Last night I had the pleasure of dining with Richard Wolak, aka Vancouver Foodster. He suggested we go to Tsukiji, a Japanese Restaurant I’d never heard of, but which is in a little mall I’ve passed dozens of times on Garden City Road.
Inside, it reminded of a much larger version of Nan Chuu Izakaya, with crafted woodwork carving out spaces for tables and booths. It felt dark and cozy – a great atmosphere for autumn or winter. The menu is extensive, and we had a hard time choosing; we finally settled on eight items, including a few rolls.
The Kani Kaiwara ($9.50) was a seriously small salad for its price, but the crab in it – along with radish sprouts, cucumber, avocado – was excellent. It’s so nice to have real crab rather than imitation, and it was light and tangy from the citrusy ponzu dressing. This was an incredible way to start the meal.
We also started with a small Kimpira Gobo salad ($3.95), which was made from burdock root. Google had to help me out with this one, because I’ve most certainly never eaten burdock before. If you haven’t either, here’s a the lowdown: found in Europe and Asia, burdock is used widely for its medicinal properties; it has many beneficial nutrients, including iron and vitamins, and fibre. Various parts of the plant are edible, including its roots and leaves, and I read on one website that fresh burdock can even be chopped, roasted, and used as a coffee substitute.
It was a muddy-green colour, finely julienned and marinated, and topped with sesame seeds. It had an appealing crunch and nutty flavour, and I owe my body’s newfound cache of vitamins and fibre to it – thanks burdock!
Next we had the Soft Shell Crab Karaage ($10.50). The term ‘karaage’ refers to a food, usually meat or fish, that has been marinated and deep-fried (and yes, there is a Japanese Karaage Association, in case you were wondering) . The whole crab was coated in a crispy, salty batter, and the shell was soft enough that you could eat parts of it. The flavours of the batter and delicate crab meat were nice, but I wasn’t crazy about this dish. I found it a little tough to eat.
I had one piece of yellowtail nigiri, which was gorgeous; radiant, in fact. Its colour faded from a shimmering plum to pale pink, and it tasted savoury and full-bodied.
Another small dish we snacked on was the grilled yakitori (chicken) skewers for $4.50. These were one of a large number of items from the menu’s grill section, and they had that smokey, charred flavour of meat that’s been properly bbq’ed. I enjoyed them.
Another option from this section on the menu was the ‘grilled chicken skin.’ Not for the health conscious, but I know a few people who’d love that!
For rolls, we ordered the House Roll ($11.95, prawn tempura topped with unagi, avocado, and masago) and the Avocado Yam Roll ($8.95, tempura yam with avocado on top).
Both were elegantly prepared and easy to eat. The yam roll was topped with paper-thin slices of avocado, and the bright orange masago stood out against the dark unagi (eel). The rice was cleanly-flavoured, and I particularly liked the unagi on top of the house roll. I never saw it coming, but here I am, in love with eel.
The last dish we tried was the Seafood Motoyaki ($9.95), which was crab baked inside a circle of sliced scallops and topped with mayo. Way too much mayo, in my opinion.
I loved the texture of the crab and scallops, but was disappointed that all I could taste was the overwhelmingly rich mayo. It seemed like a waste of good seafood.
Plates aside, what were we drinking through this whole meal? Sake, of course. We asked our server for a recommendation, and she suggested the chilled Gokujo Ginjo by Yoshinogawa (the 300ml bottle for $33.80). It was smooth and refined, with the fresh fennel taste promised in online descriptions of it. Here’s a great interview with Koji Kawakami, president of Yoshinogawa sake brewery, the oldest brewery in the Niigata prefecture.
Because it’s on the more expensive side, I’d save Tsukiji for special occasions or weekend dinners. The menu’s a bit hit or miss, but when it’s good, it’s very good. Between our dinner and the recommendations I’ve seen on other sites, I’d recommend the kani kaiwara, kimpira gobo, yellowtail nigiri, the house roll, avocado yam roll or avocado tuna roll, the marinated tuna, and some of the grilled meats (next time I’d like to try the grilled pork cheek). And of course, I’d also recommend a bottle of our dangerously good friend, sake.
Cash and cards accepted
Some vegetarian options, though the menu has a great deal of meat and seafood