Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tokyo Noodle Shop (AYCE Location)

Sashimi

All you can eat (AYCE) sushi is fairly hard to come by in Edmonton, and when you find a place that offers a menu like that, it can cost a pretty penny. As such, it’s important that you get a decent value for what you’re paying. I recently found out that Tokyo Noodle Shop, a longtime tenant on Whyte Avenue (I do have a soft spot in my heart for that place because it’s where Kirk and I had one of our first dates), opened a second location on the south side of the city. Situated at 10430 61 Avenue, the owners took over the space vacated by the short-lived Takami Sushi. Here, they now provide patrons with a brand new AYCE option.

The Tokyo Noodle Shop website vaguely mentions that they have AYCE sushi under the location listings of their homepage with no other mention of it anywhere else. Therefore, I had to search online for more information. Other diners had posted the menu on review sites or on their blogs, so I had a general idea of the cost (expected to be around $34 per person) and the items that would be available.

My friend and I decided to head over there for an early supper — they open at 4:00 pm — on a Sunday afternoon before we had a scheduled Paint Nite event. Upon arriving, we found that the building provides free parking around the back, so the restaurant has both an entrance there as well as at the front. We walked into the former and found ourselves navigating a long hallway (filled with crowded booth seating along one wall) to make it towards the staff who asked if we had a reservation. Unfortunately, we did not, but they managed to accommodate us even though they were apparently fully booked for the evening. There were a couple of tables situated right by the front door waiting area (where we were seated), making for a slightly awkward placement. Thankfully, not many customers came in from there, so it didn’t get crowded or cold at all.

All You Can Eat Sushi Menu

The table had been laid out with drink menus, a pen, and two AYCE sushi sheets (already prepared for your second order). As we looked it over, I noticed that the pricing had been revised since I’d last found an online review from late-December with a copy of the menu included. Rather than one flat rate through the week, they had changed it to have one cost Monday to Thursday and then another Friday to Sunday and on statutory holidays. It makes sense though. They’ve essentially matched what you’ll find at Watari. In my opinion, that’s their biggest competition; therefore, if Tokyo Noodle Shop sees themselves as on par with what you can find at Watari, then they may as well act as if they deserve to charge the same. On the plus side, they’ve also mirrored the different pricing for children and seniors, so you can expect to save a bit there.

We quickly filled out our first sheet, focusing heavily on the sashimi and tataki with a few other selections from the sushi, maki and appetizer categories. At first, service was quite quick. Salad, beef sashimi, and appetizers didn’t take too long to come out from the kitchen and, next thing you knew, everything had been placed on the table.

Beef Sashimi and Bean Sprout Salad

Each of us ordered the Bean Sprout Salad. I found this to have less of a sesame flavour compared to other places with much more prominent amounts of ginger. Not my favourite, but it was crisp and fresh. The Beef Sashimi is limited to three plates per person and comes with about four to five slices per plate. The meat was deep red in colour, doused in a pleasantly acidic sauce and covered with onions. Very tender cuts owing to the thinly shaved beef and quality of the meat.

Appetizers

Our other appetizers consisted of the Agedashi Tofu, Crabmeat Puff, Deep Fried Scallop, and Cheese Wonton. The Crabmeat Puff was a fried wonton filled with shredded fake crab meat and maybe a little bit of Japanese mayo to hold it together. It was alright, but lacked major flavour. Initially, I thought that the Deep Fried Scallop was decent. It wasn’t greasy and the scallop flaked apart easily. However, they didn’t serve it with any sauce, which could have been a nice touch. I ended up ordering a second one on our follow-up sheet, but I didn’t like it as much that time. The scallop seemed mushier, so I suppose that’s a hit or miss.

The Agedashi Tofu was good. I’d just recommend that you don’t let it sit in the sauce for too long otherwise the fried exterior gets soggy. Also, allow the morsels to cool off a bit before eating (best to split them apart to let the heat out) to prevent burning your mouth. My favourite out of the appetizers was definitely the Cheese Wonton. Again, the consistency is not exactly there at Tokyo Noodle Shop. The first Cheese Wonton I had was literally filled with cream cheese by itself. But, in our next round, the cheese had been combined with yellow corn. Admittedly, both versions were good. This was like a meatless take on the crab and cream cheese wontons I’d come to love from Panda Hut Express without my friend having a potential allergic reaction from consuming the crustacean.

