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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

DOV 2012: Hapa Izakaya Kitsilano

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Our first Dine Out of the year was at Hapa Izakaya and we were looking forward to eating here with Turtle and Droidman.  Anyone who is at all familiar with the asian food scene in vancouver, likely has heard of Hapa Izakaya and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to try it out for Dine Out Vancouver 2012. We opted for the Kitsilano location mainly because we figured we would have an easier time finding parking. We haven't been to very many Japanese izakayas (too hard on the wallet usually), but were excited to try it out at the Dine Out price of $28/person.
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The Kitsilano location of Hapa Izakaya is found at the corner of Cornwall Ave and Yew Street. There are actually three sushi/Japanese restaurants on the same side of the street, but it's clear that Hapa is the most popular of the three that night. The exterior of the restaurant is very unassuming and discrete. In fact, had I not known about the restaurant, I probably would have missed it. It is very dimly lit on the outside with a very simple, small white backlit sign for its name. The interior remains fairly dim, and I was surprised to find it so spacious with quite a large table set aside for the five of us. The choice of decor is fairly modern looking, but the antique-stained wooden tables also gives the place a rustic feeling at the same time. 

IMG_7355 copyIMG_7363 copy One of the reasons we chose this place for Dine Out was the Nabs-friendliness of the menu.  Probably a good 60% or more of the Dine Out menu (and looking at the regular menu, that too) is seafood and vegetarian with the rest being meat options.  In fact, Nabs actually had dilemmas about what to order!  Take our word for it, this is NOT common XD!  Usually we struggle to find a Dine Out menu that has at least oTh appy and one main that is Nabs-friendly and appetizing.e Dine Out menu consisted of four courses; we got to pick a starter, two mains, and a dessert. As Hapa offered three vegetarian choices, three seafood dishes and three meat selections fo each of the appy and main courses as well as three desserts - for a whopping 30 different dishes on their Dine Out menu! I guess that's the benefit of euring at an izakaya/tapas style restatrant - so much selection! Tule and Droidman know wet at are food bloggers now, thea dy were gracious enough to allow us to have a taste of their dishes.
IMG_7357 copy As soon as we were seated, a waiter approached us and offered warm, moist towels to clean our hands - a welcoming sign that is commonly found in most upper-scaled Asian restaurants. I was a bit surprised to see cheap, disposable chopsticks given the rest of the decor.  

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Nabs's Sashimi salad was delivered in the usual salad sized plate with no visible pieces of sashimi.  All the pieces of sashimi were tactfully dispersed within the salad.  The greens were fresh and not so big that you spread the sauce all over your face while trying to eat.  The soy-herb dressing itself was delicious and tangy but by the time Nabs finished it, the tangyness was overpowering.  The salmon and tuna sashimi pieces however, were delicious, fresh, and soft; simply superb.

IMG_7382 copy Turtle's mushroom salad was presented very similarly with what looked like the same soy-herb dressing. I tried a small piece of mushroom and it tasted very fresh and the salad-dressing complemented it well. Not too much to comment on, but the portion size was appropriate for an appetizer salad. Please note that this is the only vegetarian selection that any of us got tonight. Although vegetarian dishes tend to be priced higher (at least in most Chinese restaurants), I always find that I have the mindset that you get more bang for your buck if you choose seafood or meat dishes during Dine Out dinners...

IMG_7381 copy Droidman chose the teriyaki beef/pork balls for his appy. Rich and I split one of them and thought it was quite mediocre. It was well-seasoned and the meat was tender, but there was just nothing really special about it. Rich saw it and at first glance thought Droidman had ordered takoyaki and got really excited. Once he bit into it, he was slightly disappointed to find what he called "terrible-yucky" balls. To be fair, they weren't that bad - a bit on the dry side, but passable. Richard commented that IKEA meatballs were better! 

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IMG_7386 copy The dish pictured here was the beef tataki,  one of the appetizer choices. I would have liked the beef pieces to be sliced a bit more thinly. The slices were lightly seared and mostly rare in the middle. It was nicely marinated with green onion, shallot, and onion slices as a garnish on top. For an appetizer dish, the portion size was sufficient.

IMG_7393 copy This was the most disappointing appetizer of the night... scallop tartare. I really need to stop ordering scallop dishes for Dine Out, as they always end up being the tiniest portion size and won't really fill Rich up. It arrived on a large platter with a tiny mound scallop tartare in the middle and 4 pieces of deep fried wonton chips on the side. The scallop pieces were unexpectedly small and slathered with VERY generous amounts of wasabi mayonnaise and green onion - so much so that you can no longer really taste the scallop. This was again garnished with thinly sliced shallots. We assumed you were supposed to pile the toppings on the wonton chip and eat it together as pictured to the left. Overall, an unexciting dish that left much to be desired. 

