I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
Visiting Vancouver (or any big city for that matter) is akin to me taking the Hajj. And for the 96.8% of you in Canada whom are not Muslim, I’ll have to explain myself. The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca done every year by millions as a duty to their faith. And like that righteous journey, I feel compelled to travel to distant lands (yes, I admit, Vancouver is not a distant land) to reaffirm my commitment and remind me of my responsibility, though in my case to culinary gods—wait, are there kitchen gods. Holy crap, there actually is a kitchen god—God bless the Chinese.
Traveling to a big city like Vancouver or Calgary each year reminds me of why I write my reviews and why I set such high standards. No greater example of this can be made than sushi and ShuRaku a lightning bolt splintering through the compromise I sometimes fall into when eating in Prince George.
In a quick summary of events, I had found myself in Vancouver over a single 24-hour period for the purposes of business. I had my trusty Toyota Camry rental and was content finding a Chinese restaurant near my hotel in Richmond. My accompanying coworker insisted on crepes, forcing a drive into the heart of the city at 9:00 pm. One rather lackluster café experience later and with moon drifting past 10:00 pm, I knew I had run out of time, and finding a restaurant still open which wasn’t a Denny’s appeared unlikely. But fortune favored the hungry and less than a minute’s walk away was ShuRaku, opened until 11:00.
Immediately upon entering, I was awash in the comfort of being inside a proper sushi bar. I was directed to a table but found a barstool immediately. Dim lighting over darkened wood was the motif of choice, compromising some form for function as the countertop was crowded with bottles, boxes, and an adorable folding card showcasing the different types of rice in the world. The daily specials were lovingly scribbled on a paper, and my eyes fell on proper sushi. Ignoring any prices, I immediately selected the abori chūtoro (seared tuna) and premium red tuna nigiri. I also ordered the sea foie gras (green onion and spicy grated radish over pureed monkfish liver) and something called a volcano roll. Still hungry afterwards, I added a final spicy scallop roll.
Cutting to the climax, everything was amazing. The tuna was so buttery, it practically disintegrated in my mouth. The rice was perfect. Everything was a level so above anything encountered in Prince George, it reminded me how far that city has fallen in regards to quality sushi. I’ll stress that again; I’ve named the best sushi restaurants in Prince George but that’s on the condition readers understand these are satisfactory at best, and that said best is only marginally better than a tray picked up at the local Superstore. It’s not due to the size of our town. I am a wholehearted supporter of our local Indian, Vietnamese, and Persian restaurants, and our fine dining bistros I still believe can measure of with those in larger cities. But not with sushi…not anymore. It wasn’t always that bad, but now it is, and for those denouncing me, parading their preference as proof, I’d say come to Vancouver.
On a single day, I picked a random sushi bar, the only one opened late, and it just happened to be awesome. And I have eaten at other sushi restaurants in Vancouver before, and those were astounding as well. Are there bad ones? Of course, but those patrons living here don’t have to settle for them. Every served plate I ordered showcased the talent of a chef committed to his craft. The volcano roll, with spicy tuna, crunchy tempura, and lava sauce, was shaped like its title. Each tuna nigiri was topped with a subtle garnish of green onion. I would have kept ordering if they hadn’t forced our hand by closing the kitchen at 11:00.
If ShuRaku had opened in my home town and served this kind of food, I’d declare my blog finished, and I would dedicate myself to ShuRaku as my weekly ritual, a fitting replacement to the hole left by the lamented Suzuran. I love sushi and ShuRaku reminded me as to why. If done well, it’s sublime, and I fear it may be a while before I get to enjoy it again. Even as I write this, remembering my time, reminiscing over crisp iPhone pictures, I pine for ShuRaku as I would a lost love. I can’t find any fault. At $35, it even wasn’t that expensive. Truly amazing.
OVERALL: 9 out of 10
The Twisted Cork
Cognitive Dissonance: The excessive mental stress and discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time…
I’m going somewhere with this.
A recent visit to The Twisted Cork solidified my confidence that it’s one of the city’s premiere eating establishments. It also enforced a previous theory that it might by schizophrenic. Eventually, I settled on the above term: The Twisted Cork might suffer from a conflict of intentions. Recently, to commemorate a friend’s visit, a large group of us considered The Twisted Cork, an inkling ultimately shot down due to the restaurant’s steep pricing. I can’t recall if it was always the case or a recent trend, but it’s true; The Twisted Cork is very expensive. Is it justified? I think so; the delivered food is sublime, with exquisite taste and presentation, but it does so in a restaurant that looks and acts like a British pub.
