It has been a while since my last visit to Black Rice. I like recommending this modernized Japanese Izakaya for their creative and delicious small plates and handsome collection of beer, sake, and spirits. If they were located closer to my neighbourhood, they would see me as a regular.
Today were gathered to try their newest menu items for Winter 2021, officially launching on October 23rd. And we were here a few days before, to try it all.
Black Rice typically updates their menu twice a year. Once in summer, the second in winter (now). Each new menu runs its course for three months. The kitchen’s favourites and the ones with the best customer reception graduates to the permanent menu list. This year’s winter line up features 8 items, each only available in limited quantities daily. So if it sells out, it sells out, and you miss out.
But first some drinks to set the mood. As an izakaya, they have some pretty fun cocktails always at the ready, including Bellinis. The Sake sawa Bellini gets swirled to order and topped with fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice (your choice). A fun and refreshing offering in any weather. Although cold, the cocktail warms within.
The Green tea plum soda is unique. Low on the alcohol level, it is great for those who don’t like their spirits strong or too sweet. This one was tart, with minimal green tea influence. Ideal to help balance out all the richness from the more salty dishes to come.
We also enjoyed a peach sake soda, which is exactly as it sounds. Think club soda with a hint of sweet white peach.
As for the food, the dish that immediately caught everyone’s eye was the “BTS box”. No affiliation with the Korean boy group, this is acronym for “Blackrice Top Secret box”. Each individual element rotates day by day, so it will a surprise upon every and any visit. Each version promises small delectable bites and a presentation to illicit awe. Today’s assembly included an octopus salad with seaweed (similar to sunomono), kobucha squash wrapped with smoked salmon in a cream sauce, futomaki (which translates to a “fat roll), assorted sashimi, an albacore tuna spring roll with dip, blue crab meat karaage, and braised cod with vegetable. The best part about this set is being able to nibble and try so many different items in one sitting.
The next two dishes are commonplace at any traditional Japanese izakaya (which is basically a Japanese bar that features small snacks to accompany drinks). Purposefully salty, they are ideally paired with mouthfuls of beer.
Ankimo is monkfish liver, prepared similarly and compared to foie gras. Although this description does not do it justice, as it sets you up for a texture that you just don’t get from this. Instead of luscious and creamy like duck liver foie gras, the seafood rendition is crumbly, dry, and very fishy.
Similar in its dry and grainy texture is the grilled Mentaiko Mayo. Pollock roe heavily salted and served in-cased like a sausage. I preferred this over the former, as it was less fishy and the sliced cucumber and red onion side was helpful in injecting freshness to the dish.
The next set of dishes could be eaten as full meals, but are purposefully served paired down. Best shared, spooning out portions one bite at a time.
The Curry Udon was my favourite. Plenty of their clean and simply sweet curry sauce coats slippery chewy noodles. The potato croquette added a little contrast in between slurps.
The Unagi Doria is the chef/owner’s favourite new dish and I can see why. This is the one I would recommend to anyone trying Black Rice for the first time. It perfectly incapsulates their style of Japanese fusion. Traditional ingredients given a modern North American twist. This was a cross between a paella and traditional Japanese grilled eel over rice. Except the rice was crispy from the hot stone bowl and dressed with plenty of red onion and coloured peppers. The stringy cheese over top sealed the deal.
Similarly, the Rose spicy chicken combined Asian chillies and level of spice with Italian pasta. It offered a familiar red and white sauce blend over penne, but gave you pieces of tender chicken that could stand on its own.
The Ika Gambas gave you Spanish and Japanese. A bevy of seafood drenched in olive oil and herbs. It smelled amazing. The first few bites were terrific, but the bits left at the bottom became over saturated with grease. Similarly the bread became a sponge for all that oil, and lost its crispiness quick.
The Army steak bites with cheese was a simple and literal translation. Chunks of potato, beef, sausage, and spam topped with a mix of mozzarella and gouda cheese. I advise eating this one first and quick. The cheese does cook down fast, leaving you with a topping that more closely resembles the texture of mashed potatoes. If I had to pick, this would be my least favourite dish, given its simplicity.
And you can’t visit Black Rice without having some (or all) of their fusion aburi. They have paired seafood and herbs/vegetable together over a block of rice, torched to order.
The Aburi Snow Crab Hako is Pacific wild snow crab meat, avocado, and cucumber. The vision behind this was basically to take a California roll an transform it into aburi, featuring premium crab meat. The goal to really highlight the taste and quality of the crab used, which they achieved. Although I did not get any of the avocado or cucumber, which would have helped for balance and contrasting interest.
The Aburi Spicy Tuna Sando Hako earned its moniker from the sandwiching of their spicy tuna between two slabs of rice and roasted seaweed. All of which is then battered and tempura fried. A clever idea, but I couldn’t make out anything past the greasy deep fry.
The Aburi Salmon Hako is available in a spicy or regular version. This continues to be everyone’s favourite, as a classic. The salmon is Sockeye partnered with Japanese mayo and finished off the a thin slice of jalapeño.
The Aburi Saba Hako features their house, miso marinated grilled mackerel. You don’t get the pungent fishiness of typical mackerel. It is a clean and light offering, furthered by the use of green onion as garnish. Out of personal preference, I could have liked more of the miso dressing overtop, or a side dish to dip in to.
The Aburi Negitoro Hako is albacore tuna topped with alfalfa sprouts. Out of all the above I found this one the most bland, and the only one really in need of soy.
And my favourite of all their aburi is the Aburi Ebi Hako. This is cooked black tiger prawn and mentaiko mayo, topped with a black olive slice. The brininess of the olive really contrasts the prawn, allowing both flavours to become bolder. So different, so unique, so exclusively Black Rice.
In conclusion, I will continue to recommend Black Rice for a good time. Great food, amazing drinks, staff that just get it; and the ability to continue to update and keep their customers coming back. I know I always look forward to seeing what is new and exciting from their Japanese fusion kitchen.
Black Rice Izakaya
782 Cambie St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2R5