Chungdam Ahn – Vancouver, BC

Chungdam Ahn
832 Cardero Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 688-3632

It has been a few years now since I last visited this popular Korean lounge off one of the side streets of Robson.  Hidden away from the main strip, its not always been on my radar so I was pleased to find Chungdam Ahn was still around after all this time.  With a few boisterous friends in tow in search of some unique food and drink combinations, we headed to this part of Cardero Street and tucked inside to a pretty full room.  With some lively music and a vibe that only excited, young twenty-somethings can bring to a place, it had all the markings of a good night to be had…

Fortunately, we were able to squeeze into the bigger corner table of the place, almost as if it was waiting for us all this time. Scanning around with my eyes, it was clear we weren’t the only group out for a hard night of eating and drinking, although there were some tables occupied just by couples on an evening out.  A pair of female servers were buzzing from table to table, collecting orders and bringing out food from the kitchen area.

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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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