By day, it fills that role to a tee, including tall glasses of beer alongside plates of generous portions. A few of the dinner entrees continue this theme (like the bison and Guinness pie), but others parade the startling talents of a chef on the cusp of being under-appreciated. Our bruschetta was not some cobbled together chunks of tomato on store-bought garlic bread. These are the plates of a fine dining establishment, and the prices reflect that. The restaurant does make attempts to change décor at dinnertime, with white tablecloths draping the resin-coated wood, but then that consideration is marred by over-bright lights and intruding music.
Is the music too loud? No. Are the lights too bright? No…for a casual restaurant, but these prices and these plates don’t match the rest of the restaurant. Even the website claims it “Casual Fine Dining”. That’s like calling it an everyman’s supercar; you may apply it as part of a promotion but one of those descriptors is going to be disingenuous. Pan Fried Gnocchi. Beef Carpaccio. Pork Schnitzel. Great food and the likes seen in any fine dining establishment. I mentioned in a previous review for a competing establishment that some restaurants are fitting for certain assignations. North 54 is where you take a date in the hopes of getting lucky that evening. You take your wife to White Goose on your anniversary. I don’t know where The Twisted Cork slots into. I love this restaurant like Joanie loves Chachi—I could subsist entirely on their cheese boards and be satisfied—but it never comes up as a recommendation, maybe because I’m honestly confused at what it is. Even the waitress told me that the veneer of The Twisted Cork each evening is more based on the whims of the bartender, including whether or not to drape the tables or not.
If I could make one recommendation to The Twisted Cork it would be to define oneself based on the time of day. Keep the pub look and its matching menus for lunch, but come evening, drape those tables, dim those lights a smidgen, and lower the music. Let it be the fine dining experience it so badly wants to be. It begs for intimacy and I can’t see the patrons complaining. With not a single entrée below $23, you’re not attracting passing nightclub rejects; you got Papa Yanni’s for that. They have reasonable cuisine for the frugal spender. The Twisted Cork is trying to be the culinary equivalent of an Abercrombie & Fitch—expensive and casual. Take my subjective opinion for what it’s worth—I don’t care much for Abercrombie & Fitch. If you ever see me, you’ll know I have no fashion sense. My sister buys my clothes most of the time. She’s good at it, though, in justification. It’s better than my mother that tried to buy my corduroy in my youth. Where was I? Right, The Twisted Cork. In the end, it still remains one of the best restaurants in town, and if it settled into its rightful place as a fine dining establishment, it can well and truly compete with North 54 and White Goose for the mantle of best of town. It doesn’t even have to go all the way to North 54’s level of panache. I remember when Suzuran would drape its tables, add candles, and lower the lighting, turning a hip sushi bar into an established and respected Japanese restaurant at night. It worked, and The Twisted Cork can do the same. It’s so close.
OVERALL: 8.8 out of 10
This may come as a shock but apparently some readers have difficulty interpreting the opening comments of my reviews. Many of them just want a “yes” or “no” recommendation in place of my customary preamble. So let me cut through the clever word play and self-important grandstanding and get to the point regarding Aruntha’s Ceylon Garden.
Is it good?
It’s F#$%#ing GREAT!
And I’m not dropping some provision or adding comments like, “now if only they could…” or “if you can get around…” It’s really damn good. Drop what you are doing and go. That’s it. Why aren’t you there now? Are you in the car? Are you reading this on your iPhone deciding between this and any other place? Go inside. Go inside this very moment. I’m not the first person reviewing this so why are you waiting for me? Like the bard from Safety Dance, leave your friends behind. Following that comparison, let me lead you all to the doors and—ah screw my metaphors, just go already. You’ve wasted like two minutes reading this review. Aruntha’s Ceylon Garden is amazing jewel and it absolutely needs your support. There’s nothing more for me to say!
