Sherman's Food Adventures: July 2010

Pho Hot

Everywhere you look in Vancouver, it doesn't seem very difficult to find some Pho. This is especially true in East Vancouver where there seems to be one on every block. Now, as we move farther away in the burbs, there are less and less options. This is especially true in North Delta. One of the few Vietnamese Pho joints out along the Surrey/North Delta border was a little place called Pho Dat Phu. Yah, I'll admit it. I was attracted by the name. Much like Pho Bich Nga and Pho T&A, I get amused easily by the unfortunate (or fortunate) names of the restaurants. One day, I realized that Pho Dat Phu had closed and there seemed to be renovations taking place. Then a little bit later, there was an advertisement in the window stating that "Pho Hot" was opening soon.

Father D and I decided to give it a try on their opening day. With a fully renovated interior and a semi-open kitchen, the place definitely looks inviting. Furthermore, the washrooms have also been completely redone. The menu itself is now quite extensive and we took a sample from almost every section. We started with the Spring Rolls. These babies came piping hot on a plate accompanied by picked daikon and carrots. We were a little bit dismayed that they didn't use rice flour wrappers; but overall, they were still good. The filling had a nice meaty texture while the roll itself was crunchy. I ended up getting the Special Pho which has every conceivable meat such as rare steak, flank, brisket, tripe and tendon. I'm not sure if it was because of opening day because the large bowl of pho was quite substantial. There was easily enough meat for 2 portions. One thing that was a strange about the Pho was the noodles themselves. Rather than the thin rice noodles we see at every other Pho place, these were the thicker kind you'd normally use for Pad Thai. I felt that it was more difficult to eat and a bit heavy. I did like the soup though, there was a distinct meat flavour while not being too salty. I think if they change up the noodles, the Pho would be solid. Also, it's nice that they use limes rather than lemons.

If a bowl of Pho wasn't enough, I gave their Banh Mi a try as well. The bread was crusty while being slightly dense. I liked that there was an ample amount of meat; but there was a predominant fish sauce flavour. With the addition of pate, that would provide some balance as well as adding another flavour component. Father D went for the Grilled Chicken with egg, shredded pork and pork chop on broken rice. He's a big eater; yet even he could not put a dent into this dish. On a huge bed of rice, which could barely be seen through the ample amount of meat, lay perfectly cooked chicken and pork. He remarked that there was a good amount of flavour and charring. We're not sure if the portion size is reflective of their grand opening. If they continue to offer these portions at the same prices (and some tweaks, such as the noodles and the pate on the banh mi), there is not much nearby that can compete.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Friendly and attentive service
- Clean (possibly due to being new)

The Bad:
- Rice noodles in pho are too large
- Banh Mi needs pate

Pho Hot on Urbanspoon

Romer's Burger Bar

MEAT! Meat on a bun... Right, the call of ground meat. A "burger call", to be exact. The need to sink your teeth into meat, cheese, onions, bacon and other compliments all encased within soft buns (sometimes lettuce) has come a long way from the days of fast food joints. Hey, I'm not dissing the likes of McD's, BK, Harvey's and the sort. In fact, probably my favourite burger comes from the land of In-N-Out. However, the burger is no longer only relegated to a drive-thru. It almost seems like we can get gourmet anything these days, so why not the burger? Premium "fast-food" type places have popped up such as Fatburger, Vera's and 5 Guys. Yes, the burgers are fancier; but they come with a premium price tag as well. One can easily part with $15.00 at the aforementioned burger joints. If we are going to toss that kinda coin, places like Burger Heaven, Splitz and Moderne creep into the discussion. Strangely enough, one of my favourite burger joints is the cheapest as well - Burger Burger. I gotta admit that some of the chain restaurants do good burgers as well, in particular, The Burger from Cactus Club. Romer's Burger Bar, situated in the former location of Pinky's, is the new kid on the block. There has been a buzz about their burgers and I really needed to see for myself. Taking advantage of the softball team once again, I suggested we give it a go tonight. For once, we could go to a place all stinky and sweaty without looking too out of place. Once we settled in, I noticed that the interior looks pretty much the same as it did before. However, we go from steaks to ground meat. With that in mind, they do have a burger that resides in steak pricing territory.

