Each of my childhood summers has a defining trait to remember it by. There’s the summer I moved to Canada, the summer my family took a road trip, and several summers spent visiting relatives back in Seoul. Summer reminds me of family vacations and structureless days of splashing around in a pool and consuming shaved ice by the bowlful. Each year, summer is a special time, magically separate from the rest of the year.
And, of course, this summer is going to be extra special, since I’m going to be spending the last two months of it in Europe! I’ve never been to Europe before, and I’ve always romanticized the notion of a trip to Europe during college, so I’m quite excited to go, to put it mildly. In any case, having catch-up lunches with friends prior to a big trip is always nice, so Cindy and I planned to meet up near North Road for a quick meal.
Despite the high density of Korean restaurants on North Road, I’ve never been partial to eating at Korean restaurants. I can get it so easily at home, plus my mom’s cooking is free of MSG and the huge amounts of sugar that is often hidden in Korean restaurant fare. Once you eliminate all the Korean restaurants in this area, you’re left with not so many choices, especially considering that it was raining and we weren’t eager to walk far.
So, we headed to Hukuya Sushi, which is hidden beside the Red Robin in a small complex behind Lougheed Mall. Somewhat ironically, Hukuya is Korean-run, but so are many of the popular sushi places in the area, so we gave it a try. We were greeted by the somewhat unpleasant smell of old cooking oil, but seated promptly by the server/owner. They had quite an extensive menu with both lunch and dinner specials, so it took us a while to decide what to order.
First, we shared a Spicy Chopped Scallop Roll ($5.25). They also had a lot of larger specialty rolls on the menu, but none of them really appealed to me (plus they were actually quite pricey!) This was a decent attempt, but I thought it was expensive considering that the roll was not especially large. It wasn’t much bigger than your regular maki. The presentation was also a bit sloppy, as you can see, with some of the rice falling apart in places. I personally prefer the scallops to be directly massaged with spicy sauce rather than the sauce being distributed on top, but this tasted alright. The rice itself was a bit too vinegary, but not unpleasantly so, while the scallops themselves were nice and juicy, and in large chunks. The sauce was both sweet and spicy. I think I would rather try one of their special rolls on another visit, considering this simple roll cost me more than five bucks…
I then had a Tuna Don ($10.95), which I again thought was a bit pricey considering the prices at other, similar Korean-run sushi restaurants, but oh well. The tuna was of a decent quality, being neither too mushy nor too firm. I found the rice a bit too sweet and vinegary, but I tend to prefer milder flavours, so that’s just personal preference. The portion size was quite large, and I ended up having a lot of rice left afterwards. It was a simple but filling meal and I would definitely consider ordering it again if I were to return.
Cindy decided on the Lunch Box A ($8.95), which included miso soup, assorted tempura, chicken teriyaki with rice, green salad, and a California roll. To break down the lunch box one by one…the miso soup was the usual slightly salty fare with tiny cubes of tofu. The tempura was crispy and hot, while the teriyaki was lightly touched with mildly sweet sauce. The salad, meanwhile, was fresh, which is all we’re really asking for in a salad, with apple puree dressing served on top. Cindy was most pleased with the California roll, which she declared above average, and quite filling, despite it being four pieces instead of the usual six. I personally thought it was a great value for $8.95, especially, considering that the chopped scallop roll alone set us back $5.25. I generally don’t opt for lunch boxes since they usually contain teriyaki and tempura, which aren’t my go-to items at a Japanese restaurant, but I would consider ordering one here, since it seemed to be the best value out of the items that we sampled.
Overall, our meal at Hukuya was what we expected: a quick lunch at your average, run-of-the-mill sushi joint. As the only servers were the two owners, the service was a bit slow, but I thought that the service was subpar even considering that fact. The restaurant wasn’t terribly busy during our stay, and it took a long time for us to receive our cups of water and our cheque, even after we specifically requested them. To summarize, I wasn’t incredibly impressed by Hukuya, but then again, I wouldn’t actively dissuade someone from eating there.