Okay, maybe I’ll just keep going if you are in the restaurant now and don’t care for the company you are with. I don’t know the details, only unconfirmed rumors that Aruntha’s Ceylon Garden came about because of a split (alleged amicable) between the owners of Spicy Greens, leading to that brand expanding out to identical locations in both College Heights and Hart Highlands, leaving its old location on 5th Ave vacant. It was this vacancy the departed manager took advantage of, hence Aruntha’s Ceylon Garden. One aspect indicative Spicy Greens was a total lack of décor, almost a comical deficiency. At their new locations, they don’t look much better than an IHOP (that’s International House of Pancakes) a week before its grand opening. However, Aruntha’s Ceylon Garden (now forever compressed to ACG) has departed from this trend by looking like an actual restaurant. ACG looks to have only recently emerged from a major renovation. Exposed brick lends itself to a rustic bistro, though one still willing to offer comfort in some exceptionally comfy yet bouncy red and blue chairs. National pride hands from various paintings, one which occupies almost one entire wall.
The conditions of my arrival bear disclosure. My date and I were enroot to a dinner at Twisted Cork when I noticed the still illuminated “open” sign under ACG, surprising me given that it was past 9 PM. I did an immediate U-Turn and parked across the street. As we approached, the sigh turned off, but we entered anyway. The cook/owner/sole evening employee welcomed us and waited on our every need, the entire establishment to ourselves. She was gracious considering we were keeping her from home. The total cost of a dinner for two barely registered over $25, making ACG one of the best deals outside of Cyber Monday. This included two full courses and a shared appetizer of vegetable pakoras which arrived on a plate large enough to be defined as another full meal.
And it was good; it was so so good.
Perfectly spiced, crunchy, served with rice, poppadum, and fresh roti, the only other place I knew which did this was…well…Spicy Greens. And yet I have to admit liking ACG more. There is something more authentic about it. It truthfully feels like one woman’s passion for cooking turned inside out with a door for people to enter. After that hefty starter, neither of us could finish our plates, leading to enjoyable leftovers the day after. I really hope that ACG does well and it finds a proper following. If my writing means anything to anybody, then ACG deserves my patronage and your money. I want it to succeed.
OVERALL: 8.5 out of 10
…at least they dropped the word “Tapas” from their name. That’s a good thing…right? They still have it on their menu, and before anyone jumps to defend, it’s a different menu from last time. Appetizers were still rebranded as tapas without any consideration that the two are technically distinct, and on top of that, I think their selection has actually decreased since last time. But let’s not get off on the wrong foot here; I’m not really hankering for another round of bitter-tasting highbrow criticism of something most people wouldn’t care about.
No longer downtown, Hummus Brother’s has relocated to the Treasure Cove hotel, snuggled at the edge of what I think should be called the “highway’s armpit”—so far from the building’s entrance that I wonder why the hotel would bother charging what they do for rent; it must be atrocious. I make that assumption because the location Hummy Bro’s occupies has been filled and emptied more times than Kermit the Frog.
(I could have gone for a dirty joke, but I felt a Muppet reference would require more thought and ultimately be cleverer.)
Not much has changed in the décor from the previous occupants, giving the impression that Hummus Brothers has truly discarded even the broadest strokes of ethnic distinction. Hitherto, I criticized them for establishing a design which looked pleasant aesthetically but created obstructions patrons had to work around in order to enjoy their experience. I didn’t check the bathrooms this time, but I really should have. By not deviating from the design of the previous restaurant, Hum’Brothers has actually created a more welcoming and functional environment, with the unfortunate side effect of looking basically like every Moxis snuggled underneath a Sandman Inn in this country. That’s not entirely a bad thing; I had commented prior that it felt that Humm’ers was aping a Moxis or Earls, and now they’ve simply embraced that role.
All of this tastes of repeat criticism and thusly should be discarded as wasteful, except I think Hummus Brother’s has actually gotten better in some ways. I mean ignoring the complete lack of ethnic identity in the décor, there still remains some measure of Mediterranean flare in the dishes. And what I ordered was really really good. My companion’s dish was also praised. Not going to lie, it’s a tad overpriced. A salad shouldn’t cost $17 dollars unless Ned Stark’s head is resting on the greens. The “supposed” tapas page actually had entries costing $16.95—just take off the word tapas, just take it off. Why open yourself to further criticism? I know I’m not the only one; I’ve read the other reviews.
Hum’others is like a tetrahedron (or a D4 to my D&D peeps). One side it presents itself as a franchise while another is a privately owned Mediterranean bistro. The third (as the fourth side rests on the tabletop) claims itself as an upmarket restaurant. Before, I felt Hummus Brothers missed the mark on all three. They still miss on two, but the third has become a solid bet. I’m not sure if that’s praise or not, but this was the first time I ate there without feeling like someone wasn’t pulling a joke on me. Honestly, I thought it was good, a step in the right direction. The meal was delicious; I felt satisfied. They just better have fixed their bathrooms.
