Cheap Eats · Happy Hour · Japanese · Restaurants · Seafood · Sushi

Ke Charcoal Grill- COVID-19 dine-in edition

I’ve been hearing good things about Ke Charcoal Grill, a restaurant specializing in yakitori. I convinced L to go, though I warned him that he needs to lower his expectations. L’s eaten his fair share of yakitori in Tokyo, so I knew he had preconceived notions on what it should taste like. Ke Charcoal is popular for its cheap and tasty food. For this post, let’s listen to “Joyride” by Roxette.

When we arrived, the hostess took our temperature. As with most restaurants, there is sanitizer at the entrance. For our safety, all our cutlery and sauces were individually packed. I liked how the tables were spaciously set apart. I also noticed that the staff were attentive and friendly, despite appearing understaffed.

L ordered a glass of Asahi ($6) and I stuck with tap water. I took a sip of his beer and found it flat. I heard from a reliable person with industry knowledge – Jude – that Ke Charcoal’s sake is inexpensive. I’ll have to try some on my next visit.

The Chicken Karaage ($8) is a winner. The chicken leg meat was juicy and the batter was nice and brittle. I would order this again.

To go with our skewers, I ordered two heaping bowls of rice ($5). The rice was fluffy and the fragrance reminded me more of Chinese rice than Japanese.

We started off with two skewers of Hatsu with teriyaki sauce ($4.60). I normally love chicken heart but these skewers were served cold and the texture was rubbery instead of tender.

Next up were two skewers of Mo Mo with teriyaki sauce ($4.80). The chicken thighs were tasty and served hot. The teriyaki sauce tasted heavy and sweet.

The cheese on the Yuki ($5.20) was sticky and stuck to the roof of my mouth. I preferred the plain chicken thighs without the cheese but that’s just a personal preference.

One of our favourite skewers was Negima ($4.80). So simple but so good. The green onion was deeply caramelized and it paired beautifully with the chicken thighs.

The Dunagimo ($2.40) arrived hot. I’ve never tried chicken gizzard before. The gizzard was addictingly chewy yet crunchy, and the flavour was surprisingly subtle. I would order this again.

My favourite skewer was Kawa (w/ sea salt $2.30). The chicken skin was super crispy. When I took a bite, the skin would flake apart and then melt in my mouth. I love eating chicken skin with rice, as the plainness of the steamed rice accents the texture and richness of the skin.

I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered Okra ($2.10). The okra was cooked perfectly – there was still a resistance when I bit into it. I loved the crunchy, juicy texture and I could taste the smoky flavour of the grill.

The Asparagus Maki ($4.80) skewers were yummy. The bacon was crispy on the edges but still soft on the inside, coating the asparagus with the flavour of hot pork fat. The texture of the grilled asparagus reminded me of green beans.

We tried both the Tsukkune with teriyaki sauce ($5.20) and with cheese ($5.20). These chicken meatballs were filling, but I found the temperature cool. I think if it was served fresh off the grill, I would have enjoyed it.

I thought that more than half the skewers we tried were awesome, particularly for the price. We ordered way too much food and the bill was half of what we would pay at Shokunin. However, you can’t expect the quality of Shokunin at Ke Charcoal’s prices. Ke Charcoal is an affordable, easy introduction to yakitori. The food reminded me a bit of Torikizoku – a popular and dirt cheap yakitori izakaya chain in Japan. I think the food at Ke Charcoal is far better than Torikizoku.

I told Jude that L wasn’t as impressed as I was with yakitori. She said that the food at Ke Charcoal is great when it’s hot. Sometimes when the yakitori is colder than she would like, she’ll inform the servers and they bring over a new set. I never even thought about complaining. Jude suggested the next time I go, I should ask the servers to ensure the skewers are hot.

Jude recommends the oyster special on Wednesdays, unagi, chicken meatball with shisho, scallop, miso sablefish, beef tongue with daikon and ponzu. She told me to request salt on the yakitori and togarashi on the side for L, so he can get that essence of Japanese yakitori he craves.

I was so excited after talking to Jude that I wanted to go to Ke Charcoal the next day. I told L that I would even pick up the tab. He looked at me sourly and responded, “Look, I know why you want me to go again. You want me to have a different experience. But I won’t. It’s not Japan.”

Wow L! Talk about being inflexible. In the circle of compromise, you aren’t meeting me halfway. I’m not going to pressure him again because I think I am too controlling over where and what we eat. Plus, I know Karplop will go with me. I’ll post an update on my second visit to Ke Charcoal shortly, because this is one izakaya I’ll be frequenting. Hitting Sauce gives Ke Charcoal two fat thumbs up.

