Category Archives: Asian

Taiyo Japanese Restaurant review

Anyone who visits here and reads my reviews or has dined with me is well aware of my longstanding enjoyment of sushi. I’ve been fortunate enough to sample it in restaurants all over the world and have developed a fair palette for the delicate flavours.

Unfortunate then that I live in a part of Calgary where there are few choices that don’t involve travelling farther than my inherent laziness will permit. When sitting in my office and the craving hits me I generally ignore it. I settle for something else rather than drive to the nearest place that serves acceptable sushi. Yes, there are grocery stores nearby but I have never been that desperate.

Given the above information it’s easy to understand how hearing of a new Japanese restaurant opening very close by would arouse a healthy curiosity on my part. My only hope was that other than a new place to try Taiyo would also prove to be one that offered sushi and that the aforementioned sushi would be good.

Taiyo is located in the Creekside Shopping Centre and as such is really the only Japanese restaurant in the area. Sure you could drive to Crowfoot hoping one of the places there will be having a good day or take your chances with mall food courts or the previously mentioned supermarket offerings, these however are not as good an option now(not an option at all in my view) since this store has opened.

I’d only just heard that a new Japanese place was opening and since I had a desire to eat some sushi and wanted to get a little riding in while the clouds had briefly parted I jumped on my bike and headed over to give Taiyo a try.

It’s not surprising that I had not noticed the signage go up here since this place is at the far North end of this long mall. I only ever find myself there when visiting Rona. If I’d not had my spies inform me of its existence I may well not have found Taiyo for some time. Luckily this was not the case.

Being a storefront location the owners have put “glass etch” window film up and you cannot see into the restaurant. I had expected a basic open space with bare walls and a few tables. I was pleasantly surprised at the nicely thought out and attractive dining room I found when I entered. There is a sushi bar at the far end near the kitchen, couples seating, booths, floor-level style booths and a private dining area for groups. All in all a well made casual dining room.

I was promptly greeted by a smiling pretty young lady and shown a table. The two sushi chefs behind the bar were working at making orders but were nice enough to smile and nod in welcome to me as I was seated. I asked for some sake and a glass of water and they were brought right away.

I took a look at the lunch menu and decided on an 8 piece nigiri combo with two pieces of  the house roll and 6 of nigiri which also came with miso soup and a salad. In addition to this I ordered some separate pieces of unagi and tamago, two of my favourites and some of the items I like to use to gauge the sushi in a new place. I found the prices of the sushi to be on the high side of normal for Calgary while the sake was priced about average. Adding the drink and extra nigiri was going to make this a filling if somewhat expensive lunch since I’d already decided to splurge for the green tea iced cream.

I was very pleased with the service I received and found that the two young ladies who served me were very attentive and friendly. I discovered while talking with one of them that Taiyo is family owned. My servers’ older brother and sister ran the place. The brother was behind the sushi bar and the sister was the other girl doing front of house duty along with the one I spoke to. She informed me that they had only been open a few days, as such I was fairly impressed with things so far.

Having my water filled when near the bottom of the glass is certainly nice but when moments after finishing with a plate or bowl it is removed and this is done with every one of several during my meal I can honestly say the service is far better than is common in Calgary. I also found the staff to be pleasant to speak to without being overly talkative. I hope this level of service is something they maintain as it will set them apart from any competition and will certainly bring guests back.

My soup and salad were on the table just shortly after my sake had arrived. The salad was fresh and I found the dressing to be light and tasty. The miso was the standard version I’ve had many times. It was not too salty and contained a good amount of tofu and greens.

I had not quite finished with my soup and salad when the nigiri platter was brought over. The sushi looked good. The presentation was minimal and clean. I saw that the meshi pieces were smaller than many in town and this is okay in my opinion, I’m not a fan of huge amounts of rice with my sushi. The fish looked to be well cut for the most part and proved to be quite fresh. The pieces weren’t too large to deal with as is becoming popular with the “more is better” crowd(something sushi lovers generally dislike). Upon sampling the nigiri I did find that the meshi was not firm and the portions tended to fall apart when handled. The two pieces of the house roll were firm and well made. I liked the combination used and will try this roll on its own at a later date. While the selection in this combo was nothing exotic the fish was fresh and tasted good, with the salad and soup it was priced again somewhat on the higher end at $14.

The separate pieces of nigiri I’d ordered arrived shortly after the main platter. The unagi looked very nice, it was slightly charred and crispy looking. It turned out to be very good. I hate cold or room temperature unagi and this was just right, warm with a small amount of sauce as opposed to the often dripping versions I’ve had on several occasions. The eel was also the proper texture leading me to believe it was fresh and as with the other portions was a fair size.

The tamago however proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. I really like this type of sushi and as a gauge for how good a sushi chef is in Japan it is perhaps unrivalled with every itamae having his own recipe. The egg on mine was slightly frozen in spots and overall the taste and texture were not as good as I’d have hoped for. I’ll give it another go when I visit again but don’t think I’ll be calling it a favourite.