OVERALL: 7.4 out of 10 (that’s a solid B, happy now?)
Just a minor update, with all the sushi restaurants reviewed (that I know of), I’ll be posting summary and announcing the best of the bunch soon. I was planning on doing a new project where I test if other Chinese restaurants have hidden menus, but after three failed starts, I cancelled it.
I started with China Sail because SOMEONE had told me that like China Taste, China Sail had a hidden authentic Chinese menu. Either he was mistaken or the waitress I asked was either misinformed or lying. Admittedly acting rather rudely, we picked up our coats and left. We then tried Asian Pearl but found them closed…at 8:00 pm. Closed…at 8:00. Not a good sign. So then it was Fortune Palace and, shockingly they also didn’t have an authentic Chinese menu. Oh sure, they’ll have a few but three options doesn’t offer the variety I’m looking for. Feeling rather depressed, we decided to go to Hummus Brothers…again.
I’ll do a proper review on them soon, my third. I figured they had moved and dropped Tapas from their name, so it was worth giving them yet another chance.
I realized starring at the oversized menu board hanging over the sanitized counter and at the uniformed men waiting patiently for my order that to review Fuji Japan and compare it to other Japanese restaurants in town would be like comparing Volkswagens to Audis. Sure they’re made basically by the same people, owned by the same company, share many common parts, but one is simply better than the other. A better comparison would be to decide between McDonalds and a bag of day-old popcorn.
Fast food sushi on its surface seems as bad an idea as Taylor Lautner doing Hamlet, but so many places appear to sell their virtues on speed instead of quality, and given how disappointed I’ve been over these sushi reviews, why not review the Japanese equivalent a Big Mac and fries. Fuji Japan is unique in town, odd given its commonality elsewhere on the continent. It looks like a fast food joint, acts like a fast food joint, and delivers like a fast food joint. And I do mean fast. I didn’t have to wait more than two minutes before my food arrived, presented in the requisite plastic container inviting a sealed clear plastic top. Everything here is scotch-guarded. Plastic posters hang taped off walls. Napkin dispensers advertise daily specials. I’m surprised there was no self-serve pop dispensers—wait…no there they were. I ordered the sushi combo as it was one of the most expensive dishes at a mind boggling $10.95. Twenty two pieces for $10.95, making Fuji Japan the cheapest sushi location by a colossal margin. I haven’t seen this good a deal since that Nigerian prince asked for my credit card.
But was it good? Meh.
I know readers are probably expecting some colorful metaphor or limerick, perhaps a verse in iambic pentameter, but this is fast food—it doesn’t really require or even deserve such creativity. They obviously have none of their own. For $13 bucks including coke, I got a half-dozen pieces each from a cucumber roll, California roll, and something painfully trying to imitate a dynamite roll. I stress painfully as the tempura was rubber. The rice bordered on mushy, but all this should’ve been expected given the two-minute delivery. Unless Speedy Gonzalez is back there, all of this was sitting on a shelf waiting for my order. This could be an incorrect assumption of the quality of Fuji Japan, as their fried food is made atop of grills right behind the counter. That could be good, I guess, though it wasn’t the purpose of this review. Like Shogun (and the only time I’ll compare these two places), sushi may not be Fuji Japan’s speciality. And here is where it gets depressing—and where this review makes its point—if I was stuck in downtown Prince George with an apparent disinterest in walking more than ten minutes and wanted sushi, THIS is where I’d go. I know, right. Between Fuji Japan and Wasabi, I’d choose Fuji…this is assuming it’s not a Friday where any self-respecting person would enjoy Shogun’s lunch menu. Fuji Japan isn’t particularly good, but it’s not disgusting or impossible to swallow. And one cannot deny how cheap it is. But so is McDonalds and I never go there, ultimately concluding this review (despite me probably talking for another 280 words).