Spicy Tuna and Shrimp Avocado Maki with Inari and Chop Chop Scallop Sushi

I wasn’t overly impressed with the maki, which came in orders of six pieces each. The two of us shared the Spicy Tuna. I found that to be okay in terms of flavour as there was definitely a kick of heat, but there was very little filling. Same goes for the Shrimp Avocado Maki as those barely seemed to have anything other than rice. The Chop Chop Scallop sushi was also average at best. While the nori wrap was crisp, I found that the scallop was diced much smaller than I’m used to and the seafood was tossed with way too much mayo, making it the only thing I could really taste. The Inari sushi was alright. I love the sweet sheets of bean curd and these were fine. I do suggest eating the whole piece in one mouthful as they do not bite apart easily and, if you try to split it with your teeth, you’ll end up with a mess.

Hidden under the Cones category, you’ll notice Tuna and Salmon Tataki on the menu. I have to say that the Tuna Tataki wasn’t my favourite. It was served with ponzu sauce and crispy fried onions, which were delicious; however, I didn’t like the texture after the tuna was seared on the edges. It was like it’d been overcooked and the sides were dry and scratchy in the mouth. The Salmon Tataki was fantastic though. Some have complained that the yuzu black pepper sauce is too peppery, but I thought it was perfect when I tried it. The salmon was especially good and soaked up the zesty sauce nicely.

Look at all of the sashimi!

At Tokyo Noodle Shop, the price of the AYCE menu accounts for up to 30 pieces of sashimi per person at the table. In all, we were able to order 60 pieces between us and we maxed it out. My friend stuck to the standard Salmon and Tuna sashimi. I split my selection between those and the Butter Fish. This was most definitely the highlight of our meal. Every single piece was accounted for and the portions were generous, especially with the salmon. Although I did think that the butter fish and tuna could have been thawed out a bit more (they were colder and icier towards the middle of the cut of each fish), they were still fairly fresh and of a decent quality. The meat was smooth — no discernible tendons — and had a light bite to the fish. The salmon sashimi was spectacular. The pieces we received had an excellent ratio of flesh to fat, making them incredibly succulent. The salmon almost melted in our mouths. Next time I’m at Tokyo Noodle Shop, there’s no doubt that I’ll stick to more of the salmon for the best experience.

My friend ordered more of the Inari Sushi

From our first sheet, only one item was missed. It was the Sunny Roll under the House Specials. It comes with eight huge pieces (we saw another table get something similar) and we chose to forego checking it off on our second submission as we didn’t want to end up being too full to finish everything. We just repeated a few of our favourites like the beef sashimi, agedashi tofu, and cheese wontons. All super snackable portions that we knew we could manage after devouring so much sashimi.

Green Tea Ice Cream

One thing I really do like at Tokyo Noodle Shop is that they include dessert in the price. It’s just a simple scoop of Green Tea Ice Cream, but that was enough to make me happy. Honestly, it was a little bit icy, but it tasted great. I’m a sucker for green tea desserts and this hit the spot.

I absolutely believe that this AYCE sushi option presented by Tokyo Noodle Shop is a fantastic addition to a city that is truly lacking in this realm. Sure, the service towards the end wasn’t the best (we kept putting our second order sheet towards the edge of the table and they skipped over us a number of times; I had to wave someone down to get it placed in the end), but overall, we were treated well. The space is clean, the staff are friendly, there’s a variety of items, food came out fast, 99 per cent of our order was correct, and we never felt rushed. Since it’s similarly priced to others in Edmonton and it’s on the south side, there’s a good chance that I’ll be back here more frequently.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Sumo Sumo Sushi (Sherwood Park)

Our initial order of food from the Sunday Buffet.

Early in January, I came across a deal for the Sunday Brunch at Sumo Sumo Sushi in Sherwood Park. Their website listed an offering of five dollars off their usual price throughout the month. I hadn’t been there for years and was excited to learn that there was another all-you-can-eat option near the city, so I made a point of dragging my fiancé there over the last weekend it was available.

