Nan Chuu Japanese Izakaya
1160-8391 Alexandra Road
Its been a while since this visit to Richmond actually took place, but as with many restaurant experiences, something that happened remains strongly ingrained in my memory that I just can’t shake and its what I’ve come to associate with Nan Chuu as a result. Marketing and branding experts would call this a touch point or moment of truth – when a customer comes into contact with any dimension of the restaurant and something is noticed, assessed and interpreted about the enterprise. For me on this particular weekday evening (incidentally not too early or late enough to avoid the horribly inadequate parking situation near this part of town), it was the a flurry of awkward service interactions that disrupted the enjoyment of an otherwise decent array of dishes sampled.
It stemmed from an apparent lack of training or preparedness on the part of both the experienced Japanese-speaking veteran servers and those who clearly had no idea what a waitress is supposed to do. The language barrier between the Japanese and Chinese speaking staff was apparent to me. From what I could overhear from the obvious floor manager/lead wait staff member, there was also a new girl who had recently come to BC after a working-holiday stint in one of Banff’s better known Japanese restaurants. She seemed to know what she was doing from the get-go, but was getting some finer tips from her team lead. There were two other girls who looked identical to eat other with their dark colored hipster glasses and long dark hair, and my guess would have put them at barely being legal to serve alcoholic beverages.
I can understand when you start working and are unfamiliar with a menu, but after some frustrating back-and-forth with some questions and even having to educate them on what some of the dishes actually were or made of, I began to lose my patience. If you want to work in a specific genre of cuisine, I’d suggest you at least know something about the food or have some interest in it, and not just show up completely clueless. Fault has to go to those in charge as well for this lack of training before sending people onto the floor. It was like watching a bunch of clowns, going from one person to another to inquire about something, then that person chasing someone down who might know more.
After drowning these early frustrations with our ordering courtesy of some early flights of Asahi Black, the food began to arrive one dish as a time to complement our beverages. First up was this small dish of mentaiko-filled squid. If you want something fiery and spicy to get your taste buds worked up, this one’s for you. Personally, I’m more a fan of the smoky and savoury tarako, so I wasn’t thrilled with this. The squid was on the tougher and rubbery side, I think a quality issue with the raw ingredient itself and overdone.
To satisfy my desire for the salted roe, these edamame, tarako and cheese-filled, deep fried rolls (cut into spears) were a delight. I honestly could have scarfed down a lot more and liked this creative trio of ingredients as I don’t think I’ve ever thought of this combination. The finely ground green tea-salt dip brought out some more flavor to this crispy creation.
Nankotsu karaage. A known favorite of the foodosopher. If its any consolation to him having eaten this without his presence, these were a bit off. Not as well cooked off as I’d hoped, the coating a tad soft and soggy in spots. Seasoning was on the weaker side as well. Now I know there will be those who wonder why you’d want to eat this ingredient, alas its an acquired taste and one I personally enjoy, too bad its not as good as the ones you can get at Zakkushi.
Tender, juicy slices of pork cheek meat anyone? I know, its hard to turn down some delicious tontoro. This was a definitive hit at our table.
A refreshing fish that is one of my favorite for sashimi is aji. Appearing again on the fresh sheet, I knew I had to have it. For the price, the number of slices was deemed to be underwhelming. As well, the quality and flavor was disappointing, as I never really got that distinct taste of aji coming out here. Wildly enough, another Richmond place (Manzo) has shown me they have a better supplier in Japan for this particular ingredient.
After a misplaced – or rather completely missed order – despite having clearing conveying it to one of the previously mentioned clueless new girl waitresses, out came our yaki onigiri. Perhaps I was influenced by the frustration in getting this to our table, but this didn’t exactly leave a great taste in my mouth. The glazed and crispy sides just weren’t “deep” enough (by this I mean how cooked through they were). We had the shake (salmon) inside, but it certainly wasn’t plentiful.
I needed something salty. Ika geso karaage fit the bill. Snide remarks about the portion size flew around our table, who I think was expecting more of a piled on plate of these tasty tentacles. Frankly I don’t know why we went with this.
Pretty customary in my izakaya traditions are wrapping up outings with a rice-based filler dish. Perhaps this has helped contribute to my rising weight gain over the years. The shake ikura-don was my particular finisher. I think after my mind blowing experiences with specially made ochazuke at Blowfish (Calgary) when chef Mitsuno was at the held, I have been ruined for ochazuke in Canada so nothing can compete. Especially this fairly simple variation with basic toppings. The broth was quite weak and tame here, and led me to not bother with finishing the rather tiny bowl of it.
Added below is a shot of the maguro yukke-don. I can’t really make any notes on this one as I didn’t have even a spoonful. I’ve just added it here for a visual reference.
I sure hope that whoever is managing Nan Chuu for the well known ownership group of the same sorts out their service issues, as if this one customer is left with this as the strongest impression of the place, that can lead to a bigger problem, especially if there are others who feel the same. It really took away from the dining experience and even my resulting memories of the food. The latter being hit and miss but overall acceptable for such a venue and this genre, especially when considering we were out in Richmond and away from the real hard core izakaya scene of Vancouver.