Being the cheapest has never been a deciding factor for me, though it could very well be for you. Given the previous statement, I can’t see myself returning to Fuji Japan. It fills a niche I wasn’t aware needed to be filled, a niche I thought was conquered by the likes of the Superstore sushi bar. In effect, Fuji Japan feels more suited among thirty other food counters in a mall food floor, something you decide against Arby’s, Taco Time, and that odd Greek place serving Chinese food. This is a situation where I’d want to ask the other patrons their reason for choosing Fuji Japan. Is speed the only issue? I see people sitting down with friends and taking up their hour lunch conversing about daily events. Could they not do this thirty feet away at North 54 or a little further at Nancy O’s or White Goose? Even sitting here typing away, feeling my stomach grow increasingly upset at the lackluster meal, I wondered what devilry has been cast upon these masses to elect this over better food. I guess some people find the atmosphere inviting, something unassuming, welcoming, perhaps non-judgemental. To those people, Fuji Japan marks their monthly exotic indulgence. They pack themselves tightly in their Ford Explorer and opt for a change of pace from daily steak and potatoes drizzled in Jake’s hot sauce or weekly outings to the nearby Chinese place where they can stuff their faces in day old wontons for $8.95. Yes, you’re a wild-man and Fuji Japan is as exotic as a Dodge Ram is in Whitehorse.
Chicken Involtini. Pound a chicken breast flat to about 1/4 inch thick. Make sure to use a breast with the fillet removed. Season both sides with black pepper, kosher salt and granulated garlic. Wrap a slice of prosciutto and provolone cheese with some fresh basil and tie well. Brush the outside with olive oil and grill on direct medium heat for 15 min or so until chicken is cooked. Cut and serve over fresh tomato sauce. Really good little meal.
What this guy does is incredible. At some point, I’m going to make him write a cookbook.Smokey and the Briquette
I recently re-reviewed all the Sushi restaurants in Prince George in order eliminate any anomalies from earlier reviews. I have no plans on doing likewise with Chinese locations. My gut tells me little has encouraged repeat reviews. And when I mean gut, I’m not talking instinct; I’m actually referring to my gastrointestinal system. It has literally begged me (using words, very confusing) to avoid the Chinese food in town. It has already suffered through the side-effects of a homemade bollito misto containing something I must be allergic to, and has put its foot down on any further attempts at—employing modern terminology—enhanced culinary interrogation. However, a compromise has been met regarding a single exception—one restaurant with a hidden passion for exquisite Chinese food. That place…is China Taste.
My first review was a depressing account of its buffet, but a second visit—armed with the knowledge of a secret menu—revealed an incredible jewel of restaurant. I could not have been more wrong. I know of rumors of other locations offering hidden Chinese menus, but China Taste obviously doesn’t mind this being revealed. Why? Well, last time, the menu was all in Mandarin (or Cantonese, let’s get over the fact I can’t distinguish), forcing my friend and I to seek translation. Upon our second request weeks later, we discovered said menu was now bilingual.
Yes…bilingual, meaning not only has this menu proved popular, but so many people have been requesting it that the chef has embraced the alternate cuisine and translated it for Western/English customers. It’s no longer a secret; they don’t care, and I don’t care. China Taste is the best Chinese restaurant in town. I dare—I repeat—dare other Chinese restaurants to reveal rumored secret menus and invite westerners such as myself to experiment with truly amazing ethnic cuisine. I won’t resort to water-boarding or other apparently accepted forms of cross-examination, just a simply request. And until said restaurants open up about these treasures, I will continue to extol the virtues of China Taste, truly a taste respectful of its namesake country (wait…isn’t it the other way around…no matter).
Our second visit was punctuated by two new dishes, once again fringed by a giant steam pot of fresh rice. Mine was a minefield of hot peppers and boiled beef and tasted of heaven mixed with molten lava. It should be noted that we were offered bowls or plates and later with forks or chopsticks. Here is where the owners retreat to a room to compose themselves, as clumsy westerners fail to make the simply observation of traditional Chinese cuisine. You see, people make jokes about chopsticks and our stumbling efforts to mimic the proficient use by the experts, but many fail to make the observation that sticks work well when retracting food from a bowl. Combine chopsticks with plates, and it’s like trying to pick up a greased-up toddler after it accidentally downed a pot of black coffee. So, here is my lesson learned the hard way: Chopsticks go with bowls, forks with plates. Let’s all accept this and recognize that it’s not dishonorable employing metal utensils.
Okay? Sticks with bowls; forks with plates.
