Restaurant: Octopus Garden
Last visited: May 26, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Kitsilano)
Address: 1995 Cornwall Ave
Price Range: $20-30, $30-50+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
- Authentic Japanese
- Some fusion sushi rolls
- Owner and Chef Sada-san
- Known for authentic omakase
- Very popular to Japanese locals
- Authentic experience/ambiance
- Small/cozy/tight space
- Neighbourhood gem
- Popular for rolls
- Moderately priced
- Patio seating
- Mon-Thurs Lunch 12-3pm, Dinner 5-9pm
- Friday 12-3pm, 5-9:30pm
- Saturday 1pm-9:30pm
- Sunday 1pm-9pm
- Closed Wednesday
**Recommendations: Sit at the bar. Order Omakase ($60 or $100 option) and if ordering a la carte the Uni Shooter, Amazake (not sure if available a la carte though), Tako Wasabi, Sashimi (Hamachi and Toro), Sushi Rolls, and Black Sesame Soy Milk Gelato out of what I tried.
After a day with several bumps in the road I needed something to go right. I hadn’t tried Octopus Garden before, but after hearing rave reviews from reliable sources, I was almost sure I could at least end the day off right. For many Japanese, it is a classic choice for traditional omakase. Food can influence anyone’s mood and Octopus Garden worked its magic better than Ursala from The Little Mermaid.
This tiny Japanese restaurant has been around for twenty years, but I feel like its popularity has really taken off over the last few. They’re most known for their omakase and sushi and it’s certainly a neighbourhood gem and local favourite. From the outside the restaurant looks quite large, but the space is small and the seating is tight, however the service is warm so it makes for a cozy atmosphere.
Of course there’s no better place to sit than at the bar, especially if you’re ordering omakase. However there’s only room for six and we were lucky to get the last two seats. Their clientele was predominantly Japanese and I fully embraced the fact that Japanese was almost the only language I heard being spoken throughout the night. It seems popular to the sophisticated Japanese crowd and neighbourhood locals, and based on observation several of them were loyal customers. It feels like a “Vancouver’s best kept secret” kind of place.
Owner and Chef Sada-san is the mastermind behind Octopus Garden. Social, inviting, humble and incredibly focused when it comes to the food, his philosophy is about providing high quality dishes in small batches. He doesn’t give an “omakase show”, but the dishes are well presented. It’s not really an izakaya place and he does offer a lot of robata (BBQ) and sushi, but his specialization I would say is in his overall omakase experience. It is the highlight here and the omakase is supposed to be representable to authentic omakase restaurants in Japan.
Omakase (chef’s choice) is the must try here, and it’s essentially what we came for. It’s for adventurous food enthusiast, but you can talk to chef about your tastes. My taste was “up to you” which is basically what “omakase” means. We settled on the $60 omakase menu with 6 courses as opposed to the $100 omakase menu with 9 courses, in which case two 6 courses for $120 actually sounds more reasonable now that I think back. Anyways we did the $60 and although it could be considered pricey, the quality of ingredients are high and exotic, and the omakase experience is worth it. It is a series of small plates that go from light to rich, and I was content after 6, but could have easily had 9. It didn’t feel quite complete after 6 so we did end up ordering a couple more on top for a total of 8 dishes for $70/person.
Compared to my recent omakase experience at Kimura Sushi & Japanese Restaurant, Octopus Garden is more traditional and predictable in flavours and style. I really enjoyed both for different reasons, but Octopus Garden has finer execution and it’s more focused on technique and precision. Chef Kimura is a bit more playful with more surprises and their tastes are quite different. Chef Sada-san’s omakase is also pricier and you might not be as full as you would be at Kimura, but everything is noticeably fresh, very simple and very good. It provides a true taste of traditional omakase in Japan and it’s an experience that you will remember.
On the table:
- With Japanese salad dressing.
- It usually starts with a salad and this was simple and fresh and the dressing was great.
- It was a smoky seared albacore tuna with some fresh kelp and then a nice tangy citrus minced onion ponzu vinaigrette.
- This is unlike me, but I forgot what was on top. It was similar to salted caviar, but it’s not tobiko and more like a sauce, but there was no marinade and it required none.
- It was a medium sized fresh Mary Point raw oyster.
- It’s a bit creamy with a slight briny salt flavour and a very clean finish.
- It’s quite meaty with a nice crisp chew and served over crushed ice.
- This is Chef Sada-san’s signature and famous omakase dish.
- The Uni Shooter which was renamed by @cwistal as “Ocean Viagra”… lol.
- I’ve had an Oyster Shooter version at Kimura Sushi & Japanese (which came afterward), and I already thoroughly enjoyed that one, and this one was even better. I’ve also had a Salmon Shooter version at Hapa Izakaya which was great as well, but this Uni Shooter was the creme de la creme of seafood shooters.
- I’m not sure if he was first to start it in Vancouver, but he could be. You mix up all the ingredients before shooting it.
- Yes, it’s a bit acquired, and not for everybody, but it’s exquisite if you appreciate raw ingredients and don’t mind a chunky slimy shot of savoury seafood juice. It may sound unappetizing, but it really is a modern delicacy.
- The sea urchin (uni) for one is an entire piece and there’s some creamy grated Mountain potato, Japanese sushi rice, a raw quail’s egg and then some crunchy black wood ear mushrooms, a minty Shiso leaf and some freshly grated wasabi on top.
- The juice is a lovely dashi broth with some sake, mirin (sugar + rice wine vinegar) and perhaps some soy sauce.
- The shot just wakes up all your taste buds and it’s full of textures and juicy raw ingredients that carry their natural sweetness.
- The highly prized fresh raw uni just has that meaty salty slimy bite that you don’t want to let go of.
- It was smooth, creamy, a bit smoky and I could taste a the subtle flavour of sake, rich seafood broth and slight tang of vinegar.
- The only thing is the rice was a little bit clumpy, but that could be due to my mixing.
- This was simple and very good. I’ve never had sashimi executed like this and for that reason alone I appreciated it.
- It was a very thin slice of saba sashimi wrapped around a slice of crunchy salty herring roe sashimi. It’s served on a bed of fresh kelp with a bit of freshly grated wasabi on top.
- It was very basic with the ingredients, but well assembled and it required few seasonings.
- It had great contrasting textures and represented different sea salt flavours in seafood.
- The herring roe is very rare to come across and I rarely see it on menus which is a shame because it’s delicious. It’s almost like a crunchy firm slice of packed row and it has great texture and flavour. The only other time I’ve really had it was at Ta-Ke Sushi – see here.
- There was also another piece of plain mackerel sashimi underneath and some fresh kelp marinated in a tangy lemony vinaigrette.
- The kelp was a nice upgrade from what would usually be spinach.
- It was about the right time for the soup and I’m glad to see it.
- I think it was their Konbu & Bonito Fish Dashi Tofu Miso soup, but with added clams.
- It’s very simple, but the process to get a broth this flavourful is not an easy task.
- It was somewhat creamy from the reduction of ingredients and had a wonderfully dynamic seafood flavour of dried squid, fish, fresh kelp and clams.
- The two clams were a bit overcooked and chewy though.
- This soup is made the old fashioned authentic Japanese way, and it’s probably one of the best “miso soups” I’ve had.
- The two pieces of deep fried red snapper on top were crispy and tender, but also a bit bland.
- The Hamachi Cheek, which is one of my favourites, was delicious. It’s the most prized part of a fish and is considered a delicacy.
- It’s infused with either salt or shio (Japanese soy sauce), but it’s not too salty.
- It wasn’t as smoky or charred as I prefer for being grilled, but it was perfectly cooked with a crispy edible fin that was chip like.
- The flesh was meaty, firm and moist and there was no need for any soy sauce it was served with.
- I would have preferred it to be served with ponzu instead though and with a side or grated daikon.
