1479 Robson Street, Vancouver
1516 Yew Street, Vancouver
Review by Francis Baptiste
Nested on the corner of Robson and Nicola lies an indiscreet, black building that could easily go unnoticed. Despite its inconspicuous exterior, it’s worth taking the time to go inside. Hapa Izakaya—hapa meaning “leaf” and izakaya meaning “eating or drinking lounge”—is a hip and modern Japanese restaurant near the west end of Robson Street.
Fancier Japanese restaurants have always intimidated me because of my unfamiliarity with their menu items and their unconventional seating arrangements. At Hapa Izakaya, however, the staff’s focus is to put you at ease as soon as you walk through the door.
The first thing to hit your senses when you enter isn’t the smell of Japanese dishes or the modern ambience of the room—it’s the welcoming greetings that seem to bounce from all over the restaurant. From the waitresses busily serving other customers, to the cooks behind the open grill, you’re showered by a delighted chorus of Japanese greetings.
From what I’d heard, Hapa is known more for their large variety of appetizers—an ever-changing menu of tasty sharing plates. I chose the Beef Takata, an artful dish with symmetrically placed thin slices of beef circling the plate. Once ordered, it was at our table almost instantly. The meat was incredibly savoury, almost melting in my mouth.
For the main course we had Yaki Udon, a chicken noodle plate, and Ishi Yaki with Tak Wasabi, a rice bowl topped with squid wasabi. The Yaki Udon, recommended for anyone hesitant to try something too new, was delightful—having just the smallest hint of spice.
The Ishi Yaki, which is cooked in a hot charcoal bowl right at your table, was good but didn’t stand alone quite as well as the Yaki Udon. Topped with the Tak Wasabi, the Ishi Yaki was perhaps the better of the two dishes, if you like spicy.
For desert I had the Hapa Parfait, which was for the most part a normal parfait with a few fish eggs on the top. Though I’ve never been the biggest fan of regular parfaits, and I’ve never liked the idea of eating any kind of raw eggs, this was absolutely the most enjoyable sweet I’ve had in some time.
Ultimately, Hapa Izakaya wins my vote. A great social atmosphere combined with delicious dishes and fast comfortable service makes this a great place for a weekend with friends or an intimate date. Best of all, the prices are surprisingly modest.
1026 Granville Street, Vancouver
Review by Heather Vince
We walked right past Sanafir, with its unobtrusive frosted glass windows and dark interior. It’s no wonder—tucked in amongst Granville Street’s tattoo shops, pubs and adult stores, one has to keep an eye out for this hidden gem.
Arriving for our early reservations, we were met with downtempo lounge music fused with an Indian and Arabic sound. The décor was opulent and sexy; the ambience fueled by lit candles scaling the walls, and Moroccan lamps scattered throughout the space. Our view of the mezzanine, which apparently holds harem-type lounging rooms complete with beds, was interrupted by scenes from Lawrence of Arabia being projected above the beautifully stocked bar.
Our server seemed to be waiting for us to arrive. After leading us to our table, he took our coats and returned with a wine list, menus and a coat check ticket. He seemed to read my mind as I wondered how big Sanafir must be to necessitate a coat check, and immediately dove into his well-rehearsed explanation of the restaurant’s space and event capabilities, a bit of the restaurant’s history, ending with the procedure of directing us to the menu.
Staying true to tapas-style, nearly everything on the menu comes in trios—sadly this isn’t the case for drinks, which hovers around the $9.00-12.00 mark each. All entrées are $14.00 with the exception of the Chef’s Selections, also trios, which run at $17.00.
Our appetizer of “to-die-for” grilled naan bread with garlic hummus arrived first. Our choices of prawn and chicken, we were told, would be prepared three different ways with Asian, Indian and Mediterranean flavours. The prawn entrée arrived, just as we were fighting over the last piece of naan bread. The Kanafa Tiger Prawn was crispy and prepared perfectly and the Wild Prawn Tempura Roll gave my friend a new outlook on sushi. The Grilled Tandoori Prawn, while tasty, looked better than it was. The chicken dishes came next and held their own amongst the competition, though the Punjabi Butter Chicken had more of a masala taste with the absence of tomatoes. We gobbled down the Indonesian Chicken Satay, wishing the entire meal was comprised entirely of that. The one thing I didn’t really care for was the Chicken Liver Pâté and when the server returned to remove our plates it was nearly untouched.
The desserts deserve an entire review of their own. Served as a trio for $9.00, we chose the Burnt Orange Baklava, which was appropriately dry and not too gooey, Cardamom Baked Yogurt and Passion Fruit Vanilla Crème Brûlée, which is my newfound weakness. I was so impressed with Sanafir that I’ve decided to fly my next trip solo, so I won’t have to share. Well, they can have the pâté.
117 West Pender Street, Vancouver
Review by Irina Kapinos
I was a little skeptical at first: Wild Rice doesn’t take reservations for groups under ten people, and this was a Friday night. To my surprise we were seated as soon as we entered the restaurant and were served shortly thereafter.
At Wild Rice, each dish is a “plate for sharing”, which adds a degree of liveliness to this modern Chinese restaurant. Yet, we had a hard time deciding what to order. Our neighbour’s orders looked so appetizing, and the menu is packed with intriguing descriptions—my brother suggested we keep coming back until we’ve tried everything. After some deliberation we agreed on a vegetarian dish, and the special of the day: vegetable spring rolls and Sablefish and Barbecue Duck Pot-au-Feu.
The service was quick, and we soon found ourselves munching on spring rolls. The presentation was thoughtful: the rolls were cut diagonally, showing off the orange, red and greens of the vegetables. They came with a sweet citrus garlic sauce, which was superb—tangy and mild at the same time. Had we not been in a restaurant, I would have licked the dish clean!
When the Sablefish and Duck Pot-au-Feu came, our waitress suggested we get rice to go with the stew. The fish was a little bland for my taste, but the stewed vegetables, fennel and baby potatoes, and sauce itself were very rich