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

Sura Korean Restaurant review

I’m a big fan of Korean food and have been for a long time. I have a close friend whose wife makes some of the best Kalbi I’ve ever had and while mine is not too bad I always take the opportunity to enjoy Lisa’s if given the chance.

I’ve been to a few Korean restaurants in Calgary and while some have been okay I’ve never really been too thrilled by what I’ve had. There have been some exceptions to this however and our recent meal at Sura is one of these.

Located on 4th Street NW and away from many of the more dining-centric areas of town this place has been on my must-try list for a while. There are some more highly regarded places around but the number of positive reviews I’ve read about Sura made it a shoe-in as the next Korean place I’d visit.

When we arrived I was surprised by just how much space they owners give to their customers. I’m used to small cramped tables that are very close to each other and this was not the case at all. The four of us had a nice sized table that was not right on top of the next one and the chairs were quite comfortable, even for a guy of my larger than average frame(among other things). Most places that receive good reviews are crowded so that they can seat as many as possible in what is normally not a large space. Not so here.

When our dining companions arrived we spent  some time going over the menu which seemed to be a nice variety of Korean dishes that included some of the more popular ones like Bulgogi but also some that I’d not heard of before. In the end it was the BBQ trio that won all of us over as a main and since it feeds two we ordered a pair of these.

To start of with we asked for an order of fried tofu, some of the sweet chili wings and the pot stickers. we enjoyed all of the appies very much but would have preferred the wings came with the others instead of just prior to the mains.

The sauce on the chicken wings was something else and I’m guessing its made with honey, it was thick, sweet and nicely spiced. The wings themselves were coated in a fairly hard batter that was very crisp and made for a very enjoyable start to the meal. I sampled the pot stickers our friends ordered and found them interesting. They were different from those at Chinese or Japanese restaurants and I rather enjoyed this fact. The fried tofu was also tasty and the sauce it came with had a pleasant flavour.

Soon after the wings arrived at the table we were given the many side dishes that accompany the meal. This is the norm at Korean restaurants and I’d expected them, but I was happy to see some that I’d never tried before, such as the potato salad and lotus root. These samplings of many different flavours and textures are one of the highlights of a Korean meal for me and the fact I got to try some new ones made it even better.

The BBQ trio comes with spicy pork Bulgogi, Kalbi and chicken each in its own unique and tasty sauce. I’d had the pork in the form of a cook at home version from a local  Korean meat shop and this tasted exactly the same as that delicious meal. The kalbi had a unique flavour that was not like any I’d tried or made before, it was not as sweet as most and seemed to use different seasonings. I really liked the difference and would enjoy trying this again. The chicken was tender and moist with a milder sauce that the pork which worked very nicely.

I was also happy to have lettuce and rice brought to the table with which to wrap up the meats, this is something that is sorely missing from some of the Korean places I’ve visited in the past and the authenticity is good to see. They also provided us with shear so that we could snip the kalbi into manageable pieces, this to is not always the case and is quite welcome since it’s not easy to eat the ribs otherwise.

The staff at Sura were attentive and friendly, we never had to wait for them to come by and ask if we needed anything throughout the meal and they were very patient with us when we had not yet decided on our meal because we were too busy chatting.

With some of the best Korean food we’d tried in Calgary and good service Sura is sure to be a place we will visit again when we feel the need for some good food in a very pleasant location.

Sura Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Everest Kitchen review

Trying new foods is one of life’s pleasures, A place that makes it good and with pride completes this equation.

All of us who consider ourselves to be foodies and many of the rest of those dining out regularly have a list of restaurants that they keep in their mind as ones always to return to. These places can often be what may be referred to as “Hidden Gems” and although they do well the clientele are often locals from the neighbourhood or people for whom the food being served is what they might eat in their country of birth, of course there are also those who have like us had the good fortune to find these places in one way or another.

No matter the reason, these stores generally do a good business and of course they deserve to. We’ve been to a number of this type of place and the feeling of welcome and community they provide in addition to great food makes returning a given. Sometimes however one comes across a place that has the friendly, warm, welcoming staff and ownership as well as the great food but due to location or perhaps being in a neighbourhood where the food they serve is too far outside of the norm they don’t have the traffic they truly deserve. We recently came across a place in this situation and cannot for the life of us understand why, other than location they aren’t busy every night of the week.

