Sherman's Food Adventures: Hapa Izakaya

Hapa Izakaya

Returning to the series of restaurants I haven't visited for a long time, we made our way to Hapa Izakaya.  Yes, the place is far cry from its heyday when it sported 3 locations in Vancity and one in TO, however, they still operate the Yaletown spot as well as the one in Toronto.  Some might want to point out that Kingyo (and its affiliated restaurants), Guu and Black Rice are equal or better than Hapa.  That might be true, but for me, Hapa holds a place in my heart since there are so many memories as well as the fact they participated in the Foodie Feast that Mijune and I hosted in 2011. 

So off we went to see what has changed or stayed the same at Hapa since the last time I was at there.  We couldn't be any more classic than starting things off with the Ebi Mayo.  These were executed quite well with crunchy, yet light tempura encasing meaty prawns.  There was the natural sweetness and aromatics emanating from the fried prawns as well as a snap texture.  The moderate drizzle of tobanjan mayo was only lightly spicy.

Is it just me or the portion size for the Negitoro incredibly small?  Well, to be fair, it was enough to spread onto all 4 slices of garlic toast.  Now before the haters want to point on that portion sizes at Izakayas are supposed to be small since these are snacks to be had with bevvies after work (and not for an actual meal), I know that...  I just wished there was more of it.  Now with all that being said, it was good though with spice and aromatics from the sesame gochujan.

Since I was wanting more tuna from the last dish, it was partially satisfied by the Ahi Tuna Tataki (yes I realize the last one was tuna belly and this wasn't, but hey, it was still tuna).  This was evenly seared on all sides and left nicely rare in the middle.  The tuna was meaty while still delicate.  This was accompanied by shiitake mushroom and ponzu topped with spicy grated daikon and garlic chips.  Nice combination of ingredients that added tang, saltiness, umaminess and sweetness.

Staying on the same theme, we ordered the AAA Beef Tataki with sesame chili sauce.  This was a good portion of thinly sliced rare beef that was evenly seared on the outside.  Despite the appearance of sinew (was actually fat), each piece was buttery while still retaining a tender meatiness.  We could taste the natural beef flavour due to the conservative amount of sauce on top.  The sauce was sweet and nutty with only a touch of spice.

If you are wondering why there is an Avocado Roll right next to the Smoky Salmon Oshi Sushi, it is because my brother-in-law's daughter wanted it.  What was important on this plate was the oshi that featured sockeye salmon, karashi aioli, shiso, garlic chips and sour cream.  Now this cannot really be compared to the one found at Miku because of the different composition.  So if we looked at it individually, it was decent.  The sushi rice was chewy and seasoned while the salmon was fresh.  I found the sauce to rather mild despite the promised sharpness of the karashi.  That was okay though as it allowed the salmon to stand out.

Compared to the negitoro, the Hokkaido Scallop Tartare was only marginally larger in portion size, but it made all the difference.  It was more than enough to compliment the thin wonton chips.  The tartare itself consisted of chopped scallops, karashi aioli, green onion and bacon bits.  I thought the seasoning was light enough to let the natural sweetness of the delicate scallops stand out.  Although the wonton chips were a bit too delicate for the wet tartare, at the very least, they didn't overwhelm the scallops.

Another classic item was the Chicken Karaage with soy ginger sauce.  These were large chunks of leg meat that was juicy and succulent.  I thought there was some good seasoning with the meat already, but the right amount of soy ginger sauce added both sweetness and brightness.  Even with the toss of moisture on the outside of the chicken karaage, the light batter was still crispy.

Usually, when you think gyoza, a dumpling with a wheat wrapper comes to mind.  However, at Hapa, they serve the Renkon Gyoza Tempura that consists of minced pork sandwiched between lotus root slices and then coated with tempura batter.  This makes the "gyoza" more substantial with a lotus root crunch to go with the light tempura on the outside.  Tender and moist, the pork filling was mildly seasoned, but the dip added all the saltiness and tang needed.

One of my daughter's favourite dishes is Gindara (aka Sablefish) and of course she always gets what she wants...  This one was marinated in a miso sake and was done so perfectly.  If marinated too long, the fish can break down becoming mushy and if not enough, it can be bland.  This one was flaky and buttery with the unmistakable fermented miso flavour.  It was also slightly charred and cooked just enough.

Normally, we don't order sashimi when we go for izakaya, but this time around we decided on the Sashimori featuring sockeye salmon, hamachi, ahi tuna, albacore tuna and hotate.  As you can see in the picture, the fish had a nice sheen and was fresh (as fresh as flash frozen can get).  I wouldn't say this is the best sashimi I've had, but I wasn't expecting that.  However, it was a cut above what you'd typically find at most neighbourhood Japanese restaurants.

We decided to also try their Salt & Pepper Wings despite the option of more interesting flavours.  I guess we are basic like that.  Well, these were large and were lightly coated.  The skin was mostly rendered, yet not dry.  We found the chicken to be nicely marinated where there was inherent flavour even with the salt and pepper.  With that in mind, there really wasn't much pepper or salt for all that matters.  They were still good though.

Another classic Hapa Izakaya dish is their Spicy Pork Ishiyaki served in a hot stone bowl.  They mixed it tableside, hence its appearance.  This was a combination of rice, spicy miso minced pork, garlic sprouts, egg, tomato and lettuce.  Now in terms of taste, there was spice, meatiness and aromatics, but the whole thing was a bit too wet.  Hence, there was no socarrat to be found at the bottom and sides of the bowl.

To ensure we were full, we got the requisite filler dishes (in addition to the ishiyaki) with a couple of udons including the Mentaiko Udon with cod roe butter and shiso.  As much as we appreciated the presentation with red onion, tomato, green onion and nori on top, the actual flavours of the cod roe were somewhat obscured.  Sometimes keeping it simple (even though the dish might look plain), allows the main ingredients to shine.  As such, this was pleasant, but the usual sweet brininess was muted.

We also got the other udon on the menu being the Yaki Udon with veggies and chicken.  Again, simple would've been better in this case.  There was so much in the way of veggies and moisture that the whole dish ate wet and lacked any caramelization.  It wasn't as if it didn't taste good, there was enough balanced sweet and salty elements.  However, the udon was drowning in stuff and we would've preferred less of it.  So there you have it.  A comprehensive look at Hapa's menu and you know what?  It is pretty similar to what I had remembered.  For some, that might be a bit stale and boring.  However, I found it pleasant enough where Hapa is still in the mix of izakayas in Vancity.

The Good:
- Fairly solid eats
- Good service
- Fairly spacious seating compared to some other izakayas

The Bad:
- Some dishes, especially the larger ones, could've been simplified
- Lots of competition out there


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