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The dish pictured above was the so-called "Award Winning Ocean Chowder"... we figured it  probably won the "milkiest chowder ever" category. It did not have as much seafood ingredients in it as I would have hoped, and drinking it felt like I was sipping on savoury warm milk...not exactly the best. Both Droidman and Turtle commented that it is nothing compared to Pike Place chowder in Seattle, something that Rich and I have yet to try. :( 

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The dish above was the Cho Wagyu, quite likely the second most disappointing dish of the night. I had high hopes for this dish as it was described as "Japanese premium beef, ponzu sauce and hot stone for tabletop grilling". Now, wagyu beef from my understanding is supposed to be more marbled (i.e. have more fat) and thus be very melt-in-your-mouth type of tender. It is quite an expensive selection of beef, so I wasn't surprised by the small portion size. You can tell how tiny the slices in the picture... just look at the size of the lemon slice. It was heavily seasoned with salt and black pepper and meant to be grilled to taste on the stone grill, garnished with pine nuts, green onion and then dipped in the ponzu sauce (slightly sweet/sour vinaigrette). My first two pieces were perhaps a bit overcooked and became quite tough. So I lightly seared the next pieces, but it was still not the tender taste I was expecting. Overall a novelty dish that is probably done better elsewhere. 
IMG_7405 copy Next up was the gindara, or roasted sablefish with sake-miso marinade. I only had a tiny sliver of this dish, so I'm probably not in a good position to comment on it. However, the small taste I had - I thought it was fairly well-executed. The fish wasn't dry and went well with the marinade. 
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The eagerly awaited Halibut Tempura arrived smelling and looking just as delicious as we imagined it would be.  Stuffed with green beans, the disk shaped pieces of halibut were lightly deep fried with a slightly crispy batter and served with in-house tartar sauce.  Biting into one of these was a little disappointing though because the halibut was dry.  The tartar sauce was nice but less tangy than usual and went okay with the halibut tempura pieces but the whole mixture left much to be desired.  Small portion size too.
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The Grilled Scallop was served in a clam shell shaped dish with two pieces of scallop and some mushrooms and vegetables all topped off with balsamic glaze. The dish was delicious, well the scallops were at least. They were chewy and tasted great when moistened with the glaze. The mushrooms and vegetable were only there to bulk up the dish it seem. It was a very small quantity to be served and Nabs said he would get this dish again only if the portion size was bigger. 
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Now, I really liked the dish pictured to the left: Ebi Mayo. The jumbo prawns were wrapped in a thin layer of flavourful batter, deep fried, and then drizzled with a sweet and mildly spicy mayonnaise sauce. Rich said that the dish actually reminded him of a prawn dish that my parents like to make at home. It certainly didn't taste like the usual Ebi Mayo I'm used to at other places... but in a positive way! I think this was one of Hapa's stronger dishes. 

I saved the best for last: ahi tuna steak. I'm a really really big fan of ahi tuna in general and always choose it if available, be it ahi tuna salad, or just the meat by itself. I don't usually even like tuna sashimi, but there's just something about lightly seared tuna that tickles my tastebuds. Hapa's offering of ahi tuna was generous in portion size with thick pieces of fresh fish lightly seared on the edges with sparse black pepper sprinkled on the edges. It was garnished again with green onion and shallots. A sweet vinaigrette was drizzled on top and there was a small amount of chilli pepper powder sprinkled on the edge to give it a real kick. Overall, this was definitely my favourite dish of the night and it didn't leave me disappointed!
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This really was the best part of our meal in general though. All of our desserts were stellar and Nabs wonders if he could come back and get 4 courses of dessert instead. :)
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Nabs got the Mille Crepe with Chocolate Sauce (pictured above) and really liked it. This dessert was layers of crepe stacked together and then cut out like a wedge of cakewith cream filling in between the layers and chocolate sauce drizzled around the plate. The crepe was delicious and the chocolate sauce went SO well with it. It sounds like it would be super sweet, but lo and behold, it wasn't! Rather, it was just the right amount of sweetness without overwhelming your tastebuds. A definite must try! 
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The green tea tiramisu was also a winning dish with layers of matcha and vanilla sponge cake separated by cream filling laid on top of a rich matcha cream sauce, topped off by a layer of slightly bitter matcha powder. The presentation was superb with great taste to match. Again, the cake was not overtly sweet or heavy, typical of Asian desserts. 

Although good, the chocolate mousse was probably the weakest dessert choice out of the three. It just didn't have the uniqueness of the other two selections. It was neatly presented in a small square - rich milk and white chocolate mousse with a layer of chocolate cake on the bottom. The plate was drizzled with what seems to be caramel sauce. Although you can't really tell from the picture, it was the dessert with the smallest portion size as well. 
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The Yummies:
  • The desserts were delicious!
  • The ahi tuna was done really well!
  • Excellent service with constant attention from our servers
  • Good attention to detail 
  • I found free parking!

The Yuckies:
  • The portion sizes were tiny - not sure if this is due to the Dine Out menu or if it is regularly like this... the boys weren't full after our meal so we had to make another stop afterward
  • Some of the dishes were misses :( (especially the halibut tempura that was really dry) 

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