Would I have anything other than The Ultimate Kobe Classic? Complete with foie gras pate, chantrelles, fried onion strings, truffled mayo and a side of demi-glace, this is no ordinary burger. For $24.00, it'd better be special. Served on a brioche bun, I thought the burger was pretty good. However, once I began to use the demi-glace, that kicked up the flavour quotient exponentially. With that being said, the demi-glace would've made most burgers taste damn good. It is worth noting that using too much overwhelms everything else and that's all I tasted. Due to the limitations imposed up here in Canada, we can't get rare burgers. It's too bad because a burger can only be so juicy when it's practically well done. Fortunately, the high fat content of the meat allowed my burger to be very moist despite being cooked all the way through. The exterior of the patty had nice crispy dark portions that both afforded flavour and texture. I'm a big fan of brioche, so the soft bun really worked for me. I'm not going as far as saying this is the best burger in town; but it definitely is a good one for sure. Fries are not included with any of their burgers; but the regular sea salt fries are only $3.00 and enough to share (so no big deal). I really wanted to try the Poutine and fortunately for me, Bear was up for that. The fries were good; but less crispy than we expected from double-fried fries. One complaint was the taste of "new oil". Where are the ashes of Al Bundy's grandmother? The gravy was a bit of a disappointment. We were very happy it was "real" gravy (this is substantiated by Bear since he has allergies to artificial colouring, corn starch, maltodextrin, you name it...), but it was weaker than it looked. Maybe there wasn't enough of it? Strangely enough, I tried some from Milhouse's order of Sea Salt Fries and they were crispier and hotter.

Bear ended up with the Man's Man Burger which had thick sliced applewood bacon, amber ale cheddar, onion strings and smoked alder salts. Interestingly, there were tomatoes in his burger although the menu never stated as such. On the flip-side, Milhouse didn't get any tomatoes even though the burger description stated otherwise... He liked how the bacon was nice and crispy as he requested; but the slices were the smallest he'd ever seen - Kit Kats are longer (so much for the thick cut bacon). He did like the brioche bun, although the bun ratio was a bit on the high side. He wish he had ordered the Romer's Righteous Rib Burger - it looked awesome! Thus, Judes was awesome for picking it. It had applewood bacon, sweet onions and gorgonzola sauce atop a large piece of braised short rib. She was surprised how much she liked the bacon (not a big bacon fan). The rib was moist and juicy while the bun stayed intact. Although the mayo was a nice compliment to the burger, it would've been nice if it was more evenly spread.

Milhouse had the Rodeo Star which was a all-natural beef burger with starbuck spice, applewood bacon, red onions, tomatoes? (menu said it did, but none present), horseradish jack and smoky BBQ sauce. He thought the meat was moist and flavours were nice from the toppings. The flavour of the bun complimented everything. The sea salt fries were crispy. Not sure if he was really hungry so everything tasted extra nice. Portion size was good. Although being really hungry and a pig, he wouldn't have minded if there was more; but there was definitely enough. The toppings were perfect in terms of amount so they didn't squirt out the back like some places when you take a bite. For finger food, it was a clean eat. Boss Woman had the Magic Mushroom (not what you think) which consisted of chopped Portobellos, Boursin cheese and caramelized onions. She thought it was a satisfying burger, nothing incredibly special; but definitely worth the price. She also thought the fries were not as crispy as they looked. Finally, Inspector Gadget tried the Port and Stilton Burger. This flavourful burger consisted of port braised onions, fresh thyme and creamy stilton. He seemed to enjoy his burger; but remarked that it was not as juicy as he would've hoped.

