 Robson St, Vancouver BC
604-423-2870
jgfcwest.ca

Hakkaku Ramen, revisit

It has been many years since my last visit to this long standing ramen shoppe, in Burnaby. It was over 5 years ago, and with so many other options in the area and in general, I guess I never found a reason to return. However, today the weather was weary and my friend and I were wanting something comforting to warm up with. She is particular in her restaurant choices, but boldly declared that this as her go-to for ramen in our neighbourhood.

A single, traditional Japanese lantern hangs outside, marking the way. Inside, the restaurant is configured slightly differently than from what I remembered. Smaller tables with plenty of space in between one another. Outside of the giant oriental fan on the wall and the few pieces of art hanging from the bar, there wasn’t much to the decor. It was similar to their menu, straightforward and to the point.

The menu was written in English and kanji, kept safe behind plastic sheet protectors. Offered on it were the main ramen staples of shio, shoyu, and and miso; as well as five specialty broths all their own. And with each you have a choice between a regular or rich version of the broth, and the topping of pork chasu in either shoulder or belly cut.

My guest got her usual “shio ramen” and liked it just fine with the regular broth. The bowl typically comes with chashu, bean sprouts, lettuce, fish cake, green onion, and seaweed. But my she had her’s with only the soft boiled egg and chashu in shoulder meat. The meat was lean and cut thick, but not tough. And even with the regular broth it was still fairly rich and flavourful.

She also added on the “shrimp cake” under additional toppings. It was a different option, not offered anywhere else that I have been to. Although the two flattened patties had a taste that overpowered. And I couldn’t help but liken them to the shrimp loaf that you find in the dim sum dumpling, ha gao. It tasted okay, but I didn’t find that it paired well with the mild salt flavoured pork bone broth.

I preferred and was surprised by their “Tomato ramen”. Tomato, bean sprouts, onion, corn, fish cake, green onion, boiled egg, and chashu in my chosen cut of pork belly. The belly meat had a great fatty char to it. It was the decadence I wanted, along side the rich version of the pork broth. And the tomato flavour added kicked things up a notch. Its tangy quality somewhat reminded me of canned tomato soup. Warming and satisfying, although it did get fairly rich, and I found myself reaching for more tea than usual with this one. And luckily my cup was never half empty thanks to their caring staff.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Not my first choice for ramen, but not one I would shy away from either. Made wholesome and served by what looked like 3 generations of women. Simple delight and much charm from this local eatery. Don’t deny your cravings.

HAKKAKU RAMEN
4530 East Hastings St., Burnaby, BC V5C 2K6
604-558-3386

Marutama Ramen Metrotown

Unpopular opinion: “I am not a fan of Marutama Ramen”.

Maybe it’s because I like being the odd man out, or maybe my taste buds are a skewed; but I am not a fan of the multi-location, ramen chain, “Marutama”. In fact they may very well be one of my last choices for ramen. But today we were in Burnaby, my guest had been craving a bowl of their chicken broth ramen, and I didn’t have the heart to say, “No”. Although, I did suggest dining at the neighbouring “Boiling Point” instead, due to their lack of a line.

However, the wait for “Marutama” wasn’t that long, and we only had to endure 5 minutes of it in the cold with all the others hungry folks. So there we stood patiently by the doorway, after having written our names down on a clipboard out front. We would stare into the all glass interior, watching lustfully as the tables turned over quite quickly.

This is the latest location of this popular chain, located is in the expanding area of Burnaby, just past Metrotown. Once home to a different ramen restaurant, the space didn’t feel all that much different now. Narrow tables meant to maximize seating, and the kitchen/bar towards the back. Well lit and warm, even despite us sitting by the door that regularly swung open, exposing us to the elements.

The menu is a one laminated sheet. It showcases their chicken broth and the variations of ingredients and noodles with it. With an egg, without, spicy, extra meat, or all of the above. At the base of it, it is all the same.

Remembering I wasn’t a fan of my first and most recent bowl, I ordered their signature bowl with creamy chicken broth, seaweed, and a whole soft boiled egg. It came with the maximum number of toppings for a more varied meal. I don’t find that the broth has enough flavour, the richness that I love in my favourite bowls of ramen was missing here. It felted watered down and it lacked interest. I would have also liked a thicker noodle, to offer a better balanced collection of textures to sort through. Something satisfying to gnaw on. With this it was small pieces of soften seaweed, a whole egg that was hard to ration out bite by bite, fatty slices of cha su, and thin wispy stands of noodles.

The table side condiments do help in curating your bowl. Between us we used 3/4 of their fried garlic slices. I was also heavy handed on the toasted sesame seeds, and torgarashi power. Yet I still couldn’t finish my serving. I found myself growing bored of the taste mid way.

