It is hard to find a good Japanese restaurant in Vancouver, despite the vast multitude in the city (Dinehere lists 328 of them, which is double the number in the “pubs” or “pizza” or “family” categories). Maybe it’s my picky palate. I have gone places where I pay $30 for a few pieces of sashimi freshly imported from Japan, and came away disappointed. I have eaten sushi rolls so fusion-fancy and dressed up I can hardly tell what I’m eating. Us Vancouverites sure love our sushi (and quite literally, as sushi seems to be favored over other types of Japanese food such as don, men, nabemono, or yakimono). As long as there is rice, a piece of nori, and some fish all wrapped together in a neat little roll, we will eat it. Some probably love sushi so (blindly) much they don’t care they are eating at restaurants calling themselves Japanese, but have little right to do so.
Quite frankly, I’d be insulted if I were Japanese. It’s food-blasphemy!
It’s like if every Chinese dim sum place I go to the owners and chefs are speaking to me in Korean and putting kimchee in my char siew bao! (Hmmmm! Not that I wouldn’t love a kimchee bao!) But seriously, yes, fusion cuisine is all the rage and quite exciting, but “ethnic” cuisine is best enjoyed in true authenticity, no?
Anyway, I am hardly a connoisseur of Japanese cuisine. But over the years I’ve become a bit picky. My three basic requirements are quality, authenticity, and freshness. That means no all-you-can-eat, no eating at restaurants run by non-Japanese Asians, no sushi that comes in a foam or plastic box. (OK. The one thing I am guilty of is liking California rolls.) These three points are important because I adore sashimi, and you can go so wrong so easily if you eat sashimi at the wrong places.
一朗亭 Ichiro Japanese Restaurant (2nd Ave. and Chatham, Steveston) definitely meets the three requirements. Japanese-run, they serve fresh sashimi, tastey soup bases, and superb udon. Good service (though a tad slow), and gets quite busy even on weeknights. Below, a small sampling:
Uni sashimi (1/2 order):
Words cannot describe how much I love uni. It is not for the faint of tongue, even if you don’t know what it is before you eat it. One of my favorite ways to enjoy it is freshly prepared and served atop the sea urchin shell itself. Ichiro serve all their sashimi on ice, although with uni it might not be the greatest idea – you have to eat it fast or it will not hold up against the melting ice! Very fresh though, and very… uni. $8.99 well spent for this uni aficionado.
Chicken udon – that default noodle in soup thing to order. But this is no ordinary udon. I don’t think any other place has udon so good: not thick, white and doughy, the perfect consistency with just the right chewy. Perfect slippery udon texture. It also soaks up the flavor of the soup so well that if they had served the plain udon in soup, it would be a delicious dish. Ichiro‘s udon is a definite must-try.
Sashimi: Sockeye and Yellowfin Tuna:
Pretty generous portions of sashimi, unlike a lot of places that try to cheat you with little thin slices. Again, served on ice. The Sockeye is nice, red, and oily. The yellowfin is definitely among the best I’ve ever had. And it’s just cheap, plain old yellowfin tuna! So many places serve flavorless tuna, with that still-frozen taste, or with this rough texture and feel and kind of falls apart funny in your mouth. Ichiro‘s consistently had the perfect tuna taste. Nice, smooth, yum.
Rolls: California, chopped scallop, Steveston:
These are pretty standard rolls, as are most of the rolls on their menu. The Steveston roll (which is just salmon, shrimp and scallop) is not that exciting even with the green tobiko. Ichiro doesn’t try to fancy it up like so many places nowadays by wrapping their rolls with thin slices of mango or avocado or salmon. Which is just fine. I am not that taken with their rolls as their other items. They are good, but slightly overshadowed by everything else.
Deep Fried Sole:
A delightful snack. Very light, and super crunchy without being overly salty. Yes, you can eat the bones, which I think is the best part. You can also eat the head. It is served with coarse salt and a sauce, but is just great on its own.
I say their udon definitely rocks, but their soba is great too. Nice and light with a good texture. If you’re not a big fan of udon… well, you should order the udon anyway, then have your soba.
If you are like me and order a lot of sashimi (and are “adventurous” is what my best friend likes to call me) a dinner here costs about 30 bucks a person, which is not bad for the quality of food you are getting. They also have bento boxes and good looking desserts. Highly recommended by all dinnermates I’ve eaten with here.
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