Clubhouse Japanese Restaurant – Vancouver, BC

Clubhouse Japanese Restaurant
255 W 2nd Avenue
Vancouver, BC
(604) 879-8998

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.

Continue reading

Hiyashi Chuka at Menya Japanese Noodle & Deli Nippon – Vancouver, BC

Menya Japanese Noodle
401 W Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 725-9432

Deli Nippon
3913 Knight Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-6101

As much as I love a hot bowl of noodles, especially ramen, I tend to put a stop to such consumption once the summer arrives.

Food to me is very seasonal, I think its ideal if you eat what is best at that time of the year, whether that thing is grown, raised or caught.  It’s also part of the reason why I could never live in a place where there does not exist a clear distinction between spring, summer, autumn and winter.  I’ve actually turned down work opportunities to go and live in everyday hot climates because of it twice in my lifetime.

And thus the idea of wolfing down a steaming bowl of soup when the mercury rises over 25 degrees C, is something I consider irrational.

So what’s a rameniac to do?

Simple…  hiyashi chuka.

Breaking down the Japanese language, “hiyashi” being cold, and the characters for “chuka” shorthand for “chuka-men“, or the generally yellow colored, crinkly flour-based noodles.

Hiyashi chuka, sometimes also called hiyashi ramen (in northern areas of Japan like Hokkaido), or reimen down in the Kansai region.  As with most noodle-based dishes in Japanese cuisine, you can find a wide variety from prefecture to prefecture in terms of the flavoring, toppings, etc.

By chance, on a recent visit to Menya, I spotted the small chalkboard posted on the wall inside that noted a summer special of cold noodles.  On closer inspection, I determined that indeed it was hiyashi chuka.  I was interested in how they might do this Kyushu-style, as they do their regular ramen, so that was instantly determined as my order.

Besides the traditional soy-vinegar based sauce ($7.75) , they had what they called an “original sesame flavour” ($8.25), so guessed that might be the southern Japan version and went with the latter.

The first thing I picked up on was that they had changed the type of noodle since I was last there many months ago.  Gone was the thinner straight type, which was replaced by a much thicker variety.  I wasn’t sure if this was just for the hiyashi chuka, but a few looks around at other diner’s bowls confirmed the same noodle was being used for their hot bowl.  I wondered about this clear change in their product (was it a supplier change, a philosophical adjustment to move away from Hakata tradition, or customer demands?) as I began to dig into my plentiful plate.

The toppings here were the usual cucumber, tomato, and egg, with some added shiitake, chicken and shrimp.  The aromatic sesame sauce was mixed in throughout the noodles and some black sesame seeds were sprinkled on top.

Perhaps it was the much more filling type of noodle but this was quite a meal in itself.  The thicker noodle did seem to match well with and allow the sauce to cling nicely.  The toppings were plentiful and fresh, though the shrimp was a bit tougher than I would prefer.  The balance of textures, from the crispy cucumber to the juicy soft slices of tomatoes were complete.

All in all, I’d consider this a more “upscale” or “luxurious” representation of hiyashi chuka, and it was a wonderfully flavourful dish.  I’m not sure how much long into the summer this will be around, but would recommend you give it a try while you still can.

Upon learning from another message board that Deli Nippon was also currently serving up this creation, I knew I had to make a visit.  This very bare bones, cafe-looking place is obviously a place where you don’t go for the decor.  A strange unused, stainless steel buffet-type of contraption inside behind a panel of glass that separates the dining space from the kitchen, just adds to the mystic (and questions about the “designer”).

As at Menya, there are two flavours available. The orthodox soy-vinegar ($6.50) and a miso style ($7.00).

Aside from the oddly-placed slice of pineapple, the cherry on top, and the fake crab meat, this representation of hiyashi chuka is the more homey arrangement that I am accustomed to seeing in Japanese households with the thinly sliced ham, cucumber and egg.  The accompanying soy-vinegar sauce was on the weak side from a flavour profile, and a few bites into it, I began thinking I could make a better one at home.  For the price though, I could stomach it and the noodles were cooked right and the main trio of toppings were fresh.

Though different interpretations and slight variance in price, I would have to give the edge to the one I ate at Menya, despite it being the less traditional (at least to my Kanto-based tastes) of the two.

For another look at a hiyashi chuka, refer to an image in this older post.


As an added bonus, here is a look at the okonomiyaki offerings at Deli Nippon. Now I must admit I don’t hold high hopes for this dish in Vancouver, after experiencing the slothered with oil, undercooked version at Modern Club a while back.

At least the ones on hand at Deli Nippon were very reasonably priced (compared to Modern Club), so if a total disaster, I could live with it.  I was a little thrown off by the “Italian” option, but for me, okonomiyaki always means pork, so “buta” it was.

As it was brought to the table later than the a fore mentioned hiyashi chuka, I couldn’t help to be pleasantly surprised as it was nice, wide disc, but not overly dense and thick.  All the requisite toppings were there too.

Breaking it down some more, the base was cabbage and onion, topped with a layer of the same chuka-men used in the hiyashi chuka and a thin layer off egg on top.  Though not horribly bad tasting by any means, it lacked the punch of a really solid okonomiyaki, I think the rather bland pork slices (which were kind of few and far between as well) being used led me to feel this way – they lacked the really crispy, bacon-like texture that I prefer.  One thing to keep in mind, the small bottle of extra okonomiyaki sauce that they bring out, is simply just too thick for the small narrow spout, so you have to take off the lid and pour out the top directly.

Deli Nippon on Urbanspoon

Modern Club – Vancouver, BC

[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]

Modern Club Japanese Restaurant
3446 Dunbar Street
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604-739-0170

okonomi = “as you like”
yaki = “cooked”

Probably to most, Modern Club is an unusual sounding name for a place that is supposed to be specializing in okonomiyaki, a centuries old Japanese creation that consists basically of a batter mixture of flour and water that is mixed with various ingredients all cooked together on a hot plate/grill and formed into a circular disc/pie-shape (incidentally, I always cringe when I hear okonomiyaki being described as a Japanese pancake, so let’s avoid that terminology here), and topped off with some sweet okonomiyaki sauce, shaved bonito (katsuo) flakes, even finer seaweed flakes (aonori), and Japanese mayonnaise.

Okonomiyaki took an interest route to its modern day state, with its origins reputed to have begun way back in the Edo Period (17~19th Century) of Japan, with a Japanese sweet known as funoyaki, which had a similar base batter made of flour and water, that was thinly spread out and cooked, then flavored with miso and sugar.  It has undergone other transformations over time, including variations called dondonyaki, betayaki, choboyaki, and even one that still exists today in the Kanto region of Japan (eg. Tokyo) known as monjayaki (the more liquidy batter version of okonomiyaki), before finally coming to be known in present-day as okonomiyaki.

The various stages of this dish’s development over time have been impacted by the introduction/availability or lack there of, of ingredients – the Great Earthquake that ravaged Tokyo in 1923 that caused food rations, the introduction of western Worcestershire sauce, etc. being interesting contributing historical factors.  Today, you can find okonomiyaki appearing in various ways, most due to the regional differences that have evolved through its long history – an interesting trait of many popular items in Japanese cuisine, which derives or is influenced by the cultural and traditional forced compartmentalization of geographic regions in pre-modern Japan by the rulers of the day, but alas that could be an entirely separate topic, and one that could probably be applied to many other parts of the world as well.

Back to the Modern Club.  From the outside, it appears almost like a cafe of sorts, with its small sidewalk patio and open wooden framing tucked into the side of a continuous row of buildings on Dunbar Street.  The space came across as bistro-like inside, so not sure if there was a previous tenant in this spot that the owners simply took over, or if it was designed this way.  My visit here was a planned trip and luckily on this night, they were offering all of the okonomiyaki dishes for a special price of $9.95.  I could see the prices on the menu were much higher, in the $16-$18 range, so was happy to receive the discount.  I’m not sure why the prices were cut this night, but reading about complaints on other sites about the high prices, perhaps they were influenced somehow by this negative feedback.  Or perhaps I am just deluding myself into assuming us online bloggers exert any power over restaurants’ operations.

