Another Natto Adventure - Shiru-Bay Chopstick Café
Natto ice cream. That's right. I ordered it, I ate it...and, I loved it! Some of you may have read about my first experience with natto, the Japanese fermented (read rotting) soy bean product that oozes long sticky, mucous-like threads. I survived, but I didn't really take to it. But when you put it in some vanilla ice cream, add dark molasses and corn flakes, and mush the lot together? You wind up with a truly inspired dessert. This was the ending to a great dinner with Nori Boy at the Yaletown restaurant, Shiru-Bay Chopstick Café (1193 Hamilton St., at Davie St., 604-408-9315). The fuzzy photo below shows the dessert, after the extremely thorough mixing at the table by the server at Shiru-Bay. Unfortunately, I didn't capture the dessert when it was presented at the table. Also, the photo doesn't really show off the sticky consistency of the natto that is retained even in the vanilla ice cream, and accompaniments, but trust me it's still there. Check out the photo on the restaurant's website (in fact, all of their dishes are beautifully photographed and displayed there). The strong molasses flavour actually masks the fermented flavour of the natto, but there is something so appealing about the texture of the soft little beans amidst the gooey ice cream, as well as a bit of crunch every so often from the cornflakes. It was a huge portion at only $4. Actually, it was enough to share between two people, and I managed to talk Nori Boy into having a spoonful, but he wasn't a fan of it, like I was. He had considerable previous experience with natto and has never really liked it anyhow, but I think it had to do more with him not being a fan of dessert immediately after dinner. Kudos to him for being adventurous enough to try it anyway. In any case, this is a warning that although I liked this dessert, it is probably not for everyone. Funny thing is, I'm not even a fan of Chinese desserts that have red beans in them. For that matter, I'm not really that into beans in general. But I think that I liked this dish because the red beans in desserts are grainy and heavy feeling, whereas the soybeans are smooth and so tender. They just have such a great "mouth-feel" for me.
Natto Ice Cream, post table-side mixing
A few notes about the rest of the restaurant. Despite its Yaletown location, I found the food reasonably priced, and the atmosphere very warm and inviting. Heh, I might have to stop dismissing Yaletown so much - there are now several restaurants that I enjoy there (Amarcord, the smoked meat sandwiches at Phat, Hamilton Street Grill, Elixir in the Opus Hotel, the nearby Kolachy shop, and now Shiru-Bay Chopstick Café). I admit to being a bit of a Japan-ophile, and really enjoy the izakaya format, so perhaps I'm predisposed to enjoying this restaurant. Shiru-Bay is a chain of twenty izakaya restaurants (along with the Raku restaurants) in Tokyo, Japan. The Uno family opened the first 30 years ago, and this Vancouver restaurant is their first outside of Japan. On the Saturday night, it was busy, everyone was young and fairly casually dressed, and there was a nice upbeat energy in the air, yet we were still able to relax and hear each other talk easily in this room.
Nori Boy and I ordered the popular Chili Ebi Mayo ($9.80), and it was fantastic - big, plump prawns decadently drenched in spicy mayonnaise, served with almonds and (decorative) wonton skin chips. I loved the look of the dramatic slash of chili sauce across the plate too.
Chili Ebi Mayo
We also had the seasonal sashimi salad ($9.80) which was very nice, big, and well-dressed (yes, I'm still talking about the salad), and the tako wasa ($4.50), wasabi marinated raw octopus. This was served with small sheets of nori, and I ate it, and it was fine, but it wasn't to my taste. I would probably not order this one again, but that is purely personal preference. I am sure that it's a very competent rendition of that dish. We also enjoyed their drink special for that night of the week, a pitcher of sangria. We chose their white sangria, which is a nice cocktail for my sweet-tooth, with little tiny cubes of strawberries and other fruit floating in the white wine mixture. Our server was delightful to talk to, and service was great throughout the evening, including even our departure, where a staff person was ready at the door, offering us a chocolate Hershey Hug before we stepped outside. I've only had one visit so far, but I'd love to go back. Too bad tonight is the last night of "Taste of Yaletown" but I think this place is great even without any special deals. You'll still spend a little more money than at a Guu restaurant, but it's great to add another nice izakaya to the list of options around town. I would say that because of the large size of the place and the lack of server shrieking, it's a nice pick for a pleasant, casual date with an adventurous eater. Well, really, why would you want to date an unadventurous eater anyway?