[Update: July 2009. After a brief concept change to a lower priced izakaya-style menu, has now closed its doors, changed ownership and renamed]
Dare to be different. Amid the hundreds of restaurants offering sushi in the greater Vancouver area, in all forms from the horrifically bad but cheap all-you-can-eat, to very good but preferably-on-expense-account options, it is clear that some have taken a step to differentiate. When it comes to their creations, some have been quite bold and have included ingredients that would make die hard traditionalists cringe and scream bloody murder. Sai-z is clearly one of them, incorporating a creative blend of traditional and non-traditional ingredients in many of their dishes. Case in point, their use of fruits such as mango and papaya in some of their sushi rolls!
Located on popular West Broadway, which is lined with numerous restaurants thus competition is fierce, Sai-z is located across the street from a boutique cinema theater. When the weather is warm, the sliding doors are opened, and there is a narrow patio that has a few tables right on the sidewalk. Stepping inside, the waiting area leads to the main floor area with table seating that has a mini grand piano off to the right. On this night, there wasn’t a live performer, but I am told that it does take place on certain nights. The crowd was quite young, mainly twenty-something groups of friends or couples on dates. I think the relaxed mood of the place probably is conducive to intimate outings and conversations, compared to say the boisterous izakaya scene downtown.
Scanning the special summer set price offering and not finding it to our interest, my dining companion and I chose from the regular menu. After placing our order for drinks, a one-spoon otoushi of a marinated mixture of tuna and green onions. Unfortunately, this was bad, quite literally – it had a terrible fishy smell to it. Not the best of starts.
Seeing the uni chawanmushi peaked my curiosity, so I had to give this a try. A large piece of uni was floating on top of this steamed Japanese egg custard, and deep below were some other seafood ingredients such as scallops, fishcake, prawns, as well as some mushrooms and thin slivers of yuzu peel. The base stock that was used was quite rich, perhaps too much for my personal liking. The addition of the uni certainly didn’t aid in lightening things up. It tasted okay, but I guess I like my chawanmushi simpler.
Another hot appetizer we had was this noodle wrapped and deep-fried shrimp served with a spicy mayo dip. The contrast between the crispy exterior and the plump, juicy shrimp inside was superb! The overall flakiness of it made it a bit messy to eat at times, as bits would fly off while biting through the crust. The dip was a mixture of shichimi and Japanese mayonnaise, adding both a creamy and spicy element to the total dish (and a mix that I’m finding appear more and more around Vancouver’s izakaya scene). This was a great pick up from the hot appetizer section.
Next up was the sushi selection. By-passing some of the unique choices, we settled on a single roll, called the Double Smoke Roll. This was comprised of a combo of unagi (smoked eel) and smoked salmon. Pieces of fake crabmeat, tempura bits and sprouts also added some more texture and flavor, with the outside of the roll dressed with a sweet teriyaki-like sauce. I thought the dual smoked flavored would be overpowering, but was pleasantly surprised that it was not. Each piece was densely packed, making it feel more filling than it already ways. A solid offering.
A platter of assorted nigiri rounded out our meal, sixteen pieces of maguro, shake, ebi, hamachi, hotate, tobiko, uni, unagi, a California roll and a dynamite roll. The size of the rice ball was “very Japanese”, by that I mean it was smallish and loosely compacted. Personally, this is what I am used to and prefer. So I was glad that it wasn’t that usually tightly bound, poorly flavored, monster-sized ball of sushi rice that you find at too many places in this town. The fish was good, each fresh and succulent, and not too big that it would take more then one mouthful.
Sai-z definitely feels and looks unlike your regular run of the mill restaurant specializing in Japanese food in Vancouver. I think it may be remnants of a previous tenant (Italian, Greek?) but the inner chamber looked very inviting with it high ceiling. There seemed to be a second deck above as I could hear some people upstairs dining as well. The open sushi bar that lines the back wall was quite long, and I could picture people wanting to sit up there and take in the show. Service was a bit lacking at times, with servers spending more time standing by the sushi bar than paying attention to diners. Our server in particular was quite anxious in clearing away our plates each time, which bothered me as it seems she was more interested in doing that than any other service task. Finally, pricing was perhaps above average, and thus might turn off some folks who are used to more quick dine-and-dash sushi joints.
I’ll certainly go back, though probably not often just given the price point. There are still a slew of menu items that I’d like to try out, so that gives me another reason to return.
Sai-z Japanese Restaurant
3116 West Broadway
Hours: [Lunch] Fri-Sun, 12pm to 2:30pm; [Dinner] Sun to Thu, 5:30pm to 10:30pm; Fri & Sat, 5:30pm to 11:30pm