- He does a lot of robata (BBQ) on a small grill, but there are Japanese restaurants that specialize in it (see Aki Japanese), so there is better although this is good.
- Wild Sockeye Salmon, Japanese Mackerel (Saba), Kelp, Ahi Tuna, Tuna Belly (Toro), BC Spot Prawn (Ebi), Geoduck (Mirugai), Amberjack (Kanpachi), and Hamachi (Yellowtail Tuna).
- It was served on two long strips of daikon, freshly grated wasabi, a shiso leaf and soy sauce.
- I only used the wasabi and maybe a little of the soy sauce, but barely any as it was so fresh as is.
- It was a very traditional choice, but I was happy to see this come out. It really shows the philosophy and skill of a sushi chef.
- Serving a chef’s choice of assorted sashimi should showcase his freshest fish and knife skills.
- It was certainly fresh and it’s meant to be eaten starting with the salmon as the flavours get increasingly stronger and the selection of sashimi gets more exotic.
- The flavour of the fish will always depend on the shipment, but the cutting techniques don’t change.
- The choices ranged from standard to exotic and it was representable in the value of a $60 omakase menu.
- I was very impressed with all the cutting for the sashimi, except for the salmon and Saba, which I thought were okay.
- The Wild Sockeye Salmon was good, but a bit thin and small with the cut.
- I wasn’t too pleased with the Saba (Mackerel) cut which was a bit like a jagged Saba scrap.
- I would have preferred a raw tuna or aburi tuna rather than Ahi Tuna, since I already had this in the salad, but it was still good.
- The Tuna Belly (Toro) was buttery, oily, juicy and melt in your mouth delicious and similar to the one I had at Sushi Hachi. The cutting technique was fantastic.
- The BC Spot Prawan (Ebi) was one of the highlights and it was juicy and sweet. I sucked the prawn head juices as well which was rich and buttery.
- The Geoduck (Mirugai) was tender, firm, somewhat crunchy and cut in a way that exposed all of its flavour, which is quite mild like a scallop. See the Mirugai at Sushi Hachi for a more basic cut. I actually like a thinner cut geoduck since a thick one can be too rubbery. This one is better with soy sauce.
- The Amberjack (Kanpachi) was cut thin as it should be, and it was a nice big piece so I could still get the flavour. It was firm and still buttery, but not oily.
- The Yellowtail Tuna (Hamachi) tuna was easily the highlight. Again it was a thin and a big slice and the cut was perfect. The flavour was rich, creamy, smooth, buttery and slightly oily. It had intense flavour and the cutting technique just featured all its best qualities. The other “best” hamachi I’ve had was at Tokachi Japanese.
Ew, it looks like bloody newborn baby toes creeping from the top, but that was the octopus chopstick holder. I sucked my prawn head raw (sounds really bad), but if you didn’t he actually brought it back deep fried. If I knew that, I probably wouldn’t have eaten the head raw, although it’s enjoyable both ways.
- This came as a surprise! Everyone sitting at the bar (only seats 6) received an Amazake!
- If you can order it, I would order it. It could even be a dessert.
- It actually doesn’t have that much alcohol and it’s a warm, rich, smooth and creamy sweet sake made from boiled down rice and rice husks.
- It was almost like having a thick, intense, creamy, nutty, rich, sake almond-like latte and it was so comforting, warm, and soothing.
- I could taste and breathe the aroma of toasted rice and the sweetness comes from the release of natural sugars.
- It reminded me of an excellent authentic chilled rice wine I had in Korea – see here.
- Lightly battered and deep fried tempura unagi (eel), tobiko, and asparagus topped with avocado, Smoked Sokeye Salmon and unagi sauce. ($10 a la carte)
- I expected to see at least one sushi roll since it is one of their focuses here. This was the most fusion the omakase got, and it’s not really fusion at all.
- The presentation was fantastic with the octopus eyes and each piece was the perfect size for a single bite.
- It was a warm roll due to the tempura and possibly the sushi rice as well.
- The sushi rice was moist and sticky, but it wasn’t as flavourful as I expected, however the unagi (eel) sauce on top was enough to flavour it.
- The eel sauce is similar to Teriyaki sauce and it’s syrupy and sweet, so this roll requires no soy sauce.
- The roll was crunchy from the tempura and creamy from the avocado, and it had the perfect ratio of all the ingredients and I could taste every layer.
- It was sweet and savoury and the crunchy snap of asparagus and salty crunch of tobiko made for great texture along with the tender and crispy eel.
The omakase was supposed to end at this point, but I wasn’t quite ready for dessert. I could handle a couple more, so Chef Sada-san kept them coming (with additional cost). A sushi roll didn’t feel satisfying as the last course to omakase anyways though. I was hoping to see some nigiri or some meat, which we hadn’t seen yet.
- This we ordered upon request from the special features menu.
- Fresh raw octopus in wasabi sauce $5
- For tako wasabi, this was possibly the best I’ve ever had, although the ones at Guu, Koto Izakaya Sushi & Robata are great too.
- If you’ve never had it, it’s acquired as it’s slimy in texture. It’s also great with beer.
- This one was well minced and had a good balance of tangy crunchy Japanese pickles and tender raw octopus as well as some fresh kelp.
- It was well marinated with freshly grated wasabi and then the bonus was having it topped off with herring roe sashimi.
- Again, the firm and crunchy slice of herring roe sashimi tastes like tightly packed tobiko, but fishier and less salty. I love it.
- Tamago Nigiri (Japanese Omelette Sushi) – 3/6
- I was really hoping for a tamago nigiri! It’s one of the things I almost always order, so I was so happy to see him serve it.
- It was good and nicely layered, but it was a bit overcooked and not as juicy as an excellent one would be.
- It was slightly sweetened, but I couldn’t taste any dashi in it, and overall I was a bit disappointed by it.
- The rice was moist and sticky, but a bit bland with a very mild hint of vinegar. I had a feeling it would be bland because it was in the sushi roll as well.
- The best sushi rice I’ve had is still at Miku Restaurant, where you actually want to eat the rice plain.
- Grilled Scallop – 4.5/6
- This was the highlight of the trio although robata does get better.
- It was a grilled scallop topped with wasabi tobiko, fresh crab, and an octopus tentacle.
- The scallop was barely seared and it almost tasted like sashimi. It was creamy and sweet and just melted in your mouth and the chew of the octopus and flaky crab became secondary.
- I never really understood wasabi tobiko because it never tastes like wasabi to me and it seems more for decorative purposes.
- Beet Tataki & Unagi Sushi – 4/6
- I really enjoyed this Japanese interpretation of a “surf and turf”.
- It was a seared medium rare Angus beef and it had a sweet Teriyaki like unagi sauce or glaze on top.
- It was tender, buttery, smoky and I could taste the charred BBQ flavour.
- It was fishy, meaty, sweet and savoury with interesting textures, but the beef stood out the most.
- It was the most substantial out of the trio and perhaps most substantial out of the whole meal next to the sushi roll.
- I was crossing my fingers for the Banana Tempura, but that probably would be with the $90 menu.
- This was still excellent and it was a home made soy milk gelato topped with whipped cream and a blackberry.
- It was surprisingly creamy for being made with soy milk and not too sweet.
- It was intense with black sesame flavour and tasted like the Chinese hot black sesame soup in gelato form.
- It was thick and creamy like a black sesame paste or peanut butter and incredibly aromatic with lots of nutty flavour.
- It was more like a scoop that a creamy gelato, but it was still solid.
- I was reminded of the tres excellent black sesame ice cream I had at Zest Japanese Cuisine – see here.
- Forget the mints and frozen grapes when there are homemade sour gummy octopuses… or octopi? Octopuses.
- It reminded me of the home made gummy worms I recently had from Mis Trucos, which truly melt in your mouth like real fruit puree – see here.
- These were stretchy, chewy and subtly sour.
- They were sweet like candy more than fruity, and just incredibly cute and a nice way to end the meal.