Sunday, August 28, 2005

Worth the Price of Admission - Those Little Donuts at the PNE

Mini Donut Close-up Posted by Picasa

Oooo, just look at those beautiful little blobs! "Those Little Donuts" (formerly Tom Thumb Mini Donuts) at the PNE every year are by far my favourite doughnuts ever (second place is taken by Bin 942's hot little doughnuts they make to order that comes with their chocolate fondue. Third place is hot Krispy Kremes straight off the conveyer belt. Incidentally, don't even bother with KK's if they're cold. Wait for the "Hot Now" sign to light up). Nothing comes close to Those Little Donuts though, not even those various other mini-doughnut stands, such as the Playland stand, and the mini doughnut stand that's found at the Celebration of Light fireworks festival. The taste and texture of the originals are just perfect. What makes them all the more desirable is the fact that I can only get those donuts for a fleeting 2 weeks at the end of August/early September during the Pacific National Exhibition fair. And I tend to only visit once each year. So here is a food item that is, for me, the very top of its class, and yet I only have access to it once a year. A fleeting 15 minutes of pleasure (or less) each year! It's come down to me paying to get into the PNE just so that I can have those doughnuts. I even dragged my friend to the PNE with me this year so that I could get at those doughnuts. So really, to me, those doughnuts are worth the price of two admissions, plus the five bucks for the two bags of doughnuts themselves. In essence, this year, I paid $25 for a small bag of doughnuts that I inhaled in a matter of minutes - you're kind of forced to eat them quickly, otherwise they get cold. And okay, yes, I did other stuff at the PNE too, but if I'm really up front about it, it's all about the doughnuts.

PNE Mini Donuts - moving through the frying machine Posted by Picasa

Part of what I love about the doughnuts is the cute little frying machines where the dough plops out of the squirty part, and then the little guys happily swim and bob, going around and around in a swirl in the oil, slowly turning perfectly golden brown. Then they get their little coating of cinnamon sugar. Cute food, cooking in a cute food maker! I'm so enraptured, I'm driven to bad haiku:

Little donut swim,
Spiral, sizzle, bob to me
I'm waiting for you

Heh, I hope I haven't frightened my readership away. I'll stay away from the poetry, I promise!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Mmmm...A Sweet Italian

Nope, not talking about my love life. I'm talking about probably the best "hot dog" I've ever had. Go to Falconetti's Sausage Company (1812 Commercial Drive, near 1st Ave.) and have one (or more?) of their substantial sausages, served in a perfectly form-fitting curved roll, topped with sauteed onions and peppers, and a great sauce (different sauces for different sausages, according to CityFood). Bac'n Girl and I set out for a summer evening stroll down Commercial (from the skytrain station down to Venables and back up the other side of the street) to graze for our dinner. Falconetti's sweet Italian sausage, and Polish sausage were the highlights of our evening. We both preferred the sweet Italian, with it's yummy fennel-flavoured, meaty goodness, but the Polish was definitely tasty too. There are several other sausages to choose from, and it doesn't hurt that they were served to us by an adorably friendly fellow - a happy co-owner, proudly serving his product on the day they received their liquor license. I have a good excuse to go back soon - I didn't get a close-up photo of the sausage, so I'll have to go back and get another dog. See what I endure for you, dear blog readers? Maybe I'll try the hot Italian next. Speaking of dogs, what kind of dog-owner ties up their poor pooch in front of a sausage restaurant, where the intoxicating smell of sizzling sausage emanates constantly from the big open window over their huge grill? I was tempted to order a sausage just for the doggy.

