Saturday, February 06, 2010

Feb 5th - Hapa Izakaya - Yaletown - Vancouver

Tuna and Feta
Chan Chan Ishi-Yaki
Daily Special Yakisakana - Qualicalicum Scallop Gratin

I'm a member of the Vancouver Art Gallery. I really only bought the membership because every month or so, they have an all night event on Fridays called FUSE. They open up the gallery in the evening with live shows and performance art. They have a cocktail bar and a patio open. All the hipsters and who want to show off their Mount Pleasant couture finds show up. That's not why I go. I like the concept of art and evening entertainment. That said the aforementioned group show up in droves as well as a good portion of the membership. See the members don't have to wait in the massive line that serpentines around the block nor pay for the entrance. That's why I bought the membership. Hey, I'm being honest. I don't like lines nor big crowds.

Last night they had a showing of the new Leonardo da Vinci sketches. We decided to eat downtown and head over for the 8pm opening. After 10 minutes in that throng, we took a look at half a dozen sketches as we waited behind a dozen people to creep slowly up to the small letter sized drawings of anatomy by the Master himself. 200 years old. Really moving. BUT not moving enough to keep me shoulder to shoulder to get that glimpse. Funny thing is after dinner we were just in time to avoid standing in line though there was already a huge crowd in side. When we decided to leave, there was indeed at Fuse-esque line around the corner. See the other beauty of being a member is that I can come back during the day and see the sketches in a calmer environment. I just work up the street.
Oh well, the event gave us a reason to eat downtown and see a bit of the Olympic energy. We had dinner at the new Hapa Izakaya in Yaletown. It is a popular chain of Japanese Fusion TAPAS in Vancouver with 3 or 4 other locations. We've eaten at the one in Gastown and stood unsuccessfully in line at the one on the West End of Robson. So I wasn't surprised that though you could probably still smell the new car newness, that the place was already packed with a line. They don't take reservations they'll insist but BUT they will take call aheads. Well the one in Gastown does, I found out, unimpressed. Anyhoo. This one is definitely the sleekest of them all and I'm sure that is not just the impression given it's yuppie locale. The perception may be accentuated by the narrowness of the restaurant which is dominated by a long low lit bar which ends with their open concept kitchen. There is seating all along the bar as well as the tables. D got there a 10 minutes before me and just like the Gallery, he got there just in time to grab the last two free seats at the bar. By the time I arrived there was a line out the door. If you see bar, seats, don't fight it. Take em. They are comfortable, and still conducive to talking and people watching.

The food was also the best I've had at the Hapa's. The fusion is in full force here, to a point I was rather surprised at some of the dishes even being on the menu. That isn't to say it wasn't delicious. Everything was piping hot, made on the spot and seasoned very well.

We had: Tuna and Feta in Sesame dressing, Pork Belly lettuce wraps (well D did), Burinegat??? aka Yellowtail skewers, Qualicum Scallops with creamy celeriac sauce, Chan Chan Ishi-Yaki.

The first dish was waiting for me when I got there. I was a bit surprised by the sound of the combo. Tuna sashimi with Feta?? in Sesame dressing?? I couldn't have been more wrong. The dish was a small bowl with Green Beans tossed with crumbled Feta and Tuna. It was delicious. If no one was looking, I would have tipped the bowl into my mouth for the last bit of the dressing. The tuna melted in my mouth and the green beans were thankfully cut into bit sized pieces and were blanched perfectly so they were still crispy.

The second dish was all D. A cute little plate came with about 10 medallions of grilled porkbelly, a half dozen boston lettuce leaves, crispy wonton ribbons and pickled onions and a wonderful wasabi mayo. You build your own wraps as you go. D said the pork was cooked really well, sweet crispy. I made one veggie one with just the mayo, cripy wontons and onions and that itself was very good.
The third was the Buri Negimayaki - Yellowtail skewers. Most of the dishes were off the daily specials. They're variation of their menu and classics. The dish was two skewers with two pieces of yellow tail alternated with the whites of scallions served with a small bowl of grated radish and a sour pepper that looked like wasabi. This was my least favourite dish but it was still nice. The yellowtail was a tad over cooked and dry. The pepper mash that I thought was wasabi was too sour. I did like the grilled scallions with the fish but the pieces were about 2 inches wide so you couldn't get them both in your mouth at the same time. I'd pass on this next time.

The fourth was the Scallop Dish which basically looked like a high end coquille St. Jacques. Actually, except for the lack of baby shrimp, that's what it was. Still it was fabulous. The celery root and small bits of mushroom lay on the bottom of a large scallop shell topped with crispy fried large scallops. No need for additional seasoning. It was very nice but oddly not at all asian in my view.

The last was a Korean spun dish, Chan Chan Ishi-Yaki A stone bowl rice dish. Served hot and sizzling at your table, the server tosses all the ingredients in front of you while mashing it against the size of the hot stone to crisp up the rice and the veg. It was AMAZING. Luckily they had a salmon one on the special because the standard Ishi Yaki on the menu was a pork one. This dish had a lovely lightly cooked salmon fillet with lots and lots of mushrooms and a nice delicate and barely there but perfectly there, miso dressing. Wonderful!

As well, they had a nicely balanced wine list. I had a Dr. Pauly Riesling and D had a Quintay Clava Sauvignon Blanc and a Beer to start.
Next time I'm having dessert. They had a Matcha Brulee that peaked my interest.

The servers and the bartenders were really friendly and not at all over the top about it. It was an asian version of Earls. Those in BC and AB will know what I mean. All attractive, tightly clad in black, ladies and gents. But the servers here were not off putting about it though like you're putting them out by asking to place an order. I liked that the service was seamless. We saw at least four servers bring or clear with no confusion and that included the bartender. The only annoyance was that one of them forgot to bring the fork I asked for since I am hopeless with chopsticks and I had to ask for it twice. I usually will mentally tally that up in my tip but didn't this time.

I'm not sure why the two large screen TV's over the bar were on Curling though. Really odd.
Food: fresh, well seasoned, delicious

Cost: $$ (~10$/tapa)
Cleanliness: New, spotless, slick but not intimidating
Wine list: balanced variety won't leave you hanging with the cheap end of the Mission Hills with cocktails, sake and beer as well.
Ambience: a bit loud but no need to raise voices.

Hapa Izakaya - Yaletown
1193 Hamilton Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 681-4272

Hapa Izakaya (Yaletown) on Urbanspoon

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