Shuraku‘s dark, upscale look made me uneasy.  It seemed almost too slick, and the chi chi suffix “sake bar and bistro” set off my spidey senses.  Would a restaurant with a glowing, white wall really deliver quality comfort food dishes and a pleasant izakaya experience?  Actually, and rather surprisingly, yes.

I was here on a busy Friday night to fête the end of some friends’ trip to the West coast.  From the get go, we were greeted warmly and seated quickly at our reserved table.  Our friendly waitress was quick to give out menus and to offer us something to drink.  Other than the fact that the benches at our table were cracked (am I too demanding?), this was an auspicious start.  The sweet fruitiness of the nigori umeshu cocktail also helped things along.

Shuraku’s menu is intelligent – it contains enough of a variety of food to create a special dining experience, but is not unwieldy.  We were also given a shorter specials menu.

Cruchy Squid? Yes, please.

We started our epic meal with the crunchy squid served with a garlic (but not too garlicky) spicy mayonnaise which was deep fried to perfection.  The agedashi tofu was also well-prepared and left a clean aftertaste – something surprising from a deep fried dish – thanks to the beautifully balanced dashi stock.  The skillfully fried food line-up continued with a lovely chicken nanban dish that I could have eaten all night.  We were very pleased with ourselves for having chosen so wisely, until the we came across the first bobble of the night:  the “three ways of tuna”.

The albacore tuna used in the “three ways of tuna” was top quality.  The sesame sauce added some nice earthiness and the wasabi sauce created a nice palate cleansing sensation.  The third tuna offering, which was covered in Shuraku’s “lava sauce”, however, was…well…bizarre.  It certainly looked like glowing lava, but it had the rather astonishing combination of heat, blandness, and saffron.  Suffice it to say that its strange taste and volcanic hue were lost on us.  I was glad we had the tofu and avocado salad to end this first round.

Rainbow Roll: Very worthwhile.

Our second wave of food was nigiri and maki sushi.  The nigiri sushi of the “assorted sushi plate” didn’t look particularly generous but appearances can be deceiving.  The rice was wonderfully seasoned (a rarity, I find, in sushi outside of Japan) and the fish was delicate.  The maki sushi of the “rainbow roll” was also lovely and quickly disappeared from the table in a rapid-fire flurry of chopsticks.  I would recommend either dish, and would really recommend ordering both.

Finally, it was desert time.  The “marble chocolate cheesecake” was very good and (for us, at least) was paired with macha ice cream.  An excellent way to end the meal.

After my initial apprehension at Shuraku’s appearance, I was pleasantly surprised by this restaurant.  The quality of the food, and the care that obviously goes into each dish, make a meal at this restaurant a memorable experience.

I note that some reviews of this restaurant (e.g., at urbanspoon.com) are critical of Shuraku’s prices.  Though the food is slightly pricier than Guu or Kingyo, it is not significantly so (maybe 10%).  As such, don’t let such comments dissuade you from trying Shuraku.

In short, if you’re downtown Vancouver and are hankering for a classy Japanese restaurant, look no further than Shuraku.

ShuRaku Sake Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

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