Shirakawa, Vancouver. July 2014.

July, 2014.

I’m not sure where we heard about this place, but the menu looks incredibly diverse and attractive. In the event, although it’s clear this is a skillful and committed kitchen, the experience fell a bit short of expectation.

The restaurant is a medium-sized modern room in a small shopping center in Vancouver’s tourist-trap Gastown. It was maybe 40% full at 6 PM on the Canada Day Tuesday, and projected a clean avant-garde feel. Some servers were obviously native Japanese barely speaking English, the main one was a very nice white girl with no accent. She welcomed us and seemed genuinely to regret that one of the main draws of the menu, wagyu beef, wasn’t available. We had in mind to try this delicacy, never mind the price at $60 for a 2 ounce steak and $100 for a 4 ounce steak is up in foie gras and truffle territory. They did have enough for a piece of sushi however, vide infra.

We started with drinks that ended up being the high point of the dinner, a cocktail of sake, Sprite, mint and ice that was delicious and refreshing on a hot muggy day. Our food choices were ginger soy marinated chicken wings, assorted nigiri sushi, sakura chip smoked black cod with sautéed mushrooms and sundried tomato, and one piece each of the wagyu beef on sushi rice.

Generally the surprise was that this succulent-sounding food had no flavour variety. The chicken wings for example were perfectly prepared crisp deep-fried wings with a very minimal tempura exterior, but no discernible ginger or soy flavour. And it’s all very well to imagine an ideology focusing on the food itself, but to taste absolutely nothing but chicken meat without any seasoning or background flavour didn’t seem like quite the experience we were after. And the black cod was the same: just the fish with relatively little smoked flavour. I wondered whether there was some kind of salt-aversion concept underlying this. The sushi was perfectly nice sushi with the usual accompaniment, but again not tasting like anything special.

For $9.50 each the paper-thin slice of wagyu beef on rice didn’t have enough substance to create the expected succulent experience of this famous meat. Neither of us had ever had a wagyu steak and we’re still awaiting our introduction to the world of 50% fat meat. Prices for the rest of the menu were about at-expectation for the quality of the ingredients and preparation.

The obviously technically apt cooking and the description of the dishes exude culinary class, and I know people who would be delighted with the simplicity of flavours, never mind I secretly suspect some of that enjoyment could reflect attitude-laden trendy foodieism. I’d have to call this restaurant not-for-everybody. Not for me at any rate: I want my high-class food to have high-class flavour. My subjective scoring: food 7.4, service 8.2, ambience 7.7, value 6.5. Another newbie that doesn’t make it to our list of favourites.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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