Once in a long while we all come upon a little restaurant that may not be in the best location or even be known to the general public and have a meal that was beyond what we’d ever expected.
Just such a place for us was Sushi Bar Miki, which was also a location where we had exactly that type of a meal. Found in a less than desirable part of town and far from any of the dining-centric spots Miki is a small store located in a little strip mall just off 16th Ave. in the Bowness/Montgomery area of town.
We’d ended up there merely by chance as we(read “I”) were trying to decide where to go for a sushi fix. Nancy had put forth the idea of visiting one of the several places we normally would go and have had good experiences in the past. I however am more inclined to go somewhere we’ve not yet been so that I may review it and add one more possible favorite to our ever expanding list. This outing was my idea and also happened to be last minute- I sprang it on Nancy when she came home from work, and as a result had been given the nod to do this only if we can keep to a budget of $50. That’s no simple task given the price of sushi in this town, we could go to an AYCE and hope not to be ill as a result or just be more careful about what we buy- I tend to order appies and sake, both of which add a great deal to the cost. I agreed to this condition and began looking for a place we could go.
While browsing around UrbanSpoon I found several places we’d never tried before, many of which are highly rated, but it soon became obvious they were mostly not going to meet the budget constraints I had. I then noticed Miki had some good reviews and despite little information I felt it would be worth the risk, that and it was not too far away.
When we entered the store we saw just how small it was. There was a 5-6 seat sushi bar, a couple of booths and maybe 4 more tables. Despite arriving earlier than normal there were only a few seats at the bar and one table free, with reserved signs on 2 spots. I personally felt these were good indicators that we may have stumbled upon a rare “Hidden Gem” that was kept mostly a secret by the regulars in hopes of not attracting crowds to what was a favourite and quiet little place.
We were warmly greeted by the host and the sushi chef smiled a greeting at us as we looked around while being seated. There were the signs of a family run store that most foodies know to be a good thing but the myopic food snobs that abound will generally report as ugly decor and sloppiful house keeping when they stroke their egos by posting on a food site. I already liked the place and made a mental note to return even before trying the food.
We looked the menu over- it had oddly Italian wording in places, and decided on some toro sashimi, an assorted sushi/sashimi platter and the spicy cali roll they had on special according to the chalkboard near the door. All of these are things that can be indicators of whether the owners care about the food or not. Since the roll was their creation and is said to have a home-made sauce I was hoping it would at least be passable. As for the platter, it would either contain the fish they wanted to be rid of or it would be made up of items they wanted to showcase on that night. The toro of course would be either bad, edible or very good based on my experience.
The toro arrived first, right away we liked what we saw. The fish looked great and was presented in a nice way that showed the staff here did in fact care about what went out. I really can only say that we were both truly surprised at this first serving, we were happy with how it looked but were amazed at the quality and freshness of the fish, if you know good sushi you’ll understand what I mean when I say that this toro crossed the palette like fresh spring water and left no trace. I’ve only had toro this good a few times in Calgary and we had to order more.
We were equally impressed with the pieces that came on the platter. They gave us tomagoyaki that was among the best I’ve had, a very nice unagi and tako that was amazingly fresh. Now, I like tako and as with unagi am compelled (most often to my deep regret) to order it at nearly every sushi place we dine, the one piece I had at Miki was unspeakably good and was the first I’d had in North America that was not rubbery. I recall commenting to Nancy that it actually disturbed me and initially I wondered if something was wrong with it. The platter even had more toro, something that in and of itself is a surprise let alone when it’s this good.
When the roll arrived we were already in a state of bliss that even had this dish been bad would not have dissipated, however much to our great pleasure this was an equally good experience. The roll was basically your average avocado and fish but with a number of spicy twists. The outside was coated in shichimi togarashi (a Japanese pepper condiment which I like), had a small amount of tasty home-made hot sauce on top and was sprinkled with diced peppers. This was a very good roll and not as hot as you might think, although Nancy would disagree.
All the food was well made and served in a pleasing manner, the staff were attentive and while the length of time it took for the food to be prepared was longer than expected I believe this can surely be forgiven given that what was served to us was certainly worth waiting for. I will also say not to forget that in a true sushi-ya the meal is supposed to be an overall experience that involves more than just good tasting fish, one should converse with other diners and enjoy the sight both of the preparation and of the food itself as part of the whole package, a normal dinner at a typical sushi-ya in Tokyo can easily last 2+ hours.
By the end of the dinner we were not quite as full as we might normally be given we ordered less, but we stayed in budget and had one of the best sushi meals in memory. Aside from sitting at the bar and being social this was as close to a real sushi-ya in quality and presentation as can be found in Calgary.
In all honesty I admit to being conflicted about my writing this since I too am now in possession of the special knowledge that others seem to want to keep from the general unwashed masses, that being of course the location of such a good little place that would surly suffer from additional traffic and popularity. I’m both happy to tell others about Miki and at the same time a part of me wants to keep this to myself so as not to cause the destruction of something I like.
In closing I’ll say that you need to stay away from this place because among other unseemly things they have the gall to serve gooey green horseradish instead of real wasabi. (there, that’ll keep the trend- humping food snobs away for sure). :)