I started my search for the best sushi restaurants in town. Tojo’s came up quite often as the iconic sushi restaurant in Vancouver, but I had read enough reviews by naysayers to give me doubts and so began trying to figure out what was considered Tojo’s replacement at the top. The restaurant that everyone seemed to be writing about was Miku. With little exception, people raved about Miku for their food, service, and décor. And while expensive, most reviewers and bloggers seemed to think it was well worth the price of admission.
Located in downtown Vancouver, Miku was conveniently within walking distance of our hotel. It was in its final days of service at its current location and is now getting ready to open up in a larger space on the waterfront. We were greeted enthusiastically by the sushi chefs at the counter as we were taken to our table and the service throughout the evening was very good. The space itself is contemporary, but felt a bit outdated, and with dance music in the background it’s not at all what you might expect at a typical sushi restaurant. But this isn’t typical sushi. Miku is known for their Aburi sushi, where they lightly sear the fish with a blow torch; which, according to Miku’s website, enhances its flavor. The technique is controversial among sushi purists, but from what I read it seems the skeptics who are willing to try it became converts.
As we were looking at the menu we asked our waiter what his favorite dishes were, and since they all sounded so good we decided to let him order for us, letting him know when we were full – just like we did in Barcelona. We started with a bottle of sake, which was delicious. I don’t know much about sake but I learned a couple of things that night. One is that I didn’t know how smooth and drinkable it can be. The other is that a full bottle of sake is way more than we need, and a price would be paid in more ways than one.
The first dish that came out was a beautiful plate of sashimi that included blue fin tuna, which we were told was sustainably harvested from the Czech Republic (as odd as that sounds). In fact, Miku has a sustainability program, which includes participating in Ocean Wise, as well as supporting sustainable fishing practices and seafood choices. The sashimi was fresh and very good, and the blue fin was unlike any tuna I’ve had before. Next we had Aburi tuna, followed by what was to be my favorite dish of the night: Ebi Fritters – beer-battered tiger prawns in a chili cream sauce. The Saikyo Miso Sablefish with a ponzu foam was light and tasty, after which came the dish that I had been reading so much about: Aburi Salmon Oshi Sushi – salmon sushi dressed with a soy and “Miku” sauce, topped with a jalapeno. It was good, but I have to say it’s more memorable for me as something I read so much about prior to my meal more than the actual eating of it. The meal ended with Hamachi Carpaccio and Aburi Ebi Oshi Sushi.
I don’t usually equate sushi with fine desserts, although I’ve seen and tasted the country’s beautiful sweet creations, having been to Japan previously. So perhaps it’s not ironic that my favorite part of the meal was dessert. Miku has an in-house pastry chef that combines European and Japanese ingredients with everything made from scratch. The desserts are plates that contain four or five small bites of variations on a theme. We had the Coffee Walnut Caramel and a featured Raspberry Tart plate, which was phenomenal.
The food was beautifully presented and all very good, and we liked everything we ate. But Miku didn’t wow me. Even if the restaurant was less expensive it wouldn’t have wowed me, but the fact is it was a very expensive meal, which I expected, but I know I could have gone elsewhere for equally good food and paid a lot less. The Aburi sushi concept was good, but with the sauces and other ingredients the fish didn’t really stand out. As we were leaving the restaurant around 10pm I noticed it was still packed with diners, with at least seventy-five percent of the clientele Asian. With such non-traditional sushi you might think its appeal would be more to western tastes but that didn’t appear to be the case, and it left me wondering if I had missed something. We didn’t dislike the meal, but it wasn’t worth the price. The next time I’m in Vancouver I might be curious to peek inside the new space, and I might even stop in for a drink with a waterfront view, but I think I’ll go elsewhere for dinner.