In Japan, most single proprietor okonomiyaki places are really down to earth, a complete lack of a pretentious atmosphere, as after all this is very much home-style cuisine.  And most importantly, they let you cook it yourself, which is a big part of the overall experience.  Getting that bowl full of ingredients, mixing it around, layering on a fine coat of oil to the hot teppan (grill), gentling guiding the mixture onto it as it starts to sizzle, and then shaping it into a nice round shape – all takes some practice and talent, especially when it comes to the flipping over part of this DYI task!  Alas, at Modern Club, the choice to cook at your own table it taken completely out of the picture, as all the tables had no such teppan on it to do your own cooking.  There was a large central cordoned off teppan towards the side of the room, where the cook prepared it for you.  I imagine most North Americans have grown to accept those cook-you-own-meal barbecue places, but have yet to be fully taught on the finer points of self-made okonomiyaki, and would probably have no idea what they are doing, so perhaps this setup is just fine.  Though if this place really wants to be known for okonomiyaki, I think they should invest in the necessary tables and bring a fresh element to this dish and this place, I am sure the sizzle alone would be great for word-of-mouth!

For my meal, I chose the mixed okonomiyaki and added the choice of noodles – thereby changing the proper naming of this dish to modanyaki (hence the tie-in to the restaurant’s name) – although the choices were soba or udon noodles when traditionally it would be specific yakisoba noodles or chukamen (kind of crinkly, ramen style noodles).  I went with the mixed edition mainly to see just how balanced the ingredients were inside.  My dining partner did the same, though was right when they expressed some hesitation that perhaps we should have just gotten one and shared, as when it did come out, it was a pretty big pie!  Throw in the fact that I had half downed a bottle of Sapporo beer (the very same one that appears on the header image for this month) and had nibbled away on some simple chicken karaage, and I was putting myself in trouble from the get-go before I had even a single bit of the okonomiyaki!

First impressions, it looked not bad, nice and thick, almost Hiroshima-style like in that it almost passed off as being layered since it was so puffed up, though it could have used some more sauce and was missing both the bonito and seaweed flakes!  This easily filled the plate it came on.  First bit, boy its dense!  Loaded with the udon noodles, made it even more so.  Amply filled with cabbage too, which was a disappointment, as it felt like that was the main ingredient in this supposedly mixed okonomiyaki.  A few more bites and I realized that they were using way too much vegetable oil inside and to cook this on the hotplate, it began to sag badly and collapse as I cut it into quarters on my plate – shouldn’t do that.  It did have a few nice juicy prawns and some cuts of bacon (I would have preferred whole strips of bacon as you get in Japan, and not the small one cm cuts of it), but other than that the added ingredients were lacking in number – “Where’s the Mix” I say!  By the time I managed to finish half of it, mainly to prevent myself from possibly growing hungry later that night, I was done with this dish.  My dining partner was even less enthused and finished just a quarter.  To save face, we got them to wrap them up but soon found their way into the trash once we got home – they were even more soggy a short 20 minute car ride later.

Let’s be frank, if you are looking for a real authentic okonomiyaki, your best bet is to travel to Osaka (Kansai region) and find one of any of the restaurants serving this as their specialty.  You’ll only know the true taste of okonomiyaki by doing so.  Though giving credit where credit is due, you have to applaud Modern Club for making an attempt here, to bring to the table something from home kitchens in Japan, to Vancouver, which is overpopulated by bad grab-and-dash sushi, and even worse bastardized renditions of classic Japanese cuisine that seems to be assumed as the standard.  So they do have a niche, and seeing the smattering of couples who were dining that same night, I guess they have some fans in the Dunbar area.  I won’t be going back though.  That is unless they take my idea of trying to hit a home run by introducing the teppan tables and letting us create our own!

P.S.  Here is an image of an table-made seafood okonomiyaki that I had in Tokyo a short while ago.  It was a very simple teppan place, and a lunch special for about $10.  Interestingly, they even had some fine rice-shaped bits of cereal for some added crunch inside, which I thought was a great secret ingredient.  As you can see, a much thinner package, not loaded up excessively with cabbage inside and filled with an assortment of seafood.

Modern Club on Urbanspoon