With hundreds of Japanese restaurants in Vancouver, it’s difficult to find one that doesn’t have the same boring menus and offerings. Fresh ingredients and thoughtful executions are what I am looking for. Tucked in a quiet spot off to the side of Kitsilano lies Octopus Garden, which could be one such restaurant. With foie gras and wagyu nigiri, who can resist? (Not I)
Omakase is what they’re well known for here, but we didn’t go for that because not everybody at our table wanted to pay that premium. No matter, the regular menu was interesting enough for our taste buds.
Immediately my eyes were trained on the foie gras and wagyu nigiri on the menu, and there was no way I’m walking out of that restaurant without trying them. First, the wagyu. I thought the wagyu would be raw, but it was cooked with a light sear. I couldn’t really detect the buttery flavor and texturing as one would expect from wagyu beef, but it was still tender and flavorful.
Now, what I looked forward the most, the foie gras nigiri: a generous piece of smooth foie gras with a thin slice of mango with the usual sushi rice wrapped with seaweed. It reminded me of a tamago, but obviously the egg was replaced by the delicious foie. The foie itself was ultra smooth, silky, and buttery as one would expect, and the sweetness of the mango cut in to the richness of the foie, which was a good balance. This was probably the best thing I ate this week. My only complaint was that the rice easily fell apart when I attempted to pick it up with my chopsticks, so eating it with the accompanied metal spoon is recommended.
An Octopus Garden signature was the Uni Shooter, with sea urchin, dashi, graded Japanese yam, quail egg, and freshly grated wasabi. This was quite refreshing for my palate. Mixing everything together resulted in a concoction with a creamy, slimy texture (sort of like a smoothie) with the taste of sea urchin being the most dominant. This was like drinking what the best the ocean had to offer.
Another tempting offer was the Marinated Ahi Tuna. The tuna was grilled and sizzled in front of us on a hot plate, so we got see the tuna as it was being cooked. After the tuna had been cooked, the waitress stacked the pieces of tuna on top of a sliced onion, so the lovely juices weren’t wasted. The tuna itself was quite interesting, because both my friends and I thought the texture and taste was like beef. Nonetheless, it was well marinated and quite delicious.
Equally tempting, for me that is, was the Wagyu beef. Served in a similar manner as the Ahi Tuna, it was also cooked and stacked in front of us. The beef was juicy and tender, despite the fact that the meat was rare.
There was four of us and we were not quite full yet, so we decided to dive into the menu a little more. Looking in the rolls section, we picked the Hand Peeled Dungeness Crab with avocado, tobiko, and mayo. I can taste the crab, but there just wasn’t enough in the roll to bring out any more tastes. In essence, it was quite bland and a little dry.
We also tried another roll, the SADA, consisting of jumbo prawn tempura, red peppers, asparagus, tobiko, and mayo. And again, I thought this was a bit bland and the rice lacked moisture, which made the roll a bit dry. I was disappointed, because I wasn’t expecting rolls of this caliber to come out of this kitchen. You can get rolls of this quality from pretty much anywhere else.
Moving on from the weak rolls, we got the BBQ Salmon Belly. It was a tad oily, but the fish itself was tender. The skin was crispy and well seared.
Our last entree of the night was the Black Cod marinated with home blended miso. It was firm, but tender and flaky. However, I can barely taste the marinate, which was a shame because the fish was otherwise bland.
My experience that night was a hit and a miss. I loved the Foie Gras Nigiri, an example that putting a luxury ingredient in a traditional recipe that ended up working. The Uni Shooter was another thing not to miss. The rolls were below par, and the other grilled items were so-so compared to the rest of Vancouver’s other fiercely competitive Japanese offerings. Service was average. The restaurant was small, and factoring in the fact that this space had its fair share of exposure in the press, reservations are highly recommended.