Suga Sushi Japanese & Korean Restaurant
#201, 5728 University Boulevard
(604) 228 9912
Places that you could deem as being a “restaurant” are hard to come by on most university campuses. The spots to grab a sit-down meal are usually either a cafeteria setting populated by food services departments of the institutions, outlets of chains, primarily alcohol serving pubs, or just simple mom-and-pop kitchens. On the campus of the University of British Columbia, the choices are similarly constrained, with perhaps Sage Bistro being one of the few exceptions.
Suga Sushi, located in the UBC Village complex near one of the heavily populated bus stops that takes students back out of the area and into Vancouver proper, has been in existence since about spring 2007. I’d been a few times, mostly to get a simple meal without high expectations. At the time, I thought it was an affordable decent menu that had the usual staples that Canadians enjoy and fit within their realm of understanding when it comes to Japanese cuisine.
The crew of employees that I would usually see was an interesting bunch, from a senior gentlemen who would take orders, and a middle-aged Chinese man who I believe was the manager and for some reason could speak a little conversational Japanese. The decor intrigued me as well, as it was a reasonable (albeit it cheaply constructed from a materials point of view) replica of a homey, teishoku or izakaya that one finds in Japan.
A long time had passed since my last visit, and I learned that earlier this summer the ownership of Suga Sushi had changed hands. The first indication of this was when I saw the additional of “Korean” to the full name of the restaurant signage. I think its unique to Vancouver, compared to say Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary specifically) that there are often these joint Japanese-Korean restaurants serving up menu items from each style of cuisine under one roof – of course with all of them being Korean owned/operated.
With this management shift, I was hoping that the one dish that I did enjoy routinely could still be had, and that it tasted the same. That alone was enough for me to go an have a try recently. The dish in question is the Chicken Karaage (deep fried, marinated chicken thigh meat), or more specifically the Chicken Karaage Teishoku (set menu). Tender chunks of chicken encased in a crispy seasoned coating was what appealed to me about Suga’s take on this. The key part being it was not fried in very hot oil so that it was a hard crispy crust, rather it was a more softer, lower temperature fry that made it stand out for me. Thankfully, the changes have not included any tampering with the recipe or cooking method, and the plate I had was a generous serving of at least 12-15 pieces, complete with a miso soup and a bowl of steam rice for just $7.50. I’m not usually a big fan of sweeter sauces on my karaage (prefer a straight up salt & pepper dusting), but the sweet ginger-based drizzle on top is delicious.
Not wanting to let the new Korean cuisine sub-menu go to waste, a Doenjang Jjigae (Korean miso and vegetable stew) was ordered as well at our table. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much but was pleasantly surprised it was good, not outstanding, but just good. Certainly edible to the last drop and heartwarming in this cold weather snap we’ve been experiencing of late in Vancouver. I guess with the kitchen populated by a cook who has more experience with Korean cuisine than anything else, I should not have been that pessimistic.
A note though on both dishes, the accompanying steamed rice was quite horrid. For those who eat it often, you will know what I am talking about, as it was as if it had been made a long time ago (day or two in the past) or in one massive batch that had been sitting too long – as it was gummy and clumped together.
Suga Sushi appears to continue to be a student wallet-friendly, decent establishment when one has a craving for basic Japanese and Korean comfort foods when out in the wilderness that is the UBC campus. Certainly more appealing atmosphere-wise than the nearby food court in the basement of the UBC Village, it is a popular place when school is in session, as it is once again now. That said, in my opinion, not a destination spot that you would specifically target for your sushi fix (as my meals that have included that have been disappointing with the former ownership group), but if its a solid chicken karaage you are after, I can definitely say, Suga’s your spot.
[Apologies for the poor picture quality with this post – all images taken with a mobile phone in really bad lighting]