Sunday, 24 April 2011

Hakone Japanese Cuisine Edmonton - Japanese on the northside of the river

Rating 6.5/10
While most Japanese restaurants are typically found downtown, south or west of the city, its refreshing to hear that there's finally someone brave enough to set up shop north of the river - northwest to be precise - nestled at the edge of a residential neighbourhood.  Run by a Vietnamese family who had lived in Japan for 6 years, we were intrigued but cautious with our expectations as we stepped into a nicely appointed restaurant with a welcoming water fountain and orchids in the doorway.  White on white decor dominates the small restaurant space - with room for a few booths and a small private room where you can squish in a table of ten - just leave the sliding door open to keep the air circulating as its a very cozy room.  Service was excellent, with the waitress checking in almost excessively at times.  Staff were dressed in kimonos, friendly and enjoyed chatting with customers.



the FOOD
On the pretty menus, with lots of explanatory pictures, there was a nice mix of appetizers such as baked oysters, salads and items you'd find in most typical Japanese restaurants.  Surprising items on the menu include korokke, the japanese version of croquettes and kaarage chicken.  We decided to bypass the standard bento boxes and ordered a little bit from the full range of the menu - the beef tetakki, a sunomono salad, karaage chicken, a spider roll and a selection of nigiri.  Our other fellow foodies ordered some of the other cooked/uncooked items - chicken terriyaki, bento boxes, black cod entree, spicy tuna rolls, sashimi combo, and a chirashi bowl.
the beef tekakki
Sliced to the thinness of carpaccio (I prefer beef tetakki sliced tissue paper thin) the tekakki was otherwise executed well - barely seared tender blue rare beef topped with shaved onions, green onions, a bundle of kelp and laced with a slightly over salted  tangy ponzo sauce.  I'll forgive the extra salt as the beef is so gently seared, the cooked edges are minuscule and the beef is so tender it melts in your mouth.
the sunomono salad
The parboiled shrimp was disappointingly overcooked and thus leeched of its sweetness, and the octopus needed a bit more seasoning.  The dressing was light, tangy and a bit on the sweet side that flavored the thick glass noodles nicely.  Increasing the acidity of the dish would improve the balance of flavors as the slight sweetness in the dressing became a bit cloying towards the end.
the karaage chicken
Karaage chicken is traditionally seasoned chunks of chicken dunked in a light ginger based batter, deep fried and served with a dipping sauce.  While it looked promising and served with a lemon wedge, the chicken chunks were uneven in size, so the large pieces were juicy, the smaller pieces were overcooked and dry.  I felt the batter needed more seasoning, though a fellow foodie found bits of ginger in a piece and felt the dish was good despite not truly sticking to traditional execution.
the spider roll
Crispy tempura soft shell crab inside out roll with avocado had a nice balance of savory crisp melded with soft creamy avocado and the sweetness of soft shell crab.  The crab remained crisp, did not ooz oil and did not become soggy, though it may have been because the tempura was slightly overfried or double fried.


the nigiri
The fish and sashimi offerings were fresh, creamy sweet and with generous portions.  I come from the camp where equal attention to both the rice and the seafood is paramount.  Thus, room for improvement - the rice portion of the nigiri.  The rice while nicely compacted into the requisite bite size - was disappointingly bland with barely discernable amounts of sushi vinegar.  The barely seasoned rice detracted from the toro, salmon and scallop nigiris we sampled, and dampened rather than enhanced the sweet and creamy flavors inherent in the seafood.  Sushi vinegar is inexpensive and does not excuse why the rice was not properly seasoned.

the other food items
Our other fellow foodies enjoyed the chicken terriyaki - a huge portion cooked to perfection, glazed in sauce and served on a hot plate with rice, the spicy tuna rolls, and sashimi combo.  The bento boxes, black cod entree, and chirashi bowl had large generous portions and plated with attention to detail.



the VERDICT
Overall, a good start to what may shape up to be a promising Japanese restaurant.  Presentation and plating is pretty though Quibbles are hit and miss execution and under/over seasoning of dishes.  If the staff's enthusiasm is carried over into the kitchen with continued improvement in tweaking the execution and seasoning, this is a restaurant to keep an eye on.


Hakone Japanese Cuisine
Address 13907 127 St Edmonton, AB
Phone (780) 761-3006
Hours varies, call to check
Hakone Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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