Anticipating this, I ordered some gyozas to have something else to help change up the taste. They were your run-of-the-mill pork and vegetable filled dumplings. I knew exactly what I was going to get with this, and it delivered. A classic with a soy and vinegar dipping sauce.

Sorry, for those who have been offended by my opinion here. But I have had this a handful of times now, and can safely conclude that I don’t like their ramen. And in fact, I like them less after each subsequent visit. I can see why others love their chicken broth though. That there is quality and authenticity that goes into each bowl, everything is made fresh daily, without msg or imitation flavours, and its lighter nuance appeals to more individuals. The latter was the goal of its creator, based out of Japan. He wanted to create a bowl of ramen that would satisfy anyone from around the world, and given that chicken is one of those food items that majority of people like, this became his flagship product.

That being said, my guest like what she had just fine, cleaning her bowl it full satisfaction. She had the “Aosa ramen” with aosa seaweed, two pieces of cha su, and an egg she added on. She also requested it to be made spicy. Although truthfully in terms of ingredients, it was no different than mine, same seaweed and all.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Once again, I am not a fan of their chicken broth ramen, but will recommend it to those who like a lighter broth, and all the garlic chips they can stomach. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. We don’t share the same mouth after all. Don’t deny your cravings.

MARUTAMA RA-MEN
5278 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC V5H 2E9
(604) 430-3343
marutama.ca

Tojo’s Restaurant, Cocktail Hour

Admittedly, this is my first visit to the Vancouver institution that is “Tojo’s”. The restaurant has garnered much attention and many accolades thanks to the local celebrity chef with the same name. Tojo-san is better known as the creator of the widely popular “California roll”. And his restaurant on West Broadway has seen sushi trends come and go, but it still remains one of thee spots for authentic Japanese cuisine.

Most recently they have opened their sake bar, and with it a focus on cocktail hour drink specials. Normally, their two hours of discount food and drink is available from Thursday to Saturday from 4-6pm. However, for the winter season, they are attracting more diners by extending the promotion across Monday to Saturday 4-6pm. Ideal for those in search of a warm perch and a cold drink.

For many, their sake bar serves as a great transition into dinner. For most, it is an approachable and cost effective way to enjoy the quality and prestige of “Tojo’s”, at prices one can afford day to day.

The restaurant is a beautiful space, modern and open with plenty of seats. If given the choice, I would opt for the sushi bar. They are the best seats in the house, especially when Tojo-san is behind the bar, and you catch a glimpse of him rolling his career defining sushi. And speaking from experience, he is very accustomed to having his photo taken, posed or not.

Although today we were gathered in the lounge, with vaulted ceiling and a well stocked bar. The locale only seemed fitting given our intended tasting of their entire cocktail hour menu. This was a brighter space thanks to the full window-ed exterior; although with the onset of earlier nights, this was fleeting. Here, bouquets of fully bloomed lilies crowned tables, green leaves and vines added freshness with bamboo accents, and the ceiling is hung with lanterns and a traditional Japanese sun umbrella.

We were all lined up at the bar, to be able to watch the quick hands of their bar manager, Akira; craft “Tojo” exclusive cocktails, created by Jeff Savage of “Fairmont Pacific Rim” fame.

Akira started everyone off light with one of their highballs. The “Japanese” one features Suntory Toki with a Bittered Sling Lem-Marrakech Bitters, and Soda. It was easy to drink. It didn’t mask the refined flavour of the smokey whiskey with sugar or syrups, and there no burn to follow. This was the epitome of a simple and clean cocktail, one that even a non drinker can appreciate. Similarly, they had two additional country-themed highballs. The “Canadian” features Lot 40, and the “Scottish” one, Johnnie Walker Black.

Next we had the “Tokaido 53”, which was described as a riff on a martini. It was inspired by “journeys on the ancient road connecting Kyoto and Edo”. It was made featuring Bison Grass Vodka, Kazuki Gin, and an Herb and Citrus Oil. This is for those who like a stiffer cocktail. Strong in botanicals and fragrant florals, with a flavour that transitions as it goes from sip to swallow.

The “Salaryman” was as easy to drink as an iced tea, but with substantial citrus punches. The menu suggested this as a “stern cocktail”, that is best way to end your work day. A Japanese Whisky Blend, with notes of Matcha and Black Sesame. Although I wish I could actually taste more of the latter two, and/or see it as a dusting on top of the actual cocktail.

My favourite drink of the night was “Tojo’s Milk Punch”. Eastern flavours prepared with Western techniques, for something new and different. Bank’s 5 Island Rum, Shiso, Sencha, Mint, Lime, and Clarified Milk. This too I found easy to drink; and great of you don’t like the taste or burn of liquor. My dinner mates described this one as being “dangerous” because it tastes too much like punch with a creamy, milky, sweeter finish.

And lastly we had the “Kitsune Gimlet”, a cocktail that was tart and tangy. A punchy sour that wakes you up, and is made with Kazuki Gin, Yuzu, Honey.

