Friday, November 11, 2005

Tanpopo, The Restaurant, Not The Movie

To be perfectly honest, I have always avoided Tanpopo (1122 Denman) because of some vague idea that the quality of the food at this upstairs Japanese restaurant near English Bay would be dismally disappointing, even if it almost shares its name with one of the all time great food films (Tampopo, 1985). Perhaps it was word of mouth, or some negative review, or some online rant, the general lack of raves, my wariness of all-you-can-eat sushi, or some combination of all that. Well, the one great thing about starting with low expectations is that one can get the pleasant sensation of having your expectations exceeded.

One afternoon, while searching for a nice place to sit and eat leisurely along Denman Street during that dead time at 4 pm when many restaurants close in between their lunch and dinner service, I found myself climbing the stairs up to Tanpopo for the first time. Many pleasant surprises ensued. To start off, the room is bright, cosy, and much more attractive than I ever thought it would be. It's quite a large room, and I was quite fond of the cream-coloured stone slab tables, and I had a nice seat by the window overlooking Denman Street. I could see that their big patio would be great in the summertime.

Tanpopo is generally an all-you-can-eat place, but I was there in their happy hour time of 3 - 5 pm. You can choose 4 items off their happy hour menu for $7.95. You can do this from 10 pm - midnight also. Lunch is all you can eat from a larger menu from 11:30 - 3 pm (Monday to Friday, $11.95, weekends and holidays $12.95). The dinner all-you-can-eat, from an even larger menu, is $21.95, from 5 pm - midnight, with no sashimi restrictions.

Now, I hadn't eaten all day, and I was so pleased with the first four, I was easily tempted to try more so that I could give a worthwhile report. So I wound up eating eight items total. Service was great, but again, it was the quiet time in the restaurant, so I can't say what it would be like during a normal dinner or lunch. I told my waitress that it was my first time here, and asked for her recommendations, and she was great. I started to order the tuna sashimi and she steered me to the salmon because they use wild sockeye salmon there. She was absolutely right, because I tried the tuna in my second round out of curiousity, and it wasn't very good and I didn't like the consistency. The 5 thick chunks of salmon were quite good though. She also recommended choosing the chopped scallop roll and the unagi nigiri (2 pieces), all of which were quite acceptable. Unagi happens to be my favourite, and having that and the salmon sashimi on the happy hour menu makes going back again for happy hour worthwhile all by themselves. I also had the karube (barbecued short ribs), hotate katsu (a big pile of breaded, deep-fried little scallops, served with tonkatsu sauce), and the chicken karaage (deep fried wings), all of which were good, and didn't feel too greasy.

One thing that everyone should remember about restaurant experiences is how fluid the whole thing can be. While the goal of any good restaurant is to deliver consistency, the reality of life is that everything can change from minute to minute, day to day, week to week, year to year, and so on. Even if you have the very best experience in a restaurant one night, it can turn into a wreck the next night. The converse is true too. For a long-lived restaurant it can be all hills and valleys. As far as I can tell, Tanpopo was at the top of its game years ago, and then fell out of favour because of a slip in food quality and service. Perhaps they're rising up again? It's too early for me to tell. But my experience certainly wasn't that bad, as I had been led to believe it would be. This is one of a few reasons that I enjoy the blog format so much, incidentally. Each comment that is made about any restaurant experience is dated (even timed). If you're reading a review of a restaurant without a date on it, disregard it - a review has an expiry date of say, six months max. After that, toss it away, like a bad jar of mayo. I'm glad I took a chance on Tanpopo. This isn't a rave, but it was a nice choice for a 4 pm snack on a Thursday. I, personally, probably won't try the $21.95 dinner, but I could definitely imagine going back for lunch. The food was acceptable, given that you make the right choices, and the decor, service, and atmosphere were very nice.


SaabKen said...

Glad your experience at Tanpopo was better than you expected.

We were there about 7 years ago for one of those large group, all-u-can-gorge fests, and I came away sick the following day from what appeared to be food poisoning. Since then I sweared never to return.

Well lo-and-behold I had no choice but to join another large group, all-u-can-gorge b-day party earlier this year there .... might have even been the same table ! Either the memory of my F.P. experience faded into oblivion or Tanpopo improved, because I actually had an OK time. The food was obviously not comparable to the genuine Japanese gems elsewhere in town, or even chains like Kamei or Daimasu, but for what it is, the food was decent and service attentive, even if simply spread too thin on a busy Saturday night. Would I go to Tanpopo on my own, not likely. But if I had to go because of someone else's invitation, at least I wouldn't "eat" at home first, then pretend I couldn't find parking once I get there ;-)

Dumpling_Girl said...

Thanks for your input, Ken! Speaking of the fluid nature of restaurant experiences, I just visited Bridges Bistro recently. I was singing the praises of the restaurant after my first and (at the time) only visit during the summertime. A really delightful all-around experience, and I was pleasantly surprised at the reasonable pricing too on the first visit. This time, I had a very disappointing meal, and their menu has changed for the worse. My raspberry truffle "martini" (I know, I know, unsophisticated girly drinks...) was tasty, but the lamb shank main ($22) I had was smallish, bland, dry, almost tasteless. The israeli coucous with mushrooms that it was served on was good, but I felt like the whole menu was overpriced this time (I had a fantastically tasty lamb shank at La Bodega for only $9.95 a couple of weeks ago, and if the Bridges was as tasty as that one, maybe I wouldn't feel so ripped off). Also, on the new Bridges menu, there are fewer interesting things to choose from. The appetizer platter I loved was gone off the menu (a nice variety of flavours called the Patio Platter: deep fried calamari, bbq flat iron steak, humous, smoked salmon spread, greek salad, olives and pita. And it was only $26), and no more oyster burger either, which was only $12 (and not due to seasonality because oysters on the half shell are available). Chilled seafood platter ($35) would appeal to me too, and that's gone. Everything on the menu seemed so generic this time. Oh well, maybe the next time they change the menu, it'll appeal to me more...They'll be around forever. Their old menu is still on their website.