‘Hello,” – she answers my call – “C’est Japon Ã Suisha.”
C’est what? Sorry, is this Suisha Gardens?
“Yes, Suisha Gardens, may I help you?”
I’m thinking she’s fielding a lot of phone calls like this one lately. There’s been a name change, you see, and when a restaurant that’s been a fixture on the downtown-dining scene for close to 35 years is rechristened, it takes some getting used to.
Besides, C’est Japon Ã Suisha does not trip off the tongue.
The new name should not heighten expectation (or fear, depending on your take on these things) of any tony makeover. You still won’t find here a hip ‘n’ happening sushi bar scene filled with fashionistas craving fruit-filled maki rolls. No, indeed. C’est Japon appears to be new in name only.
And that’s not a bad thing. In exploring the rebranding, I rediscovered the pleasure of this place. In fact, I don’t really care what they call it, as long as I still get well calibrated, body-temperature sushi rice, exact cuts of chilled fish in the finest condition Ottawa can muster, and artfully assembled platters, pleasing to the eye and mouth.
As for traditional Japanese appetizers, C’est Japon does them better than anyone else in the city. Salmon roe in grated daikon (ikura oroshi) is a fabulous combination of pop and crunch, sharp and soft, salt and bland.
Order the grilled yellowtail cheeks and you may be shocked to find them still cradled in half the fish’s jaw. They require a bit of digging around, but the reward of soft, juicy nuggets is worth the effort. Grilled squid is artfully splayed, the white meat soft and tender, darkened and crisped a bit from the grill, and served with slivers of beni shoga (red pickled ginger). Gyoza (pork-stuffed dumplings) are delicious – light, perfectly seasoned, with crunch in their fried casings.
We move on to tamago, the sweet Japanese omelette, then covered bowls of miso soup, and, one night, while over-ordering at the sushi bar, we receive a little gift from the itamae (chef): seafood sunomono – a simple broth of sweetened rice vinegar and mirin with a fine julienne of seaweed, a shrimp, a bit of squid, and carved cucumber. It was both palate cleanser and stimulant.
Of the hot appetizers, the soft-shell crab was the only low, for it was oily and tasted mostly of batter.
The Miyuki combination we discover one night in a (too bright) basement tatami room (complete with charming attendant) could easily be shared.
Chef’s choice sushi (we request no fake crab, and are accommodated); tempura (sweet potato, mushroom, zucchini, shrimp, all fresh-tasting, their covers golden and lacy); grilled salmon teriyaki (perhaps a tad overcooked, though juicy and sweet beneath its light glaze) and hotategai (scallops, marinated and grilled in rice wine and ginger).
We add a bowl of udon, and find the thick wheat flour noodles in good condition, in a piping hot broth of dashi, mirin and shoyu, filled in with cabbage, tamago, carrot, and tofu, topped with shrimp tempura and thinly sliced scallion.
Ice cream – black sesame and green tea – concludes the feast.
For very good sushi and traditional appetizers, C’est Japon Ã Suisha is a newly named mainstay.