Restaurant: Zen Sushi
Cuisine: Japanese/Sushi/Izakaya/Late Night
Last Visited: April 1, 2012
Location: West Vancouver, BC (West Vancouver)
Address: 2232 Marine Drive
Transit: EB Marine Dr FS 22 St
Price Range: $30-50+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 2.5-3 (based on what I tried)
- Traditional/fusion rolls
- Izakaya/robata menu
- Extensive menu
- Daily specials
- Pricey for what it is
- Value not great
- Ocean Wise
- Accepts credit card
- Dine in/Take out
- Dinner only
- Mon-Sun 5pm-9:30pm
Jiro Dreams of Sushi… and so does Mijune (which is me by the way – hi!). I had just watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the documentary on one of the world’s greatest sushi chefs and restaurants in Japan, and lo and behold I was dreaming of sushi. The film was pretty good, but I could easily remove myself from it, so I wasn’t on “cloud 9” coming to Zen Sushi. I wasn’t expecting 3-Michelin Star sushi or even putting Japanese food on a higher pedestal than I already do, but I was expecting solid high quality sushi. It’s apparently one of the places to go for sushi in West Vancouver, so I decided to give it a try.
I don’t know much about the restaurant or what else is available in the area for Japanese, but it didn’t deliver to expectations and I found it overpriced. The food wasn’t bad, but it was just really average with fine dining prices. I have no problem paying for food and spending a bit on ambiance, service, ingredients etc., but in this case I felt like it was more for just being in West Vancouver. I get that rent is expensive, but even in downtown Vancouver I wouldn’t have to look very hard for better food and prices with on par service and ambiance.
The room was pretty average, but the view was nice and the service was friendly, but perhaps not as knowledgeable. The floor staff and clientèle were predominantly Westerners and most likely local, but the chefs seemed Japanese. I have to admit, I was initially sceptical, but open minded until I completed my dining experience. Race and nationality are irrelevant as long as there is knowledge about how the food is made and what is being served anyway.
When I asked for recommendations I was told that the “Zen Original Rolls” and izakaya were the things to order, and that the sushi was “just sushi which I could find anywhere else”. Ouch. Ouch. I don’t want to be snooty about this, but sushi is not just sushi. I was further recommended to try popcorn shrimp, sauteed mushrooms and I think spring rolls from the izakaya menu. Fair enough that they might be good, but it just seemed a bit uninspiring and far from the Japanese items I had in mind.
The chefs seemed traditional Japanese and my feelings were hurt for them when I heard “sushi was just sushi”. Professional sushi chefs train years and years just making sushi rice. Forget about even cutting the sashimi, you have to work up to that after you’ve proven yourself worthy of making sushi rice. It takes great skill, commitment and patience to master authentic Japanese sushi, and the rolls are considered the “easy part”. The rolls are more about creativity especially in Vancouver, but the sushi shows the skill and technique of the chef. I would expect a restaurant of this level to feel the same and treat the sushi with this much importance (I’m not saying that they don’t). I have nothing against rolls and I do like them, and of course in the end food is food and tastes are personal, but facts and tradition shouldn’t be ignored.
Getting back to navigating the extensive menu, I really had no idea what to order. The menu and recommendations were leaning to “fusion rolls” and izakaya, but looking at the chefs and layout of the bar, and feeling out the restaurant, I was thinking traditional. So I did a bit of both to be safe, and I was still confused and wasn’t confident in either direction. Again it wasn’t bad, but the quality didn’t live up to the expectations or prices. I could see locals who stay in West Vancouver treating it as a neighbourhood favourite, but as someone who is willing to travel for food, I’m not exactly eager to travel back.
On the table:
Crunchy Salmon – 4/6 (Very good)
- Crispy egg crepe stuffed with seasoned Wild Pacific Sockeye Salmon served with tomato curry and sweet ponzu sauce $13.95
- This was one of the recommended izakaya style items from “Chef’s Recommendations”.
- These were probably the best things I had here.
- Each piece was about a 2 biter and it was a juicy well textured and flavourful dish.
- Deep frying beautiful Wild Pacific Sockeye Salmon seemed a bit of waste, but it tasted good overall.
- It had a good crunch, but only on the outside and the rest was quite soft and mushy.
- I couldn’t taste much salmon although I could see lots of it.
- I think each piece of salmon was deep fried before being wrapped in a roll, so it was a bit too mushy since the batter just got wet before being deep fried again.
- The batter was quite thick especially since it had the egg crepe underneath so it got a bit chewy.
