Saturday, August 7, 2010

Slow Food at Miku Restaurant

Miku Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Miku Restaurant first got my attention when I poked around the Dine Out Vancouver site to see who'd landed the Best Bite Awards this year:
  • Best Appetizer - COAST Restaurant
  • Best EntrĂ©e - MIKU Restaurant
  • Best Dessert - COAST Restaurant
  • Best BC Wine Pairing - The WESTWARD HO!
  • Best Overall Dine Out Menu - COAST Restaurant
  • Best Service - MAURYA Indian Cuisine
In what used to be The Spotted Prawn Bistro, a place reputed with so-so food and less than so-so service, revitalized with refreshing and vibrant decor, Miku Restaurant serves pricey sushi that looks great and tastes good if you take it slow.

I dropped by on a Wednesday Celebration of Light fireworks night to find it packed and gave it a pass, to come back the following week for lunch. A missed connection meant that I was, alas, dining alone. :-(
I got there around 12:15pm and found it not so busy that I couldn't be seated right away. By 12:30pm, however, the lunch crowd had packed the place and some accepted to sit at the "bar", looking on the chefs preparing meals out in the open. When I left shortly before 1pm, although many diners had left, there was still a short lineup at the front door.
The place was definitely busy enough that the plainclothed manager was helping with the service.

No hottie-dressed buxom servers here! The wait-staff wore basic black everything and were too busy to be anything but run ragged, especially when even the slightest flaw on a plating meant it had to be sent back. I saw a server bring back a plate where one end piece of sushi had tipped over (and, presumably, the filling had partially fallen out) for the chef to delicately salvage the presentation.
The black shirt tops may have been standard issue because the early afternoon hostess who showed me to my table had a slightly-too-small one, which results in gapes between the buttons. (I, of course, averted my eyes -- Yeah, right.)

The atmosphere was trendy restaurant and the table arrangements not excessively claustrophobic. The ambiance was more like a Robson Street izakaya with staff yelling Japanese sound bites back and forth. No coordinated bowing and shouts of "irashaii" to spotlight you when you enter, but noisy nevertheless.
I thought it a shame as the shielded location in the Guinness Tower (1055 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC, V6E 2E9) gives it a chance to be a quiet oasis amid the downtown bustle: The Tower's lobby is spacious and generally quiet; right outside is a generous patio and a small park, the latter rather infrequently usedl; and the distance from the restaurant's glass walls to the nearest traffic is considerable.

For lunch I went with the "Premium Select" ("selection"?) -- "Chef's selection of aburi, oshi, temari, roll & rose sushi (12 pieces)". It arrived quite promptly and beautifully plated, and looking deceptively skimpy for lunch. One has to remember, however, that each slab of sushi goodie sits on rice, and it was overall a not-overly-filling lunch, with room for dessert.
I was a bit disappointed to find three duplicated items, but it still looked like a varied set. A hot bowl of soup came shortly after. There was the usual thinly sliced ginger, but no wasabi (which wasn't at all necessary as there wasn't a strong "fishy" smell or taste to the fish). A touch of soy sauce had already been integrated into the sushi.

Weighing in at $26 before the new 12% HST, this plate isn't your typical bulk sushi and at almost $2.50 per piece, you really ought to take it slow and savour each bite.
The portions were bite sized, and you can put the entire piece into your mouth in one go. Some sushi places give a slightly more generous portion, but that means you occasionally have to take two bites, and the fish or octopus or whatever sitting on top of the rice doesn't always want to be cleanly severed by your front teeth, resulting in inconvenience and possibly a mess.

Overall, if you are willing to go slow, you may taste enough of a difference in quality to justify the price tag. Otherwise, stick to sushi from your local supermarket. For half the cost, you could go to an all-you-can-eat sushi outfit if you are willing to risk what might be substandard or even unacceptable quality and smother the bad bits with soy sauce, wasabi, and/or ginger slices. Either way, you'll get more pound per penny than coming to Miku Restaurant.

For dessert, the most interesting item seemed to me the Green Tea Opera -- "layers of green tea almond sponge infused with espresso and Brandy chocolate ganache, azuki red bean and green tea butter cream served with green tea ice cream & crunchy wafer".
Unlike your usual chocolatey goodness Opera Cake (that generally looks like a fine-dining Nanaimo Bar with more but thinner layers), this one was green of course and soft-wet.
It came with a single small scoop of green tea ice cream sitting on perfectly concealed crushed peanuts. I thought the cake could have used a bit more texture on the inside, maybe a wafer or a layer of crunchy bits of something, but it was still tasty overall.
Whether you will consider the slight portion, slightly smaller than a standard chocolate bar in volume, to be fair value for $12 is debatable.

The final bill for a single diner (me) with no drinks, was $38 + tax + $10 tip, for just over $52. Ouch.

Pictures and more reviews for Miku Restaurant can be found at Yelp.

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