Fusion · Italian · Japanese · Restaurants

Carino – COVID-19 dine-in edition

Cheese Pull called and wanted to meet for dinner. She asked me to bring L but he declined as he dislikes being the only dude out with a group of chicks. For this post, let’s listen to “Just a Girl” by No Doubt.

Cheese Pull and I wanted to check out Carino, specifically for the gyozagna – a fusion blend of gyoza and lasagna. Carino has moved a couple of doors down the street into spacier, fancier digs. The room is filled with natural light and has a fresh, airy feel to it.

I asked our server for a glass of wine that would pair with the lasagna. He recommended the Barbera ($11). Cheese Pull doesn’t drink. I noticed that kids nowadays don’t consume alcohol, perhaps because they have better coping skills than my generation did.

For my appetizer, I choose Chicken Karaage ($8). Each piece of chicken was bite-sized and juicy, with a light, soft batter. The taste of basil in the mayonnaise was prominent. Cheese Pull commented the batter wasn’t as crunchy as Sukiyaki House‘s karaage.

The Gyozagna ($24) was so good that Cheese Pull let out a low growling sound as she ate. If that isn’t a compliment, I don’t know what is. Each dumpling was so plump, stuffed with a pork filling that burst with its hot juices. The wagyu meat sauce was so rich and heavy it just melded into the lava of melted mozzarella.

I enjoyed everything about this dish. From the delicate dumpling wrapper to the fresh flavour of the tomato sauce to the crunchy bits of caramelized cheese that crusted onto the top corners of the dish. The portion was also very filling.

Cheese Pull packed half her pasta away while I ate my entire serving. I was planning on bringing L half my pasta but it was so decadent I couldn’t stop eating. Cheese Pull said it was his fault for not coming. Our server was surprised I crushed my plate.

 

I was too full for dessert but Cheese Pull ordered the Hassun ($12) – a trio of sweets. Cheese Pull said the lemon flavouring in the shooter glass was subtle with a consistency like apple sauce. Her favourite of the trio was the creme brûlée. I could hear her tap on the sugar until it broke. She described her creme brûlée as a fancy pudding. The tiramisu was deconstructed – with the bottom layer tasting strongly of espresso.

I plan to return and get L to order the gyozagna so I can order the Alberta Beef Tenderloin with Seared Foie Gras Ravioli ($49.99). If you haven’t been, you have to check Carino out. The food is unique and delicious. Hitting the Sauce gives this Japanese Italian fusion gem two fat thumbs up.

Japanese · Restaurants · Seafood · Special Occasion

Sukiyaki House – COVID-19 dine-in edition #2

On Saturday, L and I met up with Grohl and Flower Child for dinner. Grohl wanted Chinese food but Flower Child insisted we have sushi. I was relieved. Grohl lived in China for a period and ever since, he’s been trying to relive his culinary experiences. He doesn’t listen to my recommendations and orders what he remembers from his travels, then complains the food is terrible and not at all like it was in China. I told L we had to pick a restaurant that Grohl couldn’t find fault with. My reputation was at stake. We decided on Sukiyaki House because we knew head chef Koji Kobayshi and sous chef Yuki Koyama’s culinary creativity would impress our friends.  For this post, let’s listen to “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis.

This post won’t list the prices as Grohl and Flower Child treated us out. As well, I won’t describe the assorted tempura, agadashi tofu and nigiri we ate as I’ve written about it extensively in past posts.

tempura

When I saw FoodKarma Instagram posts on Koji’s summer creation – the Irodori Hiyashi Udon – I knew I had to try it. This bowl of sea treasures cost around $17, which is fantastic value. Our bowl was filled with generously sized pieces of hamachi, snow crab, scallop, ebi, ikura, shitake, tamago, and shredded seaweed.

udon

The chilled udon noodles were thin and chewy. The cold dashi soy broth was refreshing and light enough that it didn’t mask or take away from the natural sweetness of the seafood. I made use of the side of yuzukosho, which added a spicy kick. This cold seafood udon special is available only for a few more weeks, so come quick before it is too late.

special

Koji created a stunning plate of tuna and hamachi tataki. I thought the sweet onion ponzu sauce went well with the denser, stronger flavour of hamachi as well as the lighter, softer pieces of tuna. The garnishes of daikon, micro greens and edible flowers tasted as pretty as it looked.

hot roll

Grohl requested a spicy roll. I asked our server Justin if there was a roll so hot it would burn Grohl’s ass. Justin laughed at my grossness and said Yuki could create something off the menu – the Spicy Aka Oshizushi. The roll was hot but in a restrained way that really worked with the flavor of the red tuna. The topping of micro greens, green onions and crispy shallots added a freshness and crunch factor with each bite.

