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.
The Coast Inn of the North is blessed with numerous well regarded restaurants both in its belly and within a five minute walk. But despite having reviewed every other place in town, repeatedly in some cases, I’ve only critiqued one of the Coast’s three establishments. My excuse is that Coffee Garden is the only one open for lunch with the other two, Winston’s and Shogun, only open for dinner. The circumstances of this specific dinner are complicated and boring…so here I go: basically, I work at a big retailer undergoing major renovations, and I had been placed in a position of authority during said renovation. I befriended the SWAT team (totally not lying; that’s what they’re called) brought up from Vancouver to organize the reno. So to make a long story really obnoxious, they were staying at the Coast and invited me out to a restaurant they’ve frequented many times by that point.
More accurately, I encouraged the congregation due to not having reviewed Shogun and because I’m suffering from a crush for one of the SWAT team members—a healthy crush like Robin Williams in The Fisher King rather than Robin Williams in One Hour Photo. As readers will remember from previous reviews, I’ve about as much success with the female gender as a male angler fish, so let’s assume I crashed worse than Dale Earnhardt (too soon?) and move onto the actual review.
With the loss of Sakura, and with no one readily available to prove me wrong, Shogun is the only Japanese restaurant remaining in town with manned teppanyaki tables, a dominant characteristic of this establishment. Of course, they also offer staple sushi, but the hot plate is the draw. For anyone needing clarification, teppanyaki translates from Japanese into “potential burn victim” because of the proximity customers are from a cooking surface. Readers are more likely aware of its more western moniker, hibachi grill. If you see a restaurant claiming itself a Japanese Steakhouse, it’s because it features these tables, which purely for trivia nuts is related to another form of cuisine called Mongolian barbecue, which is neither Mongolian nor technically even a barbecue and let’s be honest, sounds a little bit racist.
We were handed menus which instantly dashed my hopes for culinary bliss. These oversized monoliths were more suited to a Denny’s…or for separating rooms in a temple in Guangzhou. These are the ones a pair secret agents hide behind, each holding one side. You can’t fully deploy said menu without it blocking the view of the two people flanking you. I swear I almost took out an eye once. I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons with smaller screens than this. Pictures in menus are probably one of the worst ideas for a high-class restaurant, a sure-fire sign you’re trying to sell your services to a section of the population still entertained by Teletubbies. You’d accuse me of fussing over minutia, but I believe it to be a legitimate concern when an opened menu will block not only your vision but the visions of those around you to the sole reason why you sat at a teppanyaki table in the first place. If Olive Garden doesn’t feel the need to post pictures on their menu, neither should a high-class Japanese Steakhouse. When building a successful culinary establishment, despite the obvious temptation, the one thought which shouldn’t run through your mind is, “What would Applebee’s do?”
The teppanyaki tables utterly dominate the small space reserved for Shogun, with booths the only tables which lack them. I found a seat directly opposite of the chef and eventually ordered one of the many platters offered. They go by many colorful names but are actually just different combinations of five ingredients: beef, chicken, scallops, lobster, and shrimp. I ordered the one with the beef, chicken, and scallops. Promptly, the chef throws down scallops not just for me but for the four patrons around me. This does raise a concern given that scallops are tricky to cook properly. Overcooked, they become tough. How this chef manages to cook them all nearly perfectly does verify his talent. Of course, it wouldn’t be a teppanyaki experience without him dousing each ingredient in alcohol and attempting to burn my eyebrows off.
Yes, lighting something on fire rarely ever contributes to a meal’s flavor. From my experience and from listening to certain experts, only crepes suzette and maybe bananas foster actually benefits from direct ignition. The food on the grill isn’t ablaze for long enough to offer anything to the final dish. And I don’t care. It’s all show, an integral part of the theatrical production of teppanyaki, a huge factor in its cost, and that’s a good thing. Every review I’ve written has discussed service, rating it alongside food and decor. Do I rate one more than the others? Of course, food is the most important, but I’d place service as second over decor, and the stagecraft of teppanyaki falls into this. Our chef is buoyant, witty, and watching him work is akin to the undulations of a lava lamp—borderline hypnotic. This is the same reason why the most enjoyable aspect of sushi, the part so many establishments forget, is the metrical knife-work of the itamae. Part of a sushi-chef’s appeal is the showcase of his skill and his mannerisms at the bar—how he interacts with customers and displays his work. When I call out Suzuran as the best sushi restaurant Prince George has ever had, why I befriended its chef, it’s because of his stagecraft. And this is no different. The value of Shogun is as much in its theatrics as in its food. If the food was crap, I’d take issue, but thankfully, it’s not. Along with the teppanyaki, I also ordered a tuna starter, which was also good. It wasn’t required since the mains were massive.
The experience lasted nearly 30 minutes, with food being served nearly constantly, delivered in bite sized chunks, pre-cut and ready for dipping. Yes, that does sound like an extravagant fondue, and you’d have a point, but once again it would still lack that panache of teppanyaki. At $30+ for each plate, this type of experience isn’t for the weekly traveller, and it’s not one taken by a lonely man with no friends to call upon. You take in Shogun when in need of celebration, when friends gather and cheer in unison at the performance offered. I can’t see why anyone would go to Shogun and not partake in the teppanyaki. Sushi can be acquired cheaper at a half-dozen places around town, but I’d like to return and see if it’s any better than the competition. But on the basis of its signature offering, Shogun stands as the best Japanese restaurant in town and one worthy of visit.
OVERALL: 8.3 out of 10