9626 Cameron Street
It was time to choose a restaurant to go to after work again, and I was craving sushi… but couldn’t decide on a place to go to. I know, there are a ton of sushi joints we could go to in North Burnaby, but I was tired and famished, and really didn’t feel like making my way to Sushi Garden just to wait forever and a day for a table. A friend of mine recently recommended Gaya Sushi, a small restaurant that opened up in the past year at a strip mall on Bainbridge and Lougheed, so Samson and I, along with my parents, decided to give it a try.
Gaya was pretty busy too, but we managed to get seated right away. The restaurant is bright and spacious but on the smaller side (compared to Sushi Garden, at least), and I immediately appreciated that it was quieter– I’m not a fan of the hustle and bustle that characterizes the other places we go to.
My friend Rosy had insisted we get the Tuna Tataki ($6.95) to start, and I was really glad that we did. The fish was sliced at a perfect thickness, seared lightly along the sides, and tasted very fresh. Presented in a ring topped with garlic chips (my new favourite topping), and with shaved daikon, white onion, yellow and red peppers in the centre with a pool of ponzu sauce, this dish was both visually and texturally appetizing. I’ve really been into tuna tataki lately (ever since my lunch at Guu Garden), and I’m happy to say that this suburban restaurant offered up something comparable. I’ve been to Gaya Sushi twice since this visit, and I’ve ordered it every time.
Now, I’m a bit of a soup nut (I could seriously live on soup and bread for weeks), and besides, I needed to be warmed up after skating for 4 hours. So, I ordered the Miso Soup ($1.25) as another appetizer. I actually really like miso soups, despite their commonality and saltiness, but this way you can actually tell how it compares to other restaurants. This one did the job, and had plenty of ingredients– green onion, seaweed and tofu– to make it a substantial starter. I liked that the green onion wasn’t wilted (they must have put it in right before serving?), as I do enjoy the crunch. Also as part of our appetizers, we ordered 3 pieces of nigiri sushi (My dad didn’t want one): 2 pieces of Tobiko Sushi ($1.35) and 1 piece of Ikura Sushi ($1.80). These were pretty typical, and the different kinds of roe all tasted fresh. My personal favourite is the Tobiko, as the little eggs have more texture and ‘pop’ than masago roe does, but it doesn’t squirt out quite as much salty juice as the Ikura roe does.
We ordered 3 rolls to share as well: from the left, we had the Chopped Scallop Roll ($3.99), the Hot Night Roll ($5.99), and the Spider Roll ($6.99). The Chopped Scallop look pretty typical, with small pieces of scallop mixed together with masago in a light mayo sauce and accompanied by cucumbers, but I thought that it tasted a little fishier than what I was used to. I did, however, like that the filling wasn’t a weird orange colour. The Hot Night Roll is one of their specialty rolls, and is basically a Dynamite Roll topped with spicy tuna sashimi and some crispy noodle bits. The tempura shrimp was fried up nicely (not too oily), and the spicy tuna was just spicy enough. I liked the crispy noodles on top, which added some more texture to the roll, but found that it got messy quickly, especially since I severely lack in chopstick skills. The Spider Roll again exhibited a nicely deep-fried filling in the soft-shell crab, which was surprisingly meaty. Overall, the rice was cooked just right, and I thought that the rolls were nicely executed, if not a smidge on the expensive side.
For something more filling than just sushi rolls, we also ordered a Chirashi Don ($10.50) and a Tempura Udon ($6.95). This Chirashi Don was certainly one of the best I’ve had in a long time, and is definitely the best deal out of ones I’ve had. At $10.50, we weren’t expecting that big of a portion or that many different kinds of fish, but as you can see, the bowl this came in was gigantic. There was a lot of rice underneath the fish, which was drizzled lightly with sesame oil, but the real star of the dish was the sashimi. On it were several pieces each of red snapper, salmon, tuna, toro (fatty tuna), hokkigai (surf clam), tamago (which is egg, not raw fish) and hamachi. The fish was all very fresh and cut nicely with a beautiful sheen, and we really appreciated the assortment and amount that was served. The Tempura Udon, which was our final dish of the night, was a solid dish, but I wouldn’t necessarily get it again. The noodles were fairly al dente, and the soup was nicely flavoured and wasn’t too salty. Served with the noodles was a piece of fish cake, some Inari, and a variety of vegetables. On the side was a basket of assorted tempura, and like the shrimp tempura in the dynamite roll, these pieces, which included shrimp, yam, carrot and zucchini, were also fried up adequately.
