*Transitioned into another Hapa Izakaya*
Confusion. I think that is the best word to describe what people are faced with when it comes to Hapa Umi. With the Hapa name attached to its latest venture, many people expect much of the same. You know, a hip place with hot staff and a wide selection of small dishes for all to share with a side of drinks. Yes, that would be so true if we were thinking along the lines of an Izakaya. But Hapa Umi is not an Izakaya. In fact, the menu reflects somewhat of a fine dining slant complete with fine dining prices. So when I gathered up the boys to try the place out, they were expecting Izakaya. As we walked into the place, it had all the earmarks of Hapa, However, one look at the menu and Constanza pipes up, "Where's the Ebi Mayo???". Um, there is none. He looked utterly dejected since that is his favourite item from Hapa. Hey, I don't blame him, it is my favourite as well! Undeterred, we decided to order a bunch of items to share, although it really didn't seem like a sharing place. There we go again, it's not an Izakaya. Stop thinking that!
So we started with probably the most famous item on the menu - the Award-Winning Ocean Wise Chowder. This version beat out all others at the 2010 Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown. We ended up getting 2 orders split into 4 bowls. The boys were happy about that since they could start eating without needing to wait for me to take photos. It's not a thick chowder per se; yet it does have lots of chunky items that make it hearty. From the perfectly cooked potatoes to the large pieces of scallop and halibut to the wonderfully crisp croutons, the soup is indeed quite good. The broth is a combination of cream, dashi and a proper dose of seafood flavour. The bacon bits add some smoke and saltiness; however, I personally found them a bit too hard. Next up was the Fraser Valley Duck Tataki prepared sous-vide and sauced with a sake, soy, red wine marinade and dijon. I found the duck itself to be naturally flavourful while the sauce was understated. Rich Guy thought it was a bit chewy; yet that is understandable since the duck is practically raw. I didn't mind it so much because it was good quality duck.
Normally, on the menu, there is a chilled oyster appy; but for today there was a Tempura Fried Oyster in lieu. We gave this one a try and
it was pretty straight forward. Kudos for the fresh oyster and the light tempura. Pretty textbook version of fried oysters. The Albacore Tuna and Sockeye Salmon Sashimi was the highlight of the meal. You might wonder how pieces of raw fish can be a "wow" item. Well, if you know your sashimi, you will realize this is a cut above your regular sushi joint. As Vandelay remarked, it was extremely fresh in appearance and in taste. The tuna had the texture of fish only found at Tojo's. It was soft; yet a good soft (not mushy, retaining a level of texture). The salmon was equally as good, again exhibiting a texture that can only be experienced by eating it, not through words. We also got 2 orders of maki starting with the Spicy Tuna. So you might be wondering what justifies spending $8.00+ on a common sushi roll? Well, a good sushi roll depends on the ingredients, the sushi rice and the construction. This particular one was pretty much solid in all 3 areas. Nothing mind-blowing but solid nonetheless. Once again, the tuna was very high quality as with the rice.
Similarly, the Dynamite Roll was also well made with large prawn tempura. It was quite evident that this was made with high quality ingredients as well and carefully constructed. However, as Costanza summed it up, it was an expensive dynamite roll. For the main dishes, we shared the AAA Alberta Beef Tenderloin first. It came with mushroom ankake, vegetable chips and garlic ponzu. We ended up with this since they were out of the beef tataki. Apparently, the previous restaurant was designed with a complete lack of storage facilities; hence the limited menu and certain items selling out. We asked for the tenderloin to be prepared medium rare and it arrived that way more or less. The beef itself was quite good and so were the mushrooms. A solid, if not pretty standard dish for the price. We shared the Sablefish Wakasayaki next. Marinated in soy, sake and dashi and served with sembei-crusted asparagus, kabocha chips and arugula gel, it looked visually appealing. The sablefish itself was prepared nicely while the other components were spot on. However, the sablefish seemed to lack any distinguishing flavour. Sure, you never want to overwhelm delicate fish; but a bit more marinade would have helped. The arugula gel was beautifully presented and could've alleviate the lack of flavour, if it wasn't permanently dried to the plate. Maybe there needed to be more? Or it could've used more moisture? For the parts we could scrap off, it was pretty nice, especially with the delicate fish. I really liked the asparagus, the rice cracker added a nice crunch.
Lastly, we got 2 sides to go with the entrees. The first was the Takikomi Gohan which consisted of rice, veggies and bacon. It was a bit on the dry side; but it isn't supposed to be wet either, so no real issues with that. I did like the bacon, it added the necessary saltiness. It could've stood for even more flavour in my opinion. As for the second side, there was no need to change anything. The Yuzu Pommes Puree was fantastic. Very rich and buttery and full of flavour which was well-balanced, we could only have a little bit each. Light, this is not. But oh so good. Now we didn't end up going for dessert. Too bad really since the word is that they are pretty good. Now, the buzz around Hapa Umi has been rather mixed. I truly believe it is a result of this confusion over what the restaurant represents. Once again, it is not an Izakaya. Being associated with the name Hapa is a double-edged sword. It is a great brand name to flaunt; but then people have this image which is hard to shake. Hence, when one opens up the menu and experiences sticker shock while being perplexed as to where their Hapa favourites have gone, negative thoughts possibly creep in. Therefore, the food may be judged from an unfair perspective. There is considerable overhead for its location and operating costs. With that being said, even if one looked at Hapa Umi from a fine-dining approach (due to their prices), it is a bit expensive. I expressed my concerns and it appears that they are aware of this and they are still going through growing pains. Once the dust settles, we might get a better picture of what Hapa Umi represents.
- Kudos for style points
- High quality Sashimi
- Despite what others have said, food is fine
- Flavours are delicate (much like most Japanese food); but for some, it might be too delicate
- It'll be hard for people to shake their preconceptions of the place since it has Hapa in the name