Tsukiji Japanese Restaurant

Restaurant: Tsukiji Japanese Restaurant
Cuisine: Japanese/Sushi/Sashimi
Last Visited: June 7, 2012
Richmond, BC (Richmond Central)
4751 Garden City Rd (Garden City Plaza)
Transit: SB Garden City Rd FS Leslie Rd
Price Range: 

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 3
Service: 3
Ambiance: 3
Overall: 3
Additional comments:

  • Chinese owned
  • Japanese Chef Koba-San
  • Sushi/Sashimi
  • Sushi bar
  • Robata menu
  • Moderately priced
  • Accepts credit card
  • Sake/wine/beer
  • Dinner only
  • Sun-Thurs. 5:30pm-11:30pm
  • Fri-Sat. 5:30pm-12:30am
  • Free parking

**Recommendations: Marinated Tuna, Avocado Tuna Roll

I was curious yet avoiding this place for years. It’s been around for a while so I assume they must be doing something right considering the countless options for Japanese food. The reason I contemplated the visit was because I heard it was Chinese owned and operated and overpriced, while others suggested that it was authentic and the chef was Japanese. I didn’t know who to believe, but there was only one way to find out.

Yes, I admit I hesitate a bit when I discover a Japanese place is Chinese owned and operated. It’s quite typical in Metro Vancouver and more often then not it doesn’t deliver to authentic Japanese standards. However, I mentioned in my previous posts that it didn’t matter to me what nationality/ethnicity the person making the food was, so long as they were well trained and that the food was still good. So I decided to actually listen to my own advice, or I guess “claim”, and settle my curiosity once and for all.

Tsukiji Japanese Restaurant is in fact Chinese owned but the chef is Chef Yoshinobu Kobayashi. Chef Koba-San is a rather well known and respected Japanese sushi chef from Japan and he’s likely the only Japanese person in this operation. So there you have it. It’s a halfer restaurant!

I’m kind of torn about my thoughts on this restaurant. From what I gathered, Chef Koba-San knows what he’s doing and he’s been training since he was 18 years old, but it somehow delivers to Chinese standards for Japanese food. The majority of the clientèle is Chinese and the way it operates feels like a restaurant that is more focused on costs. The ambiance and menu aims for upscale, but the food doesn’t necessarily speak at the level. They have no imitation crab and even the California rolls are made with real crab which is commendable, but that only scratches the surface to what makes a “higher end” Japanese restaurant.

While it started off quite impressive, some things suffered from not reaching its full potential especially with that chef. There were some corners cut and ingredients sacrificed which made it feel like it was catering to Chinese tastes or to save costs. While the chef has the skill and technique and is capable of providing authentic, some ingredients and style presented differently and I just had higher expectations.

I didn’t find that it delivered the quality they were charging, and a lot of things felt like it was three quarters of the way there. The food was more or less still good, but there is some compromise that isn’t really for the better. It’s perhaps out of Chef’s hands. Although my experience was decent, I would be selective with my ordering if I were to come back and I still prefer Ichiro for this style and in the city of Richmond.

On the table:

Spinach Gomaae3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Spinach mixed with sesame paste $3.95
  • It looked bland, but it was actually a well made and authentic gomaae.
  • I prefer a house made sauce with ground sesame seeds, but this was still good.
  • The spinach still had crunch and it was lightly dressed in gomaae sauce which was savoury and nutty and not too sweet.
  • Authentically it should be lightly dressed and it was, but it still had flavour.

**Marinated Tuna4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • In special soy-based sauce (regular or spicy) $8.50
  • I loved this. I ordered it spicy and it was, but not hot either and well rounded.
  • The quality of the tuna was the best part though and it was one ingredient they really invested on.
  • It was good quality tuna which surprised me that they would use it in this marinated context.
  • The tuna was fresh, cut nicely in cubes, chilled and had good flavour.
  • It was in a sweet, tangy and savoury soy sauce that was almost like a glaze and it carried some chili oil heat.
  • I tasted a hint of ginger, but I couldn’t see or bite into any in the sauce and it wasn’t a typical “spicy tuna sauce”.