On the whole I quite liked my visit to Taiyo. The food was fairly good for the most part and while not upscale it surpassed the offerings of the other far NW sushi places, several of which I’ve visited recently. The price may be an issue with some but for fresh fish served by lovely, friendly and attentive staff who go out-of-the-way to provide good service I’m willing to pay it. I’m certainly pleased that I can now satisfy my sushi cravings while expending as little energy and time as possible driving to acquire it.

Taiyo on Urbanspoon

UPDATE:

After visiting a second time I was very pleased to find that the tamago had been reworked using a new recipe and was very good. The owners worked together I’m told to come up with a version that would impress the customers, I’d say they succeeded in doing so. I will now say that this tamago is as good as any in town.

I have to say that if you love Unagi as much as I do you should visit Taiyo. I can state without hesitation that they offer the best version of this nigiri I have had locally. Unagi that is worth eating needs to be warm, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and not be smothered in sauce, this is just what you’ll get here. I also enjoy it just charred a little and it’s served exactly this way.

This time I induged in some ebi tempura prior to my meal and found that it was quite nice. The coating was good and there was very little oil to speak of on or soaked into the pieces of prawn.

I also sampled the house special roll called the “Sunshine Roll”(since Taiyo translates to Sunshine it’s fitting) at the suggestion of the sushi chef and was pleased with this creation. I would say that the pieces were a little thick for easy eating but none the less this is a very nice offering that I will be ordering again.

As on my first visit the staff were exceptional and I recieved very good service from both the front of house staff and the sushi chefs at the bar.

Kinjo Sushi & Grill review

I really have to give Peter Kinjo the credit he’s due. This is a guy who came to Canada from Japan with little money and only minor skills. Now he’s owned a number of restaurants in Calgary and is truly the poster boy for what you can do if you try hard enough and believe in what you are doing.

The first time I met Peter is actually not a moment I even remember but since I’ve eaten at the first Edo Japan in South Centre from when I was quite young I’m sure I’ve met him. Peter’s the guy who started this popular and successful chain of shops and it’s a great thing to have on his life’s resume’.  He’s owned several restaurants since coming to Calgary and he should be proud of what he’s accomplished.

Peter’s latest venture is a sushi place he’s named Kinjo Sushi & Grill and it’s as far as I am aware the only restaurant he currently owns. Located on Macleod trail in one of Calgary’s busiest dining areas Kinjo occupies a building which was once a fast food place that went away. This space is now renovated and houses a large oval moat filled with small plastic boats packed bow to stern and carrying plates of food. These boats constantly circle the food prep area where they are replenished and a bar style dining counter surrounds the moat from where customers seated there can pick any of the plates they want. At the end of the meal you pay based on the colour and number of the chosen plates.

This style of dining is one I’ve seen in many places around the world.  From Tokyo to Hong Kong or Miami to London this is a fairly common way to eat sushi. It is however on the bottom end of the dining scale and is actually more akin to a McDonalds then to an actual sushi-ya. The food is therefore in most cases equivalent in quality to a fast food place as well, designed more for high turn-over than for producing good sushi.

We’ve visited on a few occasions and at each of these times we’ve left very disappointed in the quality of the food we’d eaten there. Some of what we tried was even to the point of smelling bad and much of the rest showing obvious signs that it was past the point where it should be served to customers. I’ve always wondered how fast turn-over places cannot have fresh looking food when it’s constantly being replenished. The only thing I can come up with is that the ingredients are lower quality to begin with and that little care taken in the preparation adds to the problem.

Whether it was a roll, maki or nigiri from the boats or something ordered from the kitchen the quality of the food has always been lacking on our visits to Kinjo. Small poorly made rolls that contain old tasting fish should never end up in front of a customer and no amount of sake or free pocky sticks can change that fact. The food prep staff need to try harder to put out quality and if something is no longer fresh it should not be served. I’m not a fan of throwing out food but old and stale fish is a health hazard.

I do like the effort that Peter puts into trying to provide a fun and happy environment for his customers, and while it doesn’t always thrill some people to have a knife-wielding guy dressed in a kimono interrupt their meal, I think that most understand what’s behind it. Again, I for one appreciate these hijinks for what they are and see no reason for anyone to complain about them.

I like Peter and admire his successes but would give him the advice that he needs to improve both the quality of the ingredients as well as the end product if he is going to have another winning enterprise on his hands. Those who don’t know what good quality sushi should taste like are bound to find out at some point. And when these people do discover better food they won’t be back.  I’ve already seen reviews from former customers who have decided that the food is not up to par and no longer want to dine at Kinjo. If this trend is to be avoided things have to change. The only way to do this is to provide quality food to the customer. Other places in town have sourced and seem to be able to serve fresher looking/tasting fish so there’s no reason Kinjo cannot do the same. As for the staff they can just put somewhat more effort into what they do.

As for me, I’ve given Kinjo as many chances as I can and with such poor quality and apparent lack of concern on the part of the staff I’m not likely to visit again. Sorry Peter.

Kinjo Sushi & Grill on Urbanspoon