Torarenbo Japanese Restaurant
Richmond Centre, 8191 Park Rd
Escaping the madness of people flowing out of the Richmond Oval after an afternoon Olympics competition, and navigating along some very unfamiliar territory looking for someplace quick to eat, we found our way to a place known as Richmond Centre. Essentially its a strip mall with some limited parking and thus I drove right into one of the reserved (likely for staff?) stalls right in front of Torarenbo. Rules be damned, I was hungry.
With these random, shotgun approach dining adventures, I never know what I’m going to get. The partly covered window coverings further created a shroud of mystery about this place as I could not really see inside and know if in fact there was anyone eating inside. Alas, once I got through the front door on the side, I did see some people having meals and a few empty tables. After being asked if I had reservations (“for a place like this and on a weekday?”, I thought) and replying “no”, we were given one of the empty spots along the glass wall. In hindsight, I’d suggest you ask for a table deeper into the restaurant as whenever the front door opened, a brisk gust of cold wind would hit us, as well people who wandered in waiting to be greeted would linger not far from our table.
Deciding to sample something off their robata menu, I selected the hatsu (chicken hearts) as well as the standard negima (chicken thigh meat & leeks). Both were done with teriyaki – seemingly no choice to go with just salt – and here is what we got. The hatsu came on three sticks, with each chicken heart neatly flattened by slicing them in half. It has a tender texture and can become terribly rubbery if overcooked, but thankfully these were not the case. For those who have never had it and are cringing at the fact this is an animal organ, I recommend you give it a try!
The negima was slighly less satisfying. Something about it was lacking flavour, even with the glaze of teriyaki. I think it was simply the quality of the meat itself as well as a weak imparting of a smoky component from the grill. For me, nothing beats meat grilled over charcoal and I am sure this was just done over a gas flame or electric panel. The sprinkle of un-toasted sesame seeds adds a visual touch but frankly I’d prefer it without.
Yes, I’ve tried turning a new leaf. Or at least making an effort to understand something – the average Canadian sushi lover’s fascination with the spicy tuna roll. Big mistake, one piece and that was enough for me. I still don’t get it. Sorry.
To warp up our meal, we ordered a platter of nigiri. Again, nothing too “exotic” in the tamago, amaebi, ebi, hotate, maguro, shake, hamachi and tako. I won’t go into a full play-by-play of each ingredient, but overall it was edible and seemingly fresh. My only complaint would be the sushi rice. A common disappointment I get on too many of my random drop-in sushi places. This time, it was again under-seasoned and the rice was on the under-cooked side.
Further thoughts… the service seemed a bit scattered. Especially the female waitress who ended up dropping and shattering a glass minutes after we were settled down. Two older males, who apparently were filling a managerial role, were also scuttling around. Don’t expect much attention, other than when they seem to be strangely excited when asking incoming customers if they have a reservation.