Monday, October 22, 2012

Taste of Yaletown 2012 - Bistro Sakana

Bistro Sakana on Urbanspoon EDIT (2012-Oct-22) - Corrected various details in the post after hearing from the owner. Gosh, someone actually reads my posts?! O_O

 I went to Bistro Sakana last year for the Taste of Yaletown, and was very pleasantly surprised, so well ahead of time I made a reservation for this busy restaurant. Like Miku, they do the "aburi" style box-pressed and blow-torched. Here, they use a stick of charcoal (imported from Japan) to deflect the flame onto the sushi instead of using the direct flame jet, to reduce the chances of the sushi smelling/tasting like fuel.

There are three seating areas -- reservations go in the main dining room, walk-ins go to the covered and heated patio, or to the bar.

Our party was to dine at 6pm, but two dropped out at the last moment, two no-showed, and two were stuck behind traffic in Surrey after a wine tour. So there was just two of us and we decided to move to the bar. Which doesn't sound so great, unless you like watching the chefs roll and blowtorch sushi -- which we did, so it worked out nicely.
(Regarding reservations... Earlier this year I had tried to make a reservation for 8, but the restaurant policy for a party of 8 was a minimum spend of $500 before tax and tip! Parties of 6+ 8+ also have an automatic 18% gratuity figured into the bill.)

My dining partner hauled out her cellphone for pics and vids, so we have some footage this time!

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

  • Wild Sockeye Salmon Miso Chowder - a rich creamy salmon & miso chowder
A Signature Sample Platter including all of the following: (picture)
  • Wild Sockeye Jalapeño Aburi "Hakozushi" - sockeye salmon layered with rice, box pressed, flame torched, and topped with jalapeño slices
  • 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
  • Teppan Roll - fresh tomato, Hotate scallop sashimi, fresh bocconcini mozzarella & home-made shiso-basil pesto, rolled up with rice, lightly sauteed and plated with a rim of aged balsamic reduction and unfiltered extra virgin olive oil
  • Nasu Dengaku - traditional baked Japanese eggplant with aka miso sauce, served on brown rice risotto
  • Ginger Citrus Hamachi - fresh yellowtail sashimi layered with pink grapefruit sections and drizzled with a soy-balsamic vinaigrette
  • Oka San's Rich Chocolate Brownies - rich dark chocolate brownies served warm with dark chocolate sauce & vanilla bean gelato
As was the case last year, the sushi had a touch of sweetness to it, which I do like as a nice change from "regular" cheap-ass sushi that comes with soy sauce and wasabi for dipping. Overall, the stronger tastes combined with the more subtle taste accompanying the rice pieces made the Taste of Yaletown menu a nice, light dinner of interesting flavours.
Sad to say, I rather prefer going only during their mixed platter fixed menu offerings during Taste of Yaletown because you're not committed to a full roll, but get a variety of interesting items. Each time they make a box-pressed sushi, there's enough for 8 pieces. And to maintain quality and freshness, they can't really sell two to four pieces and blindly hope that someone will make another half order in the very near future. Assembling a group of four would be the way to go, with each person getting two pieces of each order, but you still wouldn't have the chef making the selection for you in the sort of whole-meal way you get with the Taste of Yaletown everything-for-$35 three-course.

Here's how our dinner turned out (including extras not in the Taste of Yaletown menu that we ordered):
  • Yam Fries ($7.50) picture
  • Soft shell Crab Tempura ($13)
    • These came out a bit oily tasting. Otherwise pretty basic -- battered and deep fried crabs.
    • Go easy on the soy sauce ponzu sauce, otherwise you'll smother the crab flavour.
    • Came with a small amount of chili paste which was sadly worthless as far as adding heat and bite to this. Would have been nice, though. What looked like a small dab of chili paste was in fact "momiji oroshi", a mildly spicy dab of grated daikon.
    • For $13, I'd pass on this. It's hard to dispute the cost of crab/shellfish, but combined with the oiliness and the nothing-very-special quality of this item. Instead, get the Soft Shell Crab Karaage at Miku for $10.
  • Wild Sockeye Salmon Miso Chowder
    • Looked pretty basic, and basically delicious. Not much to say here.
  • Wild Sockeye Jalapeño Aburi "Hakozushi" picture
    • I don't recall getting much heat from the jalapeño here.
    • This one sort of passed me by in terms of being interesting, but my companion was so impressed she ordered an additional full roll ($11).
  • Toro Red Chili Aburi "Hakozushi"
    • "Toro" is a fatty part of a fish used in sushi.
    • The owner mentioned they had to get their own chili for any sort of heat here. Apparently, before they sourced their own chili and chopped it up themselves, the chili they used didn't have any bite to it at all.
    • There is a bit of chili heat which contrasts nicely with the lime slivers. Otherwise, this didn't really catch my attention.
  • Teppan Roll
    • The light burn from being sautéed, combined with the touch of sweetness from dipping in just a bit of balsamic reduction made this a winner with me. The few pieces of this sadly went all too quickly.
  • Nasu Dengaku
    • Eggplant on mushy rice. Uh... yup.
  • Ginger Citrus Hamachi
    • The lighting is sort of dim in the restaurant, so look carefully and try to pick up both fish and grapefruit in the same bite -- I think I screwed this part up and it should have been a tastier experience for me.
  • Oka San's Rich Chocolate Brownies picture
    • I've had some really nice chocolate cakes, such as at The Wallflower and Bandidas Tacqueria. The rich (but overpriced) chocolate cake at Heirloom (minus the goat cheese) is also a contender for top spot, but this cake-style brownie dessert is my new number 1 choice for bestest chocolate cake ever.
    • I think it could have done with less ice cream, or have that more separate, because the soft gelato melted very quickly and as often is the case with ice cream that melts quickly, you get an unappetizing goop.
    • The brownie here is deeply chocolately, very rich and moist.
    • The Taste of Yaletown portion is about one cup's worth (plus a scoop of ice cream). Not sure about the regular order, but on the dessert menu it is listed at $6.50.
  • Chestnut Panna Cotta ($6.50)
    • This was in the restaurant menu but not on the online menu at the time I am writing this blog post.
    • Light and refreshing, but a bit bland for my taste. Very soft and creamy.
    • I wasn't clearly experiencing the chestnuts here. If you're not up for a too-rich dessert, or if you're more sensitive to subtle flavours, then this could work. It's certainly one of the more interesting desserts on their regular menu.
Service was a bit uncoordinated. Everyone works the entire room, so if orders are a bit slow, sometimes you will end up being asked by multiple servers if you've ordered. One of the owners (Peter Needham) was on the floor that night and he chatted us up briefly -- possibly because our orders were still on the way. It was interesting to hear his take on the Taste of Yaletown, however: It was a chance to introduce diners to more interesting items on their menu, whereas quite often patrons ask for safer choices.
If you sit at the bar, the chef there can actually take or relay your order. For example, she prepared the Salmon Aburi and just handed it to us right after the finishing touches with the blowtorch.

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