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

“Intimate” and “warm” are two words that spring to mind when I think of my most recent visit to Nook Restaurant on Denman Street in Vancouver.

The food in this Italian eatery is extremely satisfying.  We shared a number of dishes and all were unpretentious comfort dishes.

2014-03-07 19.01.07The appetizers/antipasto were beautiful.  Our burrata and pancetta plate disappeared in the blink of an eye, and I found that the healthy dose of pepper on the burrata cheese was a deft touch.  The true surprise of the night, however, was a chicken liver spread.  The creamy texture of the spread, crunchiness and seasoning of the toasted baguette on which it was served, and the knock-down punch of the big flavour was incredible.

The pizzas (a margherita and an Italian sausage) were fresh from the pizza oven, which ensured chewy loveliness at places and crunchiness in others.  The only downside was that they were slightly over-salted (IMHO) but I didn’t mind because it was an excuse to order a second glass of red wine.

Desert came.  The chocolate and salted caramel budino was a good idea, but (despite being a chocoholic) I much preferred the panna cotta, which was a refreshing way to end the meal.

I would certainly recommend Nook and will definitely return – but I’ll show up at the crack of 5pm to ensure that we’re seated quickly.

Nook on Urbanspoon

This past weekend, my wife and I went up to Whistler for a ski fix and to give its food scene a look/taste.  After a some research, we settled on Alta Bistro, a nice little place in the Lower Village.

After a long day of skiing, we were famished and actually showed up 30 minutes early to the restaurant in the hopes that they could accommodate us.  “No problem” was the answer, and we were ushered to our seats by the affable waiter.  Once seated, we were greeted by our main waitress, who walked us through the menu.

Why, hello there...

Alta has two set courses:  one at $29 and one at $39.  They are available online, and though they don’t look like much, they are excellent value in every sense.  While we decided on what to eat, we ordered some cocktails.  My wife had the delicious Hemmingway Dacquiri, while I had the Boulevardier.  I have to say that the Boulevardier was a rather stiff drink.  That stuff will put so much hair on your chest you’ll feel like Robin Williams.  But I digress…

We opted for the $39 menu.  We both started with the lovely Miyagi oysters which were creamy smooth and ocean fresh.  A great way to start the meal.

Next up was the house-made duck liver parfait, smoked duck rillettes, rye and molasses breadcrumbs, and lemon balm.  The dish was served on a rustic-looking cutting board, and you are invited to mix and match the ingredients to your liking.  I found the duck liver parfait to be wonderfully veloury.  Liver can taste a little tinny/bitter if prepared poorly, but this stuff was so well prepared I wished I had a tube full of it so I could carry it around 24/7.

Angus Beef Love

The final course for me was the Angus Beef Bavette, which involved numerous, thick cuts of beef accompanied with, amongst other things, swiss chard, beets, chard and sunchokes.  The meat was rare/medium-rare, which is just how I liked it.  It wasn’t overly seasoned and the taste of the beef went well with the earthiness of the winter vegetables.  Again, a big “thumbs up” to the kitchen for preparing the swiss chard so expertly.  They managed to maintain the integrity of the taste and texture, without it being rough and difficult to eat/digest.  The portion size of this dish was just right, and by the end of this very enjoyable meal we actually had to say no to dessert.

Our entire experience was really heightened by Alta Bistro’s atmosphere.  It has a quiet, informal kind of charm, highlighted by the tasteful lighting, murmur of conversations, and ski-inspired art work.  All members of the waitstaff were very friendly, knowledgeable, interested in the food they served, and passionate about all the kitchen had to offer.

It has been a while since I’ve had such a pleasant dinner experience.  I would definitely recommend coming to Alta Bistro, and would absolutely come back again, if only to soak up the atmosphere (and a drink or two…).
Alta Bistro on Urbanspoon