We arrived at the location on Lakeland Drive shortly after noon, so we kind of hit the lunch rush. The host at the front counter reminded us that the only menu on offer that day was the buffet and she asked if that was okay. She was also sure to let us know that the cost had been reduced to $29.95 per person instead of the regular $32.95 (updated February 2018). Once we had agreed to those stipulations, she checked to see if we had a reservation. Since we did not, we were seated in their enclosed patio space. The room was heated, but we were by a window and I found it got a little chilly after a while.

The Sunday Buffet menu.

Service was also slow to start as no one came by our table for a good ten minutes after we sat down. Once the server showed up, it wasn’t too bad though. She brought us our drinks (one beverage each is included). I opted for orange juice that came in a very tall glass, so I think the value was decent, especially since the majority of alternative sushi places charge extra. My fiancé chose to go with a pot of green tea. Sushi, sashimi, udon and shrimp tempura orders must be placed through the servers. On this occasion, the restaurant was out of toro and octopus. To make up for that, they relaxed their limit on the tuna, yellowtail and scallop. For our first run, we got six pieces of shrimp tempura, three pieces of chop chop sushi, and I maxed out on my sashimi portion by getting eight pieces of salmon and seven pieces of tuna.

While those items were being prepared, we ventured out to the ready made buffet. They do have a decent spread with a number of cold salads, a few hot salads, mussels, several maki rolls, meat skewers, teriyaki and tonkatsu, vegetarian tempura and a handful of dessert options.

I brought back a large plate full of seaweed salad, bean sprout salad, sesame beef pasta salad, California rolls, Aloha rolls, yam tempura and ponzu mussels. When we returned to our table, we realized that we were never given any utensils. To prevent further delay, I ended up grabbing a couple of forks from the buffet, but we did have to inquire with our server who apologized as the chopsticks and napkins should have been set out earlier. When she came back, she had those as well as a dish of wasabi and pickled ginger for us. Within the following ten minutes, she brought us our sashimi, tempura and sushi, too.

Some of the items I picked up from the ready made buffet.

I’ll begin by reviewing the buffet items that I chose. I felt that the seaweed and bean sprout salads were standard. The seaweed salad was seasoned well and the kelp had that crunchy, chewy texture. The bean sprouts were pretty fresh, and I enjoyed the flavour of the sesame dressing. My one issue was that the sauce was somewhat watery. Surprisingly, I really liked the sesame beef pasta salad. It’s kind of an unusual find in a Japanese eatery; however, the beef was tender and marinated nicely. I believe it had the perfect amount of mayo-type dressing on it (not drenched) that gave it a slight tang.

Tempura at Sumo Sumo was decent as the kitchen avoided over battering and the shell remained crisp despite sitting out in the buffet servers. Despite the California rolls tasting great with their use of cucumber, avocado and sesame seeds, I was a tad disappointed to see that they utilize fake crab meat. I appreciated the Aloha roll as it provided a balance of sweet and heat through the combination of tuna, avocado, masago, green onion, eel sauce, spicy mayo, pineapple, shredded coconut, soy and sesame oil. I loved the Kiwi mussels because they were so large and fleshy, and the ponzu sauce was light with a kick to it.

Chop Chop Sushi, Shrimp Tempura, Salmon & Tuna Sashimi and buffet items.

I’m very glad that they make the shrimp tempura fresh when requested. It meant that each batch came out piping hot. The chop chop sushi had a good ratio of scallop to masago to mayo to rice with a perfectly dry nori wrap. Shockingly, the pieces of sashimi were massive, at least when it came to the tuna and salmon. They were incredibly thick cut, meaning there was a ton of protein. I thought the tuna was the better of the two as it tended to melt in the mouth whereas the salmon was tougher and required more chewing. Since my fiancé isn’t a fan of raw fish, he took full advantage of the cooked meats (kebabs and tonkatsu at the buffet).

The second order of sashimi. The snapper on the top right corner of the plate were still frozen.

To maximize the value, I made sure to put in our second order for sashimi. This time, I chose to try three pieces each of the tuna, salmon, yellowtail, scallop, and snapper. It was a long time before this plate made it to our table and I know why. When I bit into my first slice of snapper, it turned out that it was still frozen in the middle and I could feel the ice inside the fish. The kitchen must have been hoping it would thaw. I informed our server of that problem and, thankfully, she offered to switch the snapper for something else. The salmon and tuna (more sinewy) were comparable to our initial dish of sashimi. I’m not sure that I liked the scallop sashimi that much. It sort of left a bitterness at the back of my throat and I don’t think it should have. On the other hand, the yellowtail was fantastic. The slices of this last fish were much more manageable in size and the flavour was sweetly tangy.

