Category Archives: Japanese

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

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

Misato Sushi & Grill Review

Being a prime on Urbanspoon has given me the chance to find many more places in Calgary to dine than I would have otherwise but I’m conflicted, being both glad for the chance to discover good places and finding the extra money we spend and calories we ingest a bit more than I want.  On the positive side as stated we get to find out about places we may have seen or heard of but would not otherwise be high on our “must try” list. One such place is Misato, a very poorly located restaurant being that it is way over near Westhills in the SW of the city, nowhere near us or any main dining area. However as a result of the very good reviews on Urbanspoon (including those of other primes) I’d added it to my list. We decided to have sushi this past Friday and so we made the trek.

Misato is found in the same stip-mall off Sirocco Drive SW that houses Sunterra Market, a mall renowned to those that frequent it for over crowding and poor parking. Despite this location when we arrived we were told that we’d have to be finished our meal by 7pm due to reservations. Now I do understand that some tables are going to be reserved in a popular place but the little signs were everywhere and the only thing that I can think of is that the locals who come here are the types who are used to making reservations and assume they should do so at MacDonald’s, but enough of the class bashing and on to the review.P1010210

I’d heard that to decor was a little on the bland side and that they used odd wicker chairs for seating, however while the place looked more like a showhome than a japanese restaurant the chairs it seems had been replaced with more conventional and rather comfortable ones. The place was clean and seemed to be operating quite efficiently despite being fairly busy. Aside from being told when we’d have to be done our dinner the overall impression was good.

Rocky Roll (right)

Rocky Roll (right)

We ordered some gyoza for starters and a large Asahi beer for me, for Maki we had the apparently famous Calgary Special Roll ($22.50) yeah,  you read that right and there were 8 pieces in the order, the saving grace for many is that the thing has something on the order of 6 different fish and many other ingredients. Now anyone who knows me will know that this type of roll is just begging for me to critique it, “it’s going to be too big to eat comfortably and it will be so complex that the flavors are not going to work” are I believe the words I used. We also ordered the Rocky Roll ($8.25) which contains smoked tuna and we wanted to try that.

The Calgary Roll was more or less what I’d expected, it was huge, impossible to eat with any sort of dignity and while I found eating it in sections made the many different flavors combine better, I’d still say that it really didn’t work for me. Nancy on the other hand liked it more, but again I do have a thing about large complex rolls. The quality of the fish was however very good, in fact when Nancy commented that she wondered why it seemed a little bland I reminded her that the flavors of high quality fresh fish should not be strong and for the

Calgary Special Roll

most part they should be delicate and pleasant to the palate. I’ve only had fish this good on a few occasions in Calgary and I give Misato very high marks for this.

Our Sashimi order was the Special Sashimi (17 pcs. $26.95) and for Nigiri we ordered BBQ Salmon Skin, Chopped Scallop, Unagi and the very special and highly sought after Blue Fin Tuna which we were told they had just flown in from Japan. I’m not usually one to eat anything that is on the high-end like this due to the simple fact that if it’s rare than it’s well…RARE and therefore the conservationist in me rears up. I will say that we only had one piece each and aren’t likely to do so again because this tuna is so over-fished.P1010213

P1010217

Salmon Skin Nigiri

Each piece of Sashimi was nicely cut and arranged on a plate with diakon, lemon and cucumber. There was Maguro (Bluefin tuna), Hokki-gai (Surfclam), Tako (Octopus), Sake (Salmon), Toro (Belly of Tuna), Hamachi (Yellow Tail), Hotate (Scallop), Tai (Snapper) and Katsuo (Bonito) all of which as I said before were very high quality and tasted great. The only two things I can say about the fish that is not good would be that the Toro was not as delicate and fatty as I like and the Unagi was very firm textured which is odd for eel and I’m at a loss to explain unless they used the wrong type  (although sea eel or Anago and fresh water or Unagi are both soft) oh well, don’t know, it tasted good.

P1010215

All in all I would say that Misato is without a doubt one of the best places in Calgary to get good quality sushi, the small things that bothered me about this place are not enough to have me dissuade you from visiting and most are merely personal preference or convenience issues, although since I never really got to complain about anything I will say that when a patron orders an appetizer such as the Gyoza in our case they don’t wont it to arrive mid-meal (That feels better). If you plan on dining here during the week-end I’d very strongly suggest that you make a reservation so that you don’t drive across the city only to be turned away at the door.

Misato Japanese on Urbanspoon

Globefish Sushi and Izakaya Review

Recently, while celebrating a friends birthday we had the opportunity to visit one of our favorite Japanese style restaurants, Globefish Sushi and Izakaya. We visited the 14th St location this time round.

As is normally the case, the restaurant was fairly busy with the staff running around in well managed chaos. An interesting thing about this restaurant is the way the servers work. Unlike most other places where the servers are assigned a section and serve the customers in it,  Globefish servers all work the entire restaurant, attending to the needs of any customer as they arise. I think this is a great idea as you will get your food from whichever server notices it when it first come up and it will never sit.  It’s amazing they can keep this working smoothly, but they do manage to do it.

We were a party of 7 and decided to each order a different roll and just sample all of them. Most of us wanted to start with something before the rolls so we ordered the Mentai Calamari ($8.95), Tuna Tataki Salad ($8.95), Shark Fin & Jellyfish Salad ($5.95), Softshell Crab Tempura ($12.95) and some Toro Sashimi ($14.95).

I ordered a glass of cold premium Saki ($7.95) to sip during the first round. The one I chose was Gokujyo Yoshinogawa, an amazingly smooth and fragrant sake that is soft on the palate, well balanced with hints of citrus and a pleasant flowery fragrance.

The calamari was hot and tender, crisp outside without being oily like some can be. The squid was cut into sheets rather than the usual rings seen in many other places. It was very lightly battered and drizzled with a light cream sauce that is very nice. All is served on a bed of greens and sprinkled with ground chili pepper. We found this to be a rather nice change from the usually overcooked and thickly breaded versions we’ve seen so often.

The conclusion for the Tuna Tataki salad was that it was very good.  The fish was fresh, lightly seared and tasty. The greens were crisp and cold with a dressing that was light and complimented to the tuna.

Tuna Salad

Tuna Salad

The Sharkfin & jellyfish salad was made of thin slices of what I’m guessing is not real sharkfin (but none the less tasty)  with stands of  jellyfish tentacles in a light sesame based dressing. It had a great texture to it and is actually crunchy with a nice pop when chewing, despite what one may think given the two main ingredients. This is one of my favorite items and Globefish does a good job of making a very nice rendition. We’ve had some pretty bad Jellyfish salads in our time, and this fresh and tasty version is one of the best in town.

I really enjoy Softshell Crab, but like the Sharkfin & Jellyfish salad, it can be hard to find one that is up to par. Globefish does a fine job of making this dish. Although I’ve had it not as good in the past, the one we received this time was nicely presented and was hot and crisp without being heavy. The coating was nice and light, and the crab was just right inside.  For some reason, many restaurants I’ve been to tend to end up with mushy crab.  I’m not sure if this is related to the quality of the fish or to the methods of preparing the dish. Either way, it’s not the norm to have things come together the way they did this time round and I hope my next visit brings the same result.

Softshell Crab

Softshell Crab

The Toro Sashimi was amazing this time; it smelled fresh, looked fabulous and tasted even better. This fish virtually melted in the mouth, the way Toro should always be. The last time we had some as good was at Hikari which much to the disappointment of many a Calgary sushi lover was sold and is now the much lamented Sushi King. The sashimi was served over crushed ice in a nice clean presentation that added to the appearance of the fish.

Toro Sashimi

Toro Sashimi

We ordered several different rolls to share between us, and while I love sushi and Sashimi, the one thing that Globefish does really well are their many different maki rolls.  We ordered the Alberta Roll ($7.25), BC  Roll ($6.25), Crunch & Munch ($13.95), Power of Love ($14.95), Rocky Mountain Roll ($14.95), Texas roll(on the specials menu), Mango paradise ($15.95) and a Vancouver roll $8.25).

Unfortunately the pictures of the rolls did not turn out good enough to post in this review. We were between cameras and used the ones on our phones which are not up to par.

We enjoyed the rolls for the most part, however the one exception was the Texas roll which did not appeal to all of us. The Alberta roll was made of slices of beef  and lettuce in a tangy sauce , I’ve had this before and the beef was very tender that time. This time however the beef was not as tender but was still tasty.  We enjoy the Rocky Mountain roll and have ordered it a number of times, the addition of the cream cheese while unusual is something we like.  The general consensus is that the food was all good and nobody had anything to complain about. The next time we visit I hope to get some mouth watering pictures to add to the review.

Globefish is one of those places that is quite creative in coming up with new types of maki rolls and usually they are quite good. In addition to El’s this is a place to go if you are looking for the flavors you love done in new ways.

As much as I would have liked to have indulged in an order of Green Tea ice cream, I like the rest of our group was just too full.

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El’s Japanese Fusion Review

I’ve read good things about El’s on some of the review sites I frequent and have heard from friends as well that it’s worth making a trip to this tiny restaurant. So, today I announced to Nancy that we were heading to El’s for dinner. I figured this would also be a good time to try out our new camera and take some shots of the food.

Located at 2008 – 33rd Ave. SW in trendy Marda Loop, El’s is right across the street from the well known Globefish Sushi & Izakaya. In fact, we first heard of it while enjoying breakfast right next door at Belmont Diner several weeks ago. A person on the sidewalk heard us remark about El’s being so close to Globefish and said that they did a good job of picking up the leftover business from across the street just like Belmont did with Nellie’s. Now that we’ve been to both of these places I can assure you that the customers who dine at these two are in fact going there on purpose and not riding on the coat-tails of other restaurants and taking the leftovers.

I’d phoned earlier in the day and inquired as to when would be a good time to not have to wait in the lines that I’d read would most surely be there during dinner rush. The person, on the other end, informed me that shortly after opening would be good. We arrived at 5:35 and things were just beginning to pick up.

I’d read that El’s was a small place and it really is just that. With only a few tables and a small sushi bar, it must be the smallest Japanese restaurant in town and is dark enough to hold a naked sushi party without being seen. We were greeted by the friendly staff, took a seat and began to look over the menu. There was a chalkboard on one wall that mentioned specials but jokingly informed customers that Chef Mike was being lazy today and had not come up with one. The selection of interesting Maki rolls was something else.  We had a very hard time deciding what to try, and since this is a place known for its rolls, we did not delve too far into the Nigiri for this visit.

We had yam tempura to start ($8.95). It was on the table in no time and looked very appealing. It was hot and crisp without too much oil. The batter was not too thick and while not the wonderfully light tempura that can be found elsewhere, it was very tasty and the yam was just right.P1000005

We also ordered 4 Maki rolls: the Volcano ($12.95), the Rainbow ($14.95), a Jumbo House roll ($18.95) and, at the recommendation of the server, a Tuna Salad roll ($9.95). To that we added some nigiri, 3 pieces of each Torched Toro ($3.50 ea) and Unagi ($2.50 ea). We’d heard of the large portions El’s served and decided that we did not want to repeat the ugly episode we had several months ago when we were forced to take a fair amount home. Sushi, no matter how wonderful, is not good the next day, and we try very hard to avoid leftovers.

The first roll to arrive at the table was the Tuna Salad maki that had been recommended by our server. We liked the look of the roll and thought the use of Mamenori (Soybean Paper) as a wrapping instead of nori was a pleasant touch and one you don’t see often. The flavor was delicate and fresh. Although we found the vinegar based sauce to be a bit overpowering, it was quite a delicious combination of flavors otherwise. If the sauce was toned down a little, this would be a wonderful roll.

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With the exception of the Tuna Salad roll, all of our maki and the 6 pieces of nigiri arrived on a single large plate that was pleasently arranged with a large amount of both gari and seiyo wasabi on the side. It was not the stylized presentation you would find in a full fledged Sushiya but was certainly pleasing to look at.

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The Torched Toro nigiri was something that looked interesting to us, and since we both love Toro we thought to give it a try. Basically, it was regular Toro that has been slightly cooked using a kitchen torch. Nancy found that the flavor added by this process was not to her liking and will stick to the standard Toro.  I rather enjoyed the mild charring and the way it brought out the fatty flavor of the tuna belly and would order it again. The Unagi was very good, and although not as tender as it could have been, it tasted very fresh and the texture was right. The Meshi (sushi rice) was nicely flavored and neither mushy nor too vinegary, although not quite as delicate tasting as one would find in a quality purpose made Sushiya. I’m glad that El’s takes the time to care about this often overlooked part of the sushi experience.

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The Jumbo House roll was quite large as the name suggests and was filled with lots of flavors and textures. Nancy enjoyed this roll, and while I did as well, I do feel it suffers from the same over-complexity plaguing many large multi-ingredient maki rolls.  Nonetheless, it was very fresh and full of flavor with a drizzle of wasabi mayo to add a slight kick to the taste and what may have been teriyaki sauce for a bit of sweetness.

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The Volcano roll worried Nancy a little due to the heat that the name implied, but she and I both were surprised by the subtle spiciness and sweetness that it turned out to have. I think of the 4 rolls, this was my favorite.  I love heat, and despite the sauce in this roll possessing a lack of any real punch, it was a excellent compliment to the fish and I would order it again for that reason alone. I do look forward to the spicier maki that I’ve heard El’s does serve but that will have to wait for the next visit.

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The last of the maki we sampled was El’s version of the Rainbow roll.  A staple of sushi houses everywhere, this colourful combination of different fish is a very popular item. The one we were served was full of fresh tender fish and stands up to any other we’ve tasted over the years. My only problem was the shrimp tail that was left in the roll by mistake, which caught me by surprise while enjoying my final piece. Nothing major and these things do happen at times.

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I’m glad we had the chance to visit El’s and the reviewers are right; this restaurant is a little gem of a place. I hope to return and have the chance to sample more of their nigiri in the future. Although this is not a sushi bar, I’d wager that the rest of the food will prove to be just as good as the dishes we had the pleasure of eating this time round. I just wish I could have enjoyed a beer or some Sake, but alas El’s is not licensed as of yet but if enough customers want it I’m sure the owners will do so in time.

Additional thoughts from Nancy …

I loved this little place.  It has a feel of a sandwich shop, not a restaurant, so we ended up sitting in a poorly lit eating area at night with a few folding chairs, wooden chairs, and simple tables.  I’m sure in the afternoon, the light would just flood this little restaurant with warmth.  Nonetheless, it’s a place where you just drop in for a quick bite to eat, not for a full course dining experience.  As for my meal, it started with some bad wooden chopsticks breaking in the wrong places.  (That annoyed me!)  Fortunately, the rolls were delicious.  I love it when I don’t have to dip any of it into soy sauce.  Just enjoy the flavors and textures as designed by the chef.  I was most surprised by the yam tempura.  I can’t tell if it was the batter, the light dipping sauce, or the sweetness of the yam, but something about this appetizer was addictive.  I try not to be over the top in my reviews, but I couldn’t get enough of it!  Next time I pop over to El’s, I’m going to try their tempura green tea ice cream dessert.  Interesting sounding, eh?  Deep fried ice cream, I assume.   If it is too busy in there, just grab a few rolls and head out to enjoy the sunshine in this funky Marda Loop area.  Maybe I can suggest to them to put out some benches or a patio set.  Hmm.


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