The restaurant in question is called Everest Kitchen and being the only Nepali restaurant in the Calgary area we thought for sure they’d attract the foodie crowd for the same initial reason we wanted to visit, they’re cuisine is unique. However it seems that where they are is a major hindrance to their business and unlike stores such as Jonas or Imaan who have a base of expats returning over and over to have food that reminds them of home the Nepalese community in Calgary is virtually nonexistent.

They are located in a tiny strip mall just one block south of eastbound Beddington Trail on Beddington Bvld NE and having moved to the current location only a year or so ago seems to have made it difficult to attract the people who should definitely be visiting on a regular basis. As I said above it may be that coupled with the move to an out of the way location they are also in a neighbourhood where the local populace is happy to just eat pizza and westernised Chinese food rather than venture outside their culinary comfort zone.

According to the owner much of their customers are in fact those who frequented the previous location on 17th ave. It lets us know just how good they are when some customers will drive across town to continue to enjoy the food, and when this group includes well-known food critic, John Gilchrist, it speaks volumes about the place. But this is not enough to keep them going forever. While repeats are great and word of mouth should bring new customers enmasse when the food is as good as they serve there they are not close to the vast majority of the people who should be their core clientele and it seems they suffer as a result.

This really is a shame not only because losing such a store would diminish the dining scene in town but also because a small business that provides a good service and high quality deserves to do well.

We’d driven by Everest Kitchen a number of times and on every one of those occasions I’d comment on how we needed to visit and try the food. This desire to check them out was reinforced by the fact that we’d tried Nepali food before and found that we’d really enjoyed the flavours and unique dishes. After several months we finally decided we’d waited long enough.

Entering the store we were greeted warmly by both he hostess and a man we discovered later was the owner. This is a clean and well kept restaurant that although small and not highly decorated is inviting and pleasant.

After being seated we looked over the menu and our server gave us some ideas as to what we should try from the selection of items we were considering. In the end we decided to order some meat momos to begin with and three other items.

Momos are a Nepali version of a dumpling and are the street food of choice in Kathmandu. They are similar to their Asian counterparts but have a unique flavour and these ones are served with a delicious sauce. The ones we ordered were made with lamb and I found them quite tasty if just a little dangerous when not eaten with care, something evidenced by the mess I made when eating the first one. I was more careful after this explosive experience and apologised to the server…nuf said.

We ordered three mains from the menu. The Chef’s special cauliflower, a veggie dish with an incredible creamy light tomato sauce with cashew nut that had we ordered some of the fresh flat bread we’d have not left any behind. The second dish was the chicken chatpat which was in a very nice hot & sour sauce that was not at all what we’d expected having thought it might be similar to a Chinese version. Finally we had the Everest special biryani.  While similar in some ways to those one might find  from other countries this Nepali biryani was flavoured much differently, the tastes and textures of the different meats combined with cashews and raisins was wonderful and even more so when the sauce that came separately was mixed in.

Each of the dishes we had was unique and we loved the different combinations of spices. All were served in attractive metal bowls reminiscent of those one may find at some Indian restaurants. You know the ones, they don’t look big but for some reason when you’ve all had a good amount from them there is strangely still some food left in inside.

Nepali cusine has a number of different influences that in the food at Everest Kitchen was sometimes subtle and on other occasions more obvious, such as in the offering of samosas and use of basmati rice. These can include Indian, Asian, and Arabic tastes, but they are combined in ways that make them very different from those more well known flavours.

We very much enjoyed the food served at Everest Kitchen and found that the quality was very high and the freshness of the ingredients was apparent to me from the first bite. The price was reasonable and we were quite satisfied upon finishing our meal.

The staff was excellent and we were never left wanting anything whether it be a top up of water or an empty serving bowl cleared away. we also very much enjoyed speaking with the owner who told us about Nepalese food and described for us the different spices(many of which are visible in a long row of jars near the front of the store).

Everest Kitchen is without a doubt the type of restaurant that should do well and having enjoyed the experience of dining there we are sure to return and hope that you give them a try, they are just what Calgary needs.