Chocolate Mousse and Crème Brûlée

By the time I made it through that portion of sashimi, I was so full. Yet, I wasn’t willing to leave without dessert. I was capable of fitting in a small cup of crème brûlée and a glass of chocolate mousse in my stomach. Both refrained from being too heavy, making either an ideal way to complete the meal. The restaurant allows diners a total of two hours to eat and we finished almost exactly within that time frame.

After doing the math, I surmised that all of the food I ate myself was equivalent in value to what I paid for our lunch. Everything that my fiancé ate was the cherry on top. Ultimately, I would say that our experience at Sumo Sumo was a fun one. Even though I don’t think it’s as good as Watari ($36 during dinner gets each person 30 pieces of reasonably sized sashimi and all items are made to order from the kitchen), this was, overall, alright. I think if Sherwood Park isn’t too out of the way, it’s worth dropping by once in a while to fulfill any cravings. Otherwise, Sumo Sumo is a place that I probably won’t be going out of my way to visit for another few years.

Edmonton AYCE Sushi Showdown: Zen Sushi & Grill vs. Watari Japanese Cuisine

Sushi has become a mainstay in the culinary adventures of most cities. Whether or not the place is near water, you can bet money that there is at least one Japanese eatery luring people in with the deliciousness of maki and sashimi. Therefore, it has become commonplace to see at least a dozen establishments spring up over the last few years, all vying for a spot in Edmonton’s sushi scene. What was more of a rarity was the all-you-can-eat (AYCE) Japanese restaurant. I only knew of maybe one or two businesses that fit the bill, but from what I had heard, it wasn’t worth the effort of going. Unlike what you can find in cities like Vancouver and Montreal, the AYCE buffet wasn’t really up to par when it came to price or quality.

My friend, however, had tried out Zen Sushi & Grill on 76 Avenue and 104 Street just south of Whyte Avenue and she suggested that we go for lunch one day. Personally, I was glad that we ventured to this location. They have another on 101 Street and 105 Avenue in downtown Edmonton, but I don’t feel particularly safe in that neighbourhood. This location has a parking lot right outside of the eatery, so parking is not only free, but a lot more convenient.

I walked into the restaurant expecting that it wasn’t going to be that big, yet, as it turns out, there is another room adjacent to the main area that houses a full bar and more tables. The windows along the front of the building really help to brighten the space, which is a mix of brick walls, wood floors and a black and brown colour palette. The look is nothing fancy, but it is modern enough and it is clean.

Lunch, I believe, was and still is around $20 per person on weekends. Once you’re seated, you receive a sheet where you can check off the items that you want to order. The menu is fairly extensive, including sushi, maki rolls, cones and an amalgam of cooked items. Sashimi, during lunch hours, is an extra $2 for 10 pieces.

The Zen menu and order sheet.

The Zen menu and order sheet.

Since I had never dined there before, we splurged and added on a couple orders of sashimi (the pieces were thicker than I would have assumed). In addition, we got a mix of sushi – salmon, tuna, inari, masago and chop chop – some miso soup, bean sprout salad, agadashi tofu, veggie tempura and tempura cod, among other items. Surprisingly, all the fish tasted fresh and not like it was at all previously frozen. The options available were more than enough to satisfy my sushi cravings as it covered the typical gamut of choices. The agadashi tofu is usually fried very well, leaving a nice thin layer of breading on the outside that soaks up the sauce. Sometimes the tempura can be a little bit greasier than I would like and at least twice I’ve noticed that when they deep fry large pieces of broccoli, the batter doesn’t always cook all the way through, so inside the head of the veggie you might find a floury consistency.

Overall, despite a couple of missteps, Zen did exceed my expectations for AYCE sushi in this landlocked city. And, while I do not think it can quite compare to what I’ve tried across the rest of the country, having eaten there many times after this first occasion, I would still recommend going for the chop chop (raw scallop) sushi, the soft shell crab maki (fantastic the first time I ate it there, not as good lately, but you never know), their agadashi tofu and the green onion cakes. What I like is that they don’t overdo the rice portions for the sushi – the balls are small as they should be.

