Dec. 05, 2012 - Issue #894-Upgrades in Motion: Convergence
Sushi and clown cabarets
Delicious Japanese cuisine was just the beginning
Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.
The plan was to meet at Sakana Japanese Cuisine in Old Strathcona, then make our way over to the Fool's Gold Clown Cabaret at the C103 (formerly Catalyst Theatre) to maybe eat some licorice, have a few laughs—you get the idea.
Sakana is one of a handful of plucky little sushi joints which, along with Maki Maki, Kabuki and Sake Bistro, have risen up to the challenge the old guard in Old Strathcona/Garneau, namely Tokyo Noodle House and the mighty Kyoto dynasty. More notably, Sakana has finally revamped the interior of the Calgary Trail strip-mall space that previously housed various Chinese-Vietnamese operations disinclined to efface the two-decade-old imprint of New Asian Village. Finally the recessed silhouettes of onion domes in the walls have given way to deep, comfortable bo oths, ambient lighting and a decent paint job.
My previous trips to Sakana have revolved around their dinner bento box ($17.95), mainly because I've found myself dining solo and it's nice to get, say, salmon teriyaki on rice, fried scallops and sashimi (as well as miso, a green salad and some fruit) in one affordable package. But on this night I would have a sushi-philic co-diner with whom to share an even broader assortment of Japanese comestibles.
Having found the place only lightly patronized on prior visits, I was a bit surprised to see it fairly bustling and apparently I wasn't the only one—a single server who had been caught off-guard was taking care of the whole dining room, including a large table that commanded a lot of attention. Our service didn't really suffer for it, but you could see the poor food-slinger was a little frantic around the eyes.
My co-diner and I negotiated a reasonable feast for two; she proposed edamame ($4.50), vegetable tempura (full order, $8.99) and spicy tuna maki ($4.50), while I was responsible for selecting the evening's nigiri. I also suggested rainbow maki ($10.99) because who doesn't love that? And I wanted an order of goma-ae salad, but they were out of spinach, so we settled for chuka salad ($5.80) instead. As always, a light, fizzy Japanese lager was the apposite accompaniment.
Once the food started coming, which didn't take long, plate after plate emerged from the kitchen in rapid succession. First, it was the chuka salad, a khaki tangle of seaweed drizzled with a slightly sweet dressing and dotted with sesame seeds. The al dente texture and slightly tidal flavour probably won't appeal to all palates, but it got along with mine just fine. Beside it sat a brimming bowl of edamame—boiled green soybeans in the pod—which everyone loves for their high content of folate and manganese. Actually, it's the starchy crunch and liberal dusting of sea salt that we all love.
Next came the basket of vegetable tempura, featuring broccoli, red pepper, yam and eggplant. My co-diner contrasted a previous, off-putting tempura experience with the present serving, which was light and ungreasy, the thin coating an ideal veneer for the perfectly tender-crisp veggies.
Last but not least, the wooden slabs bearing the fishy part of our repast touched down. The rainbow maki—an inside-out roll with strips of salmon, red snapper, cooked shrimp and avocado outside and crunchy beads of tempura inside—lived up to the generally accepted standard for such preparations, and the spicy tuna maki boasted a sliver of avocado to offset its assertive cayenne snap.
Nor did the nigiri disappoint—that's the portion of fish atop a bed of rice that most of us think of when we think of sushi. At $4.95 per two pieces, the portions were ample. I found the tuna a little bit wanting taste- and texture-wise—they were out of my preferred tuna belly—but I assume that had more to do with the catch of the day than any failing on Sakana's part. In any case, the salmon more than compensated in mouth-filling flavour and butteriness. Chop chop is diced scallop mixed with mayonnaise and orange beads of roe, served on rice in a neat fold of seaweed. Again, not everyone likes their bivalves raw and creamy, and it's not the easiest nigiri to eat, but I've long been an admirer and was pleased to find Sakana's version both deliciously fresh and free of jarring particles of grit.
Thus sated, we proceeded to the clown cabaret where a zaftig harlequin poured into a red corset, whose adoption of a pseudonym suggests premeditation, abducted me from the audience, handcuffed me to a phallic flotation device known as a noodle and proceeded to use me as a stripper pole, her clownish bustle grazing my bikini parts. A patron of a clown cabaret is pretty much signing on for some forced crowd participation and I like to be a good sport, but I did not consent to that!
In any case, this brief episode of jape-related trauma, accompanied by some distressing nigiri burps, did nothing to diminish my satisfaction with Sakana. I'll just remember to keep my indulgence in sushi and clown cabarets more strictly compartmentalized in the future.
Sakana Japanese Cuisine
7908 - 104 St,
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