Another highlight of our walk was the poutine at Frenchies. Really good fries there, served up in a very cute 50's diner, with a staggering collection of vintage art glass displayed on the rafters. Their specialty is the "pink and juicy" - Montreal smoked meat sandwich - which we didn't try that evening. The poutine was great though. They had sugar pie on the menu too! I developed a fondness for the pie when I lived in Ottawa, and haven't had it since. Unfortunately, we didn't have room for it. I had a classic chocolate shake instead. Heh, we wound up overdoing things a bit that night, waddling out of Frenchies all bloated, so I recommend learning from our mistake and making separate trips to try Falconetti's and Frenchies. Not to mention Memphis Blues, and at least a dozen other places we could have stopped in for a bite. So many grease (and sweet, and coffee, and gelato, and ethnic food, and...) options, mmmm. We had been planning to top our evening off with a dessert of the ever elusive deep-fried Mars bar, which can be found on the menu of Belgian Fries, but we just couldn't do it. Bac'n Girl and I have been wanting to try a deep-fried chocolate bar for years, but whenever we get close to an opportunity, we never seem to have the capacity for it. It's the holy grail of fried foods for us now. One day... Anyhow, I love Commercial Drive on a summer night (even if one of my fav's is gone - Santos Tapas). So, anyone up for a hot dog?

Frenchie's Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts at Granville Island

For those of you who check the top of the page for recent posts (and who don't get this blog atom or rss fed to you), please find the PICA review down below as an addition to my Granville Island Overview post of Wednesday, August 10th, 2005. Additional reviews will be added to that post in the future.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Aurora Bistro (Main at Broadway)

First things first - I just want to move into this space! I love the blond wood interior, with it's modern curves around the bar, the uplighting, and the beautiful bathroom. I even love the charming girly, blue bike in the window with the baguette in its wicker basket. Yes, I'd move in, and I'd bike around on that bike. And then I would want to go shopping along Main St. with the wine guy with the warm smile. The menu holders match the walls. The puffy flower stem on each table is wonderful. I even like the fabric on the bench seating, and the glasswork in the divider that hides the bathroom.

My dining companion (a real foodie with much more wine knowledge than I) and I have been trying to get to Aurora Bistro all summer on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to try their summer prix fixe menu series with wine pairings. A great deal at $40 (in the beginning of the summer) for three courses and BC wine pairings, and now at $45, still very worthwhile. A new menu each week. All courses are savory, with a fourth course of dessert and wine pairing available for an additional $10. With enough alcohol in us after the three courses, we opted to order desserts from their regular dessert menu ($8 each), accompanied by very good, very strong coffees (yes, I even loved their cream and sugar set. They have such pretty things). The bread was served with a very pretty pink butter, dotted with various unidentified bits in it. Actually, I wish our waitress had mentioned that it was just bread and butter though (and told us what flavoured the butter), because I thought it was an amuse bouche of some sort of paté, so I wound up getting a mouthful of butter on my bread. Yuck.

We started with organic tomato and cucumber gazpacho with horseradish chantilly. Incidentally, I started out in the beginning of the meal trying to take pictures discreetly with my super cool secret camera, but as the good food and good wine progressed, I became more and more conspicuous (flash! flash! flash!). We were expecting the gazpacho to be chunky, but this one was smooth, yet very flavourful. Quite a pleasing and refreshing starter. I enjoyed the horseradish cream served on top too. Gazpacho was definitely an acquired taste for me. I'm pretty convinced now, though. Cheeseboy has been a fan of the dish for longer. The really fun part of all this was the wine pairing, though! I wasn't really into the Red Rooster 2004 Pinot Gris that much when I tasted it alone, but with the food, it tasted like an entirely different wine, and I really enjoyed the combination. It was really quite a dramatic difference to me, a wine rookie, so I found the experience enlightening.

Blurry Spycam Picture of Gazpacho Posted by Picasa

Next we had local tuna gravlax with goat cheese mousse and house pickles. The wine guy told us he felt this was the best pairing of the menu, and Cheeseboy noted that the Township 7 2004 Sauvignon Blanc successfully cut into the saltiness of the gravlax. Again, it tasted like an entirely different wine to me when taken with the food. I found it to be quite an interesting wine on its own. I liked the pickles in the dish, and it was all very beautiful.

Local Tuna Gravlax with Goat Cheese Mousse and House Pickles Posted by Picasa

The third dish was Dungeness crab and Red Haven peach risotto. A tasty dish. I enjoyed this one. I didn't bother taking a photo of it. It wasn't that photogenic, as dishes go, but I certainly enjoyed the flavours (not the texture as much), and the Sumac Ridge 2003 White Meritage that accompanied. I gobbled it all up though. The crab and peach combination was very tasty.

Their tasting menu this week offered a blackberry galette with vanilla bean ice cream and a mini Okanagan Kir Royale (Sumac Ridge Brut/Elephant Island Cassis) for $10. We chose instead their ice cream sandwich, with Valrhona chocolate chip and (I think) dried tropical fruit, and their pannacotta. I can safely say it is one of the best ice cream sandwiches I've ever had.

Ice Cream Sandwich Posted by Picasa

I think their "chocolate salad" terminology, while cute, heightens expectations unnecessarily, as it's really just a few chocolate shavings on top, but that's a minor quibble. The pannacotta had a beautiful texture, and the pistachio cream on the plate was yummy. Both the decaf coffee and regular coffee were unusually strong and rich (made with Origins Coffee). I liked it, and I wonder if the CoffeeGeek would approve, as one of his recent podcasts (CG Podcast 011) touched on what a shame it is for great, fine dining restaurants to serve mediocre coffee at the end of the meal.

Vanilla Bean Pannacotta with Pistachio Cream and Chocolate Salad Posted by Picasa

A delightful meal. I would love to try the rest of their regular menus. But I did notice something on there that irks me a bit. They list a roasted half cornish game hen under their "large" section (the menu is broken up into "small," "medium," and "large). Call me a glutton, but how can HALF a cornish game hen be considered large? When I had Fiction's summer prix fixe menu, we also were served a half cornish game hen there. Is this a trend? Just serve the whole bird, people! Or both halves on the plate. The poor little thing looks so sad on the plate. Two-bite poultry! Like those two-bite brownies that you can get in the supermarket, but people generally wind up eating about 3 or 4 of those things, before something in their head clicks and says "maybe I should stop.." Well, I don't want to end this review on a sour note. I truly enjoyed my meal at Aurora. A fine experience. Beautiful room and china, great food, a very nice casual atmosphere, a trendy but not too trendy feel, good service (a little room for slight improvement here - our waitress never slipped up, and we always received what we needed, but I did feel a bit of a chill, that perhaps wouldn't be there if we had been in another server's section. I felt her lose her glimmer before I started taking photos, and after we both ordered the summer menu), and an all BC wine list. Having fun with the pairings definitely made the dining experience complete.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Miko Sushi on Robson

Just had a special chirashi sushi ($19), and an agedashi tofu ($4.50) there, and while the agedashi was very nicely done, the chirashi was okay, but not spectacular, at least to my taste. It included those big orange fish eggs, which were quite lovely, but not bits of seaweed in the rice which can be a nice touch. I ate the amaebi, so it must have been very fresh, because I don't usually like that one. Very pretty, and it was good (and I suspect that they cut the pieces of fish small, specifically for my small female mouth, as I was sitting at the bar, and they could see me. So maybe the chirashi would come out different for a man). But I was somehow expecting greatness. So, if you're a big fan of Miko, let me know. Maybe I'm not getting it? Or maybe it can be better? I often use chirashi as my sushi restaurant indicator dish. It's great, because it allows the chef to show off his/her best stuff, and since it's so open-ended, it provides a nice canvas to display skill, creativity, and style. (Ha gow tends to be a common dim sum indicator dish for people, where the quality of the restaurant can be judged by how good their shrimp-filled dumplings are). Maybe I should choose other items on Miko's menu? Service was a bit on the slow side too, and my agedashi came out a few minutes AFTER my chirashi was served, so I had to leave eating that to eat the deep fried dish before it got cold. Anyhow, pipe up if you think I should give them another shot.

Capones - Yaletown Attitude

While it's not generally in my nature to want to disparage a restaurant here (I've mentioned before I feel much better about touting the good ones), I've been feeling lately that readers might appreciate a bit of warning about places to avoid. I went to Capones during the jazz festival this summer so that I could listen to some jazz. The food was certainly edible. Dessert, in fact, was fabulous - a velvety smooth creme brulee. The rest of the meal, to me, felt overpriced, and we definitely got some attitude from the host who showed me to the table, and some from the waitress (and yes, we were drinking alcohol this time), which basically ruins the experience whether there is tasty food or not. We had one of their little pizzas. "The Alcatraz" ($19) has pesto sauce, scallops, prosciutto, spinach, mushrooms, topped with mozzarella & asiago cheese. Scallops on a pizza are really good, I discovered. Tasty toppings on a thin crust, but unfortunately with lots and lots of oil dripping everywhere, to the point of soggifying some of what should have been a crispy crust. We ordered a lamb chop appetizer (two chops, $14), served with a black olive tapenade. The lamb was fine - I mean really, how can one not like a juicy lamb chop. But I'm not sure that the tapenade added that much to it. At least it didn't detract from it. Maybe the prices aren't that unfair, (and I'm not one to spend a lot of time in Yaletown) but I came out this place, having had only a very light meal of just a little pizza, a little lamb chop, drinks and dessert, and downright snobby service, with a $100 bill (including tax, tip, and cover charges which incidentally, was not advertised in any way, and unexpected considering we had both food and drinks, and it was just a one-man show), definitely wishing I could have spent it elsewhere (like across the street at Amarcord, for example). I know this is a somewhat unfair comparison, but just for fun, imagine what kind of meal (for two people) you could get at Guu with Garlic for a hundred bucks! Don't worry about me though. I had a great time, as usual, because of the company I was with, and the experience of trying something new. But consider yourself warned!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Beware of Sandbar - A Granville Island Overview

Ahhh, a leisurely trip to Granville Island - what a wonderful thing for a couple of foodies to do. Because I was thoroughly enjoying the Vancouver International Jazz Festival back in July, and also went down to see Shear Madness one night, I've had a few great visits to Granville Island this summer. When you go down there for an event in the evening, there's the question of what to have for dinner. The choices are few, and now, for me, they are quite clear.

In short, my top pick is The Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, if you have the foresight to make a reservation early. I liked it so much, I tried to go again the next week (be sure to reserve early!). Also a great spot to pick up lunch or dessert to go, and enjoy outside. Next pick is the bistro (downstairs) part of Bridges, where Cheeseboy and I were able to get one of the nicest spots of the restaurant just walking in (even during the festival). I was truly impressed with the entire dining experience (food execution, presentation, interior design, view, menu, server), far exceeding my expectations. Though part of that is recently having had my expectations lowered by a snarky waiter experience at Sandbar, a stone's throw away. Like the names of the restaurants, Bridges (bistro level) towers above Sandbar in so many ways. Another choice is the market, now open until 7 pm, so one could graze there for an early evening. I have yet to try Go Fish! at Fisherman's Wharf, despite being in the area and wanting to try this restaurant several times. We always seem to think of this place on a Monday (closed Mondays and Tuesdays), or we're not hungry early enough, as this place closes fairly early. One day! Other restaurants that I haven't tried on the Island include Sammy J Peppers, The Keg, Tony's Fish Cafe (a fish and chips place at the mouth of the Island that we would have happily tried if they had had the good sense to stay open later during the Canada Day Jazz Festival Event), Dockside, and the Tap Room at the Granville Island Brewery. Other restaurants that I have tried and will absolutely avoid are Sandbar, mainly due to horrible server attitude, an uncomfortable setting, and lacklustre menu and food, and The Cat's Meow, which I went once to years ago, and can only remember the crab cakes being inedible. Details of my restaurant experiences will be posted below, as well as a list of my favourite Granville Island foodie hot spots, including one of the best almond croissants you'll find in the city.

To be continued...

Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts

I wish I knew some "starving" student who really wants to treat a date to a special dinner, but can't normally afford it. The Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts Restaurant would be absolutely perfect. You can get a full-on fine dining experience for not $80 per person, not $60, not even $40! But for $17 per person! Er, sorry...had a mild infomercial attack there. The deal is that a three course dinner at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts Restaurant is a mere $34 per person, since it's an instructional restaurant. And then on Mondays and Tuesdays, it's 2 for 1 on top of that! You can imagine they get pretty busy, and I've now had two unsuccessful attempts to dine there on a Monday night (one walk-in attempt, which is how I found out about 2 for 1 night, and one phone call on the night before. Monday was booked out, but Tuesday was still open), but it's worth making the effort to call ahead. The night I did get a reservation, I called on Saturday night, and they returned my call Sunday, so a call two nights before got us in. Well, enough about the bargain aspect, because it's only a real bargain if they can actually deliver in terms of food, atmosphere, and service. And they impressed me on all counts.

The kitchen is staffed by students that are enrolled in the institute's six month Culinary Arts or Baking and Pastry Arts programs. The front of the room is also staffed by these students. Don't let this scare you off. Actually, if anything, I found that everyone seems to put in MORE effort into the experience than you might get elsewhere, and with the guidance of experienced professionals (the instructors), they've got everything down. I don't think I've ever received better service at a restaurant (and this was despite my dinner companions coming in 20 minutes late for the reservation on 2 for 1 night, when the restaurant usually completely books out in advance). Here's a couple of examples of their well-oiled machine type service. A call was made to the restaurant earlier that day to modify the reservation because one person couldn't make it, and they were all set with the correct table for four when I arrived. They had also communicated to my server that we were going to need to get out in time for an 8 pm show, even though the only time I had mentioned this was when I made the initial reservation with the office, and had asked if she thought it was enough time for dinner. Not only did my server know, but he kept it in mind all evening. He was personable, efficient, charming, happy to answer menu and culinary term questions, and showed absolutely no sign of irritation at the late start. At one point, he came over to break the news to one of us that the dessert she ordered was not available, and he did this with the tenderness and solemnity of say, a veterinarian who's come to tell us that our beloved puppy didn't make it through the surgery. (Yah, whatever, bring us that other dessert. I think we'll live!). This is all the more impressive when you realize that (as the little card on the table informs us) the servers don't actually get the tip. They add a 15% gratuity charge, which is given to the school, and ask us not to tip the server. One more note about reservations - they do take a credit card number and would charge $10 per person on a no show. Fair enough, given how often they have to turn people away when they book up.

Onto the food...we photodocumented all the choices made by Bleuet Girl, Instant Noodle Girl, Wine Geek and myself, but I'll comment on the dishes I ate. All were plated beautifully, so I'm happy that I have photos to share (many thanks to Bleuet Girl). Things were off to a great start with a beautiful basket of breads of various shapes and flavours. Really good bread. There was a spicy cheesy one, and the one I ate was shaped as four little spheres stuck together. We were then onto the appetizers. Our choices are below in the captions under the photos. An additional choice on our menu was a zucchini apple soup, blue cheese crumble, and sour cream coulis.

Gourmand Salad with Baked Brie, Cranberry Relish, & Orange Vinegrette.

Roasted Beet Salad, Sauteed Tiger Prawns, Coconut Ginger Curry Cream Sauce, photo by Bleuet Girl.

I chose the Roasted beet, tomato and tiger prawn salad. I quite liked it. I wasn't entirely convinced about the combination with the curry sauce, but it was all very nice.

Tuna Carpaccio Filled With Smoked Salmon, Spicey Papaya Coulis & Mixed Greens, photo by Bleuet Girl

The choices for mains included a grilled marinated garlic chicken breast, tomato polenta, Mediterranean vegetable medley, sundried tomato and red wine sauce; a feuilleté of tilapia, prawns, mussels, and salmon in a ginger and orange cream sauce with julienne vegetables; a pan-seared basa; and meuniare with carmelized butternut squash and ratatouille.

Pistachio Crusted Baked Salmon with a Red Pepper Veloute, Puree Carrots, Grilled Zucchini & Herb-infused Rice Pilaf, photo by Bleuet Girl

Roast Pork Loin, Stuffed with Wine Chorizo, Balsamic Mashed Potaos, Snowpeas & Oyster Mushroom Sauce, photo by Bleuet Girl

I had the roast pork loin for my main. Look at the generous portion of two big slices of pork loin. It's been a while since I've been served this much meat at a fine dining type place. I ate and enjoyed my heavily balsamic mashed potatoes, but I probably would have been happier with plain. Though it definitely makes for a more fun menu description to add that element into it. I must say I just loved their menu. There were so many items that sounded like they would be tasty and interesting to try. Part of that is the complexity of the dishes. For example, I loved the idea that they went to the extra trouble of injecting the sausage into the loin (...I just need to leave this one alone, don't I?), rather than just having a standard slice of pork loin. And just look at all those layers in the Opera cake. It was tasty too, with its layers of chocolate, pastry cream, and meringue, garnished with a chocolate truffle, and served with an orange zest sauce.

Springtime Opera Cake, photo by Bleuet Girl

Strawberry and Sacher Mousse Cake, Strawberry Concasse, photo by Bleuet Girl

Creme Caramel, Fresh Strawberry, photo by Bleuet Girl

The dessert that became unavailable (I imagined some student in the back screwing up, and then freaking out, but who knows what happened) was a lemon orange tart with italian meringue.

Dinner was fun and interesting and tasty, and the room is formal, yet bright, calming, and cheery because of the big picture windows looking out onto a Granville Island boat marina. We enjoyed our desserts with a quick coffee, and then we were on our way to the play at the Arts Club, making it there well in time.

Here's just a final note about their bakery and counter, just outside of the entrance to the restaurant. You can pick up all sorts of lunch goodies to go and beautiful pastries and bread during the daytime. I had their seafood salad, and was completely impressed by the quality of it all, and a steal for about six bucks. Also had a respectable hazelnut torte from the bakery too. The restaurant would be quite a nice lunch spot if you're looking for something a little fancier than the market. They do a seafood buffet for lunch on Fridays that sounds like fun too. Closed Sundays and holidays. This one's definitely a keeper. I just hope that blogging it hasn't made it more difficult to get a table!

Best Almond Croissant in Town

One of my favourite things to do when I first get to Granville Island, is to head over to La Baguette et L'Echalote, the stand-alone French bakery just outside of the market, and get a fresh almond croissant. It's a beautifully flakey butter croissant filled with an almond paste that is not too sweet, and covered in sliced almonds. I usually do this right away, because I've been there many times in the late afternoon when they have already sold out of this item. Check out their website for a picture of the beautiful pastries in the products section, including the almond croissant. Then, I go pick up a nice cup of coffee from the market, and find a bench outside if it's sunny. Another great place to pick up a pastry is the wonderful bakery counter at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, although I think their almond croissant ranks just a smidge under the one at La Baguette (but I have to admit, I've only tried it once there). You can also get a cup of coffee from the PICA counter. If you're downtown, instead of Granville Island, Sen5es (801 W. Georgia St.) has a fantastic almond croissant that rivals its Granville Island counterpart. It's a tough call. The Sen5es version is just a little less sweet, but has a similarly flakey crisp, texture. I've also had a decent almond in the Murchies Tea and Coffee (825 Pender St.) downtown.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Blueberry Tribute

Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake Posted by Picasa

I love fresh blueberries. Blueberry pie is my very favourite pie (if it's warmed, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Banana cream is a close second). Just thought I would post a photo of the blueberry lemon cheesecake I made this week. I love that it has blueberries embedded in the cheesecake that get cooked, as well as raw ones on top. It has a rich and creamy texture, rather than a light and airy or a dense and firm one. The season is short, and this cheesecake can't be made out of season (because of the fresh ones needed for the top). I made some little blueberry tarts the week before.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Yuji's is For You (W. 4th Ave, at Maple)

I debated whether to spill the edamame on this one. Sometimes a restaurant is so good, I just want to keep it to myself. Maybe that's the reason why Yuji's Japanese Tapas doesn't get the buzz it deserves. I've heard some complaints about service in the past, but the staff were all great the night I went (a relatively quiet night - a Sunday on a long weekend). They've been there a year and a half, so perhaps they've worked out their service kinks. I credit Adam's Dining Guide for this find - he writes very favourably about this place, and rightly so.

I love the simple, modern styling of the room, right down to the beautiful bathrooms. The stylish, androgynous server just made it seem even more hip and modern. We headed to the sushi bar, so that we could watch the cooking. I dined with Bac'n Girl, and we were in the mood to gab, eat well, and drown our "man trouble" sorrows in sushi and fried foods. The sushi bar turned out to be a good choice as the view not only included the skills of the chefs, but a string of incredibly pretty men (obviously all with good taste in food, and a penchant for treating themselves) coming in one at a time, to drink and eat at the sushi bar. Now THIS is my kind of place for a "lonely guy restaurant."

Yuji's is a dangerous place to go with a big appetite, a calorie-reduced diet, and a small budget. For one, they have a great, lengthy menu filled with all sorts of tempting original and interesting combinations. There's also a very tempting sheet of premium sakes (including a bubbly one?). It would be great fun to blow a wad of cash sampling sakes. As well, all dishes are presented in small plates, with very few "filler" dishes. We wound up using their chirashi sushi ($18.50) as our filler at the end of the meal, though I was wishing for some noodles or some other rice dish. Many Japanese restaurants have a standard chirashi, and then a pricier, deluxe one, but there is only one here. The chirashi was beautiful though, and everything was of utmost quality, so in the end, I don't mind paying a little more than I normally would. They point out in their menu that they use wild sockeye salmon, and it was really good. Even the slices of octopus were tender, and tasty. Octopus is often hit or miss for me, more often miss. With each piece of fish, I noticed a significant difference in fish quality than what I've had in chirashi's in other places.

Chirashi Sushi Posted by Picasa

The real fun in the menu is in the original rolls and the hot dishes. We started with the Kamonegi roll ($7.50). It was a very tasty combination of grilled duck breast, grilled green onion, teriyaki sauce, wrapped in rice, with sesame seeds. Just one of many Yuji's original rolls we could have tried. Next time I might try the mango roll.

Kamonegi Roll (Grilled Duck Breast, Grilled Green Onion, Tempura Sauce) Posted by Picasa

The dish of wasabi chicken tempura may be the very best fried chicken in the city. Succulent chicken, lightly covered in a properly crisp and thin tempura batter. Crispy, juicy, flavourful, with a very subtle hint of wasabi. In my view, it was appetizer perfection. It'll be fun to see if they hit that consistantly in my next visit(s).

Wasabi Chicken Tempura Posted by Picasa

Bac'n girl thought that we should get something with vegetables in it, and apparently the soy bean content in deep-fried tofu doesn't count. So we went with Yuji's salad roll. A nice touch was that it was served with two types of sauce - a nice sweet spicy chili one, and more of a mirin based or tonkatsu sauce-like one. Everything was attractively plated, and this was no exception, with its dots of sauce lined up with the pieces of salad roll ("crabcake", avocado, lettuce, cucumber, tobiko, wasabi mayo), and all those beautiful ingredients of the roll showing through the translucent rice "paper."

Yuji's Salad Roll Posted by Picasa

Another exciting choice was the sushi gratin. We could choose from California Roll or unagi (barbecued sea eel, my favourite sushi item), and they cover it in a cream sauce and mozarella cheese, and bread crumbs and bake it! Our choice was the unagi ($7.50) - lots of little pieces of unagi are on top of the rice, with the usual sauce, and the whole cheesy, creamy package was just delicious. The sauce with the wasabi in it made it even better. Notice the cute little wooden serving spoon. I love little spoons!

Unagi Sushi Gratin Posted by Picasa

We also had the deep-fried spicy tuna roll which is panko-crusted. I liked the fact that it was served with the spicy sauce on the plate, rather than right in the roll, and the sauce was very tasty, and the whole dish was beautiful and worked really well.

Age (Deep-fried) Spicy Tuna Roll Posted by Picasa

We ended with a yummy green tea creme brulee, served with a scoop of ice cream ($7.00). In the end, we spent less than we thought we did ($64, including our ice teas, before tax and tip), and it was all incredibly satisfying and pleasing. By the way, since I wasn't drinking alcohol this time, this is not a review conducted under the influence (which I'm aware sometimes makes me like a restaurant just a tad more than I would sober...yes, I'm admitting it, I do beer-goggle the restaurants)! Next time, I'll bring more people, so that I can try more items. Definitely a keeper in my book.