Like I said above, I’ve been to Gaya Sushi a few times since, and I’ve had great service and food every time (and I wasn’t carrying a hefty camera for many of those visits either). The waiters are very kind and polite, which is a nice change from the borderline rude service you receive at some other sushi restaurants, and came over to refill our drinks without us asking them to. Price-wise, I find that they’re pretty average– some items are a little more expensive in comparison, while some others are a great deal. Being on Lougheed Highway, the restaurant isn’t too inaccessible, but it is a good walk up from Sperling Station (there is always the 134, but that only runs every half hour). I would urge you to make it out to this little strip mall sometime soon to try Gaya Sushi out! You definitely won’t regret it.
2900 Bainbridge Ave
My family and I have exhausted most of the Korean eating options around North Road, the boundary between Burnaby and Coquitlam. Despite being Vancouver’s unofficial Koreatown, there actually aren’t that many great Korean restaurants to eat at. Then again, I don’t enjoy eating out for Korean food when I have such an excellent chef at home (my mother, not me). Once again, my parents wanted to try something new, so we decided to lunch at the North Road location of Mui Garden.
The restaurant is very spacious, but was mostly empty when we wandered in. One of the servers was incredibly friendly and helped us navigate the menu, making suggestions and even overriding some of our choices. Still, we trusted her, figuring that she knew better, especially after our not-so-successful venture at New Szechuan. The other servers were indifferent at best, tossing menus onto our table in a mostly gruff manner, but ah well. I’m used to that kind of service.
Our first dish, recommended by the server, was the Pan-Fried Green Beans with Minced Pork ($10.95). To be honest, I’m not much a vegetable person, so I was unsure about green beans, but this was a winner. The pork was a bit too salty from having soaked up the sauce, but the beans themselves were crisp and tasty. I liked how they had a slight taste of the sauce while still retaining the crispness of the vegetables. I suppose that it might seem too bland for some people, but we enjoyed it. The portion size was also great, as we ended up packing some for home. (We had ordered three dishes between the three of us).
Due to my dad’s somewhat restrictive diet, my parents have been opting for a lot of fish and tofu recently, so they were happy when the server also recommended the Braised Rock Cod with Roasted Pork and Deep Fried Tofu Hot Pot ($14.50). Although it was a little pricey for lunch, this dish was well worth it, and well-executed. As a whole, the ingredients were all soft, smooth, and silky, especially the fish. The pork was roasted in small cubes that simply tasted like regular ham. It was a mild broth with cabbage underneath that tasted great with rice.
I ordered the Boneless Chicken Curry ($10). I guess the server approved of my choice as she didn’t offer a better alternative as she did with some other dishes we wanted to try. This curry was mostly sweet and coconutty, and not at all spicy, and quite unlike an Indian curry, which I expected considering the venue. Although it was a tad watery, I still enjoyed eating it with the provided rice. Besides the chicken, the bowl of curry also included potatoes and onions. The coconut flavour was very strong, which I personally love, but if you’re expecting a spicy curry, I wouldn’t recommend this.
After this successful first visit, we returned with my brother near the end of 2012. Out of curiosity, my brother ordered the Half Hainan Chicken ($12). Hainan chicken is simply chicken boiled in a chicken bone stock, served cold. This was our first time having hainan chicken. And to be perfectly honest, we didn’t enjoy it. It’s mostly because we were unfamiliar with this dish, and to someone unfamiliar with the dish, it looks less than appetizing. This particular version was also quite bland, even when paired with the provided chili sauce and ginger oil. We ended up leaving most of this dish untouched. Although we tried to like it, we ultimately couldn’t. I suppose that’s more personal preference than anything else, however, and our opinion is meaningless when evaluating Mui Garden’s hainan chicken compared to other restaurants.
We were served by the same lady on this night, and this time, she recommended the Pork Chop with Spicy Salt and Hot Pepper ($11.50). Although this was a good portion size, the pork itself was a little too tough to eat, and nothing special. Overall, it was an acceptable dish, but not amazing. The pork was quite dry, and although it was well-seasoned, I found it to be a tad too salty for my tastes. Although the menu warned that this was a spicy dish, my primary impression was the saltiness.
