Dan (Japanese Restaurant – Omakase)

Restaurant: Dan
Cuisine: Japanese/Sushi
Last visited: July 22, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Kitsilano)
Address: 2511 W Broadway
Price Range: $20-30, 30-50+

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

Food: 4.5-5
Service: 5
Ambiance: 4 (sit at the bar)
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

  • Husband and wife operation
  • Japanese owned/operated
  • Owner/Chef Ken Oda
  • Traditional Japanese
  • Seasonal ingredients
  • Daily fresh sheet
  • Neighbourhood favourite
  • Local gem
  • Cozy/intimate
  • Omakase menu $50+
  • Fairly extensive wine list
  • Premium sake list
  • Dinner only
  • Wed-Mon 5:30pm – close
  • Closed Tuesday

**Recommendations: Sit at the bar. For the first time at Dan, a $50 omakase menu is a great way to go, but for my next time, I will just order a la carte and take chef’s recommendations just because the omakase just seemed to feature the regular menu anyways. If ordering a la carte: Kanipon (Dungeness Crab Sunomo Salad), Tuna Chili Sashimi, any nigiri (sushi) or sashimi, but especially Spanish Mackerel Nigiri, Grilled Sablefish (Saikyo Yaki), Dan Spring Roll, and House made Creme Caramel.

**Insider tip: Call ahead to reserve an off the menu grilled salmon belly as there is only a very limited amount available each night. I saw it, and it was huge and looked delicious.

I’ve driven by it in the past, but I never really stopped to pay attention to it or put it on my restaurant radar list. Dan is easily overlooked and although it’s not hidden, it doesn’t stand out on Kitsilano’s restaurant strip. It’s an unassuming restaurant that’s known and generally loved by the neighbourhood, but its disclosed appearance never really called out to me. That’s what makes it a hidden gem.

I was doing a little research and fell upon the website, and at first I was surprised to see no menu for it, but after trying it, it’s very “Dan” in style to have no menu or do much advertising. It all seemed to match the discrete look and secretive nature of the entire restaurant.

I’m very late to discover it, considering it’s been open since 2003, but I’m glad to have finally tried it. It’s a cozy space, which can be considered a bit narrow and tight, but the husband and wife operation and attentive service live up to the name “Dan”, which translates to warm. Actually he might not seem that warm at first, but he’s just very focused and warms up later.

Omakase is my favourite way of exploring and experiencing Japanese cuisine of this style. For my tastes, I probably prefer Octopus Garden omakase, but my experience at Dan’s was just as pleasant and perhaps even more traditional. Kimura’s omakase is probably the funkiest I’ve had thus far, and also the most “bang for your buck”, but it’s not necessarily my first choice. Most places will probably start at $60-80, so $50 was a very reasonable starting point at Dan. Even if you don’t order omakase, I’d strongly suggest sitting at the bar for the best experience.

It’s not an interactive experience sitting at the bar, and there’s no “omakase show”, but to see the dedication and focus in Chef Ken Oda, was impressive enough for me. The only time he looked up was upon serving dishes, yet he managed to see everything around him and was fully aware of the entire operation of the restaurant. The environment just seemed so controlled, but not corporate controlled, but controlled in the context of him being so experienced. (I actually accidentally knocked a glass of tea over with a menu and I swear he saw it before it even happened.)

I decided to go omakase ($50) which essentially means “up to you” or “chef’s choice”, which I find is a great way to learn and understand a chef’s style and philosophy. Usually omakase will feature items not on the menu, but in this case all the items were actually from the menu. It was a bit unexpected and I prefer off the menu items for omakase. At the same time I didn’t quite mind because if I ordered all the things a la carte it would have been more expensive, and he did showcase the highlights from his regular menu and fresh sheet, although sample sized.

I did feel the omakase was a bit incomplete and did have to order a couple extra dishes, and I just felt like it needed one meat course, or just one more substantial dish… even for someone who doesn’t eat as much as me. For the first time at Dan, a $50 omakase menu is a great way to go, but for my next time, I will just order a la carte and take chef’s recommendations. This is basically because the omakase just seemed to feature the regular menu anyways, but in smaller portions.

Overall I found the dishes quite simple, authentic, and made with classic and traditional techniques. It was safe, and if you value technique over creativity, I’m confident you’ll love this. There’s a couple modern twists to some of his offerings, but his style is definitely much more traditional and he sticks to what he knows and does best, so the omakase was pretty much seamless in timing, execution, delivery, quality and flavour.

On the table:

Green Tea – I was actually surprised it was complimentary. It was good quality green tea too.

**Kanipon (Dungeness Crab Sunomo Salad)5.5/6

  • Dungeness crab, tobiko & radish sprout in ponzu sauce ($9 if ordered a la carte, portion will be bigger a la carte)
  • Oh god. To start off with a dish this good just heightened my excitement and expectations for the rest.
  • It was big chunks of juicy, sweet, buttery, meaty Dungeness crab with bright and fresh ingredients and flavours.
  • The slight crunch of salty tobiko was a fantastic addition.
  • The citrusy tang of the ponzu vinaigrette was not purse your lips tart, but well balanced with just enough sugar and mirin.
  • It was an initial burst of tang and then a slight sweetness to follow and it didn’t overpower the natural flavour of the delicate crab.
  • The crunch of fresh kelp and well pickled thinly sliced cucumber were traditional to the sunomo and kept the dish refreshing and light.
  • I definitely drank the sauce to this and I rarely do that when eating sunomono.
  • Omakase always starts with a salad and this is the best salad I’ve had to start an omakase menu with thus far.

**Tuna Chili Sashimi – 6/6

  • Marinated tuna, avocado & tobiko in chili oil ($7 if ordered a la carte, portion will be bigger a la carte)
  • And to have the next dish even better than the first dish… I had no idea where it was going to go from here.
  • Having my second appetizer be a 6/6, was like a firework finale after 30 seconds.
  • This is a must try dish and the highlight of my whole meal. I discovered later it was the best seller. I’m not surprised.
  • I loved the big pieces rather than the minced up ceviche tuna tartar towers, although those can be good too.
  • It was chilled, creamy, buttery, melt in your mouth thick slices of fresh tuna sashimi that was clean cut with a little bit of crunchy salty tobiko and freshly ground toasted sesame seeds on top.
  • The avocado was ripe and buttery, but not mushy.
  • Together with the tuna it was so interesting because the tuna was even creamier than the avocado.
  • I’m not sure if this was intentional, but I liked the unexpected texture since the avocado is usually softer.
  • It all marinated in a savoury ponzu soy sauce and lots of sesame oil. It’s probably one of the best Japanese sauces I’ve ever had.
  • The sauce was savoury, tangy, and sweet with a flavourful and aromatic heat of chili oil that picked up at the end.
  • It was flavourful spicy and not just hot and the sauce was certainly drinkable and I drank this too. It’s not that oily to drink and it was too good to let go to waste.

Chawanmushi5/6

  • Steamed egg custard soup ($7 if ordered a la carte)
  • I love chawanmushi. This is Japanese comfort food.
  • The texture of the chawanmushi is probably the best I’ve ever had. It was perfect.
  • The only thing is that I wish it had some Enoki mushrooms or more ingredients in it.
  • It just had one piece of mushroom and 2-3 pieces of fresh tender and crunchy prawn at the bottom.
  • Traditionally it is all about the custard, but it should have a few more mushrooms. Sometimes it even has scallops and chicken.
  • Also I like it when there’s more soup, this one did have soup, but it wasn’t as soupy as some others I’ve had.
  • The authentic clay pot it’s served in retains heat forever and the first bite will be as hot as your last (temperature-wise).

The texture tasted exactly like how the picture looks.

  • Be careful! It’s served piping hot straight from the steamer as it should be.
  • The egg custard is like pure silk infused with a beautiful sweet flavour of Shiitake mushrooms.
  • It’s almost like a super soft tofu, without the flavour of tofu.
  • The egg custard is steamed in a broth of mushrooms, house made seafood stock (dashi) and I think this one even had a bit of yuzu in the broth because there was a very faint licorice flavour in the background. It’s not strong, but it added another dimension to the custard.
  • When you break into the silky egg custard, the soup is released, but this one didn’t have as much as usual.
  • The custard almost disappeared before I even swallowed it and it’s literally like drinking hot liquid silk that glides in your mouth and slips down your throat.
  • Overall I think the best chawanmushi I’ve had thus far is from Kimura – see here, but texture wise, this one was the best.

