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

My second foray into the world of Dine Out Vancouver was to Miku, the aburi sushi-focused restaurant in downtown Vancouver.

Upon entering the restaurant – especially at night – one is struck by the warm atmosphere and sense of space.  The lighting is lovely and tasteful, and though there are a ton of tables, you never get the claustrophobic sense that they’re crammed together.  Even the cooks, who work behind the long counter, have ample room for them to ply their craft in full view of an appreciative public.

It is the style of sushi that really sets Miku apart from other sushi places.  A place with expertise in aburi (or “roasted”) sushi is a pretty sweet find.  Grilling the delicious variety of fish on the nigiri adds a great, smoky depth of flavour.  The quality and preparation of the rice is also expertly done by Miku’s skilled chefs.

Aka Miso Pork

Miku’s Dine Out Vancouver menu was very generous.  The appetizers (Tofu and Tomato Caprese, Nori Tempura Battered Crispy Ebi, Aka Miso Pork and Aburi Soy Daikon) were well thought out, providing a medley of tastes, texture, and temperatures.  The Aka Miso Pork stood out for me.  I thought it was wonderful the way that the sweetness of the succulent pork paired with the earthy sweetness of the red miso and slightly bitter daikon found at the bottom of this mound of joy.  The micro greens were a great touch, too.

10 Nigiri Main Course

The main course, which consisted of a number of 10 nigiri, was also plentiful.  Though each nigiri was expertly constructed, I was left to feel that there were simply too much going on in the case of one or two of them.  What might have been an attempt at creating various “layers” of flavour arguably ended up conflating them on a few occasions.

The final course (green tea éclair, orange vanilla sauce and yuzu orange sorbet) was original.  The yuzu orange sorbet was a great way to clean the palate after the meal, but the green tea éclair was not a success.

All along the meal, the food was admirably complimented by the sweet muscat wine, the surprisingly licorice-like sake, and sour-sweet nigori umeshu of the dinner alcohol “flight”.  Though it’s a $25 extra, this little booze parade is worth it.

As far as the service goes, I have to say that I spent the entire meal feeling that there was something “off”.  Maybe our waitress was having a bad night (goodness knows I had enough of those when I was in the service industry), or maybe it was the strange way the staff added the honorific “san” at the end of each others names (presumably to give it a more authentic Japanese feel?).  That said, the staff was working hard, zipping around the dining area and making sure that our tea cups were always full.  Kudos to them for their attention to detail.

I’m glad I came to Miku, but as of right now if I’m not sure I’ll be back any time soon.  Then again, just thinking of aburi sushi is making my mouth water…

Miku Restaurant on Urbanspoon