Everest Kitchen on Urbanspoon

UPDATE:

We recently returned to Everest Kitchen as part of our monthly foodie nights with folks from UrbanSpoon. We found that the owner had indeed brought in some Yak meat as he’d mentioned on our last visit and we just had to try it.

Two of us ordered the Yak steak and we both agreed that having not tried it before we would have the server tell the cook to prepare it the way he would like it. This as it turned out may have been a mistake as the cook seems to prefer his meat very well-done and we received just his type of steak.

While the Yak was somewhat disappointing(although this is likely our fault) the rest of the food and the service was just as good as the previous time we’d visited.

Another thing we noticed was that the place was busier than it had been on our first visit, while both were on week-end nights we had been the only diners the first time round. I’m glad to see the word is spreading about Everest Kitchen and hope they are around for some time. RR

Sushi Bar Miki review

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). :)
Sushi-Bar Miki on Urbanspoon

Sushi Haru (Airdrie) review

Recently Nancy and I went to Airdrie to be part of the celebration of the Olympic torch relay(actually she talked me into it) and while there we decided to cross off one of the restaurants on our must try list. The place we chose was Sushi Haru, which has had some good reviews from both friends and those on various sites we visit, besides we were in need of a sushi fix. We met a co-worker of Nancy’s at the torch relay and she joined us to try this new place out.

Airdrie is not exactly a location one would think of when planning a meal of sushi and I wondered if the reviews we had heard and read were either those who had little sushi experience at awful places such as Sushi King or BBQ Sushi Inn and had therefore been amazed that sushi could taste better or that the reviews online were mostly shills wanting to help the place out, and since the reviews on Urbanspoon were mostly from those who have posted no others I had my suspicions. None the less we figured it was worth the risk and even if the food was sub-par it would in all likelihood be better than much of what we’ve already subjected ourselves to in the past.

Sushi Haru is located in a strip mall at the north end of main street and is not hard to find even for those from the city. When we arrived we found that the place wasn’t very busy and initially this worried me since so many of the reviews I’ve read stated that the authors visited several times a week, I therefore expected at least a somewhat full house. The decor was a mish-mash of Ikea artwork and Asian themes that tries to fill the basic box that owners have to deal with, while not a Sushi-ya atmosphere in any way it was fine. They do have a small sushi bar at the back of the place and if one wants to have that experience than they do offer it, although if you are the only one there it won’t really work.

We took a look at the menu and found the basic items one would expect at a small Japanese themed restaurant and a few Korean items as well. A quick scan of the ala-cart sheet and we decided the prices were to steep to risk ordering some of our favorites when we’d never been here before and had no idea of the quality or freshness of the offerings. What we ended up ordering was the Sushi Haru Combo which is 38 pieces of assorted nigiri, maki, sashimi, 2 temaki cones and a 4 piece order of prawn tempura for about $40, not too bad depending on the choices that came with it. Since there were three of us we also topped the order up with a spicy salmon roll and an extra 4 pc order of tempura.

The tempura arrived soon after we’d placed our order and looked to be quite good, it wasn’t over cooked as many are and the only problem I had was it seemed a little too oily for me which I chalked up to the oil in the fryer not being quite hot enough, although the oil was fresh and left no after taste at all.

Next to arrive was the main combo plate and the hand rolls, as expected for the price it was heavy on the maki and had only 8 pieces of nigiri and sashimi, never the less the food looked good and was well made. The temaki hand rolls were not quite as tasty as I would have hoped for but were made with care and of fresh ingredients. I however noticed one thing that seems to be all too common in some of the sushi joints in Calgary, the fact that the owner is succumbing to the “more is better’ attitude of North American food culture. I picked up a piece of nigiri and the fish was very thick and twice the length of the meshi (rice). Personally, I would much rather have the price be a little lower and the portions of manageable size than what I saw on the plate at Sushi Haru, heck they could have twice as many portions of nigiri and sashimi for the same price and people would love it believing they were getting more. Anyway, enough of the pet peeves, the freshness of the fish was much better than I’d expected from a place like this and while the over-all quality was a notch or two down from some of the places in the city, I was quite impressed with the offerings. The meshi was a little sticky and not as good as the rice in many of the more expensive sushi places in Calgary but it was fresh, not cold and still much better than that which is served by the majority of the places we’d been to in the past.

As with the nigiri the maki rolls were well made and it was obvious that the edomai had put some effort into them as opposed to the factory floor versions we are acustomed to receiving at many busy sushi restaurants were it seems that as long as they are done it matters not how well and again the ingredients were fresh and tasty. I’m going to bring up one more pet peeve and thankfully this is one that does not apply to Sushi Haru. I love good sauces and am so very sick and tired of the bottled crap that the vast majority of sushi places serve on or beside their offerings.  Nearly all of the maki I’ve had that was to be “spicy” merely has a squirt of Sriracha in each piece or if they are creative sriracha mixed with mayo, this is a horrible trend that needs to stop. I was so very pleased to find that the Spicy Salmon roll we ordered appeared to have the unbelievable on it – a home made hot sauce. Not only did it seem to not have come from a bottle, but it tasted very good and it did not overpower the fish, this is a very good thing in my view. To add to this revelation Sushi Haru is reputed to actually offer ponzu sauce with some items, I can only hope it too is good and that they serve it with the types of sushi that it should be served with, I’ll have to return and find out for myself.

Sushi Haru surprised us with it’s quality and the overall experience of the food they served, it’s not going to be the place we visit all the time but it is now on our list of quality sushi places that we intend to continue to patronize. If they don’t fall into the trap of cheaper fish and cutting corners and they make some of the small changes I think they should it may well be that I go out of my way a little more often to sample what they have to offer and I suggest you give them a try, I doubt you’ll regret doing so.
Sushi Haru on Urbanspoon

Golden Bell Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant review

This seems to be the week-end of not getting to dine where we’d planned. Saturday night we ended up at an AYCE Asian place that was not up to par and Sunday we’d looked forward to a bánh mì for lunch at Marda Vietnamese Sub. Unfortunately when we pulled up we saw that they were closed, odd considering the signage stated they were open on Sundays, interestingly they also had signage that stated they were not. We headed to 17th Ave. to see what we could find there to satisfy our craving.

We ended up at Golden Bell Saigon, a little Viet place that also serves some Thai food. The staff was quick to seat us (actually wave us in from a distance to be accurate) and we took a look at the menu. The selection is quite good and they had many things we enjoy, Nancy chose to try the pho while I was still in the mood for bánh mì and despite what seemed like a rather high price ordered the satay beef. To drink we had a smoothie and a bubble tea, which was of the powdered variety rather than fresh fruit, unfortunate for Nancy but I don’t mind too much. We started off with an order of shrimp salad rolls as well.

The salad rolls and drink were out right away. The rolls came in a set of three with one thoughtfully cut in half for us. These were very basic rolls and consisted of shredded lettuce, vermicelli and shrimp loosely wrapped in drying rice paper with no carrot, bean sprouts, mint or cilantro, not what we’d hoped for. the nuoc leo dip was passable but little was given. the drinks were nice and pretty much what we’d expected although the bubble tea was served in a beer glass which I found interesting. Nancy’s pho was hot and she said it had a flavor she did not recognize, after tasting it I’m guessing they have a different recipe and we both found it tasty. My sandwich was less than expected and was perhaps six inches long and was prepared with the least amount of filling possible. The bun was fresh , warm and crispy with a nice tender crumb inside. There was a small amount of what was good tasting and tender satay beef but with only a single sprig of cilantro and a sprinkling of do chua, for the more than 6 bucks we paid it was not in any way a good value. We can find loaded and great tasting bánh mì throughout the city that are on 8 inch baguettes with twice the fillings for less so this will not be a place we’d recommend if you want a good sub for a good price.

The service was okay but while the food came out fast and the server checked up on us a few times we had to flag her down for the bill and then after more than ten minutes we needed to approach the bar ourselves to pay it.

Our impression of Golden Bell Saigon is mixed, we find the quality fairly high aside from the lack of care shown in putting the food together but are less than pleased by the small servings, cutting of corners and high prices. Maybe this is what we can expect on 17th ave. we’ll have to find out, but if so then anyone who dines on the red mile needs to go a little farther and will find it’s well worth the trip east for good Viet food at acceptable prices.

Golden Bell Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon