Sushi is a food that Vancouver has in abundance, but is rarely done well. Let the tourists fill up on their fake-crab California rolls and farmed salmon don. Some of us are more discerning about raw fish on rice.
This traditional sushi restaurant with funky appeal strikes a happy balance between Tojo's and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Chefs Keith Allison (who hails from the fabulous Dan Japanese Restaurant) and Shori Imanishi (Kakurenbou) are not sushi masters. But they have trained in Japan and are passionate about using high-quality ingredients, oceanwise seafood and proper technique.
Except for wild sockeye salmon (which must be flash-frozen for health reasons), the fish is fresh. Most is local from B.C., including the uni on special this week. But they're not averse to flying in the good stuff - the red ahi tuna from Hawaii is as rich as butter.
Rice is soft and perfectly prepared - not too loose or too compressed. The rolls have a handcrafted quality that some may mistake for poor construction. But good sushi rice should never be crushed into compact little cakes.
Other than the Spam special - a horrible idea, even if it's just a joke - the rolls have a beautiful simplicity to them. Una kyu maki (BBQ eel, ($4) is adorned with just a little bit of cucumber and daikon sprout. Spicy tuna maki (albacore, $4.50) is dressed in a homemade sauce that has a nice, clean bite.
There are quite a few vegetarian options, including the elegantly sharp ume shiso maki ($2.75), rolled with a thin layer of sour-plum paste, daikon sprouts and a few shiso leaves.
Soups, salads and things like teriyaki chicken are pre-prepared each morning in nearby Boneta kitchen. (Co-owner Mark Brand is a partner in both restaurants.) The miso soup ($1.50) was very well prepared with a deep dashi broth and floaters of deep-fried tofu skin.
The narrow room has a lovely Zen quality - minimalist, yet full of texture and earthy materials. A long sushi bar is made of heavy stone and tiled underneath with what looks like monster fish scales. The food is served in colour co-ordinated clay plates and bowls - white for nori-wrapped rolls, black for white rice.
Even the servers have a nice authenticity about them - they're all clad in black, but not too hip to rock out to Sade. The chefs behind the bar are friendly, but a tad shy. It would be nice if they got more of an omasake groove on and were quicker to offer suggestions.