Saturday, October 22, 2011

Taste of Yaletown 2011 - Bistro Sakana

Bistro Sakana on Urbanspoon

It's only 7:30pm and I'm just back from another excellent Taste of Yaletown dinner! Not early enough to avoid the after-game skytrain rush, but definitely not sorry to have had dinner at Bistro Sakana.

It's a very fixed menu with no vegetarian option here, but the variety makes up for it. Here's the $35 menu:

$35.00 per person (excludes taxes, gratuities and alcohol)

Sockeye Salmon Miso Chowder
Atlantic Lobster Miso Bisque
Tai (New Zealand Red Snapper) Sashimi
with fresh ginger & ponzu sauce

All of:

  1. Wild Sockeye Jalapeno Aburi "Hakozushi": Sockeye Salmon layered with rice, box pressed, flame torched, and topped with jalapeño slices
  2. Toro Red Chili Aburi "Hakozushi": Albacore Toro marinated in Junmai sake & miso, layered with rice, box pressed, flame torched, and topped with red chili and key lime slivers
  3. Yuzu Black Sesame Encrusted Tuna Tataki: Albacore sashimi tataki encrusted with roasted black sesame and drizzled with tangy yuzu miso sauce.
  4. Ume-Shiso Smelt Tempura: Japanese butterfly smelt lightly fried in a delicate batter with Japanese plum paste and fresh "Shiso leaf"
  5. Shiro Miso Black Cod: Grilled white miso marinated black cod with pickled ginger sprout garnish

Hojicha Crème Brûlée
a creamy crème brûlée flavoured with roasted green tea

Suggested Wine Pairing
Koto Sennen Junmai Dai Ginjo Sake
Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc

Bistro Sakana is a tight restaurant with indoor and heated, covered, patio seating. Lighting is dim even at the bar, but if you position yourself at the end of the bar nearer the door side, you'll get the most lighting from behind the counter, plus a fairly decent view of the two chefs working up front (although you'll probably see the one chef continually churning out the Osaka-style boxed pressed sushi, or "hakozushi") -- two types of which will end up on your plate. Executive chef Etsuko Needham is on the other side of the cramped bar, nearer the kitchen entrance.

I went for the sashimi to start. It's a very delicate dish that does come with a bit of soy sauce on the side, but I encourage you to try it without. Each slice of snapper has a little bit of garnish that is just enough to flavour it but not enough to overpower it. Since the fish is thinly sliced to begin with, you'll kill it with too much sauce. If you need it -- as the taste can be a bit bland even with the condiments -- just dab it on with the tip of your chopsticks.
Presentation has the novelty of a small candle on your plate, which lends a romantic air to the dimly lit restaurant.

The heavy square platter with your dinner will probably surprise you with how beautifully plated it is. And then once you try it, you'll probably be astonished by how sweet many of the items are. Sweetness hasn't been the dominant flavour in my sushi-eating experience, so the condiments here were a refreshing change and made for an interesting and tasty experience. It's not overpoweringly sweet, and definitely it'll all be ruined by any soy sauce or wasabi.
(By the way, you can see pictures of  the Tuna Tataki and Black Cod on their Facebook wall photos).

Not too much rice here -- just enough from the four pieces of hazozushi to help make this a nice light meal that's not too filling (bigger appetites may want to browse the menu for a little something extra before dessert). The rest is fish and an interesting deep-fried fish cracker thingie -- the Ume-Shiso Smelt Tempura. This very thinly sliced fish is deep fried in a thick, porous batter that nevertheless comes out very crispy and not at all oily. It's really just to give a pleasant firmness to pick it up, and crunch for texture. It comes with a small dish of sea salt and a wedge of lemon. There's definitely too much sea salt here, so go easy (and the dish makes it hard to actually goof this up as it's tricky to mash the whole piece of smelt in and thereby grab too much salt-and-lemon-juice on it).
Something you can do with the leftover sea salt is to dab a bit onto your plate and rub a piece of hazozushi on it -- by far the most "normal" tasting and therefore somewhat bland (compared to the other items on the plate) selection on your plate.

Dessert was a pretty standard crème brûlée, jazzed up with roasted green tea. The flavour here is pretty subtle, tempering the sweetness of a basic crème brûlée. After having sight and taste dazzled by dinner, this was almost a letdown.

The beautiful plating, broad sample, interesting sweet flavours make this totally worth $35.
Staff were very polite (no surprise from a Japanese restaurant) but wait staff seemed a bit overwhelmed.  Going earlier instead of joining the scrum of a packed restaurant is probably your best bet.

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