Roppongi GM Building, 2F
4-11-11 Roppongi, Minato-ku
Tel: +81 3 3796 7281
Ask any visitor as they head to Japan in search of ramen, and they will likely say, if they’ve done any reasonable about of research, that Ichiran and Ippudo are the two names that pop up most frequently in English-language sources.
888 Nelson Street
With shrinking domestic markets and consumption, combined with growing awareness and demands overseas, we’re seeing more new entrants in various industries reach our borders. Rumors of Japan’s massive clothing retailer Uniqlo apparently coming soon to Vancouver is one. American’s Target and Nordstrom are also prime examples. And the focus of this piece, the 600+ strong (in Japan) yakiniku chain Gyu-Kaku has steadily made its way with outposts in Asia and the US. Canada was chosen as their beachhead into Canada, specifically downtown Vancouver.
Having been to several of their locations in Japan over the years on lazy meal nights when I was craving meat, news of Gyu-Kaku’s arrival in Vancouver personally didn’t excite me a great deal. Its like a Vancouverite getting excited about a Cactus Club visit I suppose. When its around you and very ubiquitous, the allure is simply not as high. So my eventual visit was even a random, impromptu one just last week. I came away from the dinner pleased overall and with no major complaints and with a clear understanding it can’t be 100% replicated overseas. From the very full room on a rainy, mid-week evening, its clear they have established a solid clientele already. Kudos!
Cafe de l’Orangerie
8636 Granville Street
Sometimes location plays a crucial role in even picking a restaurant to go to. To expand upon this point, the establishment’s parking options, is a critical factor for me at times when deciding on one place versus another. Cafe de L’Orangerie falls into the difficult category as it is not in an ideal spot (accessible by only one direction of busy Granville Street) and the limited number of stalls in front that are shared by other businesses does not help matters. Despite all this, the good buzz that I’d heard about the French trained, Japanese owner/chef and the approachable menu they have here, led me to deal with the inconveniences of getting here and here’s my report of that visit…
Upon entering the doors, the scene that falls into your line of sight is one of a very simple soup-and-sandwich kind of place, along with a display case of desserts and pastries. I could see how it was straddling several lines, and perhaps serving a different clientele in the day as opposed to the dinner hours. It felt more “western” than anything else, but when you are seated and presented with the evening menu, you are quickly aware that there are some Japanese-influenced twists. And it was these that I was keen on trying.
Ajisai Sushi Bar
2081 W 42nd Ave
Consistency of quality is an aspect of restaurants that I hold in high regard. When it comes to serving raw food, this perhaps becomes even more relevant and all the more important. Case in point, my somewhat regular routine of having sushi perhaps a few times a month. I suppose I have a couple of standbys that I patronize most often now in the greater Vancouver area.
However among them, Ajisai in the Kerrisdale neighborhood remains tops when it comes to plating things in a very predictable manner – by that I mean the quality of the ingredients, the quality of the knife work, and maybe most importantly, the quality of the rice – all come through as exactly the same as the previous times I’ve eaten here.
Hapa Izakaya (Robson)
1479 Robson St Map
Clearly, with all of the attention this long standing location has received over the years in local publications as well as by online bloggers, it would perhaps seem strange to some that there has not been a post made here on foodosophy, despite our group’s well known love for the izakaya genre.
I cannot attest to the experience of the other contributors here, but personally, I must have passed by the front of this business 20~30 times over the last several years. And among these, I can only recall stepping inside to check out the scene and/or consider dining inside, mainly out of curiosity, a handful of times. Its just never really struck me as a place I need to check off my dining list. For whatever reason.
Further, I can count on one hand the number of occasions when I made my mind up to really taste the food/sample the drinks here, but decided to turn around after some very spotty service – mainly the lack of attention from any of the staff upon stepping inside and vocally/visually making signs that I wanted to be seated. I can clearly recall this happening at least three times now. And on this last visit, it happened again.
But we stuck around trying to get someone to see us waiting, going beyond my usual patience level. Even flagging down one of the wait staff and being told she’d be back, only to be ignored again. After literally grabbing the next girl that came near us and demanding we get a table (there were several open), we were finally seated.
Zakkushi Charcoal Grill
4075 Main Street
As the boom in interest for the izakaya genre exploded in recent years on the Canadian west coast, there were a few that stood out for me in terms of offering something that I strongly felt would appeal to the local market and tastes. Zakkushi was on the top of this list, especially when you consider their base premise is something that North Americans can relate to – that being charcoal barbecue and grilled meat-on-a-stick. For the newbie, it is a lot more understandable and palatable than say someone just getting introduced to say sushi for the very first time as their initial foray into Japanese cuisine.
