June 17, 2012

Ki Sushi

Ki Sushi is the one restaurant I wish Prince George had.  Better still, I would move to Vancouver just to be closer to Ki Sushi. 

I know that reads like I’m skimping on the preamble, but it’s going to take considerable length to justify the setup.  I’m not spoiling the end; like Titanic, you pretty much know what’s coming.  For years, I’ve argued that the best sushi I ever enjoyed came from Suzuran, sadly now closed.  I had much to compare it to, including locations in England and China, with prices up to ten times more than my local variety.  And yet, I kept coming back to this little hut known to few but loved by all.  The biggest reason why I stuck with Suzuran, why it became a regular spot, why I befriended the chef, was because of a mutual respect the chef/owners had with their customers.  It’s wasn’t a war of value—with one side maximizing profit and the other side minimizing expense.  So often I approach a restaurant and can tell from the onset that I’m going to have to act like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in order to get my money’s worth (“Did your parents have any children that lived?!”).

What’s unfortunate is that Ki Sushi isn’t even the highest rated sushi restaurant in Vancouver, nor is it the cheapest.  It is simply one example among many of how a sushi restaurant should be.  People have complained over its low-quality rice or poor service, but nothing popped up on my radar during my sitting.  I’ll even admit the experience could be considered only average in the landscape of Vancouver-based Japanese restaurants, and that’s the core of my issue with Prince George sushi—the fact that an above-average restaurant is a beached blue whale’s length beyond anything offered at home, that if Ki Sushi was located anywhere in Prince George, it would summarily obliterate competition with enough of a healthy margin to still treat the customers like shit and get away with it.  So when I say I wish Ki Sushi was in Prince George, I actually mean any sushi restaurant that is above average.  If any of these local places tried to pull some of the practices they get away with, they’d be brushed under the rug and forgotten in Vancouver. 

I’m sure this isn’t true.  In fact, I’ll wager there are dozens of sub-par sushi restaurants in Vancouver, ones able to sustain themselves despite superior competition, the benefit of the Asian influx and size of the region.  Even as I was wandering around Vij’s looking for a parking spot, I drove through Sushi Town.  Sushi….TOWN, an area so large dedicated to just sushi restaurants, it’s granted a title undeserving of most the places you’re forced to drive through between Prince George and Vancouver. 

So what makes the mark of a good sushi restaurant?  I have always praised the inclusion of a sushi bar.  Check.  Visible and diligent chefs?  Check.  Unsophisticated décor that doesn’t offer the impression that the furnishings were bought from a Jysk clearance sale?  Check.  Granted, a restaurant like Ki could put in a quantum of additional effort to make themselves not look like a Japanese Arby’s, but compared to the “remaining” sushi restaurants in PG, this makes Ki look like Claridges.  There’s just enough of a Japanese imprint to ensure you’re not about to order a No. 8 Chinese combination sampler.  Yes, the interior showcases every shade of the brown spectrum, but the paintings of geisha girls and samurais forces me to give Ki a pass.  I’ll even give them extra credit for having their name branded on every napkin and chopstick.  All of this would be trivial if Ki didn’t deliver on their raw fish. 

After browsing through the sizeable menu, I ignored all the options and elected the zest combo from the special page, thankfully lacking any soap.  What you get is a gut-breaching four courses of food, making Ki Sushi the best value in Japanese food, full stop.  For $22, you not only get miso soup AND ebi sunomono (vegetables and seafood marinated in rice vinegar), but also a plate of tempura.  And when the sushi arrives, you’re treated to a colossal plate of nigiri, sashimi, and complex rolls.  Every piece was cut to perfect size, nothing was chewy, dry, or warm.  As my stomach distended into my colon and pushed my liver past my shoulder blades, the friend I was enjoying this feast with reminded me there was still ice cream to come.  

To put this into perspective, half of just the sushi plate would have cost about the same in Prince George as this entire meal.  The better restaurants would have included the soup but not much else.  Ki never cheapened the plate with tamagoyaki (egg) or cucumber rolls.  The entire experience would have cost thirty dollars if not even closer to forty, and a couple places would have still snuck in shredded carrot.

 The service at Ki didn’t smack as being overtly unsatisfying.  Our (complimentary) tea was refilled on a regular basis and water flowed nicely when low.  To add prestige to Ki would require paper screens, light ethnic music, period anachronistic fashion, and a ceiling that didn’t look borrowed from a bank, but its approach is unintimidating, welcoming—it’s gateway sushi, opening the road for more exquisite experiences to come, where the sushi restaurants in Prince George feel like the dead ends for customers ready to return to their bacon double cheeseburgers and fifteen dollar porterhouse steaks. 

Apparently, it’s also worthwhile to note that Ki is one of the extremely few sushi restaurants in Vancouver owned and operated by actual Japanese (one of two, I am told), odd given that equals the number of Japanese owned restaurants in Prince George.  Despite several people insisting this is a badge of quality, I stress that’s not the case.  It depends on commitment and reverence, two qualities no ethnicity holds the patent on, and I have enjoyed amazing sushi from the hands of both Chinese and Korean, with the Koreans still currently taking the checkered.




FOOD:  7

VALUE:  10

OVERALL:  7.5 out of 10 

Ki Sushi on Urbanspoon

tags #vancouver #restaurant #dining #eating out #fine dining #review #foodey