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Vancouver Sushi

Anytime I post some thoughts on sushi in Vancouver it seems to be pretty controversial. I'm curious to know how Vancouver hounds qualify good sushi so I can try to get a sense of what's going on here.

The main things I think make for good sushi are:

- good cuts of fresh, appropriately named fish (I think we get mislabeled fish).

-good rice. If you were to dip your rice into soy it should fall apart. The rice in Vancouver usually would stay stuck together (if one were to, wrongly, dip their sushi into it). It should have light vinegar and sweetness.

-real wasabi if possible. real wasabi is really nice, but I don't think many places here serve it.

-homemade pickled ginger. No pink ginger!

That's it!

There's maki too I guess, but I just like basic maki. Spicy tuna rolls, tightly wrapped up don't really impress me (but I will eat them because that's just what we do in Vancouver). The best maki I had was lightly toasted nori and some rice and fish just loosely rolled in one hand (no bamboo sheet pressing).

So I find generally most sushi in Vancouver is pretty close to the same and as such I generally judge a place on the atmosphere and the price.

Lime is three times the price of Toshi and I got a lot of flak on this board for suggesting it was not worth it. I am curious to know what makes Vancouver chowhounds think its worth it. Please let me know what your criteria are for good sushi so I can understand where you are coming from!

I've eaten sushi at that little place Anthony Bourdain went to in Osaka on one of his TV shows (Koyoshi- I found it thanks to a chowhound post). I've been to Sushi Yasuda in New York (the best sushi I've had in North America- not factoring in price), and Sushi Zanmai in the Tsukiji fish market (the best sushi I've ever had). I took a two month trip to Japan to eat and take cooking lessons. I feel I've had really good sushi, but I don't think I understand how hounds in Vancouver rate their sushi.

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  1. seeing that I am not a resident of Vancouver, I aM SURE THERE ARE SOME OTHER STELLAR sushi bars but the one that has always impressed me was TOJO. Always more sashimi style similar to Nobu.

    1. I rate sushi bars based on the quality of the sashimi and the expertise/skill of the itamae. A sushi place that specially sources their fish is just above and beyond the typical lunch-grade place. The cuts of fish served at Lime are very fresh and beautifully textured. The sashimi I have had at Toshi is just ordinary - often something you can buy at Angel Seafoods etc that you can cut yourself.

      You can SEE the difference...the first image (from hoyyummy.com) is the sashimi at Toshi. The next three images are from Lime. These are not ordinary cuts of fish.

      Perhaps I was at Toshi on bad days...but I was never really that impressed. It does provide good value, I'll admit.

      PS Lime has some unique offerings from their kitchen - specifically their house made 100% soba noodles, and some of their more izakaya like dishes.

      5 Replies
      1. re: fmed

        Fmed (or anyone else)- can you suggest a place to get a great piece of chu toro on some well made (not sticky) rice? I haven't had good chu toro here yet- it should taste like peaches.

        1. re: Mawson Plan

          I would try the usual suspects (including the much maligned Tojo's) - Have you been to Octopus' Garden, Okada, Dan, Yoshi, etc.? I have had good rice at Koko on Hastings St just recently - not too vinegary, nor sweet and the rice was loosely packed.

          1. re: fmed

            I'll go to Octopus' Garden tonight and try the 10 piece nigiri. Thanks!

            1. re: Mawson Plan

              Bluefin toro isn't that common (for one thing, Bluefin is getting exceedingly overfished)...so you may have to adjust your expectations regarding availability. I know Lime (and definitely a few other places) gets it in once in a while. Sit at the bar at OG tonight and chat up the itamae and ask him provenance and seasonality of his fish he uses for toro.

          2. re: Mawson Plan

            If price isn't a problem, Tojo usually has it for $(infiinity)/bite.

        2. Octopus Garden is grossly underrated. I'm actually saddened that not a lot of people talk about it here but the place has fantastic sashimi and sushi. The rice is made just right, enough acidity and bite.

          2 Replies
          1. re: jecolicious

            We do talk about Octopus' Garden here a lot. I have personally recommended it here on this forum perhaps dozens of times. It is one of my top three favourite sushi places in this city.

            1. re: jecolicious

              Octopus' Garden was fantastic. Thank you for the suggestion! Chef Sada was in fine form. He gave us some free mini beers to go with the promo fried shrimp head and was very welcoming and friendly. I had the 10 piece nigiri and it was stunning. We also had some American 'Kobe' and chu-toro (I know its bad to do but I had to). The chu-toro wasn't the best I've had, but it was real chu-toro (I've had some strange things brought out after ordering toro in Calgary). The black sesame 'gelato' brought out to finish was beautiful. Mari, the sales manager, told me that she works there because she really likes sushi. She said her favorite spot was Ajisai. I can't wait to try it!

            2. As a student, I've got a fairly limited budget, but I do like my sushi. I'm all about finding the places that offer value. Toshi is one of them. Ajisai is another. It only costs a little bit more than your neighborhood run-of-the-mill sushi joint, but the fish quality, selection and attention to detail is much greater at places like Ajisai. My guess (since I haven't been there) is that Lime is simply another notch above, hence the rare cuts of fish and apparent better quality. That would justify the 30-50% price increase over Ajisai.

              Maybe an establishment of a sushi restaurant class system is in order? A-class are the top of the bunch, B-class offers excellent value but may not have the absolute best quality, C-class are your spots that are cheap and cheerful, harmless and nothing special.

              Alright, I'm kidding about the class system. We'd probably start a small war between Chowhounds, but I know I keep these lists in my head.

              4 Replies
              1. re: peter.v

                I don't at all agree that 'we get mislabeled fish' that's nonsense.

                I know what I'm ordering and can't be fooled-the only possible mixup could be YFT for Bigeye or the reverse but that being said the only way to really tell the difference is to count the striations on the liver one is smooth the other not-that's probably why we often see 'Red Tuna' on offer.

                Since I'm not a big Sashimi eater Rice is very important and the two places with the very best Rice have now changed hands and aren't the same well time changes everything.

                Sushi can be so easy and yet people want to make it a contentious subject.

                Having eaten Sushi in the tropics many times-different countries with different fish on offer-I now try and relax and enjoy while eating here.

                Maybe the amazing Albacore and Salmon we have so much of has spoiled us to a degree.

                1. re: peter.v

                  peter, have you been to Ajisai lately? We did our usual Christmas Eve sushi takeout from them and noticed two things: our bill was about $20 more than last year for a similar order, and the sunomono, which had up till then been my favourite in the city, had taken a turn for the bland. Off night or ... ?

                  1. re: grayelf

                    Last time I had Ajisai it was not so nice. Maybe its because I was there at lunch for takeout with two small kids and not being taken seriously, but it made me wonder what all the fuss is about.

                    Fmed's photos from Lime indeed look better than anything I've had recently, although the rolls at Zest are a) beautifully presented and b) remarkably delicious. Too bad I'm so lame with a camera.

                    1. re: grayelf

                      I was there just before Christmas and I thought it was great. The wakame sunomono we had was definitely not bland, but I'll admit to not having it there before, so I definitely did not have a reference to past meals. I can't recall my bill being more than it has been in the past. Individual nigiri from the special fish menu were $3 each.

                      Though I'm a big fan of Ajisai, I would say it's very much a neighborhood joint. Might not be worth the trip to folks from elsewhere.

                      I'm hoping that was an off night grayelf (and waver!).

                  2. If you want a balance of quality, creativity/ presentation on a budget I would recommend AkaTomBo on Lonsdale in North Van. Been going there for about a year and its pretty consistent. The budget might sway you from calling a top spot on this list but it deserves a mention in my opinion.


                    1. Mawson Plan said, "-good rice. If you were to dip your rice into soy it should fall apart. The rice in Vancouver usually would stay stuck together (if one were to, wrongly, dip their sushi into it). It should have light vinegar and sweetness."

                      Now I'm so curious! When we ate at Iron Chef Morimoto's this summer, as soon as my son dipped his sushi into the soy sauce, the rice all fell off, and he basically just ate the sashimi leaving all the fallen rice in the soy sauce! If you're not supposed to dip the sushi into soy sauce, why do they offer the soy sauce dish? How should you eat it? I honestly thought his sushi was poorly made! I didn't taste his, but he said he loved it...I was just put off by seeing the rice all fall into the soy sauce dish! :-)

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: ck1234

                        Now, I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I've read that the soy sauce is for the neta (or topping for the rice). You flip the sushi over, do a quick dip of the fish in the soy and then eat the piece, all the while avoiding getting the rice in the soy. Please correct me if I'm wrong here though!

                        1. re: peter.v

                          The Japanese are all laughing at us now LOL. That's how I understand it too....one would pick it up by the fingers and dip it upside down so the neta touches the soy. Then you pop the thing in your mouth neta-side down.

                          I don't follow these rules personally. I'm a sushi heathen.

                          1. re: peter.v

                            LOL! And I said that Morimoto's sushi wasn't as good as Tojo's because of the rice falling apart!!! Thank you all for enlightening me!!! (I had sushi at Tojo's and the rice didn't fall into the soy sauce)...You ALL teach me so much! Thanks!!!

                            P.S. Sorry for my ignorance! I truly thought we got bad sushi at Morimotos!!!

                            fmed: The Japanese are only laughing at me! Don't worry!

                            1. re: ck1234

                              Since we're all being so up front about it, I'm going to admit that I kinda like soaking my tuna sashimi in a little bath of shoju and wasabe. Quelle gaucherie, I know, but like fmed, I'm a heathen :-).

                              1. re: grayelf

                                I'm hoping someone else will chime in if I'm wrong here, but sashimi is different. That as far as I know according to these "rules", can be bathed in soy and wasabi if that is your preference.

                                To be honest, I'm all about just soy for either sashimi or sushi. Wasabi just doesn't make sense to my palate when I'm savouring some delicate tuna sashimi. Probably makes me a heathen too!

                                1. re: peter.v

                                  I think whatever you like should be what you eat, but most of the people in Japan would use chopsticks (but hands are ok) and do exactly what peter.v said- flip it and lightly wave it through some soy. With sashimi you might mix in some wasabi to the soy. With sushi there is usually already some wasabi in there already if suits it. For me the rice falling apart thing is just a good way to tell the quality of the sushi. Sushi refers to the rice with vinegar. I think at first it was used as a sort of medical protection for eating raw fish but then became a preferred flavor.

                                  1. re: Mawson Plan

                                    I have read that a good sushi chef will change the 'hardness' or compactness of his sushi according to how you choose to eat it. If he notices you are dipping your rice into your soy instead of the topping or using chopsticks to eat he will make it a little more compact to not fall apart. Otherwise, the rice is suppose to be fairly loose so that it 'melts' in your mouth and you can enjoy rice and fish together. I am coming to Vancouver for a West Coast trip (including San Fran and Seattle). What are your recs for good sushi (that won't break the bank) and izakaya's? I am coming from TO so I pretty much any place is better than most of what I get here but I want to know your favs ... ok, maybe break the bank for one meal.

                                    1. re: theel

                                      I would say: Octopus' Garden, Lime, and Okada for sushi
                                      Izakaya: Guu (Original), Guu with Garlic, Hapa, Zakkushi, Kingyo.

                                      I'm sure others will post their faves soon.

                                      1. re: fmed

                                        Fmed, I am hoping to be in Vancouver shortly, and I am looking forward to trying some of your suggestions! Are these places open for lunch?

                                        1. re: moh

                                          Unfortunately no...well Okada is open for lunch - but is isn't as good as their evening offerings IMO. There are other suggestions upthread (Ajisai, etc.) that I have yet to experience.

                                          When are you coming in and what meals are currently open? We can help you out.

                                          1. re: fmed

                                            Fmed, thank you so much for your kind offer of assistance! I will be lurking through the Western Canada board shortly and trying to come up with a game plan, then for sure I shall post a thread asking for further advice. I will be in Vancouver the first week of February, but also outside Vancouver, so my schedule is a little strange, and I have some solo lunches free. I appreciate the warning about Okada and the fact that evening is the time to go. I'll obviously have to clear some evenings for food.

                                            I have been lurking and following some of the threads on Izakayas, sushi and soup dumplings in Vancouver, and I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to visiting Vancouver! I'll post soon....

                                            1. re: moh

                                              Guu is open for lunch... but the menu is quite different. Better to save an izakaya trip for dinner.

                                              1. re: twinkienic

                                                Ah yes...it is more run-of-the-mill Japanese than izakaya at lunch.