Salmon Tartar4/6 (Very good)

  • Chopped salmon, green onions & quail egg with special sauce $8.50
  • It was a decent portion and you mix it all up and wrap it in seaweed to enjoy.
  • The sashimi was creamy and cold and the sauce was salty and sweet and similar to the marinated tuna sauce, but not as thick and glaze like.
  • The salmon sashimi wasn’t the best quality, which was a bit expected in this marinated context and it still tasted good.
  • I could have used a bit of crunch from either fried garlic and onions or pine nuts like how Guu on Thurlow serves it.
  • The seaweed it was served with was very chewy and almost tough, which is not ideal for any sushi restaurant and I wish it was higher quality.
  • Other salmon tartares worth trying are the Salmon with 7 Friends at Guu With Otokomae or the Spicy Salmon Tartare at Shuraku Sake Bar & Bistro.

Avocado Tuna Roll 4/6 (Very good)

  • $8.25
  • Based on the name I would have never ordered it, but it was from the photo on the menu and the server’s recommendation which convinced me.
  • Obviously it delivered beyond the description with the extra lemon wedge on top.
  • The lemon is not a garnish and you eat the whole thing with the skin. It gives the roll a pop of bright flavour and freshness and the bitterness is muted.
  • They used toro (tuna belly) for the roll so it was even better than regular tuna because it was fattier and richer with flavour and texture.
  • It was a very creamy and rich roll especially with avocado and toro, so I wouldn’t have minded some cucumber for crunch.
  • The rice was dried out though and the seaweed quality was not high and very chewy so that limited the potential.
  • Another place I’ve seen the lemon wedge as an ingredient is at Take Sushi on their Take Roll.

House Roll3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Prawn tempura roll topped with unagi, avocado and masago $10.95
  • This was very different than most house rolls I’ve come across.
  • It had nothing most house rolls would have like tamago (egg), salmon, tuna and crab.
  • This was almost like a Dragon roll instead with the unagi on top.
  • The quality of eel wasn’t good enough for the price though and it didn’t seem freshly prepared.
  • The unagi shouldn’t be hot off the grill for sushi, but it seemed too premade and a bit flimsy.
  • I liked the texture and crunch of tempura, pops of tobiko, creamy avocado, and sweet marinated eel, but again the rice was dry and the seaweed chewy so it limited the potential.
  • There was also a bit too much rice in the roll and it needed more filling.
  • If the sushi rice was properly made and the seaweed and eel quality higher this could have been a very good roll.

Tara Saikoyoyaki (Black cod marinated in Miso) 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • $12.95
  • It’s my favourite thing to order for robata. I don’t care that black cod/sablefish is impossible to mess up, I still love it
  • It still tasted good despite the perfect grill marks which it authentically shouldn’t have.
  • It should be slow cooked over hot coals rather than on an actual grill. I’m not sure if it was just for presentation.
  • Black cod is usually more expensive so it should crawl between $10-13 depending on the size.
  • This was a bit overpriced for the size and it’s most likely frozen, but it was still moist, flaky and tender as sablefish tends to be.
  • The miso was well infused and it had a slight charred and grilled smoky flavour.
  • It wasn’t too salty and the skin was crispy, but the best one I’ve had to date is still at Aki – see their Black Cod here.
  • Having miso mayo sauce on top is a Westernized characteristic, so this was still somewhat authentic.
  • Authentically it should also be served with grated daikon and a lemon wedge instead of parsley.
  • Despite not sticking to traditions as much, it was still good.

Gyutan (Beef tongue)2/6 (Okay)

  • $5.25
  • It looked perfectly grilled, but it looked better than it tasted.
  • Half the slices (the smaller ones) were overcooked and very tough so I couldn’t chew through them.
  • The larger slices were fine though, but they were still quite chewy rather than tender.
  • It wasn’t to marinated and quite natural in flavour and not very oily or smoky.

Nankotsu (Chicken soft bone skewers) 2/6 (Okay)

  • $3.75
  • I give it to Asian cultures for not wasting all that is edible.
  • I’m not really keen on chicken soft bone skewers, but I’ll have a couple pieces if it’s there.
  • The bones were tender and soft and very crunchy and it’s eating cartilage or in this case chicken knees.
  • Typically in Japan these would be served in thinner strips, but these ones looked more Chinese style in clumps with still a bit of chicken meat attached.
  • Personally I prefer chicken knees deep fried at Pearl Castle or at McKim Wonton Mein Saga deep fried and served with spicy sauce instead of grilled.

