I finally got around to visiting friends Steph of @stephwants and Kevin of @whatscookingkev’s love child, and currently only restaurant property; formally of Land & Sea, now rebranded to Okini, this year.
Sadly, it only took it being the early birthday celebration of Ainsleigh of @maidofthemalt and the indirect farewell for Kelly @kellyjordanhamilton for me to come through. And boy, was I disappointed that I did not visit sooner.
I should have known I would like the cuisine, already being familiar with Kevin’s cooking. The first time I had it was when I visited his own home for a private dinner, all prepared by him. I was impressed then, and I could see his growth now. This was especially when it came to their signature dish below, having the original version then and getting to relive it in its glory tonight. Here, he was happy to declare that he has perfected it, and I can confirm this to be true too.
The exterior of the restaurant is sadly nothing to pause at. I drove past, not being able to catch the name on drive-by. Cottage-core with the faux wild flower garlands. Outside of the bamboo roof awning you wouldn’t necessarily think this was an Asian fusion restaurant, with a larger emphasis on Japanese cuisine. Walking closer to the door you can make out the restaurant’s name above the menu board.
Inside, the decor and simple ambiance was consistent. A casual and fine dining blend with an extensive wine program on display, and an open kitchen so that you could see the chef at his craft.
I arrived later, delayed from a previous event, so joined the group half way through the restaurant recommended wine pairing for the meal before us.
We also took a celebratory shot to recognize the birthday girl. These were called “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” and promised to be the flavours of a PB&J sandwich in liquid form, and it delivered.
The others had already started to graze, so I would jump in to share the next course starting with an Endive Caesar. Grilled Belgian endive with baby shrimp, miso caesar dressing, parmigiano reggiano and black tobiko. This was a Caesar-approximate and I liked it as probably the best Caesar salad I have eaten to date. It was more sauce then lettuce. Spicy, salty, saucy, and more cheesy dressing than greens. Plus they did not shy away from the flavour of garlic. When I return I will be ordering this one again. This is also a salad I would recommend, as it is as far from what I know a traditional salad to be.
The table already had this one earlier, but considering this was my first time to the restaurant, I had to try their signature dish. And this was the one I was referring to earlier in my prelude on Chef Kevin’s cooking.
The Salmon Soba is a flame finished ora king salmon on chilled green tea soba with creamy sesame ponzu dressing, yuzu tobiko, and ikura. Meant to be eaten slightly chilled as the temperature best brings out the subtle flavour of the green tea, and chewy texture of the in house-made noodles. This a contrast to the gentle pop of the fish roe adding its unique beaded texture into the mix. Both stand outs, but at the same time wonderful companions to the perfectly, just cooked fish, caramelized with a sweet and salty skin. I can see why this is their signature.
Our generous restauranteurs brought the table a Pork Tomahawk to share. This was grilled bone-in Fraser Valley pork with karashi-grainy mustard, peppercorn, togarashi, and pepperonata. The meat was so tender and fatty, seasoned in a familiar Chinese flavour, but modernized with the grainy mustard and pickles. All I was missing was some rice to compliment it.
The Vongole XO was a fragrant and spicy bowl of pasta. Sake steamed Fanny Bay clams with garlic butter and spicy baby clam “xo” sauce over chitarra spaghetti, and topped with micro cilantro. The table was especially impressed by the size of the clams. With the dish, you get the heat as soon as it hits your mouth, a lingering tingle that continues to burn. You also get the weight of an Italian pasta, but with the levity of an Asian inspired dish that includes sweet soy and chilli.
And for dessert, it was all of them, assembled on a board for fun and interactive sharing. All of their available dessert options assembled together along with scoops of gelato from Passione Gelato. This month’s rotating flavours were Green tea, Kinako, and Black sesame. All these familiar Asian flavours flowed well with the fusion dessert-takes below.
Strawberry Lemon Panna Cotta topped with white chocolate namelaka, strawberry shiso compote, and salted lemon crumble. It had the trade mark cloud-like texture of a panna cotta, done with a unique sweet and fruity twist.
Similarly, the Sticky Toffee Pudding was dressed in a Hibiki Whisky caramel, banana custard, and caramel corn. This was well balanced with the sharpness of the whisky tempering some of the caramelized sugars. And the banana gave it a fun nostalgic freshness.
The Black Sesame Chocolate Brownie was the richest of the lot, although it ate just as clean and distinct as the other two. Prepared with shiratama mochi and kinako gelato. The black sesame added another level to it, and the mochi was a beautiful texture to experience with the gooeyness of a melty and chewy brownie.
In closing, if you love Asian cuisine for its bold and punchy flavours, with plenty of garlic in tow, Okini is a restaurant to not be missed. Not to mention they are constantly promoting seasonal dishes, fun limited release plates, and have an extensive bar program I barely touched. I will not say no to a return visit.
Okini Restaurant & Bar (formerly Land & Sea)
1864 W 57th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6P 1T7