But seriously, the most unexpected part of the meal was the wicked Drunken Donuts. These devilish treats were dressed in an obscene amount of powdered sugar and served with 3 dipping sauces - Kahlua Nutella, Lemoncello and Maple Whiskey. Except for Silent Bob, most of us didn't care for the maple whiskey. But we all loved the kahlua nutella (nutty, chocolaty and smooth) and the lemoncello (great compliment with the tartness). You know what? Romer's is decent, if not, dare we say good. Of course there are other great burger joints as well; but we mostly agreed that it is in the upper middle tier. Considering the location and decor, the prices are reasonable for what you get.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced (considering all factors)
- Unique selection of burgers
- Unlike most other burger joints, decent decor and ambiance (leftover from Pinky's)
- OMFG Drunken Donuts

The Bad:
- Fries were a bit hit and miss, some orders were crispy, some were not-so-much
- Food took awhile; but I'm sure they wanted to make it right

Romer's Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Japolo Sushi

Just like my recent post on Wing Yuen, Japolo Sushi has an interesting mix of ethnic cuisines. Of course, we can derive from the name that one of them is Japanese. The other? Vietnamese. The story behind this is that the owner-operator is Vietnamese. And it's not a stretch for practically anybody to open a Japanese restaurant these days. The only issue would be whether it actually is good or not. Yah, that might anger the "authenticity police"; but honestly, if the food tastes good, it really doesn't matter. I've always wondered about this place having driven by it numerous times. Finally, we decided to try it out after a featured article appeared in the Burnaby Now. What caught my eye was the Sushi Burger. Sushi Burger??? Yup, that's what I thought too. Apparently, the owner is not afraid of taking chances and creating his own twist on sushi. Authentic? Probably not. However, the whole point of cooking is to push the envelope while producing creative and original food.

To satisfy my curiosities, I went for some Japanese food and... a bowl of Pho Dac Biet too! Hey, it is a Japanese and Vietnamese restaurant after all... Once again, I got the everything Pho consisting of rare beef, flank, brisket, tripe and tendon. You know what? The Pho was pretty good. A bit odd in a restaurant that is mostly decked out in a predominantly Japanese theme. I thought the broth was on the saltier side lacking a bit of depth. However, the perfect noodles and decent amount of meat made for a good Pho. In order to try out as many items as possible, we got a Lunch Box C to share as well. For only $9.95, we thought the box was a good value considering that it included Miso Soup, Sunomono, Tempura, Yakisoba, 7 pieces of Sashimi (Tuna, Salmon & Tai), 3 pieces of Nigiri (Tuna, Salmon & Ebi) and half a Tuna Maki. We found the Sashimi to be decent with the tuna being on the mushier side. The Salmon and Tai had a fresh look and taste while having a good texture. The Nigiri and Tuna Maki were acceptable with sushi rice that was slightly gummy. Despite a tad too much batter, the Tempura was still crispy and none too oily. The veggies and ebi were cooked properly. The Yakisoba was slightly disappointing since the noodles were overcooked and mushy. Taste-wise, it was alright, with just the right amount of seasoning. Don't let the picture fool you, it was actually quite a big portion.

Of course, we didn't come here to just have Pho and a lunch box. We were here for the Sushi Burger. Up to this point, I was snapping photos and no one had even cared. But when I started taking pictures of the sushi burger, the server politely asked me to stop. I'm guessing that they did not want anyone to copy their signature item. Since it was practically the end of the meal, I was comfortable with giving them one of my Moo cards. After that, they let me snap away. And about that burger... It is essentially imitation crab, lettuce, smoked salmon, tobiko, mayo and unagi sauce sandwiched in between 2 fried panko coated pressed sushi patties. Originally, I was concerned that the smoked salmon would overwhelm the entire thing. In actuality, it provided the necessary flavour since everything else is quite mild. I was also concerned about the fried pressed sushi rice; but once again, it was a perfect "bun". It stayed nicely together, wasn't too dense or oily. Furthermore, it was a good contrast of crispy and soft. It was served with tempura yam fries, which could've used less batter.

Wait. We were not finished yet! We also ordered a Platinum Roll, which is their take on Aburi Sushi. Salmon, imitation crab, cucumber, avocado and tobiko made up the inside while the outside consisted of snapper glazed with mayo, unagi sauce and toasted sesame seeds. The outside of the roll was then torched, which in theory, caramelizes the sauce. One concern about this type of sushi is the that the sauce becomes the predominant flavour. In this case, that didn't happen since there was ample amount of filling and the sauce itself was not overly powerful. The modest amount of creamy mayo was just enough to provide an interesting texture to a pretty standard sushi roll. I know that the large signage outside advertising Pho and Sushi may scare off some people. However, the food that I had was on the better side of decent. The Pho was solid and the Japanese food was more than acceptable. Sure, it wasn't perfect; but for the reasonable prices they charge, combined with the generous portions, it is safe choice. Even if the combination of 2 cuisines is confusing.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Good portions
- You can get Pho and Sushi at the same place!

