Tenhachi Japanese Restaurant
1125 West 12th Ave. (1st floor of the Shaughnessy Village Hotel)
Tel: (604) 742-0234
Hours: Tue-Sun (closed Sun); Morning, 7am to 11:45am; Dinner, 5pm to 9:30pm
True Japanese cuisine of the home-style variety in its purest form. That is what Tenhachi places its focus on throughout the Japanese side of their menu (being located in the lobby of a hotel, some Western dishes are made available too), in clear contrast to the numerous restaurants serving up popular North American-Japanese staples such as chicken teriyaki and the like. In addition to further differentiate themselves from the crowd of Japanese restaurants in town, Tenhachi emphasizes natural and organic ingredients, made clear through their operating motto of “Karada ni ii tabemono” (Food that’s good for the body).
Since opening their doors back on June 1st, 2007, Tenhachi has slowly built a loyal following, especially among the ex-pat Japanese community living in the city. By offering an authentic taste of home, it is a welcomed reprieve for those living abroad by allowing them to get genuine meals to cure those cases of homesickness that arise. And for local Vancouverites, Tenhachi offers a glimpse into another realm of home cooking, Japanese style.
The list of “higawari” (daily changing) and regular menu items presents a refreshing set of options for the knowing and/or adventurous crowd, of Japanese dishes not commonly seen in North American-based Japanese restaurants. This is especially true for the fish dishes. Tenhachi proudly proclaims that they get direct-from-Japan fresh fish delivered by air freight to their kitchen twice a week. You can even ask them to order specific fish should they not have it on the menu, they will do their best to see if their suppliers in Japan can provide it. For local fish, wild sockeye salmon tops the available choices.
The importance of quality ingredients doesn’t stop there. The rice they use at Tenhachi is also specifically chosen. The brand, Tamaki Gold, is a variety of the Koshihikari grain, and is considered the best available quality among those grown in North America. They use this in all of their teishoku (set meals) and okwarai (refills) are free! The miso used in their cooking, notably the miso shiru (soup), is fully organic. For their salads, this trend continues with the use of only organically-grown local vegetables. Lastly, the cha (green tea) is also purely natural, a top grade variety from Shizuoka prefecture in Japan (this region is well known for their high quality tea growers).
The teishoku options include popular choices such as braised fish with options for this including the popular Miso Saba (miso flavored Mackerel), and the more exotic such as Hirame (Flat Fish/Sole), Karei (Turbot), Itoyori (Golden Threadfin Bream), Tachiuo (Scabbard Fish), and Kawahagi (Thread-sail Filefish) were the special ones flown in from Japan and available on the menu this day. Yaki Sakana (grilled fish) with choices such as Mackerel Pike, Mackerel, Salmon, Katsuo (Skipjack Tuna), Kanpachi (Amberjack/Yellowtail), etc were available, and some of these could also be prepared as braised. Other dishes such as the Hire Katsu (deep fried pork cutlet), Buta Shogayaki (grilled ginger-flavored pork), Aji Fry (Fried Horse Mackerel), etc. were also noted.
Including a bowl of steamed rice, miso soup, and two kobachi (side dishes) and one tsukemono (pickled dish) and with prices hovering around $13-$15 for most of these teishoku choices, it makes for a very reasonable, healthy and nutritionally well-balanced meal.
I wanted to introduce Tenhachi to my dining companion on this evening (a recent new transplant to Vancouver, and someone who can appreciate solid Japanese food) to give him a chance to see a relatively unknown but distinctive restaurant as he gets to know the city’s dining scene. We opened our meal with a sampling from the appetizer section, a Matsutake (Pine Mushroom) Tempura. A good six, seven pieces arrived in the basket, with me noticing how tender and meaty the matsutake were, and my dinner partner noting the strong pine scents coming from each bite. A superb tempura, not at all overly battery, and cooked at just the right temperature of oil to make it neither too soggy or too crispy on the outside. I would recommend this dish to anyone who enjoys tempura, and is seeking a change from the usual fare of shrimp, carrots, broccoli, etc, that you often find in tempura combinations.
The teishoku dishes beckoned us, and seeking some rarer fish options from the special menu, I went with the Karei braised in a sweet soy-based sauce, with my friend choosing the salt grilled Kawahagi. I only had a small taste of the latter, but came away surprised at how flavorful the simple looking whitefish was. My dining companion remarked that he was quite satisfied with his meal, going to show you that taking a chance on an ingredient you’ve never heard of does work out from time to time.
If you’ve ever seen either of these species of fish, you know they are not physically attractive. With their flat structures and buggy eyes, they don’t look at overly appetizing. Thankfully, once fileted and prepared in the kitchen, the piece of fish becomes a delicious central part of a teishoku. My braised Karei was cooked in just the right balance of the traditional Japanese trio of soy sauce, sake and mirin. Often, the latter sweet ingredient is used in too high a portion and it becomes almost dessert-like in sweetness when done poorly, and thankfully Tenhachi was not victim to making this sugary-sweet. The meat was flaky but not dried out since it had been braised, and fell off easily from the bone contained within. Karei has relatively larger and fewer bones in its structure, so it certainly makes for easier pickings. I know many a fish lover dislike eating cooked fish for the painstaking need to remove all the delicate and difficult to see bones in some fish, so the Karei makes for a welcome option for those people.
West 12th Avenue is normally a busy commuter road in Vancouver, but after 6pm parking right out front of the building is free. The restaurant is not easy to spot while passing in front. Don’t expect much from the decor, as I am assuming its the remnants of the previous hotel restaurant, but don’t let that disappoint you, as the food will more than make up for it. And if you are up to checking out a Japanese-style breakfast, you can enjoy those from as early as 7am. Lastly, an interesting bit of information. Tenhachi offers a unique 10% discount. This can be had only if you mention upon paying your bill, the secret phrase and designated number, that changes every two weeks, and is available via a certain source. I’ll leave the rest to your investigative skills…