The service is good and the owner is especially nice. I’ve been there for both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the last year, and I can tell you that they don’t up the price on holidays. Also, although I’ve never had an issue walking in and getting a spot, they do offer to take reservations, too.

Within a year, Zen had become my go to for sushi. It was perfect for those days when you’re craving anything and everything Japanese for an affordable price. Yes, there are plenty of great sushi establishments in town nowadays, but where else can you spend under $25 and eat as much as you can fit in your belly?

This is why I was ecstatic to see that a new AYCE sushi restaurant was to take the place of the recently vacated Matahari space on 124 Street and 101 Avenue. As quickly as Matahari disappeared, the banner sign advertising the soon-to-be open Watari Japanese Cuisine was hung. Every time I drove by I became giddy with excitement wondering when they would be ready for customers. Eventually in August I’d heard that they, indeed, were officially serving food. My friend joined me for dinner after work before we headed to a show at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival.

I had never eaten at Matahari before the eatery closed, but I had seen photos, and I’m guessing it was a quick turnaround for Watari because they kept some of the decor the same. A number of raised booths sit along the wall closest when you enter the restaurant. There are also a handful of other booths opposite and bar height tables in the middle. Again, the look is nothing spectacular, but it is pretty comfortable and it is clean as well.

We stuck with tap water, which was incredibly refreshing because they toss slices of lemon or lime and sometimes mint leaves in for flavour. With dinner, you can have up to 30 pieces of sashimi per person, so the two of us ordered the maximum (40 pieces of salmon and 20 pieces of tuna – both fresh, but the salmon was melt-in-your-mouth and the better of the two) to split. No lie, I swear we had at least two full-size fish at our table because the slices were substantial. We also tried out the tacos, sushi including salmon, tuna, inari and red snapper, miso soup, a variety of maki rolls (their Target roll of tuna and green bean is good), beef tataki (awesome), Hawaii poke(y), bean sprout and seaweed salads, a combination of shrimp and veggie tempura (you order what you want by the piece), cream cheese (and crab) wontons and beef short ribs, all of which I would urge you to try.

You could literally have rolled us out of the restaurant, we were so full by the end. However, I can happily say that we triumphed and polished off every last piece of fish and rice. For the $27.95 weekday adult dinner rate, I think we more than got our money’s worth.

Watari is so close to my parent’s place that I’ve now eaten there a few times (the latest occurrences for lunch) and, I have to say, that while it was already good the first time with my friend, it has improved each time since. Also, with over 100 items to choose from on their menu, there is definitely something for everyone, even those who are not fans of raw.

Zen and Watari, in a competition, are fairly matched. The reason for that can likely be chalked up to the fact that, apparently, the owner of Watari was the previous co-owner of Zen until he decided to open his own restaurant. I find it hard to decide which should be called the superior place, if at all. Each one has a few items that are not offered by the other, so, for me at least, there’s always going to be the temptation to visit both.

For those of you who look at this as a numbers game, I will break it down for you though. Sashimi (15 pieces per person) is already included with lunch at Watari for the $22.95 price, making it pretty much equivalent to Zen should you decide to add sashimi to your meal there. If you happen to be a senior, the cost of eating at Watari is an even better deal at $19.95. They also have a lower price of $16.95 for children. Watari also recently added late night (10pm on) prices for Friday to Sunday and statutory holidays that equal the cost of lunch (reservations are recommended on weekends).  The menu between both restaurants is relatively similar, but there are minor differences. Watari includes tacos, Hawaii poke(y), beef tataki, cream cheese wontons as well as specialty rolls created in-house. They also have the option of the Monday to Friday business lunch, which does away with the sashimi and a number of menu items, but still leaves sushi, maki rolls and the majority of their kitchen and deep fried menu items up for grabs, all for the low price of $14.95, regardless of age. Zen has chop chop sushi and soft shell crab maki on the menu, two tasty items that are not available at Watari. Both restaurants have other options that are extra in cost, but I’ve never felt the need to order any of them because what is included in the set price is more than enough for everyone.

Watari's current pricing as of October 2014. Photo courtesy of Watari's Facebook page.

Watari’s current pricing as of October 2014. Photo courtesy of Watari’s Facebook page.

Watari and Zen both have excellent service that is quick and friendly, so you can make the most out of your two hour dining limit. Once in a while they may miss bringing an an item or two, but, as long as you remember that you didn’t get it, you can always order it again in the next round. As with all AYCE establishments, they are very conscious about eating responsibly, so be sure that you order only what you can finish. Anything that is left behind is subject to extra charges as it’ll likely have to be thrown away. Both restaurants offer free parking – Zen out front and Watari has a few rows of parking behind the building.

If I really had to choose, I would say that Watari bests Zen, but only by inches. In all honesty, you cannot go wrong with either of these places. The two are favourites of mine, and they’re definitely the top AYCE sushi restaurants you’ll find in Edmonton. I’ve left both happily gratified each and every time.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Japonais Bistro

The delectable matcha crème brûlée!

The delectable matcha crème brûlée!

Oh, Japonais Bistro (@japonaisbistro)! I have eaten there a handful of times now and it’s pretty stellar. When you walk in the door, if the staff isn’t busy with something else, they greet you by yelling out “good afternoon” or “good evening” in Japanese and they’re usually fairly prompt with seating, especially if you have a reservation, which can now be made through OpenTable. The restaurant is laid out with two sides – the one closest to the door is raised a couple of steps and consists of bench booths and chairs while the other side is taken up predominantly by the sushi bar and a few larger group booths.

My most memorable visit to the restaurant was back in November 2013. I had eaten there just a couple weeks earlier and I picked up a card advertising a couple of all-you-can-eat evenings. They were launching their Kaiten Sushi Catering (plates distributed by mobile conveyor belt) business, and to show it off they were taking reservations for two November weeknights. I immediately texted my friend to see if she would join me and I called to make a reservation as soon as she agreed.

The conveyor was set up next to the sushi bar within arm’s reach from our booth. We ate everything that was offered to us including a variety of salads, tatakis, maki rolls and dessert. We probably ate between 50 to 75 plates that evening, the gluttons that we were (no regrets). Each item was delectable and worth having seconds. There were even new dishes that were being tested for possible menu additions, which we were tasked with rating. The absolute star of the restaurant though? Hands down, the matcha crème brûlée (Japonais Bistro took the No. 42 spot on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats in Edmonton this year for this dessert alone)! It is divine. I’m a sucker for green tea flavoured anything, so I was already inclined to enjoy it, but it was beyond what I expected and the two of us snatched those babies up as soon as they hit the belt. They’re too good to pass up. Unfortunately, despite a comment from our server that kaiten sushi nights could become a regular occurrence due to the popularity of these special events, I haven’t seen it there since.

Alas, all-you-can-eat meals there are not currently meant to be, but the food is too tasty not to go again. We ventured there this summer for dinner, making our way through the pouring rain where we dashed for the door as soon as we stepped out of the car. My friend, still full from an Indian buffet at lunch, ordered the new Pow Pow Roll and some salmon maki. I, on the other hand, was famished and went with the Traditional Bento Box.

Stuffed with tuna, cream cheese and jalapeno, wrapped with soy bean paper and drizzled with tobiko, sweet soy and hot sauce, the Pow Pow Roll was nicely plated and surprisingly battered on the outside. The menu did say “deep fried tuna,” so we knew something would be deep fried, we simply didn’t realize it was going to be the outside of the roll and not the fish. No matter though. It was superb.

The Traditional Bento Box is really an all-in-one box. It includes a bowl of miso soup, salad, three pieces of sushi, six pieces of sashimi, California rolls, salmon maki, and shrimp and veggie tempura. I got a little bit of everything I love, so it was perfect. The soup was not overly salty and was piping hot, the fish was really fresh, the tempura was lightly coated in batter and the rolls had a good ratio of filling to rice.

I would also say that I believe that the service has improved over time. I remember sitting there on another occasion waiting forever for our server to come back to process our payment. In the end, we left our table and walked up to the bar to pay, which still took several minutes because they needed our server to put it through. This time, it was a lot better. Our food was prepared quickly and we were checked on periodically, so I felt well attended to.

Sushi is always at the top of my list of favourite cuisines, and Japonais Bistro continues to fit the bill when I’m craving some in the middle of the prairies.