I am asked continually about what is the best Chinese restaurant in town, specifically the best buffet. That reminds me of that scene in The Last Boy Scout when Bruce Willis asks his friend if he would rather be punched in the gut or punched in the head (like him, I’d choose gut). I won’t answer because in honesty, there is no good Chinese buffet…and if I mentioned one and if you got sick, could I be blamed for planting the seed? Like heavy metal songs promoting Satan, I cannot be held responsible for your actions. I cannot recommend any buffets in town, but I will recommend the best Chinese restaurant, and that is China Taste. I named it the best restaurant of 2013 on account of its secret menu of authentic Chinese dishes, a fact I repeated on my recent CBC radio interview. The same day as our meal, I was invited to Fortune Palace. I weighed the options and chose China Taste easily. I’d do it again.
The biggest hurdle facing privately owned restaurants which emulate the décor and style of a franchise is measuring up to the competition. This may appear easy on the surface but these franchises are proven with considerable financing to back them up along with, and this may come as a shock, a rather high standard of cuisine. I mean if it was disgusting, would you go? Fast food joints are disgusting but you go because it’s travels through time to deliver food yet to be ordered and injects enough formaldehyde and sodium nitrate into your system, you’d be the only non-decomposing zombie after the eventual rise of the undead…
…I am positive there’s a joke there somewhere, where overweight people turned into zombies look perfectly normal because of the number of happy meals and quarter-pounders they devoured while alive. There is also the additional irony of how mobile such individuals now become as part of the undead.
Where was I? Right…franchise restaurants are not all necessarily uniformly fantastic, but there’s an expected level of quality when entering one. What you should not expect is anything terribly…well…interesting. You’ll find burgers, steaks, pasta dishes, and a few ethnic flourishes so lightly sprinkled about, you’re likely to pick up a more pronounced exotic whiff wandering around the bathroom at the Hong Kong airport. But the point is they make an effort to evolve normally bland examples of American mediocrity into something dare I saw occasionally sublime, so trying to emulate that on a reduced budget with a pronounced lack of corporate backing is a challenge in the least. So I’m befuddled when a local restaurant attempts to do so. If they succeed, it truly is a momentous achievement, made more difficult with places like Red Robin.
Yeah, I know, Red Robin, where’s the quality in that? It should be somewhat of a shock for me as well, but let me defend my point before you discount it. Let’s put aside the oddball décor and whether it does or does not work. I was attended to by one of the nicest most energetic waitresses I’ve encountered. Seriously, she was amazing. She could charge up a Tesla Model S with that much energy. As I waited for my comrade to arrive, I ordered pretzel bites. One good point in their favor, Red Robin has amazing appetizers. No, seriously, I’d order these five times a week if I didn’t care about my waist. I followed the appetizer with the smoke and pepper burger, all of this adding up to an excessive amount of food for an incredibly reasonable price. And it was good. The reason why I initially refused to review franchises was because of my attempt to elevate and promote local restaurants along with my desire to avoid the monotony of sampling small variations of pretty much the same food. After three years, I discovered so many of these family-owned places end up trying to mimic the formula of a franchise, though for most of them, it’s either Earls or Boston Pizza. I don’t see a lot trying to emulate a Red Robin.
So yes, I’m including them in my reviews. As you might have guessed, it also means I’m running out of ideas, and if I was living in Calgary or Vancouver, I’d be able to continue my stance on avoiding franchises, reviewing privately owned businesses until I grew old and feeble…and, looking at the shape of my ankles, that won’t be long.
The point is that nobody should be ashamed about eating at Red Robin. No, my comrade wasn’t a date. I do have some sense of self-worth. Most of the time, when given the chance, I’d opt for North 54 or White Goose, but if you have a hankering for a burger, there are few places better.
t’s obvious to see that Shogun is in a class by itself; check that, an entirely a different school. Pushing the metaphor further, it’s McConaughey post the mcconaissance. Shōji (those are Japanese paper doors) separate private rooms away from the huge serving area dominated by the teppanyaki grills. Ethnically distinct music rained pleasantly from speakers. Soft spot lighting fell onto the center of the massive table I found myself at, an environment completely divorced from the idea of solitary dining. Don’t come alone…like I did that afternoon.
At dinner, Shogun is loud, boisterous, theatrical in every way, not where one would go for a private assignation. This review is based on two recent encounters, one the aforementioned lunch—the other a private assignation. It’s difficult to rate Shogun on its lunch since it only opens for a brief four hours one day a week. I already named Shogun the best Japanese restaurant in town but not the best sushi. And sushi was difficult to find here. There were no sushi combination plates at all. They have maki listed as appetizers and a few bento boxes with rolls and sashimi, but no nigiri whatsoever.
