Thursday, March 21, 2013

Japonais Bistro - Edmonton, AB

Nothing gets the fat kid inside of me more excited than the prospect of a new restaurant opening in Edmonton, especially when it is a Japanese / sushi restaurant. Last month, it was Izakaya Tomo; this month, it would be Japonais Bistro! Japonais Bistro, unlike Izakaya Tomo, specialized in sushi (my favourite!) and boasted a contemporary, North American twist on its dishes. My companion and I were greeted with a few half-hearted “Irasshaimase!” from the head sushi chef and his staff as we walked into the restaurant. We were particularly impressed with Japonais Bistro’s decor: it was a large, open restaurant with wooden tables and dark-wood chairs. It also featured black leather booths, which lined the perimeter of the restaurant. We were originally seated in a small, two-person table in the middle of the restaurant – in an empty restaurant – and my companion politely asked to be switched to a booth, which the hostess readily agreed to. Note to Japonais Bistro: when the restaurant is completely empty, it would be nice to be seated in a booth (or at least be asked) so you don’t feel like a second-rate consumer.

Beef Tataki
As my companion and I had had a long day at the University, we were both a little exhausted; we were definitely overwhelmed with Japonais Bistro’s extensive menu. The best part about the menu (but not necessarily for the two of us on that particular day) is that it is extremely varied and features many new fusion items including Seafood Ceviche, Salmon Carpaccio, Tuna Nachos, Sushi Tortilla, and more (none of which I tried that night, unfortunately). There were also a number of new-age fusion rolls including the Hokkaido Roll, New Style Roll, Ocean Jewel, etc. After taking our time with the menu (for once), we decided on the Beef Tataki, Cheezy Dragon Roll, Hokkaido Roll, Cherry Blossom Roll, Volcano Roll, and New Style Roll.

Cherry Blossom Roll
We were started off with the Beef Tataki ($12.95), which was served with kelp, red onion, and grated ginger and covered in ponzu and sesame dressing. The beef itself was tender, juicy, and delightfully flavourful – you could just tell that Japonais Bistro used an excellent cut for its beef tataki. Likewise, the kelp added a nice seaweed flavour to the beef. I almost always find that the ponzu sauce too acidic for my taste; at Japonais Bistro, the ponzu sauce had just the perfect amount of acidity and oiliness that enhanced the beef flavour instead of overpowering it. The combination of flavourful beef, the perfect ponzu sauce, and kelp really made Japonais Bistro’s beef tataki something special, and it was definitely one of my favourite beef tatakis.

The first three rolls that came out were the Cherry Blossom Roll, the Volcano Roll and the New Style Roll. Each of the rolls was served on a separate dish, which did well for the presentation, but was a little awkward to fit all of them on such a small table. The Cherry Blossom Roll ($17.95) was made up of chopped scallop, tobiko and mayo, topped with red tuna and salmon. The Cherry Blossom Roll was delicious! – the chopped scallop, tobiko, and mayo were melt-in-your mouth and had a creamy, though not heavy taste to it. The red tuna and salmon were amazingly fresh and was a nice, refreshing contrast to the creamy chopped scallop and mayonnaise. Even though the Cherry Blossom at Japonais Bistro was one of the best “Cherry Blossom” rolls I had ever had, it was still outshined by the other two rolls (yes, they were really that good!).

Volcano Roll
Our second roll was the Volcano Roll ($16.95), which consisted of hot spicy chopped scallops, squid, and tobiko sauce over an avocado and eel roll. The Volcano Roll was arranged very much like a volcano and featured the spicy chopped scallops as the “lava.” The visual presentation of the roll was extremely amusing to me and definitely enhanced the flavour in an intangible way. The Volcano Roll was bursting with flavour from both the eel and the spicy chopped scallops. The sauce added a mild amount of heat  to the roll, a little too mild for my liking, but still adequate for a “Volcano” roll. The best part of the dish, and what really makes Japonais Bistro’s Volcano Roll stand out from other versions, is the use of ash in the dish. I have had ash used in sushi rolls before and have previously found it a little chalky or bitter in flavour; in this Volcano Roll, it adds a nice amount of smokiness to the roll that really enhances the sauce. The only thing missing from the dish was the squid flavour, though with how the Volcano roll was put together and flavoured, I’m not even sure that the squid was really a key component of the dish.