L said he could taste gochujang spice in the sauce. Justin informed us that there were two other Japanese spices added for extra heat. Grohl raved about how good this roll was and just like that, my reputation was restored. Thanks Yuki.

Sushi

Grohl ordered a piece of the house made smoked wild eel. Apparently, wild eel has a smokier flavour profile and more texture than regular eel. Justin mentioned the chefs reduce the unagi sauce from the soy cure the eel is boiled in.

Grohl and I ate a piece of Hokkaido sea urchin (uni). He closed his eyes as he ate and exclaimed that the uni tasted like a blast of the ocean. I enjoyed the clean sea flavour and the cool, creamy texture. Justin mentioned Hokkaido uni is much sweeter compared to other sea urchin in Japan and the rest of the world.

We all tried a piece of chu toro. Justin informed us that Koji and Yuki use the fattier cuts of bluefin tuna. This one was a winner! I thought the white and pink hue was particularly pretty and the tuna richly flavoured with a soft, almost buttery texture.

dessert

For dessert, we shared the flourless chocolate soufflé with house made green tea ice cream. The souffle was warm and coated my tongue with the taste of dark, rich chocolate. I really liked that the flavour of the matsu kaze tea matcha was so intense.

empur

Thank you Grohl and Flower Child for an epic meal. Hopefully you will have time for us to take you out before you leave. I know a great Korean restaurant for ass burning ‘fire chicken’.

Japanese · Restaurants · Seafood · Sushi

Sukiyaki House – COVID-19 dine-in edition

To celebrate my good news, I told L that I was taking him out for dinner at Sukiyaki House. Judith, Justin and Chef Koji Kobayashi must have also been in a celebratory mood because they spoiled us rotten with complimentary bougie treats. For this post, let’s listen to “Wanna Be A Baller” by Lil’ Troy.

Judith treated us to a taste of Masumi, a sparkling sake that is fermented using an ancestral method. The sake tasted like a mellow champagne. When I sipped on this liquid gold, my entire scalp tingled.

sparkling

Judith also poured us a glass of an exclusive bottle of sake. Jikon is a sought after brand in Japan – there are only 30 stores that carry this sake. She informed us that Kiyashō brewery was going down the drain until his son decided to take sake into a different direction. He wanted to make a better product, so he focused on a smaller batches of sake, paying more attention to koji and rice quality.

sake glass

Judith added that omachi is one of the oldest rice strains with no cross breeding. This type of rice is extremely hard to grow due to its tall height, which can get damaged easily in the wind. Omachi rice grain is also difficult to brew due to its fat round shape. Brewers prefer to work with a flat grain. The extra effort is worth it because omachi rice creates sakes that are layered, earthy, diversified, and herbal.

sake

As we were enjoying our sake tasting, Chef Koji Kobayashi sent over a stunning plate of red snapper sashimi. His food is art because it appeals to our sight, smell and taste. Sorry Koji, my poor attempt at photography doesn’t do your work justice.

sashimi

The fish was so buttery soft it melted on my tongue. With each bite, I’d take a piece of snapper, swirl it in the ponzu sauce and then top it off with the micro greens and a flower. I thought I could taste sesame in the little crunchy bits sprinkled on the top.

bite

We ordered the Assorted Tempura ($20) and a pint of the Asahi Draft ($7). Our tempura arrived steaming hot. This is the first time since Japan that I’ve been impressed by the taste and texture of tempura.

beer

Judith instructed us to add the grated ginger and daikon into our tempura sauce. The batter was pale blonde, ultra light and crisp. The tempura tasted clean, not the least bit oily or greasy. Double damn – this was some fine ass tempura.

Tempura

My favourite pieces of tempura were the kinoko (enoki mushroom) and black tiger shrimp. I enjoyed the process of pulling the delicate enoki legs apart and then dipping it into the sauce.

mushroom

The shrimp was cooked until it was a pretty pink hue. The shrimp meat was delicately crunchy and sweet. Next time, I want to special order just the shrimp and enoki mushrooms. The heart wants what it wants, or else it does not care (Emily Dickinson, 1862).

platter

We ordered a selection of our favourite pieces of nigiri. Aka Maguro ($4.20); Hotategai ($4.20); Amaebi ($4), Ebi ($3); Kani ($3.70); Maguro ($3); Shake Atlantic ($3); and Sockeye ($3.50). Always having the same sushi chefs at the helm means that we can expect the same consistency when we dine at Sukiyaki House. Yet again, the sushi rice was perfectly cooked and seasoned. This is important to me, as personally, I think the rice is just as important as the fish.

ebi

I preferred the firmer texture and richer flavour of the sockeye salmon over Atlantic salmon. Compared to the sockeye, the Atlantic tasted milder and fattier. The cooked shrimp was excellent, with its trademark crunchy texture and sweet flavour. Unlike other Japanese restaurants, the ebi at Sukiyaki House actually has flavour.

shrimp

The regular maguro (tuna) was smooth and tasty, but the fatty, satiny Aka Maguro (bluefin fatty tuna) was mind blowing. Spend the extra dollar and get the blue fin tuna! Best buck you’ll ever spend. L enjoyed it so much he wanted to get a second piece.

scallop

I love the way the sushi chef prepares the hotategai. The scallop is sliced so that all the silky crevices glide all over your tongue. Sensational! I don’t know any other sushi restaurant that does this.

second order

L’s colleague Dallas recently told him that he dined out at a fancy Japanese influenced restaurant.  One of the dishes was a $12 slice of raw fish. Dallas said he wished the server told him why this piece of fish was so special to warrant the price tag, because as someone who doesn’t know much about sushi, he wanted to know what he was eating. L wants to bring Dallas and his wife to Sukiyaki House to get an understanding of the high standard used in excellent Japanese cuisine. At Sukiyaki House, not only do you get Koji – who is trained in Japanese fine dining and Yuki – a sushi artist, but you also get educated by servers whose knowledge of saki and food enhances the experience by giving you a deeper appreciation of the food and drink you are consuming.

Sukiyaki House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Cheap Eats · Japanese · Restaurants · Seafood

Takumi Sushi – COVID-19 edition

My friend Aga just told me that she’s moving to Lethbridge. Dammit! That’s bad news for me as she’s been my number one pandemic buddy. I keep losing my friends to different cities. For this post, let’s listen to “Real Friends” by Camila Cabello.

Last Thursday, Aga treated me to a sushi feast from Takumi Sushi. We ordered: Miso Soup ($2.25); Tako Nigiri (raw octopus, $2.50); Aburi Salmon Sushi (grilled salmon, $2.95); Aburi Hotate Sushi (grilled scallop, $3.25); Tuna Maki ($4.95); Salmon Maki ($4.95); Dynamite Roll ($6.25); Mango California Roll ($9.95); and a Pink Lady Special Roll ($12.95). As you can tell, I didn’t fuss over plating the food because I wanted to eat right away.

plaatter

My friend Feedmeyyc recommended the aburi sushi. The smoky flavour in the aburi salmon and hotate came on strong. The scallops were a good size and silky smooth. The rice was cooked well but a touch sweet for me.

callo

The spicy heat in the jalapeno on top of the salmon wasn’t overpowering. I thought the rice ratio to salmon was proportional. I could eat each piece of aburi in two clean bites.

salmon heat

Feedmeyyc also recommended the spicy salmon roll. This roll was a winner – the salmon and tempura mixture was sweet, spicy, soft and crunchy. I’d order this roll again.

salmon

The Pink Lady Special Roll ($12.95) has a lot going on. Instead of nori, the roll is wrapped in soy paper, deep fried and drizzled with spicy mayo sauce. The filling consists of red tuna, asparagus, cream cheese, jalapeno, and cucumber. The dominant flavour was the cream cheese, which was heavy and thick.

pink lady

All the ingredients in the dynamite roll tasted fresh. The tempura shrimp was plump and still crunchy, accented by a deliciously unhealthy smear of Japanese mayonnaise, avocado and cucumber.

platter two

I found the sauce on the Mango California Roll sweet. The mango was ripe and smooth. I could see this roll being popular with kids or people into non traditional sushi flavours.

mango

I read online that Takumi is operated by the same owners of Nami Sushi. I haven’t verified this rumour because it’s more fun to speculate than to confirm it as a fact. I noticed a similarity in the names and ingredients of specialty rolls, pricing and end product. Both restaurants serve up affordable maki rolls that are light on sushi rice and heavy on the fillings. Takumi offers a 15% discount if you pick up your order and pay by debit. Nami Sushi gives customers a 10% discount for pick up orders.

rolls

Thanks Aga for treating us. I’m already planning our next feast. Perhaps I’ll order from Nami so we can do comparative analysis to Takumi Sushi.

Takumi Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheap Eats · Japanese · Restaurants

Koji Katsu – COVID-19 edition

L asked me which restaurant I decided on for our Saturday night dinner. I picked Koji Katsu because this business unfortunately opened up when COVID-19 officially shut down our social lives. For this post, I’d like to dedicate a song to L as he’s been my rock throughout this worldwide crisis. If there was an award for best pandemic husband of the year, he would win it.

In Tokyo, one of the most memorable meals I ate was at Hasegawa, a Michelin recommended restaurant. The tonkatsu batter was light and buttery, the pork so decadent it melted on my tongue. I bought the leanest and cheapest set. For this orgasmic experience, my meal was only 1,000 Yen, which is roughly $13 CAD.

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At Hasegawa and other tonkatsu restaurants I visited, I noticed that there are several different grades of pork. There was an emphasis placed on the fattiness and breed of the pork. L was as blown away as I was from tonkatsu at Hasegawa, but he found the richness from the pork fat difficult to digest. He also find oily meats disgusting. Lucky for him, Koji Katsu uses leaner cuts of pork.

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L and I picked up our order. When we drove home, I could feel the heat permeate from the bags. Even though our ride back was only ten minutes, I cursed every single red light that prevented us from eating our food at the optimal temperature. When we finally made it home, I ripped open the containers as fast as I could to preserve the integrity of the batter.

hire

I ordered the Hire Katsu ($15, 220 grams), the Koji Special Mixed Katsu ($16.50) and a side of curry sauce ($3). Our dishes came with sides of kimchi, pickles, cabbage salad and miso soup.  We received a lot of food. If you have a big appetite, you are going to love the generous portions.

cheese

The first dish we tackled was the cheese katsu. I was surprised there was so much mozzarella in each piece. I think this dish would be best ordered at the restaurant because cheese cools down so quickly. The texture of the mozzarella reminded me of squeaky cheese curds. The cheese had began to solidify but the batter still offered a satisfying crunch.

ebi

The jumbo prawn was the star of the show. Man oh man. I’m going to quote Lovegastrogirl, who nailed a description of the mouthfeel of a good piece of shrimp. The prawn itself was long and large, with ‘that nice, plump bursty feel.’ If you are a prawn lover, you must try the Ebi Katsu ($15, five pieces).

platter

The pork used in the Hire Katsu was good quality meat. The tenderloin was lean but still juicy. If you eat a lot of Alberta pork, you’ll know what I mean. The meat was almost fluffy in texture with a clean taste. L prefers Alberta tenderloin to the fatty cuts I enjoyed in Japan.

ire piece

My only minor quibble is that I found that some of my rice was overcooked. L said his rice was fine. I enjoyed the deep spices in the curry and it helped to hide the clumps of rice. I would order the curry again.

sides

The sides and condiments deserve a shout out. I loved the smear of hot mustard and lemon, both of which helped cut into heaviness of the meats. I enjoyed the salty sweetness of the miso soup and the little pieces of puffed tofu, seaweed and enoki mushroom. L liked the sesame dressing for our cabbage, which I found nutty and heady.

coleslaw

L and I are looking forward to our next visit. When the COVID-19 restrictions lift, I can see this little restaurant being popular with the downtown foodie crowd. Hitting the Sauce gives Koji Katsu two fat thumbs up.

Koji Katsu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Japanese · Restaurants

True World Grocery Store – COVID-19 edition

Have you every eaten an excellent bowl of instant ramen? In Japan, I could buy an instant version of an award winning ramen made by Nissin Foods and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Back home in Calgary, I noticed the ramen from T&T Supermarket and E-Mart isn’t nearly as good as the Nakiryu and Nissin ramen I bought at 7-Eleven.

L agrees with me. As a result, we buy our instant ramen at True World Foods, a grocery store that sells authentic groceries from Japan and take away lunches. For this post, let’s listen to “She’s Just My Style” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys.

True World sells a limited amount of freshly made sushi and sashimi. On our most recent visit, the special of the day was a plate of sushi and a bottled beverage for only eleven bucks. We bought the Coho Salmon Sushi ($10.99) and a Mixed Sushi Roll ($10.99).

salmon

The salmon was tender and fat with flavour. The mayonnaise offered a spicy kick, which helped to liven up the cold, thick mound of sushi rice. I found the portion surprisingly filling.

sushi

The mixed maki roll was filled with tuna, salmon, avocado, tobiko and Kiwi mayonnaise. Despite the fact the roll was made beforehand and eaten after a long car ride home, it was still one of the better rolls I’ve tried in Calgary. The tuna and salmon were so flavourful, it was obvious True World uses high quality seafood.