The Bad:
- Might upset the authenticity police (but that didn't really matter to me)

Japolo Sushi on Urbanspoon

Richmond Foodie Tour

As much as I loathe Richmond traffic, I have to give the place thumbs up for being a foodie haven. Think of it, there are restaurants galore, particularly along #3 Road and the many cross-streets. Thus, it is only natural that Michelle Ng would host a Richmond version of her wildly successful Vancouver Foodie Tours. I was lucky enough to be invited to a complimentary Granville Street Foodie Tour a few weeks ago. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting several restaurants and sampling their wares over a 2-hour period. For $10.00 (it's now $60.00), it's an absolute steal in my books. Once again, Michelle contacted me to try out the Richmond Foodie Tour.

Now, one thing that plagues Richmond is parking. Sure, there are many parking lots to choose from; however, you'd better be visiting one of the stores there or you'll be towed. Thus, I thought of getting street parking. No dice. 2-hour limit for a 2.5 hour food tour. That ain't gonna work. Admittedly, I had no other choice but to stash my car at Lansdowne Centre. After I parked my car, I hurried over to our meeting place, right in front of Leisure Tea & Coffee. There, I spotted 2 friendly faces - Mijune and Karra. After a bit of chit-chat, Michelle led us into Leisure for, you guessed it, bubble tea. We got to sample their Passion Fruit Green Tea and Taiwanese Fried Chicken. I liked how the tea was not sweet at all. I could taste the passion fruit and it was refreshing way to start the tour. The fried chicken was tender and slightly spicy.

After that, off we walked over to The Jade. We got to sample 2 items here starting with the Steamed Mushroom Dumplings. I found the delicate flavours to be very refreshing (not sure if that is the right word). The gelatinous sticky rice dumpling wrapper is a nice departure from the usual wheat or rice flour wrappers. Next up was Grandpa's Smoked Chicken. Without even eating it, I could smell the smoke. Not strong; but noticeable. I liked the tender and juicy meat (even the white meat) with a hint of smoke, salty and sweet. Moving on, we arrived at Jang Mo Jib. For our first food sample, we tried the Japchae or Stir Fried Sweet Potato Noodle. This was good, very similar to what I had last time here. Then a real treat, we got Tohng Gahl Bee or AAA Korean Short Ribs. These were cooked up perfectly being tender with some bite left. Lastly, we had the Hae Mool Pah Jun or Seafood Pancake. It was crisp and oily (as it always is); but I didn't notice much in the way of seafood though.

We then made the trek to our last 2 restaurants with the first being Michigan Noodle Shop. Their specialty are their dumplings and we got to sample both the Sui Gau and Shrimp Wonton. I've been here before and the dumplings are indeed very good. The main difference between the 2 dumplings is that the Sui Gau has pork, wood ear mushrooms and bamboo shoots in addition to the shrimp. Last on our stop was probably my favourite - Soul Izakaya (since I love Izakayas). Curiously, we started with a Sashimi Platter, which is not very Izakaya-like. No matter, it consisted of flounder, snapper, shimaaji, bora, hamachi, scallop and murugai. Very fresh and a few items I rarely see. Then my favourite, Takoyaki! These were pretty good, although probably a bit over-sauced due in part to the individual portions. Lastly, we got Cheese & Spinach Stuffed Chicken Wings. Not bad, although I am getting bored of the sweet chili sauce thing. The chili mayo was a much more appealing dip with the crispy wing.

Yet another fun time roaming around from restaurant to restaurant sampling food. This time, I had much more time to socialize with other people in our group. However, the Richmond tour is significantly more costly than the Granville tour. It's $40.00 vs. $10.00. With that being said, I think it is still a decent value for 2.5 hours of food, fun and meeting like-minded people.