For our carb quotient, we ordered the Special Fried Rice Noodles (Singapore Style) ($9.50). I personally was looking forward to this dish since I’ve always loved rice noodles. These didn’t disappoint, with the noodles being perfectly chewy. The bean sprouts were crispy, and there was a good assortment of ingredients, with plenty of vegetables and shrimp. Surprisingly, there was a spicy aftertaste to the noodles, which added another dimension of flavour to what could have been a simple, boring plate of noodles. One complaint I had was that the noodle to ingredient ratio seemed a bit off, as I would have appreciated even more noodles.
My family really enjoyed both of our visits at Mui Garden. Although some of the waitstaff were surly and silent, one server really went out of her way to make us feel at home, which we appreciated, since this isn’t our native cuisine. The food, in general, was well-prepared, and although the prices are a little higher than I’d prefer, it was still an enjoyable experience. One thing though: they are cash only, so remember to go to the ATM if you’re dependent on plastic like I am. I definitely will be going back though, especially for those green beans!
4327 North Road
After a few short months of working with Cindy and me, HJ made plans to return to Korea. There’s something about coworkers, you know, that sense of camaraderie. This camaraderie was especially strong for the three of us (our store only employs three workers at a time), who worked in an environment where customers could be appallingly rude and self-entitled. We basically had no choice but to band together. Anyways, when HJ announced her plans to leave, the three of us decided to grab a quick lunch at Midam before she left.
Midam is well-known for its desserts, which incorporate traditional Korean rice cakes in most of them. Besides being a restaurant, it also functions as a bakery of sorts–meaning people place orders for traditional rice cakes for special occasions (New Year’s, weddings, and the like). In the morning and afternoon, the restaurant is kind of serene and quiet, a nice place for a cup of tea–and at night, it can be a little more lively since they serve alcohol and all. In any case, it was pretty quiet when the three of us arrived, and the waitress (looking quite adorable in her traditional dress) took our order promptly.
The three of us all ended up ordering from their lunch sets. Cindy’s was the Bulgogi, which included some rice, kimchi, salad and beans in soy sauce. She didn’t feel that this was a particularly exceptional version of bulgogi. I tried some and it was quite typical but well-executed, being both sweet and savoury, with a good textural contrast from the marinated beef and the natural crunch of the onions. Besides that, the ingredients of the salad seemed fresh, and the veggies all had a satisfying crispness, with the rice being neither too mushy nor too hard. Overall, this was a solid offering, but wasn’t really unique enough considering the venue.
HJ opted for the Dduk Gal Bi, after saying she’d never tried it before. Her lunch box included the same accompaniments. Dduk Gal Bi is a Korean dish made from beef short ribs, with the meat being formed into a sort of patty. While “Dduk” means “rice cake” in Korean, the dish doesn’t always incorporate rice cake, but of course they did so here, as it is their specialty. Although the concept of this was refreshingly different, HJ didn’t actually enjoy eating this, as the rather sticky texture of the rice cake detracted from her beef, and she couldn’t really enjoy the taste of the meat as well. Her accompaniments were of the same quality and amount as Cindy’s.
Continuing on with the rice cake theme, I had the Dduk Bossam. Bossam is a Korean dish where pork belly is eaten with lettuce wraps, sometimes with other accompaniments (kimchi, fermented shrimp, etc.) Staying true to the rice cake theme for the day, they also included very thin slices of rice cake (the same as used for the little star) with every piece of lettuce. My lunch set included the beans, but instead of the kimchi or salad, I was given some julienned radish, which was nice and refreshing. Now, that pork. Doesn’t it look sinfully spicy? It was the type of spicy that kept you wanting more, and the rice cake included with the lettuce really helped to tone it down. I found the pork a little too fatty, but other than that, everything tasted great. There was also a lot of pork included with this dish, and I ended up packing some of it to go.
The three of us also shared the Spaghetti with Rice Cakes, which was exactly what it sounds like. I was skeptical about this combination at first, but everything actually went well together, with nice chunks of tomatoes and ground beef, and a respectable portion size for only $7. It actually did taste like real spaghetti, and the rice cakes were nice and chewy. I probably would have been full just on this (but I have a small appetite).
All in all, the three of us really enjoyed our lunch at Midam, although we didn’t get a chance to try their desserts. The lunch sets are a bit pricier than similar items you can get at other restaurants in the area, but the higher quality and the obvious care they put into making their food is worth the price, at least for me. Service is also quite friendly, so give it a try–it’s a little hard to find but well worth the effort.
Midam Rice Cake House 美談餅家
110-4501 North Road
My final exams this year ended on April 20th, which made me earlier than most of my friends. While I enjoyed having more time to myself, it was actually a little boring, considering none of my friends could enjoy this time with me. Well, Cindy’s last exam was a week or so after mine, so we decided to go for lunch to finally celebrate the end of exams. So while she was busy toiling away on her Spanish final, I decided to look around on the Internet for somewhere to eat. I had a bit of trouble deciding where to go, but Sam recommended Paros Taverna, a new Greek restaurant near Lougheed Town Centre, where Anducci’s had been. I had no idea that Anducci’s was gone, but after scoping out reviews on Urbanspoon (which seemed mostly positive), we agreed to try some Greek food.
So after shopping a bit around Lougheed, we traipsed over to Paros. I noticed they’d retained most of the fixtures from Anducci’s, and didn’t have an excess of foliage or blue and white paint like many Greek restaurants. We were immediately greeted by an extremely friendly waitress, and seated promptly. This waitress (whose name I don’t remember) was so sweet and friendly, without seeming artificial. We were both quite impressed with the service, and drew comparisons between Paros and My Greek Taverna, where the service is a little lackluster. Anyways, moving on…
The waitress informed us of their lunch specials, which seemed quite reasonable. The chicken and lamb souvlaki were both only price at $7.75, so I decided to order the chicken souvlaki, while Cindy chose the Moussaka. Like at most Greek restaurants, Cindy’s Moussaka was served with a roast potato, rice, Greek salad, tzatziki sauce, and some pita bread. She thought that as a whole, the food was solid, with nothing seriously amiss, but that the moussaka itself wasn’t the best, having a strange texture. While it tasted savoury and rich as it should, she found that the eggplant didn’t stand out like it should and just got lost in the rest of the ingredients (mainly the potatoes and cream).
I chose one of the lunch specials, Chicken Souvlaki, which was served with the same sides. The chicken was satisfyingly moist and flavourful, but came plated with the skewer, which I don’t like. (Pretty sure they’d remove the skewer for you if you asked, though.) As for the sides–I thought the portion size was respectable, and the ingredients of the salad tasted fresh. The potato tasted exactly as it should, and we couldn’t help drawing comparisons with the strange, salty/spicy version we’d sampled previously at My Greek Taverna. The rice was moist but not too wet. The only thing off about the sides, I found, was the tzatziki sauce, and Cindy agreed with me. It was quite bland, and I ended up not even using mine very much. The pita bread, not pictured, was nicely warm, and not drenched with oil like the one at My Greek Taverna. Like everything else, we found the portion size perfect, and actually quite impressive considering the price we paid. (Especially since my meal only cost $7.75!)
At the end of our meal, we were presented with a complimentary dessert, Baklava. According to other reviews I’ve read, this complimentary dessert is a common practice here, so here’s some more incentive for you to try this place out! To be honest, we were both quite full from our meals, but we managed to polish off quite a bit of this. While baklava usually isn’t my first choice when perusing the dessert section, I found the phyllo pastry was nicely flaky, and complimented the layers inside, although the overall taste of the dessert was a little too sweet for both of us. Still, I liked the gesture–presenting us with a dessert when our meals cost so little. If I was impressed by the service, I was impressed again by the dessert. Clearly they value their relationship with their customers here, which is something I consider key.
So, final verdict on Paros! Greek food is something that’s relatively common in Vancouver. I felt that all the food here was executed well, at reasonable prices, and the service was beyond excellent. We also very much appreciated the complimentary dessert! Cindy and I were both extremely impressed with our experience at Paros, and I definitely think it’s an improvement over Anducci’s which used to occupy the same spot.
9604 Cameron Street