Last time we had fresh, handmade (hand-assisted?) udon was during our trip to Japan waaaaay back in 2006. It was a cool, artisanal-feeling place right in Shinjuku just a few steps from our hotel. If you’re curious, it was Mentsu-Dan. It was quite memorable for a few reasons:
It was cafeteria-style, thus really casual yet the udon noodles were good quality — smooth, firm, and chewy — everything you’d want in an udon.
The guys working the udon station were young but took their job seriously. But not so seriously that they didn’t crack a smile and give us a “V” sign when I took a picture of them! (See photo below)
Lots of sides to choose from, like tempura, spicy cod roe (!), natto, onigiri, etc.
The udon was served dry for the most part*, while up to then I had only known udon noodles in soup from Japanese restaurants in Vancouver.
*EDIT: This Serious Eats article actually lists Mentsu-Dan as a recommended choice for udon in Shinjuku, and says they have both hot and cold preparations. Still don’t remember seeing the more typical big bowls of udon in soup though.
Couple pics from Mentsu-Dan to establish a baseline:
I’ve heard about fresh udon-type places in Los Angeles (that sadly we just did not have time for BOTH times we went to LA). I imagine them to be similar to Mentsu-Dan. Anyways, imagine my surprise when right on Robson St. near Bute (and down the block from Konbiniya), a new udon place opened up recently that makes their own udon and soup! It’s called Sanuki Udon!
*Before you mention Sekai Udon Bar at Metrotown, I’m ignoring any non-Japanese-run places — the same way I ignore any Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese-run “Japanese” restaurants.
Straight up, I’ll admit that Miku isn’t my first choice for dining. I’ve always felt slightly uncomfortable dining in such a fancy, rich, beautiful restaurant where the Asian 1% dine, but it was a special occasion and we booked the private room, and dammit we had a really good time. The food ranged from good to amazing, and the service was prompt and accomodating. They even have a Strange Fellows beer on tap!
I’ve always been scared of going to Octopus’ Garden in Kits because I thought it was high-end and kind of expensive. But how times have changed. I remember back in the early/mid 90s going to Dario’s La Piazza and paying more than $60 for a meal for two, and thinking, “My god, we’ve hit this threshold…we won’t be doing this that often…” Turns out that nowadays, $60 for two (especially including drinks) is getting harder and harder to do! So with that in mind, places like Chambar and Octopus’ Garden really aren’t that expensive, depending on how you order. And the quality makes it worth it. We went here for Wicca’s birthday, but at times it felt like my birthday! 😀
After shaking off the emotional crap from the previous night, we headed out and did an epic day:
Quan Ngon Nha Trang (San Gabriel)
Fugetsu-do Sweet Shop (Little Tokyo)
Far Bar (Little Tokyo)
Angel City Brewery (Little Tokyo/DTLA)
Wurstkuche (Little Tokyo/DTLA)
Pie Hole (Little Tokyo/DTLA)
Pizzanista (Arts District)
So in this one day, we were able to pack in Vietnamese noodles, Japanese sweets, German sausages with Belgian fries, American pie, and New York(ish) pizza. We could’ve easily added in Mexican food (of which there are a ton of regional styles available in LA) but surprisingly we didn’t have a drop of during our entire trip because we just couldn’t fit it in.
Kishimoto has been around for little over 3 years and has been a favourite Eastside Japanese restaurant. Some in-laws were in town recently (they’re from sushi-wasteland Calgary 😛 ), so we finally had an excuse to go. Boy, are we glad we picked this place! It’s definitely the top sushi place in East Van, along with Sushi by Yuji and Shima-Ya.
Uchida in Victoria (next to the Bug Zoo and Miniature World) is my idea of what a humble eatery in a small Japanese town would be like: cooking up homestyle food using local ingredients, prepared simply with minimum fuss, and gentle seasoning that lets the ingredients speak for themselves. I’m not in Victoria very often (even less now that my sister moved back to the mainland) but I always try to eat at this lunch-only spot because I think it offers something that not even Vancouver has.
Ramen Jinya (or Jinya Ramen Bar, depending on where you look) is opening a new location in Kerrisdale possibly January or February 2015. Seeing that I still haven’t tried the original location of Ramen Jinya on the south end of Robson St., I hauled my ass through the rain and wind to get my fill of porky, ramen goodness. Man, was it good!
Zakkushi is the kind of place where you have to check your cheapness at the door and order with decadent abandon. Dining in Vancouver is getting really expensive, with $28 entrees becoming the norm. If you’re gonna pay that kind of money dining out, I’d kinda rather spend that money at a really fun place like Zakkushi where you can get a variety of meats on sticks, and get showered with Japanese liquor.
Sushi by Yuji on Kingsway near Nanaimo (not to be confused with Yuji’s From Japan on Alma & 4th, where La Ghianda used to be) has been open since Spring 2013. The chef/owner used to work at Shiro on Cambie in their heyday, and I’m glad to see Sushi by Yuji still in business after more than a year. This is one of just a few places that I’d consider eating sushi at in the eastside, along with Shima-ya on Victoria Drive.
DISCLAIMER: Please take this review with a grain of shio. I wouldn’t even consider it a real review because it was Gyoza Bar’s grand opening and things there will definitely change and get tweaked and hopefully improved as time goes on and they develop their rhythm. Take this as a snapshot of the night and their food at that particular point in time. All opinions are still my brutally honest opinions of what we were served though, so read on and come to your own conclusions.
Gyoza Bar + Ramen is the latest “concept” from the Aburi line of restaurants which include Miku and Minami. In a nutshell, elevated food with a twist and a price tag to match. They’ve done sushi, now Gyoza Bar is their take on gyoza and ramen.