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Takenaka, onigiri cafe

Takenaka, sister restauranteur to Suika and Raisu, and well-known popular sashimi and authentic Japanese cuisine food truck now has its own restaurant location. For those familiar, they are still situated at their Commissary kitchen property. And on top of the shared patio space, diners are now able to come into their very own cafe to be seated for a full meal, which focuses on their new onigiri menu.

Given that they are located in an industrial area, parking is easy and free. Their trademark naval blue flag adorned with their bamboo logo marks the place. The room is spacious and well-lit with natural lighting. Tables are to the right as you enter, at a first come first serve bases. And you order from the left counter, from a condensed list of offerings. After purchase, your meal is assembled on a tray for you to pick up at their counter.

Given that their onigiri offerings are new and this is what the cafe is specializing in, I had to try a handful of them to be able to review them in full here. There are over 20 filling options varying from $5-13 a piece. Not being familiar with most of the listed ingredients, especially the ones mentioned in Japanese, I enlisted the help of the staff.

I was told that the ones found on all onigiri menus in Japan are the Salmon mayo, Tuna mayo, and Gina Kombu. I would get the former most as a good way to judge, knowing what quality salmon should taste like. Sadly, it was more creamy mayo than fresh fish.

The clerk highly recommended his favourite, the Soy marinated egg yolk. I did like its gooey texture but was left wanting more feel for the mouth between sticky yolk and harder rice. For taste I found this bland and would not order it again or recommend it.

The onigiri that was unique to them was the Spam and Tamago and the Kakuni and Takana. I would get the latter, being familiar with the former and not wanting my onigiri to be like musubi. This is stewed pork belly and persevered pickled vegetable, a familiar pairing in Chinese cuisine that I was sure would be tasty in a triangle of rice and seaweed, but sadly there was not enough meat to make out the flavour. And the shredded chunks that were present were the same size as the grains of rice, so it was hard to identify meat versus rice. Plus, none of it was fatty and lush as I know pork belly to be. I was left wanting a sauce or some gravy for this one.

Given the promise of so much rice, I opted in for more tasty ingredients like the sauced-up barbecue unagi. This gave me the flavour and saltiness I wanted, but the ratio of eel to rice was off, even with the onigiri left open faced as such.

And I could not walk away without trying their uni onigiri. At more than double the price of the others, you are definitely paying for the premium ingredient here. Having had their uni once before in one of their premium sashimi bowls I splurged on, I knew what to expect here, and it delivered. The uni itself was creamy and lush, unmistakable with its one of a kind pungent, yet sweet flavour. I just wanted more than 1 piece of it with a single leaf of shisho between it and the overwhelming amount of rice. Once again, there was more rice than needed, and more than I know what to do with; therefore, sadly most of it went to the wayside.

As a whole, I found that there was far too much rice in each onigiri. This starchy density took away from the lean fish and subtle toppings. Although I am aware this is the authentic preparation method for what is outright called a Japanese rice ball. Onigiri is essentially a utensil-free, hands on and portable way to eat meat over rice, all wrapped up to go in a nice, neat triangle. Here, there is a tuft of the descriptive filling on the top of each for visual sake and to help identify, followed by a slightly larger portion at the centre. But unlike a sandwich, the filling here does not go tip to triangle tip and triangle tip. It was all isolated in the centre as a glob. And there was hardly enough for an even rice to filling ratio. So, when it especially came to the egg onigiri, the flavour fell short and there was only so much a packet of soy sauce could do, not that the meal came with any. Which leads me to believe the cafe intended each onigiri to be eaten like this, served as is without a dip or dressing.

Sadly, this did not hit as successfully as my first taste and first meal with Takenaka did. I splurged on the delivery, which included their deluxe seafood bowl with the add-on of uni and gourmet hand rolls in salmon and tuna. It was hand down some of the cleanest and freshest seafood I have had in such a casual format. I enjoyed every morsel more than I did at other highly acclaimed, globally recognized sushi and sashimi focused restaurants in Vancouver.

Thankfully, Takenaka’s cafe menu also includes a few of their more popular food truck menu items. Sadly, my later in the day visit had them selling out of their legendary sashimi bowls with miso soup, and most of the hearty meaty stew options like meat ball curry and rice, wagyu hamburg curry and rice, and the pork plate before I got there.

Therefore, by default, I had the Omakase Aburi sushi instead. A set of 8 Aburi sushi, each shaped as a square topped with salmon and/or tuna, made creamy from the mayonnaise-based topping, then torched for a nice smokey char. They differed by the type of fish roe used and the accompanying garnishes including micro greens and a mild veggie pickle. Definitely best eaten fresh when the rice is still warm and sticky, and the fish just kissed with the heat of an open flame. Which would best contrast the chill fish and fish eggs. Here, I still found that there was too much rice and only ate what a needed for a complete bite.

Worth noting is they also have a handsome list of soft desserts and tea and coffee-based drinks that I did not get a chance to explore.

If you are looking for a full meal for lunch and are visiting between 11am-2:30pm, I would recommend ordering one of their sets. This is advertised on the menu as a way to upgrade your onigiri. It starts off as the plain triangle of rice and from there you opt in on ingredients which add to the price; you are basically choosing a filling that varies by the cost associated with it. The more premium fillings possibilities include soboro and curry, grilled salmon and ikura, and pork kimchi. From there you have your choice of a savoury mains like curry, grilled fish, and event 3 kinds of sashimi (as is available), 2 smaller sides, the house salad, and miso soup. This ends up being a lovely set that is just as photogenic as everything else.

In closing I am a fan of the quality of seafood that Takenaka uses, I know firsthand that their cuisine is best enjoyed fresh, so know this new cafe format is ideal. However, I am less inclined to return for their onigiri and would advising sticking to their mains with more sashimi than rice instead. They will definitely see my name on a delivery/takeout order sooner than later, as I still have yet to find convenient sashimi elsewhere, that is as good as theirs, so am willing to pay for it.

Takenaka Cafe
1370 E Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V5L 2A8, Canada
+1 604-802-9982

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