Thanksgiving weekend, 2008, I secured the last rental car standing in the entire region. It was somewhere east along Maloney Boulevard in Gatineau and it involved a sizeable cab fare. In need of some comfort, I discovered a little sushi joint called Lyna Le Sushi and popped in for a raw fish pick-me-up. It was a wee place, with just a smattering of seats, and folk used it mostly for take-away maki.
It was another travel adventure that sent me back to this part of Gatineau. This time, on the prowl for a deal on new spring tires, I happened upon a much less lean Lyna. This little restaurant has grown up, and grown out, taking over the business next door. What’s more, it’s secured a liquor licence and stocks a pretty decent wine collection, all properly store and served – a rarity in an Asian restaurant.
With seating now for about 50, in a room the colour of wasabi paste with chocolate trim, Chef Lyna and her partner Patrick were playing to a packed house when I managed to secure the last table. It was clear Lyna’s brand of sushi had won over some fans.
Those fans wouldn’t be sushi purists. Lyna is not the place for that.
Scan the one-page paper menu (you are given a pencil, and asked to fill in your order) and you won’t find sashimi. Neither will you find nigiri sushi. No scallop, no mackerel, no unagi, no salmon belly. Raw fish, other than tuna and salmon, is not on this menu.
Chef Lyna specializes in what I would call wacky maki. She calls these “maki exotique” and many come with designer sauces and edible flowers, and are very pretty and very fresh-tasting. Lyna’s creations tend to focus more on vegetables, fruit, herbs, house-made sauces and lush garnishes, than on the usual focus of sushi – raw fish and vinegared rice. Other than salmon and tuna, the seafood available here is limited to sweet shrimp, smoked salmon, and the ubiquitous crabstick.
I tried my very first “sushi pizza” at Lyna’s. What arrived was a puck of panko-crusted rice, lightly deep-fried, covered with smoked salmon, tobiko, spicy mayo, green onion and black sesame. It was tasty stuff. The rice – chewy in places, soft in others – reminded me of the crispy bottom bits of the Korean dolsot bibimbap.
Lyna’s fresh spring rolls are bundles of crunch and soft, with fruit standing in for the usual herbs, and with sauces that are so much better than the usual guck. Her shrimp and vegetable tempura are lovely, crunchy treats, as are her Vietnamese spring rolls, and all of it comes to the table looking thoroughly fussed over.
If you’re not a fan of crabstick (called “goberge” on this all-French menu) you’ll find it runs rampant in these creations. Order the tuna tartare and it comes with a toupÃ© of fake crab. Scanning the menu – trying to work around goberge – we find relief in the spicy salmon rolls, the vegetarian rolls (cucumber, avocado, carrots, marinated radish, mango, strawberries, lettuce, spicy mayo) and the “dragon eyes” in which the maki is briefly fried, crisping the nori, and cooking very lightly the salmon, set in a sweet and sticky sauce littered with scallion and sesame.
Though I gave the “sushi pizza” a go, I couldn’t bring myself to try “poutine sushi” – sweet potato fries, with smoked salmon or shrimp, plus crabstick, tobiko and green onion. Nor did we sample the “chocomaki” dessert (complete with bits of Skor bar, standing in for tempura-like crunch.)
Lyna’s wine list is strong and wine service is a serious cut above.
So nothing much that’s conventional in here. But much to like, including the kind service and reasonable prices.