So it was quite fitting that I visited the Main Street (one of three outlets of this business that is fast becoming a growing chain) with a friend of mine who self-admittedly noted that he didn’t grow up with a lot of “ethnic” food in his parents’ home in rural Saskatchewan, and even today, his folks aren’t that adventurous but he’s learning to branch out his eating repertoire now that he’s based in Vancouver. I thought I’d try and shock his system by introducing to him something that I was positive he would find odd and wonder why anyone would want to eat it.
Guu With Garlic
1698 Robson Street
It would seem I’m slowly making my way to checking out all those izakaya that I’ve heard about the past five years or so that I’ve subconsciously been avoiding deliberately since I perhaps harbor some bias in that I will no doubt mentally compare them to all the great ones I’ve been to in Japan. Alas, Guu seems to have won me over as I’ve now been to several of their stations and will perhaps make my rounds to them all one day. This particular visit was the back end of a night out with an old friend visiting Vancouver for a short business trip. In reality in keeping with true Japanese salaryman tradition, we should have reversed the order, but oh well.
Immediately after our hearty meal, I’m surprised we were able to down a short but steady stream of nama beeru. Asahi was the pick on this evening. A visit to an izakaya just wouldn’t be the same without some cold ones, so once again, glancing over the the folks seated at the counter bar with us who were just drinking water just made me shake my head. Its like dressing up to go to the ball, but not engaging in any dancing, I just don’t understand. 🙂
Another of the local Vancouver area bloggers first brought Kawawa Ramen in Metropolis at Metrotown to my attention. I can recall the post about the place next door (under the same Kawawa umbrella) had several hilarious points that are common to his style of writing and its remained one of his classic reviews filled with disappointment about his meal. So much so that whenever he encounters a pathetic food experience, Kawawa becomes a direct reference point in how bad it really is. All this didn’t phase me however from eventually checking it out – perhaps mainly just to join in the hilarity – and check out some of their offerings. So here goes…
The basic ramen. Added the hard boiled egg. Broth was on the thicker side but rather flat in terms of flavor. Not extremely salty, but just completely uninteresting without any depth. I’m not sure of the exact composition of their base broth, but it can’t be something that is getting much love and attention, and a careful building of layers over extended periods of cooking time. The noodles while drowned in the liquid were somewhat clumped together in an awkward mess, making drawing some out to eat slightly difficult. Chalky in taste too and overdone with no bite left in them. If you haven’t gathered by now, I’m not a huge fan.
Japadog (Waterfront Station)
600 W Cordova St
Much is already out there about the Japadog phenomenon. Your truly has had his fair share of dogs at some of their outlets, but this one at the Waterfront Station was a first timer. Melding in with the throngs of visiting tourists fresh off the cruise ship and wandering around Gastown was interesting to say the least, and I could do some casual observing of how they interacted with our fair city. A few minutes near the Japadog cart was a key highlight. I’m sure many of them had no clue what was going on or being offered here.
I haven’t bothered to keep up to date with the latest flavor combinations but this #6 on the menu board, the Gokudare, seemed something fresh. I should have investigated further. But alas, I got drawn to the classics. This time the #2, Kurobuta. I love how they have dubbed it the MVP – the Most Valuable Pork. I’m torn if that’s the result of a clever play on words or some odd Engrish creation…
1888 W Broadway
I think it was Vancouver Slop that first wrote about and caught my attention about this little business on West Broadway, along with various bits of positive chatter on other food forums. Again, much like Clubhouse, it sure doesn’t have a lot going for it as far as curb appeal goes. There are days when I’m looking for just some simple, budget priced sushi, which has led me to duck into numerous nondescript spots just to try and uncover a gem. For the most part, I’ve taken way to many hits for the team and have come away disappointed in many a sushi place in Vancouver. So while my interest was up along with my expectations, I tried to keep them tempered in case I was in for another let down…
Now I think I’ve heard rumors of a new management although they have kept everything the same. I think I’d heard a Japanese couple used to own this place, but no longer judging by the other Asian language I heard being spoke by the sole female server and the man behind the sushi bar. After perusing the menu booklet laden with photos, my dining partner and I elected to go with various nigiri sushi and a roll. The latter was something dubbed a Crunch Roll, covered on the outside by tempura bits. Texturally it was surely different. I had one piece, and since I’m not a regular maki eater, I’ll leave my comments just at that.
Clubhouse Japanese Restaurant
255 W 2nd Avenue
Taking a clean cut approach here, going picture-less of the actual food as photos were not taken, and solely relying on a cropped image from Google Earth of the restaurant’s exterior.
Following an alcohol-centered gathering (to be written about at a later time after I collect all my thoughts), a post-event meal was had at this surprisingly satisfying little Japanese restaurant with an odd sounding name – Clubhouse. Mixed in among a row of commercial buildings along the busy 2nd Avenue corridor, its easy to pass by without so much as giving this place a second look, so it was fortunate we were on foot. Frankly, I’d seen it before but hadn’t really thought about trying it out, but a member of our posse suggested I’d be amused at how good it was, and with that we popped inside.