Given that “Tojo’s restaurant” is better known for their luxury experience, you can also indulge in some premium sake. One of the bottles above is $2000 and the other runs for $6k. They are both exclusive go “Tojo’s” with the latter being the last of its kind.

As for food, we got a first hand look at their upcoming yakitori option. Only available during cocktail hour and made before your eyes, the station is a hot griddle with “Chef Drago behind it, at the ready. After a good oiling the heated surface is used to cook sticks of marinaded meat and tofu. And half the fun is watching the colour of either transition to a delicious gold brown, whilst hearing the snap and crackle of a hot oil and juices sizzle.

The chicken was incredibly tender and juicy, seasoned in a simple salt and pepper dusting.

The tofu could have used more dressing in my opinion, but considering what it is, it did offer a nice break between the meat sticks. Firm tofu with a garlicky sauce brushed over generously.

But my favourite yakitori was the beef, flavoured in an orange juice and brown sugar marinade. The milder citrus helped to enhance the natural flavour and juices of the beef.

Much like the tofu, I judged the next plate on my list before seeing it or trying it; and was pleasantly surprised as a result. The vegetarian “Miso mustard lotus root” are cube of taro sitting in a pool of tango miso. They are crunchy in texture and slightly spicy with a chilli mayo. Each block rich and satisfying.

Next, we got tofu a different way with the “Tofu Ankake”. This is describes as an agedashi tofu with eggplant, both sitting in a thick broth. It was a beautiful dish, the vegetable offered some textural interest to pair with the silken tofu. Here, I would have liked some additional broth, to be able to enjoy the whole more like soup instead.

For actual soup we had “Tojo’s chowder”, it looked like a classic chowder, but was much lighter and less chunky. And it still ate creamy, but with Japanese nuances. Mussels, salmon, carrots, and plenty of onions.

The “dashimaki + caviar” was a crowd pleaser: Japanese egg omelette topped with ikura & tobiko. Everyone appreciated the work that went into crafting the thin layers of egg omelette, that folded into one another, seamlessly. I especially liked the mix of textures it brought to my mouth. The fluffy egg, the pops of roe, and the mashed radish.

But my favourite dish for taste was “Tojo’s tuna”. This is one of his signature dishes made with wild albacore tuna in a wasabi and sesame sauce. The delicate fish didn’t need any additional seasonings, but the pool of sauce at the bottle of the bowl was there if you thought otherwise. I also liked the added crunch the crushed peanuts provided, offering up a completely new sensation.

The “Royal Chicken” was deep fried white meat chicken stuffed with asparagus. Beautifully done and presented, but a little dry for my tastes. I wanted more of a saucy gravy to dip it into, instead of the salty plum paste served on the side. Although the plum did pair well with the shisho leaves, embedded somewhere within the roll.

The chicken in the “Citrus and sea salted wings” on the other hand, was right up my alley. Crispy organic chicken, prepared “Tojo-style”, which means mess-free. In fact they take the time to push all the meat to the tip of the drumlet for a more aesthetically pleasing look. There was plenty of crunch to this simplified wing: juicy, salty, meaty, and just well done. And the side of tempura sweet potatoes were well chosen, they added balance and starch to the serving.

The “Bbq scallop” was a show stopper, served in shell with tomato, snap pea, carrots, and enoki mushrooms; all soaked in a bright dashi broth. Delicious.

The “Wagyu sukiyaki” was comforting. Thinly sliced piece meat, fried rapidly with vegetables and a light teriyaki-like sauce. All of which are piled high over chewy glass noodles. I would love a full serving of this for any meal.

And you can’t visit “Tojo’s” without having his “Tojo maki”. As “The Pioneer of the modern California Roll” this one speaks volumes; showcasing local Dungeness crab. It was lovely. A classic and I have no complaints.

We rounded out the night by bringing back the hot grill and “Chef Dragon” got back behind it. With dual flippers in hand, he made everyone their own individual size seafood okonomiyaki. “Okonomiyaki” is a savoy Japanese pancake. This one has shrimp, scallop, and plenty of shredded cabbage; held together with a wheat-flour-based batter. Worth noting is that this rendition had very little batter, allowing the crispiness of the shredded and stringy cabbage to take centre stage. If we weren’t full from all the above, we were now.

And as a amazingly cute gesture, “Tojo” presented each of us a hand picked bag of small Fuji apples, as we said our goodbyes for the night. This gesture is not the norm, but fully appreciated, nonetheless.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
In short, and to repeat myself. “Tojo’s” new cocktail hour menu is worth checking out. A taste and teaser of this famous restaurant at great prices, paired with amazingly crafted cocktails; what’s not to love? Don’t deny your cravings.

TOJO’S
1133 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC V6H 1G1
(604) 872-8050
tojos.com

Page 1 of 16

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén