*Restaurant is now closed*
Okay, let's get this out of the way first. I was invited, along with other food bloggers and writers for a tasting at Irashai tonight. Yes, this could potentially pose a problem in terms of bias. That's why up until now, I haven't actually accepted any invites for tastings. To tell you the truth, I accepted this time because I really like Japanese Tapas. I know, I sold my soul. Kim Ho who writes I'm Only Here for the Food will give me heck. I totally respect his belief that his blog posts are on his terms, so there would be no biases or tainting of the views expressed. Well, I'm seeing him on Saturday, hopefully I can convince him otherwise (it'll be tough!). So I am going to do my best to give an honest opinion about Irashai. However, anything I say should be taken with a grain of salt because it is in a controlled manner and environment.
Our host Danielle made arrangements for bloggers and writers to attend a tasting at lunch or dinner. I was only able to make it out for dinner. Rebecca (Miss604), John, Joyce (Foodie Adventures in Vancouver) Heather from BlackBook and Dan & Ed (Eat, Snap, Repeat) were also present at the tasting. We started off with Grilled Asparagus with a creamy butter egg sauce. The asparagus was cooked perfectly; tender exterior with a firm interior. The sauce benefited from lemon juice and fresh cracked pepper. Consequently, there was a good balance of salt, pepper, sweet and tart. Up next was the Beef Tataki which was accompanied by ponzu and ponzu jelly. The beef was of very high quality, practically melting in my mouth. There was just the right amount of ponzu to lightly flavour the dish. We were then presented with a plate full of sliced Red Snapper. This was served with a side of ponzu where we could add the hot red radish and/or wasabi. The red snapper was buttery smooth and I only needed a little of the ponzu, so it wouldn't mask the sweetness of the fish.
The theme of raw food continued with Sliced Hamachi over a bed of daikon. There was a light mustard seed vinaigrette drizzled over the fish. This was a very refreshing dish with delicate flavours. I thought that there was a bit too much daikon underneath. When I grabbed a bunch with the hamachi and placed it in my mouth, it turned out a bit bland. There were some really beautiful Yam Fries next. They arrived with a unagi spicy mayo sauce. The tempura batter was extremely light and crispy, while the yams were fluffy inside. However, I wasn't that big a fan of the sauce, not because I didn't like it; but it was too sweet and it masked the natural sweetness of the yam. The next dish was a real treat. We got Spot Prawn sashimi since it is in season right now. They were served with the head on and they were fabulous. The sweet flesh of the prawn was all the flavour needed for this dish (with a light squeeze of lemon too). After we had finished the meat, the heads were returned to the kitchen for frying.
While we waited for the prawn heads to be prepared, we were served a dish of Albacore Tuna with Ice and Red Wine. The tuna was fantastic. This was a simple, yet very effective use of flavours. When I first took a bite into the tuna, I got a rush of wine flavour. As I continued chewing the tuna, it finished off with a delicate sweet flavour. I'm not sure if this was the intended flavour profile of the dish; but it worked well. As we finished up with the tuna, the fried prawn heads arrived. The server helped explained how to eat the head, removing the legs and innards from the shell. She made sure we didn't eat the dark sac which contains the nasty stuff from the prawn. Being Chinese, I have had experience eating spot prawns in the shell and trust me, you don't want to eat that sac, it's quite bitter. The fried head was very lightly battered and seasoned. Eating it reminded me of the Amazing Race, where Victor ate the scorpions - crunch, crunch, crunch!
After the crunchy prawn heads, we finally got some sushi rolls. There were 2 rolls: the Summer Roll and the White Slope. On the inside of the Summer Roll was a tempura prawn with avocado, cucumber and masago. On the outside resided tuna mixed with crunchy tempura bits topped with sliced avocado and sirracha hot sauce. This roll was a crowd pleaser. Everyone enjoyed it including me. There were so many flavours and textures at work in this roll: crunchy, smooth, chewy, sweet, salty and spicy. If this roll was the ying, the White Slope was the yang. It consisted of real crab meat and avocado in the middle and scallops on the top. This was a sweet and mild roll which perfectly contrasted the spiciness of the Summer Roll.
Where these 2 rolls were refined and delicate in taste, the Spicy Volcano Roll was not. This bold and brash roll consisted of asparagus, Angus beef, cream cheese and cucumber. It was finished off with cheddar cheese baked on top drizzled with a spicy sauce. Heather remarked that it tasted like "cheeseburger sushi". I have to concur with her about that. It was rich, flavourful and greasy like a cheeseburger. Personally, I thought the combination of cream cheese and melted cheddar was a bit much. It became a bit of a mushy, greasy mess with little in the way of textures. Fortunately, the next roll put the trains back on the track. The Alaskan Crab Leg roll was a delight to eat. It was simply whole crab leg meat with mango and masago deep fried with tempura batter. It was served with a lemon mayo dressing. The flavours woked really well in this roll. The crab meat (sweet with a hint of saltiness) was accentuated by the sweetness and slight tartness of the mango. Moreover, the lemon mayo was the perfect accompaniment to the delicate tasting roll.
If you think there was the end of the food, you are wrong, it kept coming! The Pearl Chicken Karaage was a bit different than I am used to. The chicken were coated in rice cracker pearls and then deep fried. This resulted in a unique crunch and lightness to the chicken. Dipped into the yuzu sauce, it was a winner. I think kiddies would like this dish. Not sure about my son, he doesn't like anything but chocolate. From crunchy, we went to buttery smooth in the form of the Aigamo. The teriyaki duck breast was executed properly where the meat was tender and moist. There was just enough flavouring that it didn't mask the natural duck taste. In comparison, the duck at Guu was chewy. Okay, the last dish was one of the best - Sablefish aka Black Cod. It was grilled perfectly where each flake of the meat was discernable while being moist. The buttery flesh of the fish went well with the fruity yuzu sauce. Actually, this wasn't really the last dish, we also had Tiramisu and Green Tea Creme Brulee for dessert. Both were really good, especially the brulee. It was smooth and not too sweet. Moreover, there wasn't too much green tea flavour to overpower the dessert.
Despite this being a meal on the house, I feel that I can be objective. I must stress that the food was indeed fantastic. It is true that they must've put care into producing the dishes and of course the service would be good. Yet, when it comes down to it, if a restaurant's food sucks, then no matter how much effort they put into it, it will continue to suck. In addition, I looked around at the food of other patrons and it looked every bit as good as the dishes we were served. So if the food is so good, what are the issues that keep it from being rated higher on Urbanspoon or Dinehere? Well, it is mostly one issue - the price. Yes, at Irashai, they use high quality ingredients and the decor is really nice; however, the prices are indeed higher than most of it's competition. Mind you, I'm not even sure exactly who they are competing with. Irashai seems half Japanese restaurant, half Japanese Izakaya. However, in comparison with other Izakayas, I think that the food at Irashai is probably better in ingredient quality and execution. With that being said, if you enjoy good quality food, you have to be prepared to pay for it.
- High quality food
- Food is made with care
- A few unique items
- It's good, but it'll cost you
- Identity problem: Izakaya or not?
1368 West Pender