Immediately coming in from the slowly fading daylight into a darker room with a wooden motif which was clearly dated, it felt more like some kind of random pub. In fact, I’d guess it probably was used as that kind of space in the past and not much had been done with the interior since. But low and behold, a few of the tables were occupied despite it being later in the evening, a good sign. With just a little bit of room left in our bellies, our food choices were simple. Mine turned out to be a small plate of their deep fried and fresh baby octopus. Little tender morsel, body and legs intact together. Nicely done and lightly seasoned. And not a greasy mess either. Just the way I prefer it.
740 Denman Street
Total visits over the years to this west end ramen-ya is about five for me personally. I hadn’t taken the time to properly put up a post yet since foodosophy started, but recently I had the opportunity to meet with a visiting out-of-town friend and he suggested that we go there for some ramen, so I was happy to oblige one more time. With the sister flagship business of Kintaro closed for the day (though peaking into the windows there, the staff was busy prepping soup stock and I could see bundles of noodles laid out on plates on the main counter), there was no need to juggle our choice. I am well aware both have their fans and detractors, and to each his/her own. For yours truly, after double dipping in both outlets of Daiji Mastubara’s ramen empire over the years, I’ve come to prefer the newer sister for its lighter broths and flavor combinations.
Much has been said already about the more refined and visually appealing setup in this location compared to the one just down the street. In an image conscious city like Vancouver, I find it somewhat fitting that the usually dour and bare bones design of a noodle shop has been upgraded at Motomachi Shokudo. On a first time visit, the differences are really noticeable, despite it being a relatively small dining area, with a few tables (including a communal one) and a bar counter to eat at. Clientele wise, I see more females and people apparently on dates here than one would normally associate with a ramen-ya. Stretching this impression to Japan, where its almost unfathomable to see a single woman eating by herself in such a place due to societal and cultural taboos, its even all the more “odd” to see here.
Shogun Japanese Restaurant
10125 – 121 Street NW
With one of the oldest pedigrees when it comes to serving Japanese cuisine in Edmonton (in particular being home to the first real full-fledged sushi bar in the city) and still in the same location when it opened back in 1983, Shogun is one of the real classics that has survived the test of time. Despite this longevity, I have a sense its not really well known by local bloggers as I don’t really hear much about it through other sources. If you’ve been around as long as yours truly has and are as familiar with the Alberta capital, you might recall the current major longtime stalwart in the Japanese food genre in Edmonton, Mikado, did have a much smaller location on the north side (not the present flagship spot near Grant MacEwan), also in the Eighties. But it was Shogun who really brought to Edmonton a full scale Japanese restaurant complete with the culture-crossing phenomenon better known as teppanyaki.
Inside some of the display cases lining the restaurant floor, you’ll find some of the artifacts of yesteryear; Polaroids of some of the local celebrities that frequented the place back in the day. Personally, I still have some autographs direct from the hands of the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Kevin Lowe from the early- Eighties that I collected from them when they were spotted dining here numerous times during those Oiler glory days (including one from their night of dining on New Year’s Eve 1984!). The decor hadn’t really changed much from its early days – the dark wood beams, the noren, the general layout of the tables and tatami rooms. Though I did note that in the ten years since I last came here, the sushi bar is now at the front of the house, where the former bar/lounge used to be.
3803 Calgary Trail NW
Thought it was open now didn’t you?
Well, as of 10pm MST last evening, this is what the front door looked like.
Still covered up with ‘opening soon’ paper noting just the information of a local contractor doing the work inside apparently, I’m not exactly sure when the doors will open to customers as it was difficult to see through the small bit of uncovered space at the entrance in the freezing Edmonton night I might add. With some flurries coming down, this was a quick drive by and shoot, as the trigger finger on the shutter felt like it might just fall off from the cold.
3003 St Johns Street
Port Moody, BC
In an attempt to bolster the registry of locations outside of the usual haunts in the GVRD, a quick lunch stopover in Port Moody while on the hunt for other sweet goodies took place that led me here, to Namoo Sushi. Funny sounding name indeed, but namoo means tree in Korean (and is also the symbol I see on their business card). The location is in a commercial building along the main thoroughfare of the old section of this quaint city. Parking was available just outside.
My visit took place on a weekend, roughly after the 1pm time frame. A few tables were occupied but it seemed they were known/friendly with the staff. I saw a drop in customer come get some take away as well. Service was polite and attentive before and during my meal, I just ran into a bit of lack of attention when I tried to pay (stood way too long at the register with her seated in discussion with the chefs just meters away). I’m not sure how busy this place can get, and it was hard to judge how the wait staff would cope when it busier.