restaurant review


Every time I come to Seattle, I come to Japonessa, a sleek and cheerful downtown sushi restaurant with a twist.  I am never disappointed, as Japonessa does a lot of things right.

Eel Cucumber Sushi and Salad

Eel Cucumber Sushi and Salad

No matter how busy the restaurant gets – and it gets plenty busy so be sure to make a reservation – I’ve always been greeted promptly and in a friendly way, and seated quickly.  I’ve never waited long to be asked if I’d like to get things started off with a drink, and a follow-up food order follows soon thereafter.  Which leads us to the food…

The food is an interesting mix of traditional Japanese sushi, sashimi, and some izakaya dishes (karaage, for example), as well as some dishes with a Mexican twist (thus, presumably, the restaurant’s full name: “Japonessa Sushi Cocina”).  Unlike some restaurants’ Franken-hybrids, the savvy cooks at Japonessa have found a nice balance between the kick and boldness of Mexican and other Central/South American cuisine, and more traditional Japanese cuisine.

One successful Japa-Mex marriage was the ginger chicken with a crown of tortilla chips.  There was the power of the ginger, the softness of the chicken, the smoothness of the sauce, and the crunchiness of the chips.  The eel cucumber sushi was also lovely, offering a bold and initial jolt of flavour which melted away into a clean after-taste.

The cocktails were also lovely, and there is something for every palate and dish selection.

This is a solid restaurant with consistently good service, dishes, cocktails, and products.  It’s also incredible value when you take advantage of their happy hour deals (which I shamelessly do without reservation).  I know I’ll be back.
Japonessa Sushi Cocina on Urbanspoon

I love being pleasantly surprised by a restaurant, and Italian Kitchen recently did that.  We were feeling a bit puckish on a sunny Saturday afternoon, thought we’d live dangerously and eat on Alberni Street in Vancouver.

Italian Kitchen has all the hallmarks of a pretentious, chi-chi restaurant and so I was a little skeptical about what I would expect.  All of my concerns, however, dissolved within about 5 minutes of settling in.

We were greeted warmly, seated immediately, and served some sparkling water as we reviewed the enormous (it was the unwieldy size of a small coffee table) menu.  We ordered a number of dishes which were brought to us very quickly.

Lobster-tastic Monte Cristo

I decided to splurge and have the lobster and crab monte cristo.  It was absolutely delicious.  The outside was crispy and the seafood inside was fabulous.  The sandwich was served with a delicious soup of the day, which was finished with truffle oil, and really balanced out the robust taste of the sandwich.

We also ordered spaghetti with meatballs.  Again, Italian Kitchen’s cooks knocked this meal out of the park.  The pasta was amazing, the sauce was delicious, and the meatballs were succulent and well-seasoned.  My sense is that they make their own pasta (my wife saw a room full of noodles being made when she went to wash her hands) which was certainly appreciated.

Delicious Spaghetti and Meatballs

The service was also quite good (despite one waitress being unusually intense) with our main waiter being attentive without being fussy.  It was also very “democratic”, in that we were given the same professional service as movie star Terrance Howard who was sitting a table away.

Though Italian Kitchen is a bit overpriced, it’s well worth going to.

 Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Stanley Park in Vancouver is an astonishing place, giving visitor the feeling that they are far away from the city despite being on the downtown peninsula.  On the Western tip of this lovely space is a similarly lovely restaurant – Teahouse.

Teahouse is located in an old army officers’ club.  The restaurant is divided up into three or four main rooms (and a patio during good weather), each with their own charm.  The one thing that unites all sections is the pleasant atmosphere and professional service.  The waiters and waitresses are impeccably groomed, well dressed, and as knowledgeable about the menu as they are polite.

Salmon Burger. Yum...

The menu offered a number of delicious selections.   I ordered the salmon burger, which was very well cooked and garnished with the usual suspects and a mayonnaise that gave the sandwich some bite.  It was also served with some perfunctory fries.  Though the dish isn’t much to look at (see the photo), the care and skill that went into the meal was not lost on me.

My wife ordered a smoked salmon eggs Benedict.  The eggs were expertly cooked and the Hollandaise sauce was delicious.  Again, this was a well-executed, straightforward dish that delivered exactly what was advertised.

The Flat Bread "Pizza"

On offer was also a kind of pizza (I can’t recall the exact name) which featured fresh greens, smoked salmon, fresh grated cheese and red onions.  The ingredients were served on a crispy flat bread, and would do very well as a light snack during a break from a Stanley Park walk.

Overall, this was an extremely pleasant, unpretentious experience in a warm and comfortable environment.  Teahouse offers excellent quality on all fronts, and I look forward to my next trip to the park if only as an excuse to return to this enjoyable venue.

The Teahouse on Urbanspoon

You could be forgiven for walking right past Sushi Zero One and missing it completely.  Its storefront is nondescript.  Its interior isn’t particularly attractive.  But then there’s the food, which is a different matter all together.

I visited Sushi Zero One a few weeks ago after hearing it had a good reputation for solid sushi.  Unlike many reviews I have read, I wasn’t particularly put off by the unimpressive interior.  The restaurant is unpretentious and, in my opinion, should be seen more as a take out place rather than a sit down restaurant.  I used to work at a similar place in Montreal – Sushi Volant back when it was run by the beloved “Tobi-san”.  Despite its interior, Sushi Volant had a well deserved reputation for serving up some of the best (if not the best) sushi in Montreal.  So it was with a nostalgic, wistful understanding that I approached Zushi Zero One.

Delicious sushi (please ignore the dixie plate...)

We ordered a sushi combo and chirashi sushi.  The sushi combo was unceremoniously served on a paper plate (pictured on the right) which frankly detracted from the entire experience, but the quality of the ingredients more than made up for it.  The fish was very fresh and tasty.  The rice was also wonderfully seasoned and texturally pleasant.  The selection was also something to behold for a combination of food that clocks in just over $10.  Ordinarily, I find it difficult to eat nothing but sushi for dinner (I crave greater variety) but this was different.

Ikura jewels in chirashi sushi

The chirashi don was similarly successful.  The rice was just as lovely as in the sushi, but this dish featured delicious salmon roe (ikura) that exploded in your mouth.  The generous slices of fish and other seafood that adorned the chirashi sushi smelled of the sea and was buttery.  I also appreciated the daikon leaves/sprouts that added a hint of pepper to the dish.  Though it is by no means high cuisine, this dish satisfies and is relatively good value at about $10 before taxes.

Though this is not a place you would go to eat at for a first date, it is potentially one you’d get takeout from for a third date (if you know what I mean…).  It’s also the best sushi I’ve had in downtown Vancouver to date.

Zero One Sushi on Urbanspoon

If you’ve ever watched the HBO series “The Wire“, you’ll appreciate the beauty of the name “Re-Up” for a food cart that claims to sell addictive food. And if you have a hankering for delicious pulled pork, you’ll appreciate the beauty of the Re-Up BBQ Food Cart.

I gave the Georgia West and Hornby branch of this rolling pulled pork palace a try a few days ago for lunch.  I showed up nice and early (around 11:30am) and had no trouble getting served in two shakes of a pig’s tail by Re-Up’s uber-friendly cart guru.

What struck me immediately about Re-Up is its simplicity, from its toaster-like exterior to its humble menu.  Without all the frills, it seems that the cart’s focus is on what counts:  Food.  As such, I ordered the pulled pork sandwich that made Re-Up famous.

At $7, this meal is a good deal.  Though you might argue that you could get a soup, sandwich and a double-double at another lunch place, I can assure you that the girth and volume of Re-Up’s signature dish makes it a meal in itself.

Though I’ve read reviews that exalt the moistness of the pork, I found it to be just a smidge on the dry side.  Perhaps Re-Up was having an off day, or perhaps the pork  used happened not to be the usual kind.  As anyone who has ever made ribs can attest, it’s a delicate balance between extracting the essence of pork’s flavour by cooking it low and slow enough, and overcooking it.  Meh…I’m probably being too picky.

In any event, any dryness in the pork was counter balanced by that crackerjack Re-Up sauce which was a study on complimentary contrasts.  It was smokey yet light, sweet yet sour.  What accentuated it even more was the use of wonderfully seasoned ‘slaw to take this sloppy sandwich some crunch.

Holding it all together was a simple, white bun.  Though at first I thought the bun was the weakest part of my lunch, I began to think that its slight dryness was meant to sop up the medley of BBQ sauce, ‘slaw seasoning, and residual pork juices.  Damn.  Just thinking about that makes me hungry…

Overall, this is a solid food cart, with good service, good food, and has good value.  I will definitely go back and recommend you give Re-Upa go.

Re-Up BBQ Foodcart on Urbanspoon

I fell in love with three pieces of yellowtail fish the other day.  The meat was fresh, the texture divine, and they smelled like the sea.

This, in a nutshell, was my experience at Guu Otokomae, the Gastown branch of the Guu chain of izakayas.

“Otokomae”, loosely translated, means handsome, stylish, or cool.  When one first comes into the restaurant, one quickly gets the impression that this was the look the designers were aiming at.  The restaurant is on two levels, has a lovely, large exposed brick wall , a relatively large selection of properly spaced seating (so you don’t feel like your sitting on top of the neighbouring table) and a big ol’ bar.  This was a promising start.

Guu Beer and Beef Tataki

After being taken to our seats by our affable waiter, menus were quickly dealt out.  We  decided on drinks (a few bottles of the Guu Beer) and an appetizer:  Guu Tataki (beef sashimi/carpaccio with grated daikon in ponzu sauce).

The Guu beer was refreshing and a pleasant accompaniment to the delicious, thinly sliced beef.  With our palates cleansed and our appetites whetted, we were ready to get down to the business of some serious eating.

We then ordered the spicy ika calimari.  The calamari was beautifully tender, not too spicy, and very pleasant to eat.  It did not last long.

Our next dish involved more heat – spicy agedashi tofu.  This deep-fried tofu gem was served on a bed of lettuce and topped with seaweed, daikon and a nice vinaigrette.  The tofu slices were also very generous and the dish is excellent value.

Sashimi Special

Sashimi Special

Then came the fish I fell in love with.  It was a sashimi special which included that amazing yellowtail sashimi, as well as sweet shrimp and raw scallops.  The quality of these ingredients was astonishing.  The shrimp was tender but had a nice bite when chewed.  The scallops were also amazing, and the hint of of the shiso leave on which the scallops were placed added a cleaver dimension of bitterness.

Unable to stop eating, we then ordered another special:  the crab croquette.  The exterior was golden and crunch and the interior creamy and warm.

Banana Tempura and Coconut Ice Cream

Finally, when we decided enough was enough, we ordered the banana tempura with coconut ice cream.  Bananas and coconut are a happy combination, and this desert dish displayed that affinity.  It was a great, sweet way to end a great meal.

I freely admit that I have a soft spot for izakayas, but this experience was truly excellent by anyone’s standards.  I would highly recommend coming down to Guu Otokomae to enjoy everything it has to offer:  Good service, good value, and amazingly fresh ingredients for their fabulous dishes.

Guu With Otokomae on Urbanspoon

I always thought that there was one immutable law:  Museum cafes are expensive.  The food might be good at some of them, and others might look slick, but they were always pricey.  Well, I’m glad to say that I am wrong about the UBC Museum of Anthropology (MoA) Cafe.  It’s very good value and pretty good eatin’.

I went to the MoA today in order to rest my body and exercise my mind after a long, 40km-day hike from Lynn Headwaters Regional Park, up Grouse Mountain, along to Goat Mountain, and then back again.  Anima sana in corpore sano, and all that.  We showed up at around 1pm, and as we waited for the 2pm tour to start, we realized we were a little peckish.  When it was suggested that we go to the MoA cafe, I could already visualize my bank balance dwindling.

The friendly panini and soup, accompanied by a coffee.

The cafe itself, if I’m being completely frank, isn’t much to look at, especially since its housed in a quite lovely Arthur Charles Erickson-building.  The tables were slightly wobbly and though there was a view of the back of the museum, the indoor dining area felt slightly closed-in.  Then, there were the 10, massive grey buckets inexplicably lined up along one of the walls.  Hmmm…  This was certainly not the Tate Modern cafe.  But then again, I did not have to bequeath my first born child for an espresso and a biscotti.

In fact, I was amazed that the daily special – a salmon chowder and a panini – cost only a little over $8…and that both menu items were quite good.

The panini was generously large and filled with prosciutto, cheese, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes.  The plentiful soup was decent as well, and though it was under seasoned, was big on vegetable goodness (including carrots, corn, onions, and chunks of salmon).

I also note that all of these goodies were served quickly by the prompt and kind cafe staff, and the coffee we ordered to enjoy with our lunch was also tasty.

Though the MoA cafe is rough around the edges, I would certainly recommend you give it a shot if you’re in the the museum and in the market for a quick bite to eat.  There are, it would seem, exceptions to the “law” that museum cafes are pricey* and I for one am glad for it.

*I note that, another exception to my fictional “law” (which I shamelessly created to serve as a not terrible first line) is London, England’s National Gallery Cafe.  It has a lovely restaurant and a very reasonably priced Afternoon Tea that will make you wish clotted cream came out of your kitchen tap.

UBC Museum of Anthropology Cafe on Urbanspoon

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