When one imagines authentic Japanese cuisine in the actual city of Vancouver, one’s thoughts can often drift towards the normal standards of Kintaro, Guu, Kingyo, and other such delights. Of course, the more izakaya-type establishments also posit themselves as watering holes, as the standard for such places is a ton of sake and beer mixed with some smaller tapas to share. Luckily, for the most part, such dishes are still flavourful and desirable to consume, containing a substantial amount of variety and typically being deep-fried to accompany the alcohol to an even greater extent. That said, there are other restaurants that seem to focus more on the watering instead of the feeding, and this tends to show when you horde large groups of Sauder first-year Asians and give them copious pitchers of beer. The Kamei Japanese restaurant chain that owns Ebisu embodies this description. This holds to be particularly true for the one on Robson Street, given its optimal location in the heart of downtown.
This is the bar, where alcohol is poured and chefs diligently use large, prominent flames to cook up your meals. We noticed some burnt smells emanating from this area during our meal, although I’m sure that was just the result of some kind of superior cooking method.
Some of the lounge-style seating they offer, where the aforementioned large groups of Asians can often be spotted.
Another corner of the restaurant, which features better lighting and more intimate dining.
The Tuna Tataki Delight ($9.99) was the first to arrive. It consisted of seared tuna sashimi topped with crushed radish and served with their sweet Ponzu sauce. The sauce itself was surprisingly sour for my taste, which ended up masking the more subtle taste of the raw tuna. The fish itself had a strange texture from the searing; the exterior was almost rubbery as a result.
Incidentally, all of Ebisu’s rolls can be upgraded to “imperial rice” rolls, which is essentially just brown rice. How health of them, although we elected to stick to the good ol’ white variety. One such order was the Robson Roll ($5.95), which contains deep fried salmon strips, avocado, cream cheese, and tempura flakes. This souped-up California Roll was made a bit more fun with the addition of the salmon and cream cheese. The flakes gave a somewhat pleasant crunch to the roll.
Continuing on, the Spicy Tuna Roll ($4.50) also made an appearance. This was relatively standard, with the spicy sauce giving a flavour that packed more sweet than heat. The rice had a passable texture.
Given my alter ego as a Southern girl from Tennessee (don’t ask), chicken karaage ($8.99) is a bit of a must-order for me at Japanese izakayas. It may be accompanied by two of three dipping sauces, which include spicy ketchup, cajun mayonnaise, and honey mustard. We went for the latter two. Ebisu’s pieces were large and more starchy in texture and composition; the meat was almost hard to identify. I believe I mostly dipped my pieces in the honey mustard, which was significantly more “honey” than it was “mustard.”
The Yam Tempura Roll ($4.50) was ordered by one of our vegetarian friends. She seemed satisfied with it, sauce and all.
The Tsukune Don ($9.99) was also ordered; it features BBQ minced chicken basted in yakitori sauce and served on a bed of rice with a poached egg. I’m assuming the poached egg is the flat-looking thing hidden underneath the large expanse of onions. Apart from looking overly sauce-laden, the don was reportedly acceptable.
Another one of our party opted for the Kansai Steak Sliders ($9.80), which consisted of sauteed beef marinated in yakiniku sauce and sandwiched with avocado, onion, mushroom, and mayo. They were apparently decent-tasting, if a little on the saltier side. They certainly appear to be quite messy in the already blurry picture above!
A pitcher of Granville Island Honey Lager ($12.99) also had to be ordered. Halfway through, we noticed that there was a large column right in the middle that would, of course, reduce the volume of the pitcher. Interesting.
While I wouldn’t exactly call it my first choice, I ended up returning with another group of friends, since one of them insisted. I suppose I am easy to persuade into doing things that I do not wholly approve of. To start things off, we ordered the Unachee Roll ($7.95), a speciality maki with cream cheese, BBQ salmon skin, unagi, and green onions. More than anything, this roll was highly reminiscent of a BC Roll. The salmon skin served to permeate above all the other flavours, which somewhat confused my palate.
A member of our party opted for the Yakisoba special ($8.99) with beef, although chicken and vegetable options also exist. The Japanese stir-fried noodle looked quite flavourful, although I find that it is often difficult to tell simply from the colour of the noodles alone.
I ordered the kimchi fried rice ($10.99), a dish featuring wok-tossed fried rice mixed with beef and vegetables,flavoured with kimchi, and topped with green onions. While the kimchi taste was somewhat noticeable, the dish was rather bland overall. It was also a little overpriced considering the composition and portion size.
Lastly, someone ordered the kimchi beef hot pot ($9.99). Chocked full of vegetables and meat, this dish was seemingly enjoyed.
On yet another visit here, I ordered the sockeye salmon sashimi ($13.95 for 8 pieces). While the fish itself was fresh, I did not appreciate the way in which they were sliced. I find that width matters much more than length when it comes to sashimi, and it was harder to discern the true taste of the fish when it was cut in such a way.
The Oyster Blowout ($17.99 for 12 pieces) also made an appearance. A relatively popular item amongst larger parties, this featured a decent assortment of Cortes Island, BC oysters. The shellfish were quite large and did not have too strong of a briny taste or any accompanying unidentified particles floating around in them.
Overall, I feel as if the fare at Ebisu is somehow lacking. While it does have some components of some of the better, authentic Japanese restaurants in the city, the notion of sole nourishment clearly isn’t their primary goal. Serving you copious amounts of alcohol with a wacky sort of Western fusion seems to be a bit higher on their agenda, particularly if you fall within the young adult age category and can be easily suckered into buying reduced-volume pitchers. The service itself is also typically lacking, which I find to be quite surprising for a Japanese-owned Japanese restaurant. I suppose it’s a bit of an unfair stereotype to attribute attentiveness and kindness to all Japanese waitstaff, but the servers at Ebisu legitimately fell short of providing acceptable restaurant attendance. The waitresses mostly seem to be quite disdainful when addressed, are borderline rude when ordering, and are often hard to locate afterwards for water refills and such. I’m not sure if Ebisu could ever really cater to me, but I suppose I could see why my contemporaries might enjoy it.
Conclusion: Andy ate a fair amount.
827 Bute St.