Tag Archives: #Japanese

Blue Water Cafe: An iconic seafood restaurant in Vancouver, BC’s Yaletown

When visiting a new city for the first time, any foodie’s first question is, “Where do I eat?” I rely on cross-referencing friends’ recommendations with Trip Advisor and Yelp so I ensure I go to places locals would eat and not the easy, middle of the road places that happen to be popular. My first meal stop proved to a tough decision, but I ultimately chose Blue Water Cafe in the city’s Yaletown neighborhood. It was a great introduction to Vancouver’s Pacific Rim fusion cuisine and British Columbia’s burgeoning wine industry.

Vancouver, like many cities along the Pacific Rim, has an immense seaport and is a great source of fresh seafood. Coupled with its heavy Asian cultural influence, it’s a destination for sushi lovers. 

Blue Water Cafe is one of Vancouver’s elegant sushi bars, and like famed sushi spot Miku, it features the unique Aburi style – the fish partly torch-seared or grilled rather than fully raw. Yet Blue Water Cafe is well known also for its raw bar with a seemingly endless selection of oysters, as well as its cooked dishes. Its menu is one designed to have something for everyone. As such, it was no surprise to see an array of business dinners, locals, and travelers alike. What appealed to me was the relative lack of tourists, since Yaletown is a bit off the beaten path from the downtown waterfront area housing the cruise ship terminal and most large hotels. Yet Yaletown is an easy and fairly safe 15-20 minute walk from those areas.

I dined on a Tuesday night, and the restaurant was packed indoors and out. I recommend securing a reservation if you are able. Flying solo, I preferred to wait for a seat to open up at the bar (I hate sitting at a table by myself and enjoy watching chefs and bartenders work, as well as the communal nature of bars. Yet even bar seating required a wait at 7:45 pm! I sat between U.K. and Australian accents during my wait, and the accommodating, friendly hostesses set us each up with a beverage from the extensive wine and spirits menu.

I am a huge proponent of going local, so I ended my British Columbia wine virginity with a Spotted Owl Sauvignon Blanc from the Okanagan Valley. I later learned that this winery is well-known and well-established in that region. I was not terribly impressed, however. It was dry, with an almost Old World minerality but lacking the complexity of a flinty Sancerre or the crisp citrus notes of a New World Marlborough that compliment spicy food so well. I’d pass on that in the future – at least without food.

To my delight, a seat opened up at the sushi bar, giving me a view of culinary art in progressed. The sushi chef, one of four working the counter, appeared mildly amused as I watched and photographed his handiwork while waiting for my food.

To start, I needed some healthy greens, and I opted for the server’s recommendation of the special summer salad and not the seasonal salad I originally craved. The special was comprised of mixed lettuces, celeriac, savory summer melon, blueberry, and cubes of barrel aged feta (the latter of which doesn’t have any perceptible difference from “regular” feta). I would have liked the melon to be a bit more ripe and sweet to provide more complexity and contrast of notes, but it was quite tasty with interesting textures.
I paired the salad with a glass of Blue Mountain Brut, a sparkling rosé of Pinot noir from the Okanagan Valley. I found this wine to be pleasing, but again lacking a bit of complexity and balance, but not all that far off from a solid Cremant de Loire or Bourgogne.

For my main course, I chose a yellowfin tuna seared rare with flecks of sea salt with baby Dino kale, a bean trio of edamame, white and black beans. It was served over a wonderfully Unami sweet onion purée and a tangy soy-balsamic reduction that somewhat resembled Worcestershire sauce with notes of tamarind. It was. A. Ma. Zing. It was the best seared tuna i’ve had since Waterbar. The accompaniments were harmonious and nicely balanced.

Ready for a red, I chose an Okanagan, single vineyard Desperation Hill Pinot noir, from La Frenz in the Naramata Bench. I was pleasantly surprised at the complexity of this wine, as its 50 degree latitude is on the northern end of wine-growing regions – and red varietals are notably inconsistent at extreme latitudes. This delicate fruitiness paired well with the tuna and its accompaniments. It was a course to remember.

In terms of other main courses, the Sablefish is the most popular and is great for summer poached in a light dashi-miso broth. The scallops with wild rice cakes smelled so amazing, I wanted some for myself. My sushi bar neighbors recommended both of these entrees.

I willed myself to skip dessert, but the restaurant makes the check a bit sweeter with a tiny cake duo. Tonight’s consisted of a poppyseed blueberry financier and “the world’s smallest carrot cake” with a dollop of berry buttercream. Both had lovely essences of orange and lemon zest. They were the perfect ending to a wonderful culinary welcome to Vancouver, BC.