- The egg crepe has no flavour so perhaps seaweed would have been better and given flavour as well.
- The tomato curry and sweet ponzu sauce had a good spicy kick and citrus tang and it was well balanced adding a pop of flavour to the rolls.
- I liked that it hit all my taste buds and it really tasted Indian with perhaps garam masala (ground Indian spices) too.
- Dungeness crab, salmon, tuna and cucumber in egg crepe with honey dijon sesame sauce $15.95
- I found this very overpriced and the roll and presentation didn’t even show for it.
- The sushi was small and bite sized which is how sushi should be, so that didn’t bother be, but it just tasted very regular considering the good quality seafood too.
- Yes it was fresh Dungeness crab, Wild Pacific Sockeye Salmon, and Albacore Tuna, but still, I could get all these ingredients in a roll at Miku for less and delivered better.
- The pro is that the salmon and tuna are Ocean Wise (not sure about the crab), and I can’t say that about many Japanese restaurants in Metro Vancouver.
- It was a rather sweet roll and the flavours were very delicate and almost too subtle without the quality of sushi rice, fresh crab and or fish being able to carry it.
- The honey dijon sesame sauce was almost undetectable and I could only taste a bit of sesame at the end and a sweetness in the beginning.
- It required dipping of soy sauce and wasabi which I usually try to avoid if there is already a sauce and fresh high quality sashimi.
- Even with just a touch of the soy sauce and wasabi the honey dijon sesame sauce was completely overpowered.
- Wasabi spiked roll of tuna, scallops and kani softly cradled in an egg crepe served with nori shiitake dipping sauce $16.95
- This one had some presentation to show, but I still found it overpriced for what it was and the flavour it delivered.
- The spider web like design in the centre was the nori shiitake dipping sauce and Japanese sweet mayo.
- The roll had a good amount of ingredients and I could taste the fresh and sweet scallops followed by the tuna the most.
- The sauce was made of melted nori (salty) and shiitake (sweet) and the roll did rely on it for flavour, so it was nice that they gave quite a bit.
- Both those ingredients are naturally slimy in texture after they are melted down and reduced, so it made for a very gluey thick sauce that was very salty and sweet. Not a bad thing, but just to be prepared for the mouthfeel.
- The nori shiitake dipping sauce mixed with sweet Japanese mayo was quite creamy and rich and it was a lot for the light and fresh sushi roll.
- The first time I had this nori sauce was at Morimoto’s served with his signature Toro Tartare, and in Vancouver I actually enjoyed the sauce at Suika on their Negitoro Battera.
- Again for the price, or even less, I could find a roll at Miku or Octopus Garden with the same ingredients and better delivery. I was slightly disappointed.
- 9 pieces of Zen speciality nigiri sushi and special salmon sushi roll $29.95
- This is the traditional side of the menu and restaurant. I was hoping it was the strength since the “fusion items” fell short of expectations.
- This was still overpriced for what it was and I would say $25 can be easily found for the same quality.
- For a “Deluxe Sushi” the type of sashimi should really be premium and the plating should be different, but I’ll even let that go.
- Personally for this calibre of dining and traditional Japanese style, I would recommend Octopus Garden, Ichiro, Dan or Kimura or Miko Sushi (although more casual). I’m not sure if Hachi Sushi is still good, but that’s another option.
- It’s debatable whether a roll should be “allowed” on a Deluxe Sushi plate.
- For the price it could have been a better roll, or even sashimi or just more sushi.
- This tasted like a spicy tuna roll with avocado and masago on top.
- I would have preferred a non-spicy sushi roll just so it wouldn’t battle with the pure taste of the nigiri (sushi) that is the highlight on the plate.
- I had to wait for the spice to die before trying the nigiri. It wasn’t overly spicy, and it was good, but it’s not something I would order a la carte and it needed soy sauce and wasabi.
- These were a bit cramped on the plate and traditionally it should be presented differently, but I’m letting it go.
- As a “Deluxe Sushi” there should have been more exotic fish and at least a couple speciality Japanese imported fish.
- I shouldn’t be able to easily recognize or name all of them, which wasn’t really the case. It’s not the greatest way of measuring, but it usually works for me.
- Each sushi had a house sauce served on top which is quite unexpected and unusual for an authentic deluxe sushi plate. It does happen though and it’s not necessarily bad.
- None of them had wasabi underneath, and it is traditional to have a little.
- The rice was sticky, room temperature and decently flavoured, but the rice wasn’t premium and the flavour still on the blander side.
- I appreciate that they try to be Ocean Wise, but I’m not sure how much of the sashimi is actually Ocean Wise.
- Salmon Sushi – The salmon was good quality with perhaps a brush of lemon juice because I tasted citrus. I kind of wish it had no lemon though, it shouldn’t need it.
- Scallop Sushi – This was the best one. It was sweet, clean and had a fresh kiwi sauce on top for a light acidity and tartness. The quality of the scallop was excellent.
- Tuna Sushi – The quality was okay and it was topped with a spicy chili sauce with green onions that reminded me of Sriracha sauce.
- Ahi Tuna Sushi – This was better than the quality of tuna and it was brushed with sesame oil.
- Toro Sushi – Tuna belly is one of my favouites just because it’s so oily and fatty, but in Japan the leaner tuna is preferred for its true flavour. The toro was cut well, but it’s not the best toro I’ve had. I prefer Kriri or Tokachi or Octopus Garden.
The rice was consistent with every piece and well balanced with the weight of the fish, but the flavour of the rice itself was a bit bland.
Hamachi Sushi – The Hamachi came with shiso leaf underneath. I prefer the hamachi at Tokachi, but this was still pretty good.
The prawn was a BC Spot prawn and this was my second favourite on the plate. It was fresh and sweet and beautiful. They also deep fried the head and served that as well, which is expected for a Japanese restaurant at this level.
Masago Sushi – The masago quality was average and very fishy in flavour, but the seaweed was crunchy. It wasn’t salty masago, but the seaweed was good quality.
Unagi Sushi – The eel did’t taste very fresh and it had a muddy flavour. It was sweet, but fishy and not smoky.
- It’s believed that the test of a great sushi restaurant is if they can nail the tamago.
- It was great that it was made in house, but this one was a bit burnt and I could see the distinct layers and it just wasn’t well executed.
- It was very eggy and not too sweet, but I couldn’t taste the dashi (Japanese seafood stock) in it.
- It also wasn’t very moist and served hot and it should be served chilled.
- I do prefer the tamago at Tokachi or Kiriri and Aki Japanese Restaurant.
Zen Sushi, like the Nook, is a fav with the locals. My Japanese friends told me to avoid it because it’s more fusion, than Japanese(although izakya places are fusion). I think the inspiration for the T.S.K. roll came from dim sum’s Sui Mai. Remember, there’s not a lot of Asians on the North Shore and most places are “all you cant eat” joints run by Chinese or Koreans. The lack of competition leads to mediocrity. Sushi Katsu, N.Van, is run by Chinese but their food is honest, tasty, reasonably priced and not prententious. The sushi won’t be cut as well, but certain items make it worthwhile( black cod, tempura, bento…gyoza and sake for less than $8.).
Wooooowoo nice I like !
I’m not sure I see anything (that Mijune ordered) that appeals to me. Their food, as shown, seem to straddle between “traditional” and “fusion-y” but isn’t ground-breaking in either way, as if they’re playing it safe, and probably are, to cater to the locals, as Bow pointed out. It does seem they are taking full advantage, price-wise, of the local market in terms of what it can bear.
I think I walked past Zen a couple times when I was on my way to La Regalade …… [LOL, wink]
Hi Mijune! Though I have been following your blog, this is my first time to leave a comment. I totally agree with your comment about Zen. I am from Japan and so I am very particular about Japanese food, but Zen didn’t move my heart….
@Can – Hi Can! Thank you for leaving a comment and thank you for reading my blog. I’m sorry you didn’t have a good experience either and I like that you included your frame of reference. I would be willing to try it again, but the first time wasn’t too impressive unfortunately.
I went here two years ago with my family – and my experience was almost exactly the same as described here. It’s not that the food was downright terrible or anything, it was just so… blah. “Pricey for what it is” sums it up perfectly. I can be somewhat of a sushi snob and even two years ago they told me not to bother with the sushi. Because all the waitresses were Caucasians when I visited two years ago, I assumed the chefs were, too… and just figured that they didn’t know how to make sushi properly. You’ve hit the nose on the nail by saying that it’s actually really rude to those Japanese chefs by saying the sushi is “just sushi”. I’m sure that was especially clear to you after watching that documentary/film!
I haven’t had much luck with Japanese food on the North Shore. :\
i definitely give props to this place for its creativity for some of its dishes.. i mean, egg crepe sushi!? but for the price you’re paying, i wish the execution of their dishes were a bit more refined… you definitely can find a better sushi place with the same price points 🙂
@Linda – yeaaahhh kind of how I felt 🙁