For many, when you think the best sushi and sashimi in Vancouver you think Miku, the high end Japanese fine dining option located downtown, waterfront Vancouver. So you would be surprised to learn that this strip mall sushi joint is serving up similar items at a fraction of the cost.
This is Mauna Sushi owned and operated by a chef who has worked the kitchens of both Miku and their sister restaurant Minami, and has since branched out on his own. He has taken inspiration from a few of their sushi dishes, and has imagined many more that are his alone.
Here, you can find familiar rolls and even Miku’s famous aburi. I cannot be certain of the quality of the fish and if they use the same distributors, but I can say definitively that I found no difference, and preferred them given the price asked.
The only thing they fall short on is the decor. The restaurant is set up like any other generic sushi shoppe. Dimly lit in an orange hue with photos of their recommended menu items clothes lined against a taupe wall. A few Japanese markers like cloth curtains and flags hang in decoration, but nothing speaks to the before mentioned pedigree.
They also don’t offer alcohol, which is a miss given the audience they have the potential of luring in. With a sexier interior design and a handsome bar list they are sure to invite diners deeming the drive to worth it: for a longer stay and larger purchase. However this might not be feasible for this breakout restaurant, as the sushi making is done exclusively by one man. This allows our Chef to ensure the quality is of his high standards and each and every piece that comes to pass speaks to his skill and ability, a point that comes across if you engage him in conversation.
But today, walking in and judging this book by its cover you wouldn’t expect much. And not knowing of the Chef and his credentials you wouldn’t think much. And this is such a shame given how good the food is and how earnest the owner is.
We started off with some miso soup, we expected it with our sushi meal to come, but our one man sushi rolling team was backed up. The Miso soup was a thin broth, salty and fishy with chunks of tofu, seaweed and green onion.
After a longer than usual wait, the server offered us the option of a couple of hot appetizers to buy time. Whereas sushi prep was taking longer, the hot kitchen in the back was able to churn out the following quickly.
Their version of Takoyaki included two chunks of octopus in the single soft ball of mushy smooth dough. Classic, nothing out of the ordinary to report.
Their Chicken karaage was definitely made to order as it was hot through and through. The chicken also tasted fresh. All I was missing was a sauce to dip it into.
When our sushi was ready it was served by our Chef and came with a lesson on quality and his attention to detail. He was proud to announced that all the rice and its necessary water is scaled for a precise measurement. When doing so he considers humidity and adjusts as needed to each crop. We found all the rice perfect, served at the perfect temperature, and the perfect texture as a testament to this.
We started with the salmon and tuna belly nigiri given their advertised daily limited availability. A typical order comes with two each pieces either raw as is, or torched gently for nice aburi feel. We asked and were able to have one of each. Whereas the toro was light, the salmon was lush. For both you can taste the quality in the fish used. And when it came to the aburi version you got a more solid texture and a more user-friendly mouthful, coupled with a nice smokey char. Each aburi piece was also dressed with a miso glaze for a creamy and rich mouth-feel that didn’t need soy.
Next, we tried some of their speciality rolls. The Hawaiian roll had two pieces of prawn, avocado, and cucumber at its centre and was topped with unagi, avocado, tobiko and unagi sauce. It was tasty and would have been great with a drink. When it comes to rolls like this, it is all about the sauces and this one landed.
Similar in its smorgasbord of ingredients was the Spider roll with soft shell crab, avocado, and deep fried green beans. Cut into 10 large slices, this was a mouthful. I liked this one for its unique addition of soft shell crab that you can eat shell and all and the crunch it adds.
These are all pretty standard fare at most fusion sushi places, but what makes Mauna special is their aburi. So we were sure to order the ones not available at Miku, but unique on to them.
Like the Hoki poke box made with the luxury of real crab meat, tuna belly, and avocado. Pressed oshi style then torched aburi with charcoal like they do at Miku. This one ate very clean and lean, if I didn’t know any better I would think it was made with plant-based alternatives.
The Aburi Hotate oshi is one of their most popular menu items, it is a whole scallop sliced thin and laid over rice, sandwiching a spicy prawn centre. It feels fatty in the mouth due to the creamy sauce. This was my favourite of the night and a lip smacker.
And taken right off of the Miku menu, they have their Mauna’s aburi tart. The same style of sushi layered with rice like a cake, served with knife and spoon. It eats like a creamy poke bowl without the fresh or raw vegetables and with plenty of avocado that moistens. Like all the dishes before this too are clean on the palate.
People throw around the term hidden gem loosely, but Mauna actually fits that description. Refined, quality sushi and sashimi at a fraction of the price that any restaurant in Vancouver would ask for. Easily assessable with ample parking in Surrey. It is just a shame that their lighting and bland coloured walls does nothing to highlight the beauty in their cuisine. A must try for anyone who loves Miku, appreciates a great deal, and is willing to drive for it. I will definitely be back anytime I am passing through the area.
14839 108 Ave, Surrey, BC V3R 1W2