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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Beer · Japanese · Restaurants · Seafood · Special Occasion · Sushi

Sukiyaki House – Ichiban (#1 in #YYC)

Now that L and I no longer have our annual trip to Japan, we crave sushi all the time. I noticed on Instagram, Sukiyaki House receives constant praise from foodkarmablog, Miss Foodie and Loaf2go. Sukiyaki House is located in the heart of downtown core. Pro tip – after 6:00 p.m., there is complimentary heated parking.

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Sukiyaki House is known in Calgary for Head Chef Koji Kobayashi’s elaborate omakase dinners. Chef Kobayashi was born in Osaka and trained in “kaiseki”, the highest form of Japanese fine dining. Below is a picture I took without permission from their Instagram account.

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Foodkarma recommends the agadashi tofu, tempura and special event dinners. Miss Foodie orders the sukiyaki hot pot and other specialty dishes. I like to focus on the nigiri. For this post, let’s listen to “Lights Out” by Santogold.

L knows the owner’s son – Justin – a graduate from the Haskayne School of Business. I think it is endearing that when we visit, there are other U of C graduates dining there. I’m thinking of organizing a get together with our previous Japan kids at Sukiyaki House, who are also Haskayne alumni.

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Justin impressed me with his knowledge of sake. He treated us to a glass of premium sake – Kozaemom Junmai Ginjo Omachi ($90 bottle, 3 oz glass $12). Wowzers. The sake was flavourful and it smelled incredibly nice. I loved the dryness and the viscosity of the sake. This is hands down my favourite sake. I would order this again.

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We started our meal with a dish off the regular menu – Sawara Tataki ($24). Holy Mackerel! This dish made me appreciate the subtlety of fine dining. The delicate textures of the daikon and chrysanthemum was a nice contrast to the mackerel. The greens and garlic chips added a dainty crunch to each bite.  The sauce was refreshing and perfectly balanced.

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We ordered an assortment of nigiri and maki rolls, as well as a pint of Asahi ($7, 16 ounce). Justin informed us that he imports the beer from Japan. I could tell the difference between Asahi made in Japan and the stuff made elsewhere. In 2019, L and I visited the Asahi factory to learn about their brewing process.  Asahi made in Japan tastes purer and the bubbles are tinier.

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The Aka Maguro (red tuna, $4.20) is a must order. The tuna was firm in texture but rich and fatty. The tuna literally melted in my mouth when I slowly chewed it. L noted that the fish to rice ratio was balanced.

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Amaebi (raw prawn, $4) is one of my favourite things to order. The prawn was cool on my tongue, sweet and crunchy.  Equally delicious was the accompanying fried shrimp head, dusted with matcha salt.

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The shrimp head was served still warm. The fried shell was covered in a soft, light layer of tempura. The texture and taste of the shrimp head meat reminds me of fried soft shell crab.

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I think Sukiyaki’s Ebi (steamed prawn, $3) is the best in town. The prawn was tasty with a pleasant crunch to it. We both thought the Shake (Atlantic salmon, $3) was creamy with a rich, smooth flavour. The Tamago (egg omelette, $2.40) was sweet with a light, almost foamy texture.

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The Hotategai ($4.20) was large and plump. The freshness of the scallops was exceptionally lovely – silky smooth with a clean flavour profile. L noted the use of wasabi in the sushi was just as it should be – present but not overpowering.

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We also ordered one of the specials of the night –  Sawara ($6). When I put this piece of Spanish mackerel in my mouth, my head exploded with the realization that I don’t have to go to Japan in order to eat excellent sushi.

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L enjoyed the Special Scallop ($3.80) even though he doesn’t care for scallops or mayonnaise. Despite the thick and almost buttery dressing, I could still taste the freshness of the scallop. The pop of saltiness from the flying fish roe added to this insanely decadent bite.