Sunagimo (Chicken gizzards skewers)3/6 (Good)

  • $3.95
  • I like duck gizzards better, but chicken gizzards are good too.
  • It’s not something I would typically order at an Asian place as I prefer European or American styles for preparing gizzards.
  • These ones were well prepared for being grilled and they were a bit chewy as they naturally are.
  • They weren’t tough and they didn’t have much flavour, but perhaps a bit of soy and sake marinade like the other skewers.
  • These ones seemed a bit smaller than normal and I do prefer them at Zakkushi Charcoal Grill.

Shishamo (Grilled smelt)3/6 (Good)

  • $3.95
  • I actually like these and the whole thing is edible including the head and tail.
  • They’re crispy, but not dried out and the body part is filled with white caviar (eggs).
  • The caviar is creamy and very tiny and there are no crunchy or salty pops.
  • The bones it has are undetectable and all edible and the outside is crispy and charred which I like.

Seafood Motoyaki (Baked scallops & crab)3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • $9.95
  • This was recommended.
  • As I mentioned in the intro, they don’t serve imitation crab here.
  • This was very good, but just overpriced for what it was. If it was $7.50-8 I would have given it 5/6.
  • It was super creamy, rich and indulgent and I would have to share it because one is a lot.
  • I felt a bit sick after eating half and that’s coming from me who has a high tolerance for rich food too.
  • Motoyaki is always super rich, so just be prepared.

  • It was a whole lot of real flaky, juicy and seasoned crab wrapped around a tender and soft moist scallop ring and topped with baked Japanese mayo.
  • The scallop was almost unnoticeable being wrapped around the crab and it looked like calamari, but it wasn’t chewy and tasted like scallop.
  • The Japanese mayo is naturally a bit sweet and it tastes much richer than American mayo. I can only handle so much of it.
  • I’m glad they drizzled extra on the side because the baked mayo on top was enough for me. It’s not about calories, but just about letting the crab shine.
  • It was surprisingly a lot of crab, but for $10 it should be. Even so though, $10 is a lot for what it was.

Tamago Sushi (Egg omelette) – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • $1.75
  • The tamago was made authentically, despite the brown spots on the outside. It should be all yellow.
  • The layers were almost seamless as it authentically should be and it was house made and made quite well.
  • It wasn’t fluffy, but still moist and had a nice sweetness to it.
  • I could have used a bit more dashi (Japanese stock) which was faint if used at all.
  • The tamago was good, but again the rice and seaweed didn’t deliver and the rice was a bit dry and the seaweed chewy.

Toro Sushi (Tuna belly)1.5 (Poor-Okay)

  • $2.50
  • It was very small and possibly the smallest nigiri I’ve seen. Even for Japanese standards this would be considered small.
  • I was pretty shocked at the quality of the tuna which was very stringy, fishy in flavour and off in texture.
  • The quality was not high and the knife skills were quite poor which surprised me.
  • It didn’t even taste or look like toro and it was not “toro” (melt in your mouth like butter) like the word implies, but instead firm.
  • It was almost cut extra thin in thickness and width to match the size of the sushi rice which was too small.
  • They asked if I wanted wasabi underneath the rice which is the traditional way of serving it, and I said yes.
  • By asking that question I assume the clientele (likely/mostly Chinese) might not prefer wasabi.
  • I also assume the small piece of rice is because most traditional Chinese aren’t keen on a big chunk of sushi rice.

Hamachi Sushi (Yellowtail)1/6 (Poor)

  • $3
  • Again, it was smaller than it should be. It was tiny.
  • I really hate ending on this note, but the hamachi was so butchered and discoloured.
  • It wasn’t worth the price and it was cut way too thin that I could see the rice being exposed.
  • I was really disappointed and the hamachi almost had no flavour.
  • Again the small piece of sushi rice could be due to clientèle, but still, I was not pleased with the nigiri overall.

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  • KimHo says:

    One word: Ouch!

    Sometimes, the head chef only does that mean in the line; after all, it is left to line cooks and who knows what. However, I would have assumed the itamae himself would be in charge of the sushi part.

    I agree with you, it is not an issue of the chef nationality. While they might have an edge on how things should be, others might have a better idea of how locals might want it.

  • Mimi says:

    I don’s like Sushi ……. cooked fish look nice to me.

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