Living in Vancouver your sushi choices are a dime a dozen. Though when it comes to choosing the best from the worst, I always trust my Japanese friend. There is something satisfying about eating with an “expert”, and being able to tap into their experiences and preferences and translating it through to my writing. So when he today’s destination this as our sushi stop, I was filled with great hope. An excitement that died all to soon with higher expectations set forth from our last outing together. He had heard good things and has seen great ratings on “Sushi Mania”; not to mention his father, a particularly fussy diner who know what “real” sushi should taste like, liked the place.
The restaurant is located on Main Street, a small shoppe that doesn’t take reservations. On this Thursday, later in the evening, a wait was required. It wasn’t much, but at least a bench by the door offered a sound resting point. Cramped conditions and close quarters offered an opportunity to eavesdrop and a chance to fog up the front windows.
The decor is fairly simple. A few choice pieces of artwork sprinkled unevenly across the room. The theme seemed to be grouping them in threes. Three painted geishas dressed in elaborate kimonos against black. Three budding blossom branches, literally glowing with tiny bulbs. Three salmon swimming along the wall, surrounded by a wired silhouette, and suspended from wooden poles. And Japanese expressions stamped on to planks of wood, display in a row as two bundles of threes. Though there was only one textured lamp made from the criss crossing of wires shaped like an orb.
The booth seats were heated. An added touch, perfect on a cold Vancouver night. Though a fun novelty that wore off quickly. With hot soup and chilli sauce on rolls things got too heated too fast. With sweat on his forehead, one guest needed to air out his bottom on several occasions.
Upon entry you are greeted with a barrage of sounds. The usually unison Japanese greeting was done here in multiple waves, a drawn out hum of noise. Though it might be poignant here to note that the restaurant is run by Koreans. Something we self discovered through hearing them communicate with one another, with the Korean pop music playing over head, and their specialty sushi rolls named after Korean pop groups: “Bigbang”, “H.O.T roll”, “miss A roll”. And as a causal observation from my Japanese guest, when there are neon signs outside, the restaurants tend not be authentically Japanese inside. He also pointed out the rarity of a female sushi chef behind the bar, like the one we had today. The superstition is that because of their body temperature, women can’t make sushi. It requires just the right elements, and apparently the temperature of their hands don’t coincide with the needed setting of the rice and fish. None of the above affected the quality of food.
The menu was a listing of common appetizers and well known rolls. So familiar that they needed no description. Though a few were given the option of being rolled from brown rice. A great option for those looking to be more health conscious in their day to day eating. I myself would never entertain such a choice. Growing up I was raised on brown rice, I remember its chewy texture and dry kernels. Cooked incorrectly brown rice could cause the disruption of texture when compared to soft, thinly sliced raw fish. Overall I was disappointed in the given menu selection. I am a diner who would go out of my way to find something different, often asking, “what is the most unique thing on your menu?”. The speciality rolls satisfied me just enough. Though with majority of their bases being California rolls and only having their toppings on rotation, I was left further disappointed. As most of the dishes ordered were pretty standard, tasting like they should, and tasting like what we expected; I will only be going into detail of those varying or unique to this restaurant.
“Chirashi Don”, assorted raw fish on rice. Given the variety plated and the decent fish to rice ratio, this was a good deal. Though serving it and eating it at room temperature did the dish a disservice. One of my guests questioned whether it was his fault. Did he wait too long to eat? A thought that had him finishing the bowl instead of requesting a new one. Being this warm the flavours weren’t as distinguished and they didn’t taste as fresh as one would expect. Shame, at least the presentation of it was on point.
“Beef udon”. Pieces of beef cooked together with thick noodles in a light broth. Having the carrots as slivers meant they were fully boiled, unlike the almost raw broccoli floret. A pretty standard offering served with a jar of spices should you require additional flavouring.
“Negitoro roll”, combination of raw fatty tuna and spring onion.
“Sockeye salmon nigri” and “Toro Nigri”, typically the belly of bluefin tuna, the most fattiest of parts.
As I mentioned earlier, most of their original rolls start off with a California Roll base, then vary with what ingredients and sauces are layered on top. “Mania roll”. Crab meat, avocado, and cucumber; topped with seared chopped scallop. The sauce really gave this roll it’s unique taste.
“Love Holic roll”, crab meat, avocado, and cucumber; topped with smoke salmon and capers. I was intrigued, never considering the union of capers and sushi before. It tasted like bagel and lox without the bagel or cream cheese. Though the later could have been added for an additional zing and some needed creaminess.
“Black dragon roll”, crab meat avocado, and cucumber; topped with seared unagi. I just like the taste of gently seared fish/seafood on my sushi. It gives things a great smokey flavour. A flavour that really stands out amongst the more gentle essence of cooked rice and raw fish.
“Crunchy Munchy roll”. Spicy tuna and cucumber, topped with yam tempura bits. This one was recommended by our server, the most popular of their specialty rolls. The deep fried yam strings were the best part. The amount piled high was clearly for dramatics, and it certainly got my eyes opening wide with delight. By taste you could tell they were seasoned before their dip in hot oil. They held up their crunchiness long after the rolls hidden underneath were gone. Not oily with plenty to share, it gave an exciting crunch to an otherwise soft roll.
Dinner special 1. Their dinner special was the best deal. It included 3 items and miso soup for $11.95. Though as exciting of a sale this was, the list of items you could choose from were all “regular” ones. No fancy rolls or unique dishes, just your run of the mill offerings found at every sushi establishment. Though two of my guests did end up choosing this option.
“Miso soup”, one per combo.
With the “Salmon sushi” she was given the option to upgrade from wild salmon as apposed to pond salmon. She agreed to the 25 cent per piece fee.
Dinner special 2.
“Yam tempura roll”. The battered tempura was still crispy inside the rolled up rice surrounding it. It’s maintained warm texture led us to believe the piece was fried to order. Something surprising, where most tempura rolls are soggy from using a pre made batch of tempura.
“Spicy tuna”, the spiciness came from the use of chilli sauce on top, and not actually from any additional seasoning of the tuna. So essentially this was just a tuna roll with chilli sauce.
“Chicken teriyaki”, the smaller portion was disappointing, but it made sense given the price. The presentation reminded us of that which would be served at a cafeteria. A simple portion for a young child.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I found the shop all in all pretty generic. Nothing memorable and not worth a trip out of your way to. The food was good enough to satisfy the need for a quick sushi run, from someone living near by. Although given the number of all the sushi places in Vancouver there are bound to be a fist full that are just so-so. They fill a gap and are the answer to a need in the community. I deem “Sushi Mania” as such a one. After all, like Starbucks, we apparently need a sushi restaurant within every other city block. Don’t deny your cravings.