Maguro Yuanyaki with Nukazuke4/6

  • Grilled Red Tuna marinated with citrus soy sauce ($10 if ordered a la carte, portion will be larger a la carte)
  • This was on the fresh sheet and I wasn’t too keen on it to begin with just because I would prefer most fish at Japanese restaurants to be served sashimi instead of grilled.
  • It’s apples and oranges, but I just prefer sashimi seafood and grilled meat if I’m having Japanese.
  • This dish is actually a dish of the Buddhist monks and there’s a lot of technique and labour that goes behind making each component.
  • Yuanyaki is marinated meat that is grilled with high and dry heat.
  • This came early in the omakase and I would have liked it 1-2 dishes later.
  • Maguro Yuanyaki4/6
    • The grilled tuna was pretty much cooked all the way through and it seemed like such a waste of tuna to me, but it’s to be expected for what it was.
    • It was intensely marinated in lots of yuzu and citrus soy sauce, but it wasn’t salty, greasy or oily.
    • The texture was very meaty and almost like a chicken or a steak and I prefer it more rare because it was bordering on a bit dry.
    • The after taste was of minty licorice and it wasn’t tangy despite having a citrus soy sauce in the marinade.
    • It definitely had flavour and it was basted repeatedly so the exterior was a bit pasty, and there was smokiness from the grilling.
    • Overall it’s not something I would order a la carte, but it was good.

  • Nukazuke 3/6
    • Japanese style vegetable pickles ($5 if ordered a la carte, portion will be larger a la carte)
    • This was on the fresh sheet and it’s never something I would order, but it’s actually pretty hard to make this well and nobody really offers it, so I appreciated it.
    • The pickles were appropriate with the fish, but I would have liked it with beef, but being that this is a traditional dish, I can’t argue with that.
    • The pickles were carrots, daikon, radish, and cucumber and they’re made by heavy salting.
    • The salt almost becomes like a miso paste and this is how they marinade and pickle the vegetables.
    • Surprisingly it’s not that salty and much more mild compared to Eastern European or American styles of pickling.
    • Each one tasted different although I’m sure they’re marinated the same, but vegetables absorb flavours differently.
    • All the vegetables were crunchy, refreshing and well pickled and infused with an herby flavour of perhaps minty Japanese Shiso leaf.
    • It’s not overpowering though, very mild and not bitter, as it can sometimes be if it’s not fermented long enough or the ratio is off.
    • The cucumber was a bit saltier than the others, and the carrots were very crunchy and unlike any “crunch” I’ve had before. It was unexpected, but I think it could be because it was a Chinese cooking carrot that tends to be used for soups.

Dan Kakiage3/6

  • Chopped scallop, prawn, and vegetable ($9 if ordered a la carte, portion will be bigger a la carte)
  • This is a specialty, and I’m glad I tried it, but it’s not something I would really care to order again. However I would recommend trying it once because it’s different and it is one of his signature dishes.
  • I found this to be a slight waste of scallop and prawn because I couldn’t really taste their flavours or textures since they were all chopped up, battered and deep fried.
  • I really loved his addition of chopped lotus root and I think maybe even daikon in the mix because it added great crunch to the tempura which was already very crispy.
  • There was a few shreds of shiso leaf and green onions, but it was so mild and just added a slight aroma, but not real flavour.
  • I could taste more vegetables than seafood and it was very mild and almost bland in flavour if it wasn’t for the tempura dipping sauce.
  • The tempura dipping sauce was home made, but also very mild. I thought it tasted watered down, but this is how tempura dipping sauce is traditionally supposed to taste like.
  • It’s very light tasting not that sweet or salty, but personally I do prefer a stronger dipping sauce because otherwise it just didn’t have much flavour overall.
  • I think it could have worked better with shrimp, octopus and squid because the soft scallops and crunch of shrimp really didn’t hold up to everything else that was in there.
  • The asparagus tempura I didn’t like though and the batter wasn’t crispy or crunchy and almost a bit powdery and soft, however the asparagus itself was tender with a good crunch.

**Chef’s Selections Sushi (Nigiri)5/6

  • Spanish Mackerel Nigiri, Wild Sockeye Salmon Nigiri, Mexican Prawn Nigiri, Tamago
  • His portion of sashimi to rice is spot on.
  • He presents it authentically with wasabi underneath and a brush of his home made soy sauce on top. Therefore the less flavourful sushi rice ended up being okay.
  • The rice is moist and somewhat chewy, but just lightly flavoured.
  • You don’t want the rice to overpower the fish, but it should have flavour on its own too.
    • **Spanish Mackerel Nigiri6/6
    • About $2.50 a la carte
    • I would order this a la carte and it’s probably the best way I’ve enjoyed mackerel nigiri.
    • It was very simple, but just well executed.
    • The mackerel was cut perfectly with slits on the top and the freshness and quality was high.
    • It was topped with freshly grated ginger and onion oil and a little bit of house made soy sauce which was a bit less salty.
    • The mackerel flavour was fresh, but not as fishy as usual and the ginger was an even better complement than the standard shiso leaf it usually comes with.
    • This is worth ordering alone.

