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Japanese

Tenku Bakudanyaki – Small venue, big balls

Tenku Bakudanyaki - Trailer
Tenku Bakudanyaki brings to Richmond a very innovative offering from Japan. Super sized takoyaki. Or literally translated from the name, grilled bombs.
Served hot off of the back of a mobile kitchen, these tennis ball sized spheres contain almost a dozen different ingredients (squid, cabbage, shrimp, mochi, shrimp, …), and are covered in okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, and a variety of toppings. We had a hard time finding their truck because we just didn’t expect it to be smack in the middle of a parking lot on the southeast corner of Elmbridge and Gilbert.

A few topping flavors are available on the menu, all for $5 each (same price you’d pay in Japan), along with a daily special. We went with the original and the special of the day, garlic mayo (dried garlic sprinkles)

Tenku Bakudanyaki - Original Tenku Bakudanyaki - Garlic Mayo
There’s a good variety of flavors served in that small take out box. Because of the large number of ingredients, every bite is kept interesting. One’s not enough for a meal, but luckily Aberdeen is just minutes away.

P.S. The owner said he has plans to expand to several locations. I hope he meant outside of Richmond. They’re already on twitter @Bakudanyaki (and a lot less annoying than @Japadog).

P.P.S. There are a few bakudanyaki chains in Japan. If you’re wondering what they’re like, check out herehere, and here.

Bakudanyaki Tenku on Urbanspoon

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Benkei Ramen – Competition is good for everyone

Kintaro is the Vancouver standard for ramen. Ruling the egg noodle in rich broth kingdom with one hot cousin by its side. If you had the bonitos to challenge that authority by opening up another ramen shop on the same street block, what might you do to avoid a quick and shameful death?
Make a good bowl of noodle and address the gripes about the current reigning king of course. Atmosphere, seating, cleanliness, wait times, and to some extent, price. Benkei is easy on the eyes from the get go
Benkei Ramen
With a brightly lit facade, dressed up decor, adequate seating (not comfortable, just adequate), and no line of hungry customers spilling onto the sidewalk on a Friday night, its more welcoming than the royal ramen family around the corner. All of that is simply plate garnish however, as what really matters is the food.
Benkei Ramen - MenuThree familiar types of soups are offered, with toppings as optional add-ons. This brings the price of the basic soup + noodle + 2 (mingy) pieces of pork chashu + green onion + bean sprouts down close to $7. We ordered a chashu plate, which resembles a more tender, thicker, fatter, less seasoned versions of the Chinese charsiu. Whether its better or worse than Kintaro’s is a matter of personal preference. I like the flavor of Benkei’s but does it have to be so tiny…
Benkei Ramen - Chashu platter
Their Shio “heavy tonkotsu” ramen is advertised to be popular with the ladies. Though I think it’ll appeal to anyone who’s looking for a rich and very meaty tasting broth that suspends a lot of flavor around slippery noodles.
Benkei Ramen - Tonkotsu Shio
We also had the Miso ramen, which in my opinion is even heavier than the Shio tonkotsu soup with a quarter inch of clear oil floating at the top of the bowl. Combined with the extra salty miso, any depth of flavor (if there were much) were covered up. Also, the portions were a bit smaller than Kintaro’s.

A good hearty meal, but Benkei still doesn’t beat out Kintaro or Motomachi Shokudo for ramen. It does offer some healthy competition that ensures everyone is playing their A game, which I hope someday will spread beyond the Robson & Denman block.

Benkei Ramen on Urbanspoon

Strawberry Cones Pizza & Pasta at Aberdeen

Strawberry Cones - Pizza from Japan
When I got word of a second “first in Canada, straight from Japan” restaurant opening up at Aberdeen food court that serves Japanese fusion pizza, I was hoping to find a fun and tasty venture of Beard Papa or Japadog caliber. Their online menu is absolutely gorgeous, and they seem to have done well for themselves back east judging from the byline. Kudos to their marketing team back in Japan.
Though I too wondered what the name “Strawberry Cones” has to do with pizza. According to an interview with their spokesperson, strawberry=customers, cones=success. Well, its their name, and who am I to argue.

Strawberry Cones - Pizza at AberdeenOur lunch group of 4 arrived just after their opening, and after a few minutes of staring at their dancing mochi commercial on TV and careful consideration of how much room we should leave for chicken wings at Wo Fung, we ordered two of their small pizzas and a curry croquette.
They were done after about 20 minutes and came in colorful packaging characteristic of Japanese products. The amount of witty Engrish banter on the box and the bright colors makes me wonder if their target market segment is young families with small kids or adolescent preteens with a hefty sized lunch money.
Strawberry Cones - Pizza at Aberdeen

Upon opening the box, we found the beautifully garnished pizzas in their ads were delivered to us naked. Herb seasoning, hot sauce, and seaweed for the Terimochi pizza came in separate packaging, possibly meant to add customizability for the diner as well as efficiency for the preparation process. The way the seaweed is packaged reminds me of a popular local herb. Here it is the small sized Terimochi after a sprinkle of seaweed. What looks like scallops standing on the crust is mochi, and the instead of pasta sauce, this one is brushed with teriyaki sauce.
Strawberry Cones - Terimochi Pizza After Sprinkle

Here is the Ultimate Seafood Mix.
Strawberry Cones - Ultimate seafood pizza

I didn’t take a picture of the curry croquette because (I was told) they’re out of any type of sauces besides ketchup and mayo, leaving the croquettes looking like hashbrowns. The staff looked highly inexperienced, so these pizzas probably don’t look like what the franchise intended.

The taste of both pizzas were rather dull, as if something was missing, and personally I’d rather have cheese in the crust than mochi. As is, I don’t think the pizza can compare even to chained pizza establishments. For about $10 each the price is not right, but given that the prices for these back in Japan are actually higher, it almost seems like a good deal. Almost.

I will give Cones another go in a few weeks(and that is my recommendation to others) when they’ve got their act together at this location (or possibly another if this pilot store goes well for them, like Beard Papa’s) before dismissing them as junk however.

Strawberry Cones on Urbanspoon

Ajisai Sushi Bar – Hidden but no gem

I had high expectations when visiting Ajisai Sushi in Kerrisdale due to the number of rave reviews and acclamations on the intarwebs over the freshness of their ingredients and authentic preparation methods.
I don’t usually order sushi by the piece, and couldn’t tell you the difference between a red snapper and a yellowtail because I don’t eat them enough to remember, so after some head scratching and random finger placement on a >200 item menu, our party of four had the following plate ordered:
Ajisai Sushi
It consists of their spicy sushi combo, ebi mayo (shrimp with a dabble of Japanese mayo on top. Not what I expected at $1.90/piece), futomaki, negi hama (yellowtail), and a roll with taro and bbq eel in it. Not pictured is their BBQ black cod. A slice that took over half hour to get to our table. It was the most decadent and buttered up piece of fish I’ve ever tasted.
The bill was quite reasonable because we had little of their flown in from across the pacific ocean exotica.

It may be unrealistic expectations, or that the items we ordered didn’t contain enough raw fish to make the freshness factor stand out, but I’ve had plenty of sushi from places that weren’t hyped for purveying exceptionally fresh ingredients, yet still manages to impress a casual sushi eater such as myself. Ajisai Sushi is not a bad restaurant, and very well may have great appeal for the aficionados and gurus looking for the freshest pieces of raw fish. It just wasn’t a gem for me.

Makoto Japanese Restaruant

I first noticed Makoto a few weeks back driving home from dinner at Sunflower cafe, and decided to give it a try last weekend. A nice balance of fresh ingredients, artistry, and authentic favorites makes this little family run restaurant a hit for me. They definitely pay a fair bit of attention to the artistry part just from looking at their volcano roll:
Makoto - Volcano Roll1
The idea of fried chopped scallop sushi may be strange, but when layered with Japanese mayo, sesame paste, and deep fried onions, one bite and it all starts to make sense.
Makoto - Volcano Roll

This was the only fun sushi concoction I ordered on this visit, but the food’s satisfying enough that Makoto will soon become one of my regular casual dinner spots.

map

Makoto on Urbanspoon

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