sushi piece

I only buy soba noodles ($7.99) if one of the ingredients is yam. Otherwise, I find the noodles too soft. I couldn’t tell the difference between the soba noodles I bought from True World and E-Mart. Both stores charge roughly the same price.

soba pack

I add a healthy squirt of wasabi to the dipping sauce (soba tsuyu), toss in the noodles, then top my bowl with nori, a sliced farm egg, green onions and cucumber. No matter how hard I try, my version isn’t nearly as tasty as the premade soba I bought from 7/11.

noodles

L and I tried a pack of ACE Cook Wonton Mein ($12.99). L informed me that Chinese  ramen is popular in Japan because ramen originated from China. I didn’t care for the wonton broth, I prefer miso or tonkatsu.

ramen pack

We tried this ramen with the seasoning included, a miso soup package, and the leftover broth from Con Mi Taco. The noodles were good –  thick and toothsome. I’d buy this pack again, but in a different flavour.

nood pull

I found the noodle texture of the ACE Cook Wonton mein superior to the Ace Cook Maru Uma Miso Ramen ($3.99) instant noodle cup.  The miso noodles were light and almost papery in texture. The broth was mild, the dominant flavour came from the sweet kernels of corn.

instant

When I cooked up the Daikoku Big Sauce Yakisoba with Spicy Mayo ($4.99), I added enoki mushrooms and a poached egg. I wouldn’t do this again because the extra ingredients watered down the yakisoba sauce.

Despite being too watery, the flavour of the sauce was still creamy and spicy. The noodles had a good chew to it. I’d buy the yakisoba noodles again.

Make sure you google the instructions on how to prepare the noodles because there is no English translation. Some of the packages include two or three seasoning packages, and in the case of the yakisoba and tempura soba noodles, there’s an order to follow procedure of draining the noodles and layering the seasoning.

When I made the Nissan Tempura Soba Noodles ($5.99), I mistakenly poured the hot water over the tempura cake. I should have added the cake after the noodles were cooked. Despite my error, this was still a killer bowl of noodles.

The broth was legit. The tempura, despite my blunder, had that same distinct flavour I experienced in Japan. The soba noodles were a tad light and lacked that bite I like. However, the flavour of the broth made this worth it. I drank every last drop, and I normally try not to drink the broth because of the fat and sodium.

Whenever L and I visit any Asian grocery store or bakery, he always buys mochi. He stated emphatically that True World sells the best mochi in Calgary. You can find several varieties in the freezer section.

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Here’s my final tip for you. If you show up two hours before the store closes, you get 10% off select sushi and sashimi. I hear from reliable sources that the sashimi in particular is stellar.

Screen Shot 2020-05-16 at 8.42.15 AM

 

Fusion · Japanese · Restaurants

Pop-up takeout @ One18 Empire – COVID-19 edition

There’s nothing quite like Japanese style fried chicken. When I saw an Instagram post of Kaede E Hirooka and Jonathan Chung‘s chicken leg karaage bento box, I knew I had to try it. For this post, let’s listen to “Hard Knock Life” by Jay Z.

To place an order, you have to send a direct message on Instagram to @respectthetechniqueyyc. You can choose from three pickup locations. Once you arrive, text your name, vehicle model and colour to the number provided to you. To adhere to safety regulations, your bag of food will be placed on the top of the car’s hood.

Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 9.34.38 AM
Photo credit @respectthetechniqueyyc

L and I ordered from One18 Empire Restaurant location at the Calgary Marriott Downtown. We parked on the street directly across from Charcut Roast House. I was expecting a chaotic pickup. Instead, the process was straightforward and the lineup of cars moved quickly.

bento

Having spent a total of nine weeks in Japan, I’ve eaten my fair share of cold bento boxes. Is cold fried chicken better than freshly fried chicken? For me it depends on how important a crunchy batter is to you and if the chicken is properly seasoned. You can make any old chicken tasty if you deep-fry it. But when you eat cold chicken, you can’t hide behind a hot, crunchy batter. When I used to eat at KFC, if the chicken was cold it tasted like a congealed lump of seasoned lard.

phot1

The first thing I noticed when I opened the takeout container was the intoxicating  aroma reminded me of my mother’s homemade fried chicken. The crispy skin tasted like it was glazed with a sweet seasoning. The meat itself was incredibly flavourful. The texture of the chicken was smooth and silky.

phot2

Equally impressive are the sides. The macaroni was slippery, the light cream dressing was rich. The mortadella sausage from VDG added a pleasantly savoury dimension to the pasta salad. The sausage was so delicious, I would buy it.

This is the best coleslaw I’ve tried in Calgary. The combination of the crunchy, tangy vegetables with the Asian infusion of silky Chinese mushrooms and cilantro was genius. I hate cilantro and I still loved this salad.

The white rice was cooked perfectly – sticky but still firm. The cool temperature and simplicity of the rice was refreshing as it helped to cut into the richness of the macaroni salad and chicken.

3

I would order the karaage bento box again. I hope the chefs keep the same sides because the combination is outstanding. Hitting the Sauce gives @respectthetechniqueyyc and his team two fat thumbs up.

ONE18 EMPIRE Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Japanese · Restaurants · Seafood · Special Occasion

Sukiyaki House – COVID-19 takeout edition

Hot diggity damn! Sukiyaki House reopened for pick up and delivery! When I saw FoodKarma’s post on her recent pandemic meal, I knew I had to order the exact same thing. That way, I could bum off her husband’s photos. For this post, let’s listen to “Mad World” by Gary Jules.

I ordered a bucket of Japanese beer ($30), which included an Asahi bucket, six beers, and two glasses. L was thrilled and said he was going to keep the glasses for our bar he’s designing for our house.

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Photo credit: @realbuntcake

The Hitachino Nest White Ale from Kiuchi Brewery was light with a pleasant banana-like flavour to it. This is everything I want in a beer – easy drinking and refreshing.

kitachno Nest Kiuchi Brewery

Despite the 15 minute ride back home, the skin on the chicken karaage ($12) was still crunchy. The meat was juicy and it tasted like it was marinated beforehand. The lemon aioli added a brightness to this dish. The karaage is cheaper than a plate of wings at a pub, and triple the amount of meat and crispy skin goodness. I would order this again.

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Photo credit: @therealbuntcake

The chirashi for two ($50) is value packed and brimmed full of precious edible jewels. Our meal set included two miso soups and two containers of potato salad. This is hands down the best chirashi I’ve tried in Calgary.

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Photo credit @therealbuntcake

The chirashi was studded with so many colourful treasures. Soft slices of yellow tamago, shredded tofu, orange pearls of fish roe, sweet, brown mushrooms, a plum-like condiment, and green asparagus tips that were so fresh, it tasted like spring.

chirashi

The rice itself was flawless. Each grain was firm with a bit of a chew to it. The balance of vinegar to sugar was spot on. Whoever made the rice nailed it. I can’t remember the last time I had sushi rice that was this stellar.

mix

I enjoyed all the seafood but there were a few pieces that stood out. The fresh crab was sweet and juicy. The scallops were buttery in texture and delicate. The ahi tuna was soft and firm, with a fresh, fatty flavour. The ebi was delightfully crunchy and sweet.

akeout

When I was eating at home, I could picture myself sitting at the restaurant. I felt normal again. I went to bed with a huge smile plastered on my face and I had one of the best sleeps since COVID-19 hit Alberta. Hitting the Sauce gives Sukiyaki House’s new takeout menu two fat thumbs up. Thanks for giving me a taste of normalcy again. Arigato!

Sukiyaki House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Japanese · Restaurants · Special Occasion · Sushi

Sukiyaki House – Birthday Dinner

My last meal at Sukiyaki House was so memorable, I returned a week later to celebrate my milestone birthday. That day, L and I were literally counting down the hours before our dinner. For this post, let’s listen to “Number 1” by Goldfrapp.

Justin called L to confirm our reservations. He also wanted to check with him that the ingredients and price range of the two dishes that head chef Koji Kobayashi wanted to create for our meal was suitable. That’s some next level customer service. We were impressed with Justin’s consideration of our taste and budget.

sake 2

L and I toasted to my old age with a flute of Kozaemom Junmai Ginjo Omachi ($12). I thought this sake was fragrant with a viscosity similar to a riesling.  I also tried Kuheiji ($15), which in comparison to the other sake was more delicate. If pretty had a flavour, it would be Kuheiji. I’m a fan of both sakes.

glass

Koji made two special off the menu dishes for us. The first to arrive was Koji’s signature dish – Duck Breast with Braised Daikon, Foie Gras Mousse and Matcha Potato Brûlée ($24). Personally, I think Justin should have charged much more for this dish. The portion was huge, and the flavours were stunning. I could tell a lot of labour, love and talent when into this dish.

duck

The duck is sous vide for five hours, resulting in tender, succulent meat. The edging of duck fat melted beautifully as I chewed. The duck gravy was so mouth-watering that I wanted bread to mop up every last drop. The matcha brûlée was lacy and crisp, a nice contrast to the velvety smooth foie gras. The daikon was so warm and juicy, it made me weak in the knees. I know it’s early in the year, but so far, this is the best dish of 2020.

