Misai Japanese Restaurant
7-1915 32 Avenue NE
Calgary, AB T2E 7C8
Choices – so many choices. In today’s society, we are accustomed to what some might consider an excessive amount of choice. While having more choices is usually better, in the restaurant industry, too much choices can be a very bad thing. A menu with too many choices usually means too much stock, not enough turnover, leading to lower quality. Too many choices generally mean that less care and attention are paid to each individual dish, also resulting in lower overall quality, and more inconsistency. Does it automatically mean the food will be bad? No. But i find it tough to believe a restaurant can perform to their full potential with a wide and extensive menu, unless the menu has been very very carefully planned.
Misai Japanese Restaurant is one of the few choices available in the NE for Japanese food. Located in a small strip mall of a busy commuter avenue, they’ve been around for quite some time – definitely one of the earlier “new entrants” to the Japanese restaurant community. Not a venerable institution like Sushi Hiro, but it has been around for almost a decade. It was, for the longest time, the favorite restaurant of my former room-mate and myself – we’d make the trek once to twice a week, and order the same thing every time. This was back when we had less choice.
The hallmark of the Misai menu is choice. Not only do they serve sushi, sashimi, and the general cooked standby’s – tempura, udon, soba, teriyaki, but they were the first in Calgary to carry a heavy Izakaya-influenced menu – Hamachi cheeks, grilled saba head, Grilled Ika, and a variety of other small plates and dishes. The result is the biggest menu at a Japanese restaurant i’ve ever seen. 8-10 very large pages filled with an infinite variety of dishes.
This, unfortunately, is also their biggest drawback. From raw fish, to complex raw lobster meals, to a dizzying array of cooked dishes, the quality of the food generally suffers. There are several gems on the menu though.
My favorite dish at Misai is the Salmon Sashimi. Large (usually too large) pieces of firm, tasty salmon. This used to be the most amazing value on the menu, but even with recent price hikes (not exact on the price, but it is now roughly $1.80 a piece), it is still excellent value. The quality of the salmon can vary from day to day, but in general, is very good.
Their bento boxes are also pretty reasonable. A selection of Nigiri, sashimi, tempura, rice, miso, salad, and tsukemono make for a large amount of variety at a reasonable price. The rice for the nigiri is pretty mediocre, but the tempura is often reasonable – not overbattered like many other establishments in town. Salad is lightly dressed, fish is reasonably fresh, the overall verdict on the bento is pretty good.
Out of their other dishes, I would definitely skip the lobster feast. Their grilled squid, and other grilled fish parts are usually frozen, which results in a noticeable decrease in quality, particularly in texture. Freezing fish cheeks and other delicate pieces that lack the fat and structure to stand up to freezing has it’s impact. They aren’t bad, but you can definitely get better.
With the influx of Japanese restaurants into Calgary over the past 5 or 6 years, we now have an unprecedented amount of choice. Misai Japanese Restaurant, which used to be one of the best Japanese restaurants in town, is now just one of many acceptable places that are reasonable to eat at, but nothing very exciting. I would not measure them on par with Wa’s, Blowfish, or Zipang, but for NE Calgary, which has few choices to begin with, they are definitely the best of the lot. I really wish they would concentrate on just trying to do fewer things more consistently and better, but if you go, choose your dishes wisely – it’ll likely be the difference between an average meal, and a good one.