Sherman's Food Adventures: Stem Japanese Eatery

Stem Japanese Eatery

Not really all that long ago, the only place where you would normally find higher-end eateries was in either Downtown and/or the Westside of Vancouver.  However, with more and more people moving Eastward into the 'burbs, we are no longer stuck with just chain restaurants.  Interestingly enough, it isn't the traditional Western fine-dining that are opening in spots past Boundary Road.  Rather, we see more expensive Asian joints popping up.  Does it have something to do with demographics?  Possibly or maybe the appetite is there for more refined Asian eats.  This is the case with Stem Japanese Eatery setting up shop in South Burnaby.  With the former chef of Zest at the helm, the price point at Stem readily reflects that.

After being open for over half-a-year, we finally made it out with the kids and the grandparents.  We started out with an order of the Sockeye Salmon Sashimi for $20.00.  Yes, $4.00 per piece can be sticker-shock, but similar to the best sushi bars in town, the quality was worth it.  Visually, it was stunning with deep colours.  Each slice was buttery soft while retaining a meatiness and being superbly sweet from start-to-finish.  We got a couple orders of the Onsen Tamago sporting a 64-degree Maple Hill Farm free-range egg, dashi espuma, Koshihikari rice, kale stem & shrimp furikake finished with black truffle oil.  When mixed together, the silky egg and espuma created a velvety base for the chewy rice and crunchy stems.  Flavours were subtle, but that was the point due to the delicate ingredients. 

Neatly plated, the Soba Crab Roll was certainly an interesting concoction.  It consisted of BC dungeness crab surrounded by nori, green soba noodles and then more nori.  On the side, there was a dashi soy broth for dipping.  Texturally, I wasn't sure of the soft-on-soft.  It could've used a crunchy component somewhere (except for the ends).  However, it was still tasty since it had a big chunk of fluffy crab in the middle.  The noodles were a touch soft, but they weren't mushy.  Loved the impactful dashi soy that wasn't salty.  For my son, he had to have the Unagi Tamago Cone (2 of his most favourite things).  Carefully constructed and featuring chewy sushi rice, there was a buttery piece of unagi and a fluffy slice of tamago.  Nothing complex, but texturally on point.

Onto one of our favourite dishes of the meal, the Bio-Dynamic Zucchini Blossom Tempura was perfect.  These large blossoms were stuffed with ebi shinjo and deep fried with tempura batter.  The result was a crunchy exterior giving way to the delicate blossom and the bouncy shrimp paste with shiso.  The plate was finished off with a yuzu aioli drizzle which added a creamy tang.  Another solid dish was the Chilliwack Miso Pork Jowl that was cured for 48 hours with a house blend miso.  It was simply grilled and topped with a granny smith apple salad.  Completing the dish was a roasted rhubarb puree.  Texturally, the pork jowl was on point with a chewy bounciness.  There was definitely the fermented essence of the miso coming through as well as a smokiness from the grilling.  I thought the puree was a great tangy compliment.

Viv's favourite dish was the Grilled Yarrow Meadows Duck marinated with house made shoyu koji.  It was garnished with zucchini ohitashi, soy braised mushroom and burdock kimpura.  The brined duck breast was cooked to a nice medium which ensured that it was moist and tender.  I would've liked the fat to be rendered more, but it was tender and did not get in the way.  In addition to the inherent fermented saltiness, the burdock added an herbal woodsiness while the mushrooms were a nice balance between sweet and salty.  There was also a background hit of truffle oil as well. The solid plates continued with the Garlic Chicken marinated in garlic sweet soy finished with green onion, shiitake and aomori garlic chips.  Although the ingredients were simple, the execution was flawless.  Succulent and super juicy, the chicken thigh pieces were caramelized and full-flavoured.  Plenty of aromatics to go with the classic sweet saltiness.

Another seemingly simple dish was the Miso Cheese Eggplant.  This was basically half an eggplant baked with mozzarella cheese, sweet miso and truffle oil.  You've probably heard it before, but I'll repeat here - plates with simple ingredients (and very few of them) are the hardest to make since there is little room for error.  Consistent with all of the food so far, this was done right.  Cooked through, the eggplant still retained its shape.  It was tender and delicate with the unmistakable rich fermented taste of sweet miso.  They didn't overdo it with the truffle oil either.  Not trying to repeat myself, but the Haida Gwaii Halibut Cheek Age Oroshi was expertly deep fried.  It was flaky with an appealingly chewy bounciness normally found with halibut cheeks.  The cheeks were dressed in a oroshi daikon dashi soy broth which was subtle, yet impactful at the same time.  Combined with a daikon essence, the sweetness of the dashi was only slightly counteracted by the saltiness of the soy.

Based on our server's recommendation, we added the Dashi Omelette.  It was made-to-order with local free-range egg, ichiban dashi, snow crab, local shungiku, wasabi stems and daikon radish.  This was super delicate and fluffy.  Again, flavours were subtle with classic dashi coming through from the bonito and kombu.  Providing a touch of sharpness, the shungiku was liberally strewn throughout.  The only thing I would've liked to see was less moisture as some parts were soggy.  Our last dish was the Hot Udon featuring hand-made noodles from Akita, Japan.  These were slippery and silky, unlike the dense generic packaged type you find at many Japanese restaurants in town.  The soy dashi broth was sweet and full-of-depth with a background smokiness.  Although this wasn't a complex dish, the balance and execution really shone.  That would be the best description for the entire meal in general as things were carefully made and presented.  Prices are definitely on the higher end, but worth it in my opinion.

The Good:
- Carefully-crafted food
- Delicate, but impactful flavours
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Pricey
- For some, the flavours might be too subtle, but that is the intention

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