*Note: This was an invited dinner where all food was comped*

The Good:
- An interesting mix of different Asian cuisines
- Small area to walk, less transit time
- I found that there was less talking from the restaurant representatives in this tour

The Bad:
- Parking for 2.5 hours is an issue
- It costs more than the Granville Tour

Applewood Country Gifts & Teahouse

Okay, if there was ever I place that I wanted to try while not really looking forward to it, Applewood Country Gifts & Teahouse would be it. I have nothing against the place; in fact, I have never stepped foot into it. However, scones, biscuits, tea and gossip are not really my thing. If you can remember, the only ever post about High Tea was posted by Viv. I had no part in it. However, Miss Y decided to get a group of ladies together for some crumpets (well, not really, but that sounded appropriate). I was on the invited list as well. I mulled it over for a few days and figured that this was probably my only chance to try the place out. It's a whole lot better than going solo and disturbingly taking photos of finger sandwiches in the corner. To my delight, I was not the only male in the group of 8, so I had a support system of sorts.

Upon entering the place, I can see where the "Country Gifts" part of the name comes from. With a variety of knick knacks at the front, there are certainly a selection of quaint gifts. Upon further inspection, there are display cases full of fudge, baked goods and tea. Miss Y had made a reservation and there was a long table waiting for us. With a country charm, the place definitely felt homey and inviting, even for me. As some people were planning to order from the regular menu, I only had sights for the High Tea. At first, it looked as if my male counterpart was the only willing participant. Egads! Fortunately, 2 more joined in, including Miss Y. For once, she had something that the establishment was known for. For those who are not familiar with High Tea, it is an English tradition of having tea with finger food such as little sandwiches, pastries, sweets and dainties. Add in a few scoops banter and a pinch of gossip to complete the experience. In fact, they have a wall of really cute hats, if someone wanted to go all out. I, for one, did not even consider that idea.

For $20.00 per person, the High Tea here is one of the most reasonably-priced in the GVRD. So for starters, I got my tea. I picked the featured one being the Sencha Kyoto Cherry Rose. It was pretty fragrant and definitely soothing. I made sure to stick out my pinky whilst sipping. Our first course consisted of a 2-tiered serving platter with Egg Salad tea sandwiches and what looked like Cucumber & Cream Cheese on a slice of baguette. On the bottom tier, there were Mini-Sausage Rolls and something similar to a Gougère (but more eggy) stuffed with salmon. Everything was pretty decent with the sausage roll standing out. It was flaky while not being too oily. Up next was a plate of Mini-Scones served with Devonshire cream, lemon curd and raspberry jam. The scones were actually quite light (which is usually the opposite of what most scones are like) and that made them easy to eat. I particularly liked the lemon curd. It was tangy and had nice bits of zest.

Finally, we got our last course which was also served on a 2-tiered platter. On the top were Mini-Chocolate Cupcakes with pink frosting and Shortbread Cookies. I personally dislike frosting, so I only at the cake and it was fluffy and not too sweet. I loved the shortbread cookies, they were buttery and crumbly. On the bottom tier, there was a Cream Cheese Brownie and some cake that just seemed like white cake with frosting. I ignored the cake and enjoyed the brownie. It was quite dense; but I like the addition of cream cheese because there is nothing better than adding cream cheese to anything. Of course you might be wondering if I was full from the High Tea... Well, I wasn't; but that really isn't the point. High Tea is, as the name suggests, served during tea time in the afternoon. It is more of snack than anything else. Sure, it remains somewhat pricey for what you get; yet that is not really an issue if that is the experience you are looking for. Besides, most other places charge a lot more. For me, I'm not much of a High Tea person. However, I would gladly do it again just for the heck of it.

The Good:
- Inexpensive High Tea (compared to other places)
- Friendly service
- Very homey place

The Bad:
- Not as refined as other places of the same ilk

Applewood Country Gifts on Urbanspoon


"Where do you live?" asked Tojo as we sat down at the sushi bar. "In Vancouver", we replied. "What??? And you've never been to Tojo's?!?!", gasped Tojo. Yah, really. It's not like we were avoiding the place; but honestly, it isn't exactly the most affordable restaurant. I know, I know, the cost can be tempered somewhat by ordering a la carte. However, what we really wanted was the Omakase at the bar. Oma-what? Omakase, literally translated means "it's up to you", or promoted on some menus, "to entrust". Whatever the meaning, it essentially allows you to let the chef know your likes and dislikes and then "trust" them create a menu for you. With this form of dining, it comes with a cost. Depending on which restaurant you visit, it can range from as little as $40.00 per person to no actual fixed price. At Tojo's, if you sit at the bar, it is a minimum $150.00 per person. Think of it as a tasting menu, Japanese-style. Now, when I refer to "we", you might be thinking of Viv and I. Well, Viv would normally be with me for such a treat of a meal; but not this time. No, no, don't worry, it's not a secret lover or anything. I really don't need Viv to beat me to a pulp... Rather, my dining partner was Pomegranate. Huh? You see, he was going to pay for the meal tonight. Hey, I wasn't going to pass on that offer!

Being that we arrived near opening time, we sat right in front of Tojo. He made sure we knew that he was "the best sushi chef in town". Arrogant? Yes. Deserved? Debatable; but I can understand his confidence. I'm quite familiar with Tojo, his story and achievements. Pomegranate wasn't as clear, so it was a little amusing that Tojo presented him with a resume of sorts as reading material. Tojo first came to Canada in 1971 and after working at several restaurants, opened his own in 1988. Despite an ongoing debate of their origin, Tojo has the distinction of creating the California Roll and the BC Roll. His celebrity chef status is reinforced by countless TV appearances including Martha Stewart and Anthony Bourdain. Much like other local celebrity chefs Pino Posteraro, John Bishop and Vikram Vij, Tojo is present at his restaurant on a nightly basis. After asking a few questions about what we would like to eat, he set about creating a individualized menu for us. In reality, there are certain standard dishes that are on rotation for some mix and matching. With that being said, the people around us had totally different items.

Although Tojo has plenty of help in the open kitchen, he did personally make some of our items with the first being the Tuna Tartare. Fresh from a cylindrical mold, the tatare consisted of albacore and red tuna with bits of cucumber and mountain yam. A good amount of freshly grated ginger sat atop while a tart vinaigrette (consisting of lemon & soy) rested on the bottom of the plate. Despite the strong vinaigrette, the natural sweetness of the extremely flavourful tuna shone. The bits of veggies were a nice textural contrast. Pomegranate thought this appy was refreshing and help whet his appetite for more. Next up was the Zucchini Blossom stuffed with scallops. The blossoms were filled with both scallops and scallop mousse then fried tempura-style. One piece of pepper and garlic flower each rounded out the dish. Reminiscent of the one I had at La Quercia, the blossom was absolutely delicious. Delicately fried, pipping-hot and full of naturally-sweet scallops, we could've eaten a dozen of these easily.

Tojo presented us next with a plate of thinly-sliced Tako. Pomegranate wasn't paying attention and really thought we were getting a Japanese version of a taco. Great job. Nice way in looking like a fool in front of Tojo! Hidden beneath the tender slices of octopus was wakame, vermicelli and pickled daikon & carrots. The tako itself was topped with what appeared to be a spicy sesame miso dressing. When we picked up all the ingredients into one bite, it revealed many different flavours at work with a bit of tart, a touch of spice and natural sweetness. When we got to the Smoked Sablefish, it was a bit of a letdown. Baked and presented in parchment paper, the sablefish was stuffed with mushrooms, asparagus and mango. I thought the sablefish was overcooked; thus becoming a bit hard. This essentially negates the buttery texture we look for in sablefish. Flavourwise, it was pretty good with a nice smoked aroma. Pomegranate remarked that the mango didn't have the zing he was looking for.

Our first foray into sushi for the night came in the form of the Golden Roll consisting of salmon, crab, sweet shrimp and scallop topped with herring roe within a thin egg crepe. The first thing I noticed was the excellent sushi rice. Each grain was discernible and chewy while a sweet-vinegary flavour announced itself quite prominently. For a city that boasts a gazillion sushi joints, it is remarkably hard to find good tasting sushi rice. I guess for the price we were about to pay, it'd better be good! By using an egg crepe instead of nori, we felt that the natural sweetness of the ingredients were able to shine. The Geoduck Cone was hands-down the best item of night. Standing out prominently were big chunks of sweet geoduck which "snapped" in my mouth. The texture was just perfect while
complimented nicely by cucumber, tempura bits and tobiko all in a light spicy mayo.