As for the dinner, I realized that Shogun is really only functional as a destination for business outings and birthday parties, not while on a date where one would be expected to be more interested in the companion than the chef’s knife-work. The banging of sticks, the scraping of knives, the fire and noise of neighboring patrons may be welcome as member of a large party, but when on a date, it all becomes a distraction. This is not the say the theatrics are not welcome; my first time out, I labeled Shogun one of the most entertaining experiences to have in a restaurant. I’m just saying it’s unique and should only be embraced under proper conditions. This recent dinner, I was simply more interested in the girl I had taken out than the theatrics at the table.
Another point of observation about the dinner was that said theatrics are entirely dependent on the skill of the chef. Last year, our chef was funny, talkative, and his knife work made me suspect he was the Highlander. But this time, it was clear the chef was not up to that level. Juggling sticks was little more just drumming on the table, someone out of his element. So despite still enjoying the meal, I found it not as fulfilling as last time, proving how theatrics are entirely dependent on the skill of the performer…like everything else in theatre. If you phone it in, we can all tell.
The lunch was a totally different experience. Music was subdued, no teppanyaki chefs, even the griddles were covered. I’d say on ambience alone, it was one of the better experiences to have at lunch. But the lack of a proper sushi selection really hurts. No nigiri, no cones, barely any maki, if one wants sushi, Shogun may not be your best choice. That being said the sushi I did get was rather good. Cut to proportion, good texture. I just wish there was some variety. For value, it was also a good deal. The bento box was heaping with food, making me regret ordering the additional dynamite roll. The salad was draped in runny dressing so that was depressing. A couple of the tempura was undercooked but the others were amazing. The attention to detail was really good. On the basis of the food received, Shogun holds the mantle of one of better sushi restaurants in town. My issue only comes from their lack of variety and the fact they are only open for lunch one day a week.
At the end of the day, I’d still recommend Shogun. What I got was a good value in a pleasant environment with courteous staff. I believe this lunch service to be a test by the owners to gauge demand, and I hope they’ve discovered the value in opening for lunch. If so, they may open more days a week and expand their selection. On that, I would return. As it stands, Shogun is simply not the best sushi restaurant in town. It remains the best Japanese restaurant, but at lunch time, So Good may be closer to what many people are looking for.
But at dinner, this place cannot be beat.
Has anyone noticed fortune cookies have stopped the practice of revealing your destiny in favor of being just oddly instructive?
“Finish what you started.” Ummm…okay…so I guess that means I better finish this review. Or maybe it just refers to the cookie…either way that fortune is somewhat of a softball.
My past experiences with So Good have been mixed, with one bad episode Oreo’d between a pair of pleasant ones. It wasn’t a good start to this day, marred by my own mistake of forgetting my wallet, discovering the fact two feet from the restaurant’s doors. So Good remains one of the better looking Japanese restaurants, disregarding its outer shell when it used to be a McDonalds. It manages to blend its Chinese and Japanese styles into something you’d expect to be confusing but isn’t. In defense of previous praise, I’ve only ordered sushi from So Good, having never attempted its Chinese.
And it still has its sushi bar, a fact I admired at a distance from my table. So Good is also one of the few places in town openly serving sushi in novelty boats. Seriously, if you want to host a large-scale party in a Japanese restaurant, So Good would be your best, if probably only, choice. I mean, come on…boats. I ordered the combo C, listed at a modest $15.95, and with that you get eleven pieces, eleven tiny pieces. I know, I’ve been ranting about how annoyed I’ve been at the oversized cuts of fish at places like Tokyo and Wasabi. So Good apparently moved in the opposite direction. So am I going to complain? Is So Good doing this to make a point? Am I wrong to want smaller cuts? Are we alone in the universe? When cows laugh, does milk come out of there noise? Some mysteries remain unsolved, but not all. Smaller cuts are better. I would rather have more pieces and enjoy a variety than attempt to unhinge my jaw attempting to swallow an oversized salmon nigiri. The maki were a good size, and the variety of nigiri was admirable, although in truth, the avocado was cheap alternative to tuna. The dynamite roll was incredible. I ended up ordering an additional cone for good measure, and it ended up being one of the best cones I’ve ever had. Some chefs just cram rice and then top it like a Nestle drumstick…a cold, delicious, and crunchy Nestle… I hate my diet.
