Go Fish – Vancouver, BC

Go Fish Ocean Emporium
1505 W 1st Avenue
Vancouver, BC
(604) 730-5040

“Thirty minute wait for anything fried and ten minutes for the grilled items”.  That’s what was being hollered out to the still not fully depleted lineup as the last business hour of the day approached this fine sunny weekend day.   With hungry bellies, our rat pack of five quickly huddled and decided we’d opt for the healthier and quicker grilled menu choices, and that was by no means a default as these creations as you’ll see here did not disappoint or a downgrade to the more popular deep fried dishes like their fish ‘n chips.

In reality, the wait was indeed longer than advertised, but I assumed their time clock began once they could actually begin cooking your order, and not from the point of time when the order was actually received and paid for at the til.  But with the nearby bench seating providing a view like this, the clock moving slowly isn’t all bad…

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Icelandic Fish and Chips Organic Bistro – Reykjavik, Iceland

Icelandic Fish and Chips Organic Bistro
Tryggvagötu 8 / 101 Reykjavik
+(354) 511-1188

Food in Iceland lacks a definite diversity. With little arable land, and short growing seasons, there is a definite lack of vegetables. Greenhouses powered by geothermal energy provide the majority of the fresh local produce, and the rest is imported. However, what they lack in vegetables, they make up for in abundance with fish. Their coastal waters are some of the richest in the world, and makes up 70% of their exports – this is an island where fish and fishing mean a lot.

While there are an abundance of fresh fish, that doesn’t guarantee a great meal. Transforming that ingredient into something tasty lies in the hands of the chef.  At Icelandic Fish and Chips, they have it figured out.

Across from the harbour in Reykjavik, Icelandic Fish and Chips bills itself as an organic bistro. Their menu is basic – they offer 3-4 fish of the day, whatever was caught that morning, and some basic sides like salad, fries, onion rings, and baked goods. Prices are very reasonable – fish falls between 1000 ISK and 1300 ISK – comparatively cheap relative to other restaurants in Reykjavik.

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Blowfish Sushi Lounge – Calgary, AB

Blowfish Sushi Lounge
100-625 11 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2R 0E1
(403) 237-8588

Omakase: from the verb “makasu” which means to trust. What it means in restaurant terms is to place your trust in the chef. To serve you his best. To interpret your tastes. To create an outstanding, unique dining experience.

Lounge: “a barroom in a hotel or restaurant where cocktails are served”

Two near diametrically opposite dining concepts. What do they have in common? Blowfish Sushi Lounge.

When i’m considering places to eat sushi, I have to admit, a lounge is the last place that usually comes to mind. While i appreciate a premium drink as much as the next person, I prefer my sushi experience to be…. unadulterated. Pure. The flavours of Japanese food, and fish specifically are so fresh, I like to focus on the flavours of what i’m eating, than to have my experience, and my dollars, diluted by cocktails.

So the fact that Blowfish Sushi Lounge is my favorite place for sushi in town, and that I strictly order omakase from chef Tomo Mitsuno, is a bit of surprise to myself. I won’t hold it against you if you’re surprised as well.

Blowfish Sushi Lounge is a bit of an ill-conceived concept. High-end sushi, paired with high-end lounge. It’s unfortunate really, as the two don’t seem to mix well, and the prominent bar and fancy lounge like atmosphere hide some of the best food in Calgary. Don’t get me wrong, their cocktails are innovative and excellent – but the two just don’t seem to be a natural fit in the same space.

The menu at Blowfish is typically a bit of a fusion-take on classic sushi. Nigiri is served in pairs – one piece, served in the classic form for nigiri, albeit with a bit too much rice, and the other is a modern interpretation. Most often, the modern interpretation is specially seasoned and then seared with a blowtorch. Both forms are surprisingly good. The change in texture and flavour that the quick, high heat imparts is surprising. It brings a whole new elements to the classic nigiri. Along with the requisite “creative rolls” that the Calgary market loves so much, the menu is rounded out with a smattering of tempura, sashimi, maki, and other cooked dishes.

The reason i order omakase at Blowfish, instead of off the regular menu, is for several reasons. First off, im definitely more of a traditionalist when it comes to Japanese food. I’m definitely not a fan of the fusion rolls, prefering clean, fresh flavours. Also, typically, omakase utilizes the freshest of ingredients that the chef has on hand. Because i have had some serious quality issues with many of the popular sushi establishments in town (namely Globefish and Uptown), i prefer to trust the chef to provide me with his freshest ingredients available. I’ve had fresh Uni, some amazing chu-toro from a fresh Maguro, some nice kanpachi, and other ingredients that don’t always appear on the menu. Secondly, i get to experience some of the creativity of the chef, which is not always clearly expressed in a set menu. Chef Tomo Mitsuno is a classically well-trained Japanese chef, who has experience in a multitude of disciplines, not just sushi. In his typical omakase offering, he utilizes a combination of skills to create an enticing, unique dining experience.

Of course, the serious draw back to omakase is cost. Costing anywhere from $40 and up (i topped out at $100 in one serious glutton session), omakase is not for the budgetary faint at heart. You can definitely eat at Blowfish for less, in fact, their prices, which started off expensive, are now quite comparable to the other higher end sushi restaurants in town. My opinion though, is if you want to enjoy fresh fish, then it’s worth splurging on the freshest fish in Calgary. And Blowfish definitely has that.

In terms of what to expect, I can’t really tell you much. Each omakase experience is tailored to the individual. Knowing that my preferences are in fresher, lighter foods (other than the occasional Japanese Izakaya dish that i crave), I generally get lighter, fresher foods. For example, one meal started with a crab meat salad served on greens, with fresh fruit, citrus, and a uzu-sesame dressing with balsamic vinegar. A great way to start a meal.

The highlight of all meals at Blowfish is the nigiri. From top to bottom, wild salmon, hamachi, maguro, butterfish (escolar), and a seared farmed salmon. The fish is fresh, firm, and tasty. Each piece is topped with a complimentary condiment – many times, this is far superior to the straight up soy and wasabi condiment. My only complaint is sometimes the pieces are a touch big, and to accommodate the bigger pieces, the rice is often too large a serve. This isnt always an issue, but it can be.

Dish after dish of sushi applies for me. Tobiko, kani, seared beef, chu-toro, and ebi.

Sometimes, i get a small smattering of rolls. In this case, beef, scallop, kimchi, and prawn are the principle ingredients. He usually serves this to me after my 15th piece of nigiri, as he wants to fill me up, rather than have a sushi-gorging monster sitting in his restaurant all evening.

I’ve experienced a near infinite variety of other dishes – in fact, i’ve never had the same experience there twice. It’s been different every time. I wish i had the time and space to report on all of them, but you’ll just have to go and experience it for yourself.

Blowfish Sushi Lounge is a hard place for me to review. I find it difficult because the inherent differences between omakase and ordering ala carte can create two totally different dining experiences. I have ordered off their menu before, and it was decent, but no where near the same kind of experiences i’ve had ordering omakase. The creativity, and the freshness are what make what would otherwise be a good dining experience a great one. Chef Tomo has a good understanding of my likes and dislikes, and this helps tremendously as well. However, i have taken many friends there, and they have had amazing experiences as well. A lot of it just requires a healthy sense of adventure, and taking some responsibility for communicating your likes and dislikes.

At the end of the day, Blowfish Sushi Lounge, along with Sushi Bar Zipang and Wa’s are the only places in town im happy to eat sashimi/nigiri at. That says a lot. If you want a great dining experience, give the omakase a try. If you’re in the mood for fresh fish (and cocktails!), then I can heartily recommend Blowfish. If cheap, affordable sushi is what you’re in the mood for, there are many other options in town for that.

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Tenhachi Japanese Restaurant – Vancouver, BC

Tenhachi Japanese Restaurant
1125 West 12th Ave. (1st floor of the Shaughnessy Village Hotel)
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 742-0234
Hours: Tue-Sun (closed Sun); Morning, 7am to 11:45am; Dinner, 5pm to 9:30pm

Tenhachi Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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…

Tenhachi Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon