1995 Cornwall Ave
Confession time: This post wasn’t supposed to happen. In fact, due to timing, my last post was supposed to be that of the Vancouver’s 1st Foodie Festival and then hang my camera and keyboard. However, in some sort of unfinished business type feeling, I knew I had to visit some places – one of them was Octopus’ Garden which is the topic of this post. Under normal conditions, I might have gone regardless but chosen not to blog. However, I was with good company and, despite knowing my intentions of stop blogging, gave me one final push and suggested I should blog it. So, as one of my last post, I might as well go out with a bang!
Octopus’ Garden is a small sushi restaurant in the Kitsilano area which could easily go unnoticed by pedestrian traffic. However, such are the places that I really like: low profile that can deliver good food. And, in Octopus’ Garden’s case, it also has some call to fame: the option for omakase, aka, “I entrust you”, aka, you leave it to the chef. From other people’s perspective, it can be considered a tasting menu of sorts but the commonality is that you don’t make any decision (aside from ordering it that is, though, alas, I wasn’t asked for preferences…). In fact, that is the call to fame of other places including Tojo’s (though, of course, Hidekazu Tojo himself will tell you he has other claims to fame as well). And now that I bring Tojo’s, there is a really important consideration: fellow blogger Sherman, thougt Octopus’ Garden can be considered better than Tojo’s because it does not have all the attitude from the later. So, given all things combined, there were high expectations for this meal.
After arriving, we were seated in a separate/secluded area of the restaurant. In fact, one thing that I considered odd was the layout. It allows some privacy at the expense of how many tables can be set up. If this is something the restaurant is willing to do, it means they really trust what they can crank out to keep customers coming. That’s all good but, for this meal, I was only worried about what would be served to me that night. And, yes, since I mentioned so many times “omakase”, not ordering it would be short of shooting myself on the foot. But wait! It wasn’t in the menu! It happens it is not listed in the menu at all: you just have to ask. For the price ranges, it starts at $60. Granted, Sherman went for the $100; however, my dining companion isn’t the heaviest eater in the world so we ended up going for the basic $60 version.
For drinks, we went for tea. I was given the option to choose from four different teas and I narrowed it down to pear green tea and a tea called Starlight – Green tea & Oolong tea naturally flavored with raspberry, currant and strawberry. In the end, I went for the later. Despite I didn’t know what was coming in terms of food, one thing I was sure: overstating the obvious, food would be savoury and it would be interesting to have something fruity to pair it against. And, for the most part, it worked! You could easily tell it had some berries hints to it, though, at the same time, for some odd reason that brought me some memories, as if I have had it previously. Hmmmmm…. That made me wonder, after the fact that is, how would have the pear green tea worked…?
And now, the food. We started off with octopus sunomono. Compared to sunomono served in other sushi spots, these had a really light hint of acidity. That is, it didn’t have an overpowering acidic taste, just enough to get you wanting to have more food. The slices of octopus were firm but by no means chewy. Not sure if good or bad but it didn’t have too much of a taste. Good way to start off but didn’t necessarily wow me based on expectations.
I didn’t get the complete description of dish #2, as, again, good company was keeping me busy and entertained. From what I recall, the yellow parts are fish + roe. The purple pieces were octopus wasabi. Extremely slimy but were also crunchy. The wasabi part of the name was a bit of a misnomer; you didn’t really get that “kick” we usually associate with wasabi. OK, exaggerating here. There was a bit of that feeling but not to the extent of having to include it as part of a dish name. The cured sausage was just that, nothing more, nothing less. But, they “key” here was the ankimo, aka, monkfish liver. That piece was creamy but, for some reason, it felt there was something missing, as the grated radish didn’t really do much for me. Hmmmmmmm…. Am I starting a trend? It was OK but not mind blowing…
Am I over using odd references a bit too much? If so, how about yet another one here: a miso-like soup with a really crispy lotus chip and a dumpling. It had a consistency of a thick soup, and quite savoury I must add. The dumpling was OK, nothing to write home about, it somehow felt like an Asian version of a matzo ball. However, what really made it was the lotus chip, as, despite it was submerged in the broth, it maintained its crispiness. I think that would have been something I could eat a bowlful of. But, in the end, there were that many chips (as in one) and too much broth for its own good.
