IMG_0816This is one of my guest’s favourite sushi restaurants in Vancouver. So today we found ourselves here for lunch. Driving past the front, we couldn’t tell from our seats whether the restaurant was open or not. The open sign was not turned on, the blinds were pulled down, and a sign was taped to the door. There isn’t a lot of parking in the area, but luckily three are offered in the back, complimentary for guests. Though they didn’t look too inviting with two male staff members squatting playing on their phones, by them. One had his legs hungover the spot I desired. So as a less confrontational way to ask him to move, I asked if this was a spot available for the restaurant’s guest. He got the hint as I pointed ahead. A little off putting to see the men who would be preparing my meal loiter in an alley on their break. A very common sight and occurrence at the back of many Asian establishments. I suggest these employers to provide a break room or a better designated space to stop this event. As this is an unflattering reflection of the restaurant in the eyes of potential customers. I know I wasn’t impressed. And as great as this free spot was, parking in the back involved passing by the restaurant’s overflowing garbage bins. Nothing less desirable then smelling rancid food as you head in for dinner. The easy fix would be to move the bins from the left to the right. An easy way to make their guest’s trip to the entrance just a little nicer. After all it is still a part of the overall restaurant experience. Because for those driving, this is not a very inviting first impression.

IMG_0817We reached the front and was relieved to find it open. Arriving at 5pm we caught them just as they began their dinner service. We had the pick of the place and grabbed a table by the brick wall. You immediately notice how much colder than usual it is inside. A crisp climate to keep their sashimi fresh? Brick walls, cherry wood floors, and wooden separators. The wooden island bar centred the restaurant with tabled seating surrounding it. There were bar stools available on its three open sides. And five sushi chefs dressed in black robes with golden detailing in the middle. Their tediously completed dishes came to the counter for the servers to deliver.

Off the bat I wasn’t keen on eating here. The exterior was putrid, the decor uninspiring, the table dingy, and our server abrupt. But I felt reassured when our host insisted on the quality of the food. She was right page after page the appetizers, rolls, and bowls sounded interesting. Their specialty rolls were various combinations with various names unique to them. The “Salifornia roll” was made with deep fried salmon. A clever variation on the crab meat “California roll” with cucumber, avocado, and mayo. An uneventful name, but you get the point. Then there were rolls with names like the “Monkey’s Tear Roll” that explain nothing in its title. You would assume there would be monkey meat inside this roll, or at least a piece of banana. Instead it’s asparagus tempura, smoked salmon, cream cheese, crab meat, eel, masago, salmon, and mayo.

Having been here on several occasions our host ordered what she liked. We had some beautiful plates to share. I may not have liked the aesthetics of the place, but I could not argue with the presentation of their dishes.

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Warm sake and hot tea.

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“Caterpillar roll”, made with cucumber, avocado, mayo, crab meat, eel and BBQ sauce. The presentation was stunning. The avocado was sliced like segments of the body, the cucumber slivers were used for its feelers, and large fish roe were made into its eyes. It looked as it promised, a caterpillar-roll. It’s taste was only improved by its visual. The eel and BBQ sauce really set it apart and away from what would otherwise taste like a California roll.

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“Garlic Thai”. The name eludes to nothing. This is sliced red snapper in a hot garlic, olive oil, and ponzu sauce. This was like nothing I have had and a definite must try. Each bite was excelled when a chunk of fried garlic was added. The multilayered savoury sauce was so good that we couldn’t let it go, and used it as a dipping sauce for all the other dishes.

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“Sushi Pizza”. The deep fried rice dough acted as the crust for the marinara BBQ and mayo sauce; and the crab meat, avocado, tuna, salmon, and masago toppings. After a failed attempt to pick up a slice with chopsticks, we concluded this really was a pizza. You needed to use your hands. The rice was crispy, the sauces creamy, and the fish fresh. Make sure you are hungry when you order this one, it is equivalent to two large rolls in seafood and rice.

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“Sukiyaki Don.” Beef stir fry cooked with mushroom, onion, tofu, glass noodles and egg over rice. This was served along side a bowl of miso soup. The rice was crisp, the beef tender, and the bowl saucy. It had a great taste that unfortunately wore out quickly. Mid way through, there was a need to add soya sauce for additional flavouring. I would get this again in a pinch.

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“Yam roll”. The difference from this and others was the shredded radish; along side the avocado, yam tempura, and mayo. We decided to try the white rice substitute, after hearing the table in front rave over it. The addition of Macomo rice, instead of white rice went for a $1. The reddish-purple herbed rice was a healthier substitute. Normally this roll is made with the rice on the outside, but because the Macomo rice wouldn’t hold, it was instead rolled on the inside, with the yam tempura cleverly used as the outer shell. The result was a roll with all sorts of textures. Perfectly tempura-ed yams, crispy from the battered coating with moist yam pieces inside. The special rice was as soft and as chewy as normal sushi rice, with an exciting colour to give each roll an interesting look.

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There were five servers, each helping which ever table was in need. Our green teas were refilled without asking and during several points of our meal. However one server did get her back up after we had asked for water. Her tone sounded impatient, as if she felt free waters were not worth her effort. The place got busier closer to dinner. With long line ups the two sides to the restaurant were definitely needed. And it’s popularity was justified based on the quality of food.

Without a wireless machine, card payment was completed at the cash desk. And just as we walked out, and I announced I was wrong for judging the place solely on its appearance. We walked back to my car to discover two buckets, bottles of washing liquids, rags, and a brush behind my vehicle, preventing an easy reversal. After an attempt at looking around and informing someone, we gave up and pushed it all aside.

Would I come back? – Yes, for take out. The food is what makes this place successful; without it, it is just another old and warn, stand alone sushi shop. The service with just there and it neither made you feel welcomed nor noticeable.
Would I recommend it? – Yes, once again for the food. Make your first time a dine in to enjoy the beauty in their plating. Then proceed with take out orders after that.

 

SUSHIYAMA
371 East Broadway, Vancouver BC, V5T 1W5
604-872-0053
Sushiyama on Urbanspoon