[CLOSED NOW SINCE THIS POST WAS INITIALLY PUBLISHED]
Sobaten Japanese Noodle House
550 11 Ave SW
Tel: (403) 265 2664
I’m sure most of you have experienced an unexpected change in lunch plans that necessitated a sudden shift to an unknown location. On this day, it was more of a disappointment given that I was looking forward to the original spot, but alas we can’t always get what we want. Sobaten filled in during this pinch, and with less than an hour to go before I needed to head out of town, it sufficed in terms of geographic ease of access and we had already parked the car.
I’m fairly opened minded when it comes to a new eating location. Though first impressions can certainly set things in motion, as it took a while before any wait staff could spot us waiting at the entrance. There was a lunch buffet on, and some people were bustling around the feeding station that further added to the confusion and tested my patience. Eventually we were seated in the more empty side of the restaurant, after we informed the (friendly) server that we would be ordering off the menu. At the table, there was another sign that things were not going to go well. Call me a stickler, and I know some people say the same thing about washroom facilities at restaurants, but I expect tables to be clean and anything on them to be fully presentable to customers, and use this as a guide to how the food will be. In this case what caught my ire was the messy and unfilled bottle of soy sauce. It had formed some crusty layer on the outside of the bottle and obviously had not been rinsed out prior to any re-fill since it was first used in this place.
To start our meal and to get a barometer reading of how the food is here, a starter plate of a few pieces of nigiri were ordered. In Canada, as generic as it may sound, shake (salmon) is probably your safest bet in terms of quality. Unfortunately, the slices that we received here were pretty dismal. Obviously cut from a poor section that could have used the benefit of a sharper knife and a more skilled hand holding it, the rough jagged edges showed that the “chef” could use some tutelage in proper knife techniques. Throw in some misplaced sesame seeds that were sticking to the surface and a weakly shaped nigiri, it just added up to a sad combination. My hotate (scallop) was only slightly better, although it was still a little frozen in the middle and needed more de-thawing. Most importantly for both, the sushi rice was not very tasty at all, too mushy and sweeter than would be normally acceptable.
As I’ve noted in previous posts, I have this belief that if a place claims to specialize in something, they had better do a really good job with it. In this case, it was soba. The Tenzaru set was ordered in a half portion, but when it was brought to the table, it sure did look to be a good enough quantity for a full order. The soba was horrible – undercooked and had not been properly rinsed resulting in a sticky mess of noodles. Some finely chopped green onions were provided to add to the sobatsuyu, but was missing the daikon oroshi.
The accompanying tempura was no improvement either in terms of quality or taste. Cooked in too hot an oil bath (a common problem), in oil that appears to either be in need of a change and/or had been used to cook tonkatsu (Foodosopher picked up the pork scent on the tempura), it was a poor performance by the kitchen. I had my suspicions that they were cooking these en masse for the buffet perhaps and sitting under a heat lamp, but did not visually check out that counter as after my meal I simply wanted to get the heck out of Dodge.
What surprises me most about places like this, is that customers seem to like it and come back – probably the buffet has something to do with it. When it comes to some cuisine, in particular Japanese, I would never fathom that a buffet offering of it would be of any respectable quality, as this food is simply not cut out for long periods of sitting in water baths/under direct heat lights to keep it warm or in non-cool/refrigerated environments in the case of sushi. As Foodosopher and I departed for my journey out of Calgary, we both shook our heads at the travesty we just endured and tried to rationalize how this kind of food can be deemed acceptable by some people. Either they have no taste buds or just don’t know better. As we drove to the airport so that I could put as much distance between me and this pathetic last meal in Calgary, I began to think it was a combination of both, as sad as that is.