Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sho Sushi Bar & Kitchen - Calgary, AB

Whenever my family goes out for dinner, I am usually the only one who cares where we eat. So I was rather surprised that my mom had a suggestion when I asked where she'd like to go for her birthday. She told me, "We could try that new sushi place... on Macleod Trail... that I read about in a magazine, I can't remember which." Without any more hints about the restaurant or the magazine, I told her I'd figure it out, but I'd been away from Calgary for so long that I hadn't realized just how many new sushi restaurants had opened on Macleod Trail in that time. So I put off making reservations until the day of the dinner when I was back in Calgary, and was pretty amused to find that the magazine she'd been talking about was Avenue, and that there was a copy sitting on our coffee table. The restaurant was Sho Sushi Bar and Kitchen, and I almost didn't make reservations as I'd read it was a gigantic space with two floors. I'm glad I did though, because when we arrived at Sho at 8 pm, the front space was filled with people waiting for a table while we were seated immediately.

My first impression of Sho was that it wasn't very traditional, nor was it trying to be. There was techno music playing, and the servers, almost none of whom were Asian, were dressed in tight black skirts similar to Cactus Club Cafe or Joeys. The space was modern and large but also cramped - the tables were quite close together, but not in a purposeful communal-dining type way.

Perusing the menu, the prices looked low compared to other sushi places, with most rolls under $8. We decided on the vegetable tempura, Asari miso (miso soup with clams), silver gold roll, lobster roll, fire dragon roll, spider roll, seared-grilled roll, and various sashimi and sushi. In rapid succession, we received the sushi and sashimi followed by all the rolls. It was almost impossible to fit everything onto the table, and I think if Sho insists on serving everything all at once they should plate rolls together. They could also work on their timing as the miso soup came out last.

The sushi was pretty average, and the sashimi didn't taste particularly fresh. But for the price ($5.40 for three pieces), I guess it was about right. You get what you pay for, especially when it comes to sashimi. The silver gold roll consisted of spicy tuna topped with unagi and what looked like pea shoots (apparently oba, a Japanese herb). It was plated nicely, but the roll itself was nothing special and I didn't think the oba added anything. The fire dragon roll had a similar description (spicy tuna and cucumber topped unagi with unagi and volcano sauce), but it was actually much tastier and more impressive in presentation. It was my favorite roll of the night, as the spicy tuna and unagi sauce actually complemented each other quite well. It seems like quite a popular roll, probably in part because it's so eye-catching with literal flames.

Fire Dragon Roll
Lobster Roll
The roll I had been most looking forward to, the lobster roll, was a huge disappointment. I'd read so many reviews on Urbanspoon about how great it was, but I didn't think the components went well together at all. It's supposedly served with a garlic pepper sauce, but to me it tasted more like sweet chili sauce that overwhelmed the flavor of the lobster. In fact, all I could taste was the sauce, and the lobster was quite chewy. But for the price ($8.50) I suppose it's not fair to expect the same quality of lobster you might elsewhere. The seared-grilled roll was also underwhelming. It consisted of salmon and toro wrapped unagi, and when it was brought to the table the server lightly "seared" the top with a portable blow torch. It felt gimmicky to do it this way, as the sear was way too light to make a difference. I would have gladly traded the show for a nice pan-sear. As for the spider roll, it was pretty average - it certainly didn't stand out, as I can't remember much about it.
The Silver Gold Roll (back) and the Seared-Grilled Roll (seriously, THAT'S a sear?)
The asari miso was pretty tasty, although it just tasted like normal miso soup with clams added in. The tempura was fried nicely, but I wasn't impressed that the yam was in the form of yam fries. I suppose it's economical for the kitchen, since yam fries are also on the menu, but it looks very lazy as part of a tempura dish.
Vegetable tempura
Although the prices at Sho Sushi seem low compared to other sushi restaurants, the portion sizes are much smaller than you'd get elsewhere and you end up ordering much more than you'd expect. For four people, our bill came to $100 not including tip, and we were barely full. Don't come to Sho Sushi expecting a traditional Japanese meal, or even a particularly well done fusion one. The atmosphere feels way too commercial, with cramped tables and lack of attention to the timing of dishes. Overall, it was a disappointing experience and with so many other options for sushi in Calgary, I won't be coming back.

Top Pick of the Night: Fire Dragon Roll

 2/5 Erics

Sho Sushi Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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