  • Wild Sockeye Salmon Nigiri5/6
    • $2.25 a la carte
    • I loved how chef includes the wasabi underneath and then brushes his own house made soy sauce over top. This is a very traditional way of serving nigiri and you don’t need any extra wasabi or soy sauce.
    • The Sockeye salmon was beautiful and fresh, but the cut was a bit thin and it split. I’m being picky, but I just know how flawless his execution can be, so I had high expectations.
    • The only thing that could be better is if he freshly grated the wasabi.

  • Mexican Prawn Nigiri5/6
    • About $2.75 a la carte
    • This was also delightful and I loved seeing it on his choice of nigiri since it’s a bit more exotic.
    • It was firm, meaty and fresh with a naturally sweet flavour and a good amount of wasabi underneath.

  • Tamago (Egg omelet) – 4.5/6
    • $1.75 a la carte
    • This is my must order and if I didn’t get it I would have ordered it a la carte. For me, it should be a on an omakase nigiri plate as a side, so I was happy it was.
    • It’s pretty much the staple item to order that showcases what a Japanese restaurant can do.
    • The tamago was well made, not overcooked and nicely sweetened with a bit of sugar and some dashi stock as opposed to the lower grades that use just soy sauce.
    • The flavour was good, but it’s just not as layered, juicy of fluffy as I prefer.
    • It almost seemed like a smooth slice, and I do like when it’s a bit more airy and sponge like with noticeable layers.
    • The best tamago is still at Aki Japanese for me – see here.

Asari Miso Soup4/6

  • $5 (if ordered a la carte, and $3 just for the miso soup and no clams)
  • This is a standard course in an omakase menu and it usually comes somewhere in the middle.
  • For miso soup, this is a great miso soup, but it’s just not something I would particularly care to order.
  • So unless you appreciate the traditional techniques and labour that goes into making an authentic miso soup, you may or may not see the “wow” factor in this. It is a “wow” miso soup to say the least.
  • Most places of this style should be making their miso soup the old fashioned way though, so I wouldn’t expect anything less.
  • The one at Octopus Garden was great and I prefer miso soup to be milkier in colour like that one – see here.

  • This soup was rich with dashi and bonito (dried fish) flakes, fresh kelp flavour, and a nice salty brine of clam shells.
  • It wasn’t too salty and it wasn’t just miso paste or powder, but it was good quality miso soup.
  • It was served piping hot with 3 tender clams, but the clams were very gutsy and a bit mushy.
  • I do like my miso soup with more kelp and tofu, but this was still a very good and authentic miso soup.

The omakase menu ($50) was supposed to end here with a dessert course to follow, but I still had a few items I wanted to try. Go figure! I did feel it was missing a meat course or at least one more dish. If you’ve been following my blog for a while you probably know what’s coming…

**Grilled Sablefish (Saikyo Yaki) 5.5/6

  • Marinated sable fish in sweet miso sauce $12
  • It’s pretty much my must try along with tamago at any Japanese restaurant of this style. I’m obsessed with sable fish, but especially with grilled Japanese sable fish.
  • This is probably the next best sable fish I’ve had after the one at Aki Japanese – see Black Cod.
  • It was a fairly large piece compared to many I’ve had before and the meat was tender, silky, juicy, flaky and incredibly well marinated.
  • The miso sauce was infused into the fish which is the authentic approach. The drizzle of miso sauce on top is the modern approach.
  • The smoky flavour was also infused throughout the layers of the flesh yet it didn’t overpower the natural flavour of sable fish.
  • It was marinated in a sweet miso sauce, but it was more salty than sweet and saltier than the one at Ichiro, which was also delicious – see Ichiro’s Saikyo Yaki.
  • It wasn’t too salty either, but I could taste the marinade and smell the charcoal aroma.
  • They did miss a few long bones though and those should have been removed.

I think this made me happiest. The skin was perfect. It was shiny, fatty, crispy, charred and part of the flavour to the fish. It was also served with pickled celery rather than grated radish which is usually the traditional side component to grilled sable fish.

**Dan Spring Roll5.5/6

  • Tuna, brie cheese, and Japanese basil $5.50
  • It’s not hard to put together, but it was a great combination of ingredients and delicious idea.
  • I had my radar on this as soon as I laid eyes on the menu and knew I would end up ordering it if it didn’t come with the omakase. Seeing the regular next to me order it and say it was amazing was just the extra bit of convincing that I didn’t really need.
  • It’s small, but it’s good! It’s quite rich and indulgent, but absolutely divine.
  • It’s incredibly hot and you need to let it rest for at least 5 minutes because of the brie.
  • I couldn’t taste much of the tuna, which is cooked all the way through and it could have even been chicken. I think prawns would have worked even better for texture and flavour.
  • The brie cheese was apparent and completely melted so it was almost like an oily sauce bursting with rich and creamy brie flavour. There wasn’t much brie, but I could certainly taste its oils.
  • The Japanese basil was a nice change from spinach and it added an aromatic flavour and layer to something that was already quite rich.
  • It was very crispy and a bit oily as expected, especially since it was dripping with melted buttery brie.
  • It would have been even better with some sort of dipping sauce like a sweet balsamic glaze or a shiso infused honey balsamic drizzle.

Carrot Kakiage 2.5/6

  • Chopped organic carrot and leave tempura $6.75
  • I actually wouldn’t have cared to order this, which was being featured on their fresh sheet, but the sous chef said it was her second favourite after the Dan Spring Roll.
  • This was unique and unlike any tempura I’ve seen before, but it’s not a tempura I particularly value either.
  • Traditionally, this style of tempura is a method of getting rid of kitchen scraps.
  • It’s made out of leftover vegetables and herbs, so for that reason it’s hard to see value in it.
  • It’s 4 relatively large blocks of tempura served with their house made tempura dipping sauce.
  • Just like the Dan Kakiage I had above, I felt the same way about this.
  • It was interesting to try, but a bit bland especially without the tempura sauce, but the sauce was bland as well. On the other hand, the authentic version of tempura dipping sauce is quite mild.
  • The tempura dishes are a bit tricky here for me to appreciate, but they look interesting.

  • It looks like it would have a ton of flavour especially with all the apparent herbs, but it actually didn’t.
  • There was also hardly any carrots in it except for maybe the one or two slivers that were of course orange and visible.
  • It had a very strong watercress flavour and was made with lots of parsley and it was very crunchy but the flavour was very hidden too.
  • It wasn’t salty or even that aromatic and it was incredibly light and airy, but I just didn’t see anything special about it besides the appearance.
  • I almost thought it was an egg batter in between, but it was just the tempura batter, so every corner of this kakiage is crispy.
  • In a way it’s very lightly battered on the exterior but very heavily battered within.

Warm Chocolate Cake with Green Tea Ice Cream4/6

  • $6 (You might have to add an extra $2 if you chose it for your dessert in a $50 omakase menu)
  • Chef’s wife, Tomoko, actually makes all the desserts here.
  • This was very good, but it wasn’t really anything I haven’t had before at Japanese restaurants doing the same thing.
  • It’s just a little cup of cake, so it’s not too much and it’s not too rich.
  • The ice cream was your standard store bought ice cream and it would have been fabulous if she made this too.
  • For a restaurant like this I would expect them to make their ice cream, and I bet she could as well.

  • The texture of the cake seemed like it was steamed or baked in a water bath.
  • It’s an extremely moist, light and somewhat creamy chocolate cake, but a bit oily for me.
  • It’s not chewy or dense like a brownie, but more dense than a fluffy sponge cake or airy chiffon cake.
  • It was almost like a molten lava cake, but there’s no molten chocolate in the middle.
  • It’s not Asian sweet and it was actually sweet, but not overly sweet either.
  • It’s made with bittersweet chocolate and there’s actual chocolate in it, and it’s not just cocoa powder.
  • Anything warm served with ice cream I usually swoon over, so this was no doubt good, but just not as memorable since I’ve had things similar to it.
  • It’s very similar to the Hapa Izakaya Chocolate Lava Cake.

**Housemade Creme Caramel5/6

  • $4
  • This is the most popular dessert made by Chef’s wife, Tomoko.
  • I’m usually not a fan of creme caramel, but for what it was, this was a 5/6.
  • I would definitely order it again and say it’s a must try. It’s their best selling dessert.
  • This is a Japanese style creme caramel so it is different than the Latin creme caramel.
  • The caramel is at the bottom and not on the top.
  • This was perfectly cooked with a clean and smooth finish and top layer.

  • This creme caramel is much lighter and not nearly as sweet as the Latin versions, which is mainly why I don’t like Latin creme caramels as much.
  • This was creamy and smooth and airy light and it was almost like the texture of the chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) I had in the savoury courses.
  • It was slippery and silky and melted in your mouth like pudding, and the caramel sauce was at the bottom so you had to dig deep.
  • The sauce wasn’t overpowering at all and not that sweet either and there was a hint of yuzu in the background for a mild lemony licorice-like flavour. It’s very subtle though.
  • It was more like a brown sugar syrup than a thick, creamy and sticky caramel and it had the slight burnt flavour you would get in the crust of a creme brulee.
  • I actually think this could have been even better than Cake-Ya‘s creme caramel, which is well known for amazing creme caramel – see my post on them here.

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