Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tsunami Sushi - Japanese Novelty

Vancouver is famous for its varied ethnic cuisine, but one country’s cuisine in particular has caught on in a big way. No matter where you are in our city, you’re guaranteed to find at least one sushi bar or other Japanese restaurant. As a giant fan of Japanese food, I have had several years to amass a list of favourites, and I think it’s time to share some of them with our Olympic visitors! My first recommendation is Tsunami Sushi, a slightly pricier but truly unique way to enjoy some good sushi. Floating boats and fresh fish... a perfect combination!

About the restaurant: Tsunami Sushi is actually a type of restaurant known as “kaiten zushi”, or “conveyor belt sushi”. A popular alternative to regular sushi places in Japan, the idea is to have small plates of sushi on a circular conveyor belt that passes around the sushi bar area. Customers sit at the bar and grab whatever plates catch their fancy as they pass by. At the end, the bill is calculated based on how many plates you’ve eaten, and what colors they are (certain colors correspond to certain prices). In essence, it is a moving buffet of sushi where you eat as much or as little as you like and pay accordingly.

Taken by user rubytue on Urbanspoon

Tsunami Sushi takes this concept but goes one step further with it. Instead of a mechanical conveyor belt, the bar is ringed with a miniature moat with constantly flowing water. The plates of sushi rest on charming little wooden boats that float on the water, taking a slow course all the way around the sushi bar. The result is very atmospheric and interesting; I usually end up sitting for ages just watching the boats go by! I found a YouTube video of it from user ladyjame:

Apart from the unique sushi bar, the rest of the establishment is unremarkable but perfectly welcoming, with plenty of seating, good views over Robson street, and cheerful service.

The food: The selection of sushi at Tsunami Sushi is often quite variable. The chefs at the bar will usually make a batch of one kind of sushi at a time, then load up the boats with the new selection. Don’t be surprised to see tons of California rolls one moment, then ten minutes later see them replaced by a set of tuna nigiri! It’s good to grab things you like the first time you see them, as you never know who else at the bar might end up grabbing the plate, and it may be a while before the chefs prepare another batch. In terms of quality, it ranges from excellent to merely passable. I find their fried dishes are juicy and satisfying without being overly greasy, and their inari zushi – rice wrapped in a sweet bean curd envelope – is always moist and tasty. Their maki sushi (the small rolls) are also very good. However, I find their nigiri sushi (rice with fish on top) tend to have too much spicy wasabi sauce for my tastes; be ready to have your sinuses cleared if you get too strong a bite! Also, in some cases, if the sushi has been floating around the table for a while, the rice can get a bit dry. All in all, however, I have yet to have any bad experiences and have generally enjoyed my meals immensely... often resulting in a lot of empty plates and a larger bill to match!

Taken by user rubytue on Urbanspoon

For those that don’t like raw fish or sushi, the boats usually have plenty of cooked items like gyoza and fried chicken available. You can also order basic items such as ramen and teriyaki chicken from the menu; while not particularly memorable, they are tasty and well portioned.

My favourites: Inari zushi, gyoza, tuna rolls, scallop and mayo rolls, tobiko rolls.

Cost: Tsunami Sushi can be a little on the expensive side, depending on how much and what you eat. The price per plate of sushi from the floating bar ranges from $1.70 to $4.00... but naturally, all the stuff I like is on the expensive plates! Each portion is small – a sampler, really – so expect to burn through several plates before you’re full. I’ve often staggered out with some rather large bills (approximately $20+ for just myself), but on occasion I’ve had the opposite experience (once I ate 4-5 plates for about $12). In the end, it really depends on the customer; just be aware that the prices are slightly inflated compared to other, less atmospheric restaurants.

Take-out?: No.

Delivery?: No.

Licensed?: Yes. Sake and Japanese beer are available.

Location(s): 1025 Robson Street, on the second floor (take the stairs with the signpost). Link to Google Maps.

Website and menus: Not available.

Summary: While there are cheaper places for sushi, and even places with better sushi, there is nowhere in Vancouver that has the presentation and the quirky fun of Tsunami Sushi. If you’re up for a bit of a splurge, park yourself by the bar and watch the world sail by... along with your waiting dinner!

Tsunami Sushi on Urbanspoon


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