At times, I have “complained” that restaurants make fancy dishes just for the sake of hype and/or to attract customers, not necessarily because they are good. Here is a case of such dish: uni shooter. Here, rice is added to a glass, some liquid, a sea urchin roe and quail egg. I was supposed to stir this and then drink it. While you couldn’t really “feel” any slimy texture, it was devoid of almost any taste. The only thing I was able to savour was the piece of mint at the top. Not even the “wasabi”. Sorry, didn’t like this one at all.
We weren’t served one but two different pieces of fish: black cod (?) and red snapper. The black cod (?) was a huge chunk and it felt borderline over cooked. A squeeze of the lemon did some favors to that piece of fish, though. Not much different from most large pieces of grilled fish so, as a result, not much to comment. However, that was not the case of the red snapper. First of all, they gave us one of the best pieces of the fish: the collar. Unlike a piece of fish filet, the meat in this area has a different texture and does not dry up so easily. A piece from the belly section was served along. So, in a way, fat on fat? Yup, the fish itself had a fatty texture to it, a bit slimy; but, I like it this way so it worked fine to me quite well, despite it needed a bit of hands-on to finish it.
It was almost impossible we didn’t have some form of sushi. In this case, we had sashimi, rather than actual sushi. The pieces included black cod, salmon, squid, octopus, flounder and tuna. One thing I will have to admit and that is their really good knife work. See that white piece below the slices of raw fish? Well, that’s not paper: that’s a thinly sliced piece of daikon radish used for decorating purposes. It was almost as thin as a sheet of paper… As for the sashimi itself, alas, I can’t say I enjoyed it. For some reason, it felt… Bland? Now, before anybody even think of bashing me about soy sauce or wasabi and what not, yes, I lightly dipped some before consuming each morsel. However, there was something strange with the fish itself. For example, in the case of the salmon, that unique salmon oily texture wasn’t there, no matter how hard I tried. In the case of the squid, the oba aka, Japanese mint, was the key element, same with the roe on top of slice of flounder. But, past those, I wasn’t sure what to make up from the remaining ones. It felt slightly disappointing…
I wished we were served nigiri sushi but, given we were sharing dishes already, I am sure they thought things might be easier. Here, their dragon roll which contains avocado, unagi and red pepper. I won’t deny it looks great visually, from construction perspective to knife work perspective. However, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the maki itself. Once again, it was OK. Probably slightly above average but not something I can’t live without. I will give them credit to the fact the creaminess of the avocado was there, the sweetness of the red pepper was there. What killed it was that unagi didn’t make an act of presence despite you could visually see it there. I wonder how this would have been had it been nigiri instead…
Finally, to close, Sada-san dropped by and asked us if we were read for dessert. At that point, we were getting full so, sure! And this is one of those instances I have to admit I had a really interesting dessert: deep fried brownie, topped with ice cream. You know how are brownies, you know about vanilla ice cream. Need to say more? In fact, personally I thought this was actually the highlight of the dinner. And, remember, this is coming from a person who is not that much into desserts! Of course, I had to be nitpicky and find a flaw of sorts: the batter used for the brownies was slightly chewy. Regardless of how you like your brownie, I thought that chewiness gave an odd contrast to the brownie. But, still that was a minor detail and, again, nitpicking.
Overall, I felt it was a bit of a contradiction. In a per dish perspective, I thought the dishes were OK… As an OK due to expectations. Had I got these dishes because somebody else ordered for me, it would be a bit of hit (the red snapper) and a bit of a miss (uni shoot). But, combined, it would be above average in the bigger perspective of things. However, I was somehow expecting more and, well, as served, didn’t work. Could it be that my recent visit to Kimura skewed things a little bit? Or could it be I should have gone for te $100 price point? Regardless of which one it is, I am still curious and would be willing to go again… And, who knows, this time, break the bank?