Zest Japanese Cuisine

Restaurant: Zest Japanese Cuisine
Cuisine: Japanese/Sushi/Sashimi/Tapas
Last visited: November 20, 2010
Location: Vancouver, BC (Arbutus Ridge)
Address: 2775 W 16th Ave
Price Range: $30-50

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3.5
Service: 5
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Since 2005
  • Japanese Chefs
  • Creative Japanese tapas
  • Modern Japanese
  • Daily specials/menu
  • Seasonal specials
  • Fresh sashimi
  • Sushi bar
  • Casual fine dining
  • Award winning
  • Price fixe menus
  • Sophisticated/Elegant
  • Home made desserts
  • Wine bar
  • Free parking
  • Tues-Sun: 5pm-10pm

**Recommendations: n/a – Homemade Ice Creams, Green Tea Tiramisu

I have heard so much positive reviews on Zest Japanese Cuisine and my expectations were pretty high. It’s been on my radar since the Granville Street Foodie Tour and I do like their sister restaurant ShuRaku Japanese Bistro in downtown Vancouver, which is a more casual and funkier version of Zest. I actually enjoyed ShuRaku more than Zest based on the items I tried and first time visits.

Zest Japanese Cuisine seems like a hidden gem and it’s very popular to locals living in the area. I was actually surprised to see so many Asian diners since I thought it was a restaurant catered to a Western market. It led me to think that it was perhaps a more traditional take on Japanese cuisine. From what I tried I think that was the case and I would probably stick to sashimi and simple items, because the creative tapas sounded more exciting on paper than they actually tasted.

The ingredients are fresh, the service is friendly and the ambiance is sophisticated yet relaxing. However it ended up falling short and landing in some awkward category where it wasn’t creative enough to be modern Japanese food (considering the high standard Vancouver has for this) and not traditional enough to be authentic Japanese food. They claim not to be fusion, which I wouldn’t call them anyways, but I don’t really know what they are. Although expected, I found it slightly overpriced and I wanted the flavours to back it up. Don’t get me wrong though, I am willing to pay these prices for great Japanese, but not good (to at times just okay) Japanese.

On the table:

Genmaicha – 3/6

  • Japanese green tea with roasted brown rice tea $3.50/pot
  • They had 3 varieties and this was the one that you probably couldn’t find at many Japanese restaurants.
  • It tastes like regular Chinese tea, but a tad sweeter with a slight nuttiness from the rice. It’s quite light on the palette compared to ordinary Japanese Green Tea, I liked it better than Japanese Green Tea, but it’s nothing amazing.

Tuna Tataki Salad – 3.5/6

  • Lightly seared albarcore tuna on fresh greens with creamy Japanese wasabi flavour dressing $15
  • I wasn’t a fan of the plating and underneath the bed of lettuce was half a cubed tomato and a few slices of thick cucumber sticks, which were all covered.
  • It was a very basic and simple salad and I think they could have made it way better with lotus root chips, shredded or grated daikon or anything else so it wouldn’t look so boring and overpriced.

  • It came with an ample amount of salad dressing which was excellent. I actually really liked the dressing and used every drop of it.
  • It was a very savoury and tangy vinaigrette and there’s quite a kick to it from the freshly grated wasabi. It hits your nose and it was just the right amount before it got overpowering. I almost think there was some Miso paste and maybe some Japanese mustard in there and definitely some lime or lemon juice. It was incredibly flavourful and memorable yet it didn’t overwhelm the tuna.
  • The tuna tataki was very lightly seared and it was quite a fatty cut with a great creamy texture and flavour that almost came across as toro (tuna) belly. It would have been nice with a seared black pepper crust or even a sesame crust to justify the price.

Soba Crab Rolls1.5/6

  • Buckwheat noodles & crabmeat wrapped with seaweed then deep-fried to a crispy perfection & dipped in a flavourful stock $10
  • Soba Crab Roll or Soft Crab Roll? This was beyond average and it was a very small portion and not worth $10.
  • It was served luke warm and the seaweed wasn’t crispy but almost chewy with a slight crispiness, it came off as stale so it didn’t work. I would have rather had the Soba noodles cold.
  • It was all very bland and mushy in texture. Even dipped into the sweet and savoury soy dipping sauce it was bland. I was literally drinking the sauce and I still couldn’t taste much.
  • The fresh crab should have been shredded and then it would have absorbed the flavours of the sauce and maybe I could taste more.

Fluffy Chili Prawn – 4/6

  • Soft tempura prawn served with organic fresh vegetables and delicious home-made creamy chili sauce and aioli dressing $16
  • This is supposed to be one of their most popular and signature dishes.
  • It was almost like a glorified ebi mayo or deep fried chili prawn and again I found it overrated especially for the price. The name got me.
  • I lost the “fluffy” concept. By that they just meant it was a puffy flour tempura batter that resembled batter from a corn dog. It was still crispy and the prawn was crunchy and tender, and it was very good, but also nothing that spectacular.
  • Yes, the sauce was very tasty, but also not complex. It was a very salty, spicy and creamy chili sauce and it reminds me of that Korean soybean chili pepper paste Gochujang. It was almost like the taste of Miso paste with Sriracha sauce and it had quite the kick that stuck around. I like spicy, but it made it hard to taste the flavours of everything else afterward.
  • Although different, it was just as good as Hapa Izakaya’s Ebi Mayo.

Sorry! I accidentally took a bite and forgot I didn’t take a picture yet. The presentation was clean.

Grilled Sable Fish – Yuan Zuke – 3/6

  • Authentic grilled sable fish infused with aromatic yuzu sauce- Japanese lime $16
  • This is another hot item here. This was actually quite traditional and it was a nice change from the usual Miso Sablefish. However, I still found the flavours underwhelming and nothing so spectacular.
  • It’s good, but sable fish is almost always good. Every bite was juicy (as sable fish should be) and it had a crispy charcoal exterior which I liked. It was savory from a soy like marinade and the yuzu lime wasn’t obvious, aromatic or even that tangy.
  • This could be a traditional Japanese dish, but I just didn’t find it anything that special.
  • It was served with a sweetened radish and fresh Persimmon salad which was an okay accompaniment to the fish, but also added to the mildness and simplicity of the whole dish.
  • As what would be considered more of an entree, I found it not substantial in flavour.

Tuna Amigos Roll – 4/6

  • Zest original spicy tuna roll with homemade miso based spicy sauce $12
  • This is the most popular roll here and local favourite. It’s basically a gourmet spicy tuna roll.
  • It was crunchy with tempura bits on top giving it a deep fried illusion, yet it didn’t overpower the freshness of the tuna.
  • The tuna was pureed, but not marinated in any type of spicy sauce. It had a creamy texture, but no real flavour. The flavour came from the miso spicy sauce which tasted like a toned down version of the spicy sauce from the “Fluffy Chili Prawn” dish. There wasn’t enough sauce and it wasn’t that spicy so I had to dip it in the soy sauce and wasabi, which I think shouldn’t have been required for this roll. It didn’t help that the sushi rice was a bit bland as well.
  • The wasabi was wasabi paste, not freshly grated wasabi which I think was disappointing for a restaurant of this standard.

Yellow Magic Roll – 2/6

  • Thinly sliced mango over salmon and avocado roll $14
  • The 2nd most popular roll. Generally speaking, if it’s a sushi roll over $12, I want to see some Dungeness Crab in there.
  • I wanted more magic. This was actually quite bland and none of the flavours really stood out.
  • The mango was a crunchy tart mango and they cut it close to the core so it was a little rough and hairy. It made the sushi even drier because there was no juicy sweet mango, which is what I want to taste in a mango sushi roll.
  • It’s served with a mango red wine sauce which acted more as a garnish and it tasted like a very lightly sweetened bitter strawberry sauce. The red wine overpowered the mango flavours and it just didn’t work. It would have been better with a simple mango sauce.
  • The sushi rice and seaweed is good quality, but the flavour of the rice is lacking and I didn’t think the rolls were presented that nicely either.
  • I had to dip this in soy sauce and wasabi too, otherwise it was dry and dull in taste. Again, the wasabi served should have been fresh.
  • I’ve had better mango rolls from Taka’s Take-Out Sushi and even Kitstaya Sushi.

Desserts

Zest Japanese Cuisine changes their dessert menu frequently. I was actually very impressed with their home made desserts and not just because I love desserts. The desserts rose, or even exceeded the expectations I had for Zest. It was the only thing that made me think “okay I get the hype”, and they’re all very reasonably priced at about $6.

**Home Made Ice Creams – 5/6

  • Green Tea, Sake and Raisins, Black Sesame $5
  • The scoops are pretty mini and it sounds a bit generic, but they are home made and I thought it was worth it.
  • Green Tea5.5/6 – It was made with a combination of real Japanese green tea powder and real Japanese green tea leaves. It’s more icy and thick than creamy, but it’s probably one of the best green tea ice creams I’ve tried. It was the sweetest of the 3.
  • Sake and Raisins4.5/6 – I started with this one since I figured the flavour would be most mild. It was the Japanese version of Rum & Raisin and I thought it was creative. It’s actually quite cheesy in taste and it’s very thick and creamy. The sake is obvious but not bitter or overpowering, and I’m sensitive to the alcohol taste too. The raisins were finely minced into the ice cream which was pretty smart because it prevents that dry hard raisin texture you sometimes get in raisin ice creams.
  • Black Sesame6/6 – This is for sure the best black sesame ice cream I’ve had to date. I’m not even a fan of sweetened forms of black sesame, although I did like the black sesame gelato from Bella Gelateria. This version was even more intense in flavour though, not too sweet, super rich and thick, and oddly enough the most refreshing of the 3. It was very icy in texture again, but so nutty in flavour, it’s almost like a frozen puree of lightly sweetened black sesame. I loved it!
  • Cru Restaurant impressed me with their homemade ice creams and sorbet as well.

Green Tea Tiramisu – 5/6

  • Real Green Tea powder, Mascarpone Cheese with Italian biscuit $6
  • The only other place I’ve had this is at Miku Restaurant. The one at Zest is a bigger portion, but it doesn’t have as many fancy garnishes as Miku. They’re both great, but this one is more affordable.
  • This was delicious. It was creamy, moist, thick and cheesy, but not too cheesy and still a very creative twist to a classic Tiramisu.
  • The white cake is made in house and the bottom cake layer is slightly soaked in sweetened green tea . It had a very strong green tea flavour, and it wasn’t too sweet. There’s an overwhelming amount of green tea powder though, which made it a bit powdery in taste and texture.
  • It’s served with a green tea and raspberry sauce which acted as a great sweetener to the Tiramisu giving it also some tang.

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