Yes, the pieces were small, and the value was dubious compared to others in town, but unlike the others, I actually enjoyed my meal. I was tempted to ask the chef over and compliment them on their quality. I would even hasten to say that So Good might have gotten actually better since last time I was here. Was this luck? I’m going to have to review this place yet again to make sure this was not an anomaly. I means it’s not perfect. For some bizarre reason, the booth seats are not connected to their back and neither are connected to the wall, so on more than one occasion, I thought I was to tumble out of my chair.
As I was enjoying my meal, I found another surprise, a Chinese special on a card sitting by my table…and it was IN Chinese. Beef brisket hot pot and lamb hot pot. Dare I fear my assumptions of the Chinese food was wrong as well? Will I have to return and attempt that as well? What the hell is going on here? I should be hating this place. It looks like the So Good just got into the lead as the best Sushi place in town.
Last point, my meal concluded with that aforementioned and oddly oppressive fortune cookie. Now, some of you may expect me to snicker about its presence, except that in truth, it totally fits. The Mandarin in Iron Man 3 challenged the assumption that the fortune cookie was a Chinese invention when it was in fact American. He is wrong…he is also fictional, so I’ll just blame Shane Black, the writer. In fact, it’s Japanese, invented by immigrants after World War II. You could still accuse it of being technically American, but let’s just accept that its placement at the end of a Sushi meal in a Canadian restaurant is totally fitting. And now you know
…because knowledge is power.
For the first time reviewing Japanese restaurants, I’m increasing my score.
Service was rocket fast, the price may be a bit higher than usual, but folks, it’s worth it.
In a recent conversation, a friend and I agreed that Asian restaurants have the worst names—they truly lack originality. I mentioned in a previous review that most Chinese restaurants appear to recycle about ten words, including golden, palace, Asia, fortune, and of course, China. Japanese is under threat to repeat this depressing trend, not only forced to include the word Sushi in their name, but apparently boring terms like wasabi, Tokyo, shogun, etc. Here’s an indicator: If you do a search for a Japanese restaurant without specifying the town, if more than six restaurants appear, it’s a problem. As such, Sushi Hut could be the most boring name for a Japanese restaurant I’ve ever heard. There are so many things to call your restaurant, Sushi Hut must be the most unoriginal.
With that out of the way, Sushi Hut still looks like a decent place, unchanged since my last visit. An almost uncountable number of Japanese paraphernalia hang or sit around me. You name it, lanterns, screens, statues. Yet, it doesn’t look cluttered. Like most places, it sorely lacks a bar for me to sit at. After taking my table, and flipping through the menu, I fell upon the sushi combo. Upon initial inspection, the prices did appear a little steep, but this was an illusion. No matter which Japanese restaurant I visit, the prices are basically the same, and I discovered that I will pay more for good sushi….
…And was that music from the 70s? It sounded like something I’d hear behind Carl Sagan during an episode of Cosmos. Turns out, I was wrong; it was the lead-in for modern Japanese pop.
Tea was served in a ceramic cup alongside a matching kettle, good start. I ordered the sushi combo which involved a hefty eight pieces of nigiri alongside a dynamite roll. Although $18, this could still be a good value if done correctly. The delivered plate (not a wooden board) was expertly laid out and correctly cut. It’s a depressing fact I need to praise a Japanese restaurant for being competent, but this was. The rice was well packed and seasoned. If I would offer a gripe, it would be the lack of range in the nigiri, nine pieces but only three varieties. The dynamite was great. I know, I could say it was dynamite, but that’s just not trying.
All in all, I quite like Sushi Hut. Despite its atrocious name, it doesn’t do anything bad. It’s just you have to spend a bit more to get the quality all other places should be striving for. The intimae obviously knows his craft and he’s not going about it lazily. And I have to compliment the speed of the delivery, having received my final plate minutes after ordering. This creates a situation where, unlike previous reviews in this quest to review Japanese restaurants in Prince George, I may have to offer an increased score to Sushi Hut. It truly isn’t that bad. It’s fast, the food is good, and I don’t feel that corners are being cut. Like the first visit to the toilet when I wake up in the morning—it’s quick, clean, and mostly painless unless I ate peanuts the day before.
I’ve had better certainly, but not recently. For the first time this year, I think I may be actually interested to return to a Japanese restaurant. I really want to give Sushi Hut a third opportunity. Their first outing didn’t impress, unlike this time. I think I fancy a tie-break. If they can increase the variety of their offerings, Sushi Hut could be a real winner.