New Style Roll
Finally, the roll I was forward to the most this evening, the New Style Roll ($16.95), was served! The New Style Roll was composed of chopped scallop (scallop seemed to be the theme of the night that night!) and tobiko wrapped with tiny soy shoots and topped with freshly sliced seafood and seared in their new style way with tobiko on top. The roll, though it sounds similar to the Cherry Blossom roll, was entirely different. The fresh sliced seafood was fresh and clean tasting and was amazing when paired with the chopped scallop. The best part of the dish, however, was the sauce. It had a light, slightly acidic flavour, and just a hint of oil that really (and I mean really) enhances and brings out the flavour of the seafood. I asked the waitress what the sauce was, and she said it was a simple combination of olive oil and soy sauce (though that doesn’t really explain where the acidity is coming from). Either way, this roll was easily my companion and mine’s favourite of the night and definitely a must-try when visiting Japonais Bistro.

Had I stopped eating after the beef tataki and the first three sushi rolls of the night, I would have definitely given Japonais Bistro a near perfect review, as the rolls were some of the best sushi rolls I have tasted in Edmonton or even Calgary and Ottawa. The next two rolls were a major disappointment, especially compared to the first three rolls, and definitely a bad note to end the evening on at Japonais Bistro. The first roll that we tried was the Cheezy Dragon Roll, which was a shrimp tempura, cream cheese roll topped with eel, avocado, and sweet soy and sesame seeds. I am not a big fan of cream cheese, on anything really, but especially in sushi (call me a traditionalist), but my companion usually enjoys a bit of cheese in the more fusion rolls, and I thought I would give the cream cheese another chance. The roll itself was actually not that bad, though I did find the cream cheese (they use quite a dollop of it at Japonais Bistro) a little overpowering to the shrimp tempura and eel. My companion, who generally enjoys his cheese rolls, said the roll was fairly average otherwise.

Cheezy Dragon Roll
The Hokkaido Roll ($21.95) consisted of deep fried soft shell crab in a spicy sauce, fresh mango topped with fresh scallops, tobiko, sesame seeds, and shredded shiso leaf. The first roll I tried had no shiso leaf and was not nearly as flavourful as the other three rolls. The deep fried soft shell crab, which was made from quality crab as opposed to the cheap version used by some other restaurants, was cooked nicely. However, I found it a little under-seasoned, and the crab flavour did not shine through as much as I had hoped. The spicy sauce was not nearly spicy enough, and in fact, I did not even know that spicy sauce was a component of this roll until writing this blog post. The mango, which is one of my favourite components of a “mango”-themed roll, was shredded so thin that you could barely even taste a hint of the sweet mango flavour. The second piece I had had a few pieces of shredded shiso –  a herb leaf that is part of the mint family. For those of you who are unfamiliar with shiso, its Vietnamese cousin is often used in pho and usually has a mildly bitter taste with a hint of minty flavour. The shiso used in the Hokkaido Roll was extremely bitter and overpowered all other flavours in the roll. I ended up peeling off all of the shiso pieces for the rest of the roll but still ended up taking a large portion of the roll home. Lastly, the presentation of this roll lagged far behind the presentation of the other four rolls. For a roll that is $21.95, the Hokkaido roll was my companion and mine’s least favourite roll of the night and a definite disappointment (and a waste of money!).
Hokkaido Roll
Japonais Bistro is the definition of fine-dining sushi: from its decor to its clientele (almost everyone we saw at the restaurant was in a dress shirt or had a blazer on) to its preparation, presentation, and quality of ingredients used in its dishes, Japonais Bistro showed excellent finesse. Its attention to detail, such as having the end-pieces moved to the middle of the roll when serving the dish, were just some of the things that shows true effort in a sushi restaurant. The service had a few rookie mistakes (booths are always better than tables!), but I think that with time, Japonais Bistro will fine tune these little hiccups. The food was a little more polarizing for me – the beef tataki and the first three rolls were one of the best I have ever tasted, while the last two rolls were a huge disappointment, especially for that price tag. However, even with the final bill coming out to $100, I will likely be back to Japonais Bistro to try some of their other new-age appetizers and fusion rolls (but I’m definitely staying away from that Hokkaido Roll next time!).

Top Pick of the Night: Beef Tataki, New Style Roll, and Volcano Roll

Rating: 4/5 Erics'

Japonais Bistro on Urbanspoon

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