KEIKO À NOB HILL: Powerhouse Michelin starred Japanese cuisine served humbly in San Francisco

Regal but without ego or fanfare, Chef Keiko and her impeccable staff create a spectacular dining experience that is more than worthy of her Michelin star. While one’s credit card balance will definitely take a hit, I found it to be every foodie’s dream and worth the expenditure.
KEIKO À Nob Hill is one of those amazing finds that one either stumbles upon or is fortunate to learn of it through word of mouth. The former was true in my case, as I walked by it several times and learned that it was a $$$$ “sushi restaurant” according to Google Maps. Ummm, not quite. I was intrigued, but I put it out of my mind, until months later, when a few friends and I were researching the Michelin guide to the San Francisco Bay Area and surprise! KEIKO was listed. I knew at that moment I had to try it and immediately made reservations for when one of my best friends (and fellow foodie) was to visit.

KEIKO is almost literally hidden. A simple brass placard on the wall of an early 20th century high-rise condominium building is the only indicator to passersby of the gem within. The decor is a bit heavy and dated, not what one would expect to be a match for Japanese fusion. Yet it makes sense given the “old money” feel of the residential building in which it resides.

KEIKO has only one nightly seating in its tiny dining room, which adds to the sense of dining in someone’s (extremely fancy) home. If you’re late, you’ll hold up your fellow diners!

The meal proved to be sublime. Each dish was deftly executed and presented as if fine jewels or art on a plate. My only gripe was the exorbitant cost of corkage ($65). Luckily, our bottle of wine was nice enough to warrant it (Freemark Abbey’s Josephine Bordeaux blend red), but no corkage should cost that much. On the plus side, the staff accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies, calling me three days in advance to check.

On to the dishes! First up was Shimaaji, sashimi of yellowjack. As you can see from the photo, it was beautiful. It melted in my mouth.

Course two was Uni, or sea urchin, atop a cauliflower mousse and seaweed gelée. It was my first time trying sea urchin. It wasn’t quite so scary – it had a smooth texture and briny flavor, but I didn’t want to tempt fate with my shellfish allergy.

Course three was a fresh, slender Japanese sardine filet, Iwashi, accented with dill and accompanied by a wonderfully refreshing medallion of cucumber salad.

 Course four was probably my favorite overall. Seared foie gras perched atop a dark, rich coffee reduction – one of Chef Keiko’s house specialties. Our server presented us a petite brioche to soak up the delicious coffee reduction. I left nothing behind.

Course five, Hotate, consisted of a single, perfectly seared sea scallop, sliced thinly and accompanied by an unexpectedly rich duo of pea and corn purees. My friend and I reveled in every drop of those purees.

Course six showcased Maine lobster two ways, which included a lobster-polenta cake.

Course seven was our main fish course – a specialty flown in daily from Tokyo’s renowned Tsukiji fish market. Today’s feature was tilefish. It was served with its signature coral and tile-esque skin and poached in a light, delicate saffron broth with dill and scallions.


Cornish hen with three sauces

We moved from “surf” to “turf” in Courses eight and nine, starting with Cornish hen, accompanied by chanterelles, asparagus, black truffle foam and a single shaved bit of scrumptious black truffle. It was an elegant, earthy homage to late spring and early summer on a plate.

Course nine was a triumphant filet of rare and tender Wagyu beef, its trademark marbling visible yet well integrated. The accompanying yuzu soy foam, black kale chips, and wasabi added a hint of Umami and lightness to balance the heavy richness of the meat.

On to course ten and our cheese course. A light, mousse-like cheese managed to be both decadent and light as air, both tangy and delicately sweet like cheesecake. Bordeaux’s signature sweet, the moist cinnamon and toffee delicacy known as the canelé added another counterpoint.

Course eleven was the dessert course. Other than the foie gras, it was my favorite of all the courses. Why? I love dessert, but a fruit based dessert must be perfectly executed and novel in order to earn my praise. Chef Keiko delivered indeed. Today’s dessert was strawberry, four ways. Small bites of strawberry mousse, sorbet, and angel food cake, along with a banana mousse and Tart Greek yogurt powder only enhanced the delicate summer sweetness of the berry. And for an added bonus, a thick, lightly sweet-tart, strained strawberry puree was presented in the ornate sipper traditionally served with port. I can’t do justice to this amazing combination in words.

Just when we thought the menu was complete, we were presented with a lovely quartet (times two) of Mignardises – tiny desserts. Hazelnut profiteroles, a fruit tart, a (disappointingly dry) financier, and a dark chocolate hazelnut crunch truffle comprised the sweet finale to a more than outstanding dining experience.

As we departed, we managed to meet and effusively praise Chef KEIKO herself. She is a true rockstar in the culinary world. It is truly exciting to see such an extraordinary chef who just happens to be a woman, and my first impression meeting her was that of an exceptional artist, dedicated not to pursuit of celebrity, as some have chosen, but to her craft.

For insight into the world of a female chef in the traditionally male dominated world of Japanese cuisine, check out the Netflix Original documentary series, “Chef’s Table” – Season 1, Episode 5, which profiles star Japanese-American Izakaya chef Niki Nnaka and her Michélin-starred restaurant in Los Angeles.

LIMO – creative nikkei fusion in Cusco

Nikkei is a Peruvian term for Japanese-Peruvian fusion. Peruvian harvest staples – such as corvina (bass), prawns, corn, potatoes, avocado, and tropical fruit – meet Japanese cooking styles. Typical nikkei fare includes tiraditos – basically Peruvian sashimi – in addition to sushi rolls that incorporate Peruvian ingredients, corn and potato causas topped with fresh seafood, and ceviches with Asian flavorings. Nikkei’s sister style is chifa – Peruvian-Chinese fusion, and its staple dish is “chaufa” – basically Latin chow fun.

While one might expect nikkei and chifa to be a safer bet near the Peruvian coast, I was impressed by landlocked Cuzco/Cusco’s LIMO. The restaurant’s name refers to the variety of aji (chili pepper) most often used in ceviches. Not surprisingly then, LIMO specializes in nikkei fare and premium Piscos. It also offers its own spin on chaufa, tuna tartare, and more traditional Andean dishes, like a contemporary presentation of cuy (guinea pig). Located just off of the Plaza de las Armas, the building’s colonial facade belies the restaurant’s modern decor and sleek red walls inside. This combination of architectural styles is fitting for the type of cuisine it serves.

Plaza  de las Armas

Plaza de las Armas

Our group was exhausted from a very long day of touring that took us from Urubamba in the Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley) to Macchu Pichu and back before continuing on to Cusco. At the end of that long day, we were grateful that our friend’s recommendation was still serving dinner after 10:30 pm. We were even more grateful that the food was excellent.

Our long day of touring  included beautiful  landscapes  like this one.  It's easy to see why Peruvian food is so delicious  - especially when you've worked up quite an appetite!

Our long day of touring included beautiful landscapes like this one. It’s easy to see why Peruvian food is so delicious – especially when you’ve worked up quite an appetite!

A group of 12 that included two vegetarian teenagers and their vegetarian mother, we equally raved about each dish. My friends’ menu choices included traditional Andean fried yucca (“roots of the jungle” as another restaurant translated into English) with huancaina sauce, alpaca steak, various tiraditos and sushi rolls, vegetarian ceviche, causas, and other delights. For my own meal, I chose alpaca carpaccio and a vegetarian sushi roll that contained asparagus, roasted peppers, and onions atop a sweet and tart maracuya (passion fruit) sauce. The carpaccio was my first – and not my last – taste of alpaca. I was shocked at its tenderness and mild flavor – less like venison than I expected, imperceptibly gamey. I chose a maracuya and chile Pisco sour to accompany it, and wow, was it a powerful drink. I’m sure the altitude of Cuzco had something to do with it, but one was more than enough, despite that it was one of the best I had.

One friend and another’s son took up the challenge to try one of Peru’s hottest chiles (aji). I can’t recall which variety it was, but it may have been a rocoto pepper. As they were of Texan and Indian heritage, respectively, both were more than ready for the challenge; however, the pepper was much more deadly than anticipated. I’m used to seeing reactions to spicy food, but their reactions were priceless. They were both on the verge of tears, as was I – though laughing at/with them. Not because I would do better, but for two self-proclaimed heat lovers to become so flummoxed by the pepper was entertaining. For the record, I was smart enough to know not to chance trying it.

Levity and spice challenges aside, the meal was no joke. We left ready to sleep and fortified for another day of high altitude touring of Cuzco and adjacent Incan ruins. I highly recommend Limo. Though I may have had more critically acclaimed nikkei in sushi in Lima, LIMO’s creativity and balance between tradition and innovation made it one of my most memorable Peruvian meals.

View. of Cusco from  surrounding hills

View of Cusco from surrounding hills