[Since this report – the restaurant has closed and replaced with a Japanese restaurant dubbed “Itshoni”]
Blue Sea Seafood Restaurant
#550 – 329 North Road
Once in a while you get a pleasant surprise that lifts your day. And when it involves food, all the better…
Located in a U-shaped strip mall which is anchored by the popular Korean supermarket chain called H-Mart, the Blue Sea Seafood Restaurant can be found in the far back corner of the parking lot. There’s actually a few Korean restaurants in this compound, along side other shops and businesses catering to the largely Korean community that has taken root in this part of Coquitlam.
My foodie experience with Korean-style sashimi (which they call Hwe) began about ten years ago with a trip to a city called Sokch’o, located on the Sea of Japan side of South Korea, which is largely a resort and fishing community. There, many casual restaurants were lined up near the waterfront areas, offering up fresh seafood for very reasonable prices. It was there that I first experienced the Korean style of eating raw fish dishes: dipping each slice in a spicy kochujang sauce and taking a leaf and wrapping it up and eating it preferably in one big bite. It was a mighty big change to the Japanese-style of soy sauce and wasabi, but an interesting variation I thought at the time, as I was building my understanding of Korean cuisine.
Knowing that seafood generally isn’t cheap, I was prepared mentally to shell out a decent amount of coin on a meal and didn’t mind since I was looking for something a little less common than your usual staples of Korean cuisine such as barbeque, hotpots, vegetarian, etc. Flipping open the menu, the seafood selection was obviously front and centre and I immediately picked up on the $25 per person Hwe offering. It offered five different types of sashimi. My dining partner also went along with this idea, so we ordered two of them figuring we might need to order something else just in case quantity-wise it wasn’t enough, as we were both quite hungry. Would I ever be proven to have underestimated the wonderful power of Blue Sea Seafood Restaurant.
My memory of that trip to Sokch’o came bad in a gushing flood, as the first two simple, fresh appetizers arrived at our table a short while after our order was taken. I remembered how Hwe does not just mean the raw fish on a platter, but the array of accompanying dishes that comes with it, making it indeed a full course meal. A narrow plate with some small piles of lightly seasoned kelp, marinated cucumber and octopus all covered in a refreshing and light vinegar-based dressing was our first dish. Certainly a pleasant way to get your taste buds activated, and I especially liked the one on the left (the name escapes me at the moment) as it had a stringier, texture that required more effort to chew.
Next came some temaki of Julienned cucumber and daikon, topped with some masago, all standing up nicely in an ice cream cone serving device. Once again, very light flavors and nice crispness of the matchsticks of veg inside each cone. I am usually not a huge fan of non-seafood creations like this, but I think in the future I will indulge a bit more after seeing how much I enjoyed these ones.
Some hot food dishes followed. A simple green onion chijimi, the size of a mini pizza. I usually like my chijimi loaded with a lot more ingredients, but as this was far from being a main dish, I let it slide, and besides it has a nice chewy texture to it and finally some long awaited heat. Then a plate of some deep fried fish balls, served very much Chinese-style with a sweet, sticky sauce. With it being the first arrival of some actual seafood to our table, I was just getting warmed up.
Dish five was a small-ish bowl of a whipped up egg white mixture, flavored with some fish stock of some sort. Very airy and light and easy to scoup up with a spoon. Along with that came a salted, whole grilled mackerel. Unfortunately it came out not-gutted, which I really dislike, as it leaves all those bitter innards. I find mackerel or other smaller fish cooked a lot this way in south east Asia, Mediterranean and Italian dishes, and each time I wished the chef would just take the time to clean out the fish. Plus, this one was overdone on the grill making it a bit too dried out, the first negative dish of the lot to this point in my meal.
The seventh dish, a take on yakitori, only done with grilled fish and sweeter vegetables. The sauce was similar to the one used in the earlier deep fried fish dish.
Item number eight was a pair of deep fried prawns, head on. I know a lot of folks might cringe at what I am about to write, but I just eat these things whole, shell and head together. I find the flavors of most crustaceans are in the head, so I am always the first to be chomping, slurping, etc. anything off of or inside the brains of shrimp, crabs, etc.
Our server could see how much we were enjoying our meal and brought out a free plate (‘on the house’ she said) of some grilled fish head and neck portions (sorry, I dug right into this before I realized I needed to snap a photo, so no image here), that were probably used to make our fresh fish plate that was forthcoming. I never thought these portions of cooked Red Snapper could taste so good, but it was amazing! I was craving a bowl of rice at that moment, but knew I had to hold back as the best was yet to come.
Last (or should I say second last) came the huge plate of Hwe. The picture here does not do it full justice, as there are abundant slices on the sides and also the back side of this plate that are not showing. In total there must have been forty or so nice thick slices of red snapper, tuna, salmon, yellowtail and bonito; all piled upon huge mounds of crisp cool daikon – which I enjoy eating together with the Hwe. Surprisingly though, the expected Korean sides of kochujang sauce and leaves did not appear. I didn’t mind terribly, as I could have eaten it either way, so just went with the soy sauce/wasabi combo on this day. Honestly, the volume of this plate alone of fresh fish was worth the $25 price tag, not to mention all the other dishes that had come before it.
Traditionally, seafood meals are wrapped up with Maeuntang – a large pot of fish stew/soup that that made from all of the leftover pieces of a fish such as the bones, with stock, spicy kochujang paste and lots of vegetables. Pieces of actual fish are also cooked inside as well. Its eaten with steamed white rice, and I’ve had it in some places where the rice is actually added into the pot after the majority of the soup has reduced, making an almost risotto-like dish to wrap up a huge feast.
Wow, I think I got tired just recalling this meal and typing it all out for the fabulous readers of Foodosophy. But hope you enjoyed the account and if you can, I would definitely recommend you try Blue Sea Seafood Restaurant as the raw fish is very fresh, portions are generous and the quality is up there with any of the better quality Japanese sushi places I’ve tried in Vancouver thus far. And for this price, you can certainly not go wrong at all. Its a little off the beaten path from Vancouver, but if you are shopping at the nearby supermarket and are hungry, this is a solid option for an excellent Korean-style seafood meal. And if you can make sure to bring a designated driver with you, I’d advise you to enjoy your meal with a bottle (or two) of Korean Soju, just to make the experience a bit more authentic…