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L ordered a Prawn Dynamite ($11). What a rookie move! I didn’t want L to order a dynamite roll but sometimes you gotta let your man order his food.  Don’t get me wrong – the dynamite roll was made well, but there’s so many better things you can get. For example, my Shake Skin Roll ($12). Now this is a roll worth ordering.

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The semi raw salmon was scorched on the top. The salmon skin was crunchy and smoky. I enjoyed the sauce which added a touch of sweetness. L doesn’t like salmon skin but he admitted that he now understands the appeal of BC rolls.

After our meal, L spoke to Justin to book my milestone birthday at Sukiyaki House. I normally shy away from extravagant meals but at Sukiyaki House, I see the value in such an experience.

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The sushi was so excellent, I couldn’t stop raving about our meal. I haven’t been this excited in a long time. When we went to bed, I told L that if I died that night, I would die happy. I was serious. If you love sushi, you must check out this restaurant out. Hitting the Sauce thinks Sukiyaki House is the best sushi restaurant in Calgary.

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

Bars/Lounges · Beer · Fusion · Happy Hour · Restaurants

Raw Bar – Happy Hour

Québécois and I have been friends ever since she and her husband moved next door to us in 2014.  On Friday night, she treated me to dinner at Raw Bar. I haven’t been to Raw Bar since Duncan Ly was the executive chef. For this post, let’s listen to “Date Night” by Father John Misty.

On Fridays, almost all the wines are half price. What a steal! I can’t think of any other restaurant in Calgary that offers half price wine on Friday. Select appetizers are half price until 6:00 p.m. and dollar oysters are served until 7:00 p.m.

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Our first bottle of the night was Sirius Bordeaux Blanc 2017 ($49, HH $24.50). When we first took a sip, we thought the wine was acidic. But after the wine had a chance to breathe, the flavour was more tropical and light. I enjoyed this bottle.

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We started with a round of oysters (HH $1.00). The oysters were small and briny. I ate one oyster that tasted bitter, so I spat it out. I didn’t get sick, so no hard feelings.

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Our server recommended the Fried Caulilini ($10, HH $5). Caulilini is a variety of cauliflower. The batter was doughy in some pieces.

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The Grilled Shishito peppers ($12, HH $6) were crunchy. I enjoyed the curry aioli and the crispy bits of puffed rice. Québécois took a bite of a pepper and announced it was too spicy. When I bragged that I can handle my spice, she dared me to eat her pepper. I popped the shishito in my mouth and immediately my face flushed red. When Québécois saw me chug my glass of water, she regretted telling me to eat it. I said no worries, as spicy food speeds up my metabolism.

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Québécois ordered a second bottle of wine – Michel Gassier Viognier France, 2018 ($46, HH $23). I really liked this bottle – the wine was dry with a floral aroma. I would order this bottle again.

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Even though I just returned from Cabo, I wanted to try the Ahi Tuna Tacos ($16, HH $8). The tuna was tasty but oversauced. I had to pour some of the liquid out of the hard taro root shell before eating it. I thought I could taste kimchi in the sauce, even thought the menu described the sauce as a chili glaze.

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My favourite dish was not on the happy hour menu –  Korean Beef Tartare ($16). The flavours of the chilled beef and sweetness from the Korean pear were spot on. I found the tartare refreshing and nicely seasoned. The rice chips were so addictingly delicious, Québécois asked for another serving for me. The chips remind me of a fresher, tastier version of shrimp crackers you get with roast chicken at a Chinese banquet dinner.

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Québécois needed a sweet to finish the night. She ordered Homemade Bon Bons ($3.50). The chocolate was dark and the filling tasted like coconut.

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Québécois wanted to end the night with a glass of bubbles. She insisted on getting another bottle because it was about the same price as ordering two flutes. She picked Famiglia Zonin ($45, HH $22.50), a fizzy and easy to drink prosecco. By this time, we could barely finish our prosecco. Québécois asked our server to cork our bottle.

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If you haven’t been to Raw Bar, I’d recommend checking it out on a Friday night. Thank you Québécois for treating me to a merry night out with great wine and tasty bites. My treat next time.

Raw Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fusion · Restaurants · Vietnamese

Pure Kitchen and Bar

I organized a dinner for L’s 15 colleagues. I worked on the menu with the owner and chef at Pure Kitchen and Bar – Lam Pham. For only $45 a person, he created a spectacular feast for us. For this post, let us listen to “Pure Comedy by Father John Misty.

To start our meal, Pham sent out a complimentary amuse bouche – Roasted Duck Crostini. I loved the combination of the rich, warm chicken pate with the sweet orange jam and watercress salad. This crostini had it all – crunchy, soft, sweet and savoury.

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The Tenderloin Tataki was an appropriate introduction to Pham’s cuisine. The beef was thinly sliced and cool on the tongue. The sauce was lively – a spicy blend of tamarind nuoc cham and chili oil. The ruby red beef was layered with bean sprouts, herbs, crispy shallots and peanuts. Refreshing and light, I liked the contrast of the crunchy sprouts against the tenderness of the beef.

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Each couple shared a Char Siu Sesame Donut. The sous vide pork shoulder was soft and sweet from the sauce. The donut was stuffed with cucumber, cilantro and pickled carrots. I could taste some lingering spice from the sriracha aioli.

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The fruit from the Papaya and Mango Sate Grilled Shrimp Salad had a gentle, mellow sweetness. Our group liked the addition of the crunchy taro chips. Normally I find bean sprouts don’t taste like anything. These bean sprouts must have just been plucked, because the flavour profile was clean and watery.

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L’s favourite dish was the Roasted Duck Spring Rolls with Crepes. The roll itself was piping hot, filled with creamy duck meat and orange jam. I thought the spring rolls would taste more like a traditional Chinese Peking duck crepe, but with the addition of the watercress and sour green apple, it was more lively. L said it was a wrap of awesomeness.

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The Salted Duck Yolk Crusted Shrimp Tempura was the highlight of my meal. The shrimp was large and sweet, encased in a crunchy batter with a creamy sauce of 5 Spice chili, tobiko mayo and nori. Even though I was full, I ate three pieces. Pham’s version reminded me of ebi mayo, but supersized, more decadent and intensely flavoured.

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My second favourite dish was the Claypot Lemongrass Tofu. The tofu was still crunchy, despite the thick pool of lemony, caramelized gravy.

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I’ve tried the Seafood Fried Rice several times before, and as always, the fried rice did not disappoint. I liked the generous ratio of shrimp, crab, egg and tobiko to rice.

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I heard a lot about the Pan Seared Master Chicken. I liked the master stock jus and the mushrooms.

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The Gai Lan was excellent. I don’t know where Lam buys his produce from, because I can’t get gai lan this fresh. The greens were sweet and perfectly cooked – tender but there was still a bite to it. The ginger scallion jus, garlic chips and sate oil elevated the greens and then some.

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By this time, I was too full to enjoy the Wok Tossed Shaken Beef. I did ravish the watercress salad. So good, I would request to order the watercress as a side in the future.

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For dessert, we ate Crispy Banana & Yam Spring Rolls. The soft filling was warm and sweet. Our server told us to swirl the spring roll around the coconut taro sauce. Yummy, though I was too full to finish my dessert.

Pham knocked it out of the park. The food exceeded L’s expectations, and we have eaten at Pure several times before. This feast reminded me of the Chinese banquets and weekly multi-course dinners my mother use to organize. I’ve been trying to eat smaller portions, but surrounded by so much tantalizing food, my inner fat kid came out and I would not stop eating. I could see from across the table that the other shared platters were still piled high with food, but the plates near me shone clean. In 2019, Pure was voted by Avenue Magazine as best Vietnamese restaurant in Calgary. I can see why. Hitting the Sauce gives Pure Contemporary Vietnamese two fat thumbs up.

Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen + Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato