I was puzzled. Why were there no prices attached to any food item? And then it hit me: this sushi restaurant, recently installed in the Dalhousie Street space the Royal Thai used to call home (prior to moving in with its little sister restaurant, the palatial Palais Imperial across the street) was AYCE. All You Can Eat. And my heart sank.
I’d had two encounters with AYCE sushi in this town and neither was great. Never much liked the word “eatery” used in place of “restaurant” but those were that. Eateries – filling stations – staffed by cranky people dumping plates in front of those trying to stuff in as many badly made rice canapés as they can muster in order to get their money’s worth. And then rolling home having eaten a debilitating amount of food.
But here I was. In a big, modern, two-room space packed with families and couples and large groups of twenty-somethings. I had paid for parking, the night was cold, the room warm, our bellies empty, and we were staying put. Turned out to be a very good thing. This wasn’t the quality or variety you’d find at Suisha Gardens, but still, for the basic stuff you tend to get everywhere in this region, I thought it was mostly very good. And we ate a debilitating amount of it and happily rolled home.Service at Hokkaido Sushi is a bit rough. From the phone greeting (“Yes?”) to the door greeting (cool, curt) to being shown to our table (“I’ll be back.” About face) there weren’t a lot of warm fuzzies. But our server, who we learned was Chinese and spoke little English, warmed up. By the end of the night we were all on very good terms.
This is how it works at Hokkaido. On a bare, numbered table are paper napkins and disposable chopsticks, a stack of ordering sheets and a pencil. There are also a few housekeeping rules listed – no extra food to take home, you pay extra (a la carte price, whatever that might be) if you order an item and can’t manage to choke it down. AYCE prices are posted at the end of the long (“Over 100 items!”) menu. There are separate prices for adults, Monday to Thursday lunch ($14) and dinner ($22) and for weekend and holiday dinner ($2 more); prices for children 4 to 6 years old ($8) and children 7 to 9 years ($13) and seniors, 65 and up ($12 to $13 for lunch, $17 to $19 for dinner).
Once you’ve digested all of that, and you’ve learned the wine options are two (red or white!) and have ordered a beer (good selection of Asian options) or sake/plum wine instead (six from which to chose, including the excellent Goku-jo sake) you begin filling out the form.
What I cheerfully consumed: three pieces of white tuna sashimi, very fresh-tasting and buttery-succulent; one nice, clean piece of salmon; one tamago (egg) sashimi; a small bowl of wakame (seaweed) salad; a cucumber and avocado hand roll; a tempura shrimp each and then another round because they were big, delicious, crackling treats; broccoli tempura (perfectly cooked); a bowl of edamame, again, perfectly steamed to al dente and lightly salted; a green dragon roll and a sweet potato roll.
From the hot side, we had some salmon neck teriyaki donburi (fatty, tasty bit of the fish, grilled with an easy-going amount of sauce) on rice; and steamed udon (thick, wheat noodles) with kombu and pork dumpling in a well seasoned dashi broth.
Only a few things ordered weren’t well received. Order a “vegetable salad” and you get iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island dressing. Order from the stir-fry section the “green onion beef roll” and what arrives is one tiny beef roll stuffed with green onion looking absurdly forlorn (not the jumble of things you were expecting.) But for the most part, food came out quickly, evenly, was well presented, and very tasty.
We had a tiny bit of green tea ice cream, paid a very fair bill, and headed home.
“What, no leftovers?” groaned 17 year old as I walked in the door uncharacteristically empty-handed.
Sorry, poppet. It doesn’t always work that way.