2 of the simpler items arrived back-to-back. The Snow Crab Nigiri was good by itself. With a large piece of sweet and slightly salty leg meat on top of the excellent sushi rice, it was a nice treat. Once we downed the piece of sushi, Tojo presented us with Red Tuna Nigiri. Again simple; yet ultimately delicious. The slice of tuna exhibited an understated sweetness and the texture was soft without being mushy. A really high quality piece of fish. From simple to something slightly more intricate was the Celebration 2010 Roll. We watched Tojo's sous chef make this slightly complicated creation by first lining saran wrap with strips of tuna, tai, salmon, spinach and egg, then he proceeded to fill the inside of the roll with crab, asparagus, tempura bits and pineapple. It was presented on a large plate with Tojo's written in blueberry jam. Although it was a visually appealing roll, we both felt it was just okay. A slight variation of the rainbow roll found at most other sushi joints, this did not separate itself enough to warrant the high price tag (regular price is $26.00). We also felt that the pineapple overwhelmed everything else.

If the geoduck cone was our favourite, the Hotate Nigiri was a close second. With the largest piece of scallop I've ever seen served as nigiri, this was an absolute treat. We could barely see or even notice the rice underneath. The darn thing was so sweet and buttery smooth. This exemplified how the simple use of a quality ingredient can be absolutely delicious. While placing it down on our geta plate, Tojo proclaimed the Northern Light Roll as his favourite. I'm not sure if that was my favourite personally; but I definitely liked it. Filled with prawn and yam tempura, avocado, asparagus and mango with cucumber crepe on the outside, we found this roll to be refreshing to eat. Tojo insisted we use no soy sauce and we could see why. Eating it "as is" afforded the natural flavours and textures to shine.

At this point, we were debating on whether to stop or keep going. You see, with Omakase at the bar, Tojo only stops when you tell him to. If you keep eating, the bill will only continue to climb! Tojo helped us make our decision by presenting us with our last item being the Spicy Tuna Roll. When he placed it on our plate, it didn't look like any spicy tuna roll we'd ever seen before. In the middle rested the "spicy" tuna mixture with more "melt-in-your-mouth" tuna on top. Normally, I'd be quite upset at mushy tuna; but in this case, it wasn't mushy. Rather, it was super smooth and fresh tasting. The roll itself wasn't all that spicy. It was more sweet than anything. We finished up our meal with the Green Tea Creme Brulee topped with seasonal fruit and a sesame chip. As with everything in the meal, the dessert was understated. The combination of the semi-sweet brulee, tart fruit and nuttiness of the sesame chip equated to balance. My only gripe would be the burnt sugar, I would've liked more caramelization.

Now, how much did this meal cost? How about close to $500.00 with sake after tax and tip? Lunacy! Yes, that is the GDP of a small country. What is essentially a tasting menu, it is the most expensive meal we've ever had. The burning question is: was it worth it? Honestly, that is a loaded question. From a pure value point of view, absolutely not. The HST alone could've gotten us a very good Japanese meal somewhere in town. However, people do not come to Tojo's for value. Foodies from around the world visit Tojo's for the experience and the audacity of spending that kind of dough. Of the 11 items we had, I would say 3 blew us away, 6 were good and 2 "meh". So why does Tojo claim to have the best sushi in town? Simple, the raw materials are top-notch and sometimes over-the-top; the level of care and effort put into some of the creations is gastronomical art; and probably most influentially, he has a reputation. As much as we can easily bash the place for being overpriced; we have to realize that people are not looking for a deal here. Much like buying a Ferrari or a Rolex, a premium is paid for something that is marginally better than something costing 1/4 as much. For me, it was a meal I needed to experience, no ands, ifs or buts. We were fully aware of what we were getting into. If we were looking for a better bang for the buck, a trip to Ajisai or Octopus' Garden would be in order. But if your intentions are to go for the experience; or do the "been there, done that"; or just simply to brag about it, then bring your paycheque to Tojo's.

The Good:
- High-quality ingredients
- Simple execution, natural flavours spoke for themselves
- For us, service was polite and attentive (helps to sit at the bar I guess)

The Bad:
- Outrageously expensive
- Not everything blew us away

Tojo's on Urbanspoon

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