Saturday, October 29, 2011

Taste of Yaletown 2011 - Hapa Izakaya


Hapa Izakaya (Yaletown) on Urbanspoon

Went for my third and probably last Taste of Yaletown 2011 outing last night. It's the Secret Souls Walk at Garden Park (East 2nd and Templeton) and possibly some poking around the Waldorf's Halloween Carnival of the Souls tonight, so that's it for my weekend.
Although there were a few hits and misses, it was mostly an excellent experience at Hapa Izakaya last night. Here's the menu:


$25.00 per person (excludes taxes, gratuities and alcohol)
Appetizer - Please choose two dishes:

1. Negitoro: Chopped albacore tuna belly served with garlic toast
2. Beef Tataki: Lightly seared AAA beef topped with sesame chili sauce
3. Tuna Carpaccio: Thinly sliced ahi tuna with yuzu dressing
4. Enoki Bacon: Enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon skewer
5. Bintoro: Lightly seared albacore tuna sashimi with ponzu sauce
6. Ahi Tuna Taco: Sautéed  ahi tuna, pickled serrano tartar sauce with guacamole wrapped in flour tortilla

Entrée - Please choose two dishes:

1. Chowder: Halibut, scallop, bacon and dashi in a creamy chowder
2. Karaage: Deep fried boneless chicken tossed with soy ginger sauce
3. Jerk Tsukune: Chicken patties drizzled in home made jerk sauce
4. Short Ribs: Grilled AAA beef short rib marinated in apple-soy sauce
5. Renkon Gyoza: Minced pork layered with lotus root, tempura style
6. Ebi Mayo: Tempura wild shrimp tossed in spicy mayo sauce

Dessert Please choose one dessert:

1. Matcha Brulee
2. Mixed Ice Cream
3. Cheesecake


We were just two last night, myself an a dear friend who was going overseas for God-knows-how-long, but obviously the optimal way to experience this Taste of Yaletown offering is a team of three, or possibly four as you can pick up an additional dish that appeals the most.

Our order was:

  • Appetizers: Negitoro, Tuna Carpaccio,  Enoki Bacon, Bintoro.
  • Entrées: Jerk Tsukune, Short Ribs, Renkon Gyoza, Ebi Mayo.
  • Desserts: Matcha Brulee, Cheesecake.
The Negitoro was very nicely done. It comes out more or less like a steak tartare: Raw and marinated in a hot sauce that gives a nice kick but doesn't overpower with being too hot. This is just two pieces of very lightly garlicked toast, so it'll be a bit tricky to share with three -- though if they are observant and kind, they'll throw in  a piece of toast for each diner. There's definitely more than enough mashed up tuna to generously coast three of the small slices of thinly sliced baguette.

The red ahi tuna, remember to look underneath the slices for marinated seaweed to put some on top before popping it in your mouth. Delicate flavour, a bit of crunch from the young seaweed stems. If you don't take your time to savour this one it'll be lost on you.

My friend was very impressed by the Enoki Bacon because it made bacon into a gourmet ingredient. This may be a novelty to you, but for me I thought the bacon turned out a big too oily. They could have patted it down a bit more, but there's definitely a strong bacon flavour that leaves the tightly packed enoki mushroom strands (so fine it looks almost like vermicelli) to be there as crunchy texture. Two skewers of two pieces here.

The creamy white meat of the albacore tuna in the Bintoro didn't seem to have any taste from the searing component, but the addition of shallots fried until golden brown (somewhat common in South East Asian cuisine) adds a pleasant flavour to the otherwise monotonous fish. Remember to put some on each slice.

Sorry to say, but Jerk Tsukune was, for me, a bust. It's chicken nuggets sitting on curry sauce. The crust didn't seem to be strongly flavoured, so the nugget on its own is pretty boring. The sauce was over-curried or something because it was hot to give it a kick, but predominantly unpleasantly bitter. And I really thought that just overpowered and killed the whole thing.

Short Ribs totally made up for it. Wonderfully grilled and dusted with a red condiment. It comes with a yellowish mayo which you should try a bit of, but which I recommend you give it a pass. The searing of the ribs was definitely not overdone, so it added flavour instead of a bitter burnt-meat experience.

The Renkon Gyoza had a basic-tasting dumpling filling that came through clearly. The lotus root part added novelty to it an basically made it not-a-real-gyoza. It's flavour was also evident, but I thought that even though it the lotus root was thinly cut, it still dominated too much with the firmness and taste. For me, this was a mediocre dish. If you like gyozas, the lotus root component will be mere novelty.

I wasn't on the ball last night and forgot to eat the ebi mayo first. The deep fried prawns (ebi) were pre-coated in the special mayo, so if you wait too long the crunch is lost. And in any case, it would have tasted much better hot. If you've had ebi mayo at Hapa Izakaya before, but once upon a time, it's changed now. Instead of large, heavily battered prawns with sauce on the side, it now looks more like a sweet-and-sour-something type dish. Very tasty and worth a try. Also, there's no harm in munching the whole thing down, including a bit of the shell at the tail tip for extra calcium.

Dessert was no highlight but basically very competently prepared. I've had matcha brûlée before elsewhere, so it wasn't anything special -- which is not to say that it needed to be special here, since a place like Hapa Izakaya would not really be remarkable for it's dessert. The matcha brûlée is a bit less sweet than your typical crème brûlée and a good choice if you don't want too much sweetness.

Our cheesecake was a lemon one. Flavour was good, consistency was crumbly. Unlike the usual solid cream of a cheesecake, the fluffy looking cake feels lighter but is a bit harder to handle and you will probably benefit from having a second utensil to help you put it together with the bit of fruit and fruity sauce that comes with it, not to mention heaping the broken bits back onto your spoon. That aside, it's tasty enough to be called good.

At $35 it's okay value. The food isn't as beautiful as at Bistro Sakana, nor will you necessarily leave feeling full, depending on your usual appetite. But the flavours and a few stand-out items like the short ribs and negitoro make Hapa Izakaya still worth checking out.

At the bottom of their menu are three options for basically $10 a piece to buff your meal with a dish. It's not mentioned on the Taste of Yaletown menu, so keep and eye out and ask your server about what they are.

Reservations really are a must and they seem upfront and firm about when they need their table back if you drop in without one. Going a little later and during their busier hours may have you relegated to the bar.

If you do go this Halloween weekend, look out for Karl Lagerfeld and an eye-catching tiger woman!




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