duck piece

The second dish Koji prepared just for us was Aji Four-Ways ($45), but I think it should be called Aji Five-Ways. L thought this dish showcased Koji’s talent for knowing how to combine different flavours and ingredients together.

platter

Koji used an entire horse mackerel flown in from Japan to create five different experiences. The sashimi showcased the strong flavour of the mackerel –  light and not fatty like tuna or salmon.

tartare

For some reason, I thought the mackerel nigiri was more mellow in comparison to the sashimi. L thought the fresh wasabi and the crispness of the scallions were the perfect pairing for the fish.

fish nirg platter

The mackerel tempura was tossed with matsukaze matcha and rice cracker batter that reminded me of cornmeal. The texture of the fish reminded me of a fish meatloaf nugget. I thought approach created a scrumptious bite that illuminated the oily, dense flesh.

tempura

I found the mackerel tartare light in flavour but heavy in texture. I could taste a hint of  fresh ginger, soy and mirin in the mixture. I love the colourful garnish of flowers and greens on top of the tartare.

fish bone

The deep-fried bones made for a nice crispy snack. At this point, I was getting too full so I only nibbled on the meatier bones. I appreciated that Koji used a type of fish I’m unfamiliar with. The texture and taste of horse mackerel made me think because it wasn’t the usual salmon or tuna I’m accustomed to eating. This dish was a thoughtful creation and got us out of the comfort zone of eating the more common and popular types of Japanese fish.

uni

Justin informed me the Uni Sea Urchin ($15) I ordered has a premium platinum status. Flown in from Hokkaido, the uni was unlike the more common type in British Columbia. I’ve never eaten uni so sweet and creamy, it melted in my mouth. So good, I had a foodgasm.

nigiri platter

The Aki Maguro Chu Toro ($4.20) was nice and fatty. I also liked the fat high content in the Shima Suzuki Striped Seabass ($5). The bass was smooth and firm, with a sweet aftertaste. The Ebi  ($3) at Sukiyaki House is consistently superior than other Japanese restaurants. The steamed prawn was crunchy and flavourful.

crab

The Kani ($3.70) was also a winner. The crab was sweet and juicy. The texture of the crab meat was tender and flaky. I’d order this again.

shrmip head

I happily chomped on my Amaebi ($4). The raw shrimp was perfectly crunchy and cool on my tongue. The fried shrimp head was still warm when I ate it. Oh my goodness – turning forty never tasted so good.

chopped

This part of our meal always gets my heart racing with sweet anticipation – raw scalllops. The Special Scallop ($3.80) was full of buttery goodness, dotted with the crunchy, salty pop of fish roe. The chew of the nori was a good contrast to the creamy scallop mixture.

scallop flower

A highlight of our selection of nigiri was the Hotategai ($4.20). The scallop was sliced in a way that it gave the same sensation of being chopped. The scallop crevices glided over my tongue like silk. When I chewed, the scallop fell apart in my mouth in a textural explosion. Below is a photo of me after eating the hotategai. I have to credit sous chef Yuki Koyama for his sushi masterpiece. Phenomenal. Yuki truly is an artist.

me

For dessert, we shared the Matcha Shiratama Zenzai ($9) and a glass of plum wine – Ume Niwa No Uguisu Tomari Umeshu ($10, 3 ounce). I don’t normally like plum wine, but this wine was delightfully tart and refreshing.

UMI

I knew the moment our dessert hit our table that L would be pleased. After ten years together, I can read him like a book.  If you appreciate the subtlety of Japanese sweets, you will love this dessert. The mochi was soft and smooth. The flower was still warm, and I thought I could taste the essence of mandarin oranges. The grapes gave a nice pop of sourness, a contrast to the natural sweetness of the red bean paste.

dessert

L and I were surprised that we didn’t have a favourite dish of the night. Everything, from the specialty dishes to each piece of nigiri was spectacular. I highly recommend that if you want to try something authentic or non-pedestrian to call ahead of time and arrange something with Justin. My Instagram friend lovegastrogirl is the opposite of me and she is a super baller. I told her to contact Justin so he and Koji can prepare something special for her.

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Sukiyaki House is something special. This is artistry and craftsmanship in culinary motion. With Koji and Yuki at the culinary helm and Justin at the hospitality front, they are an unstoppable trio. Thank you for preparing such a memorable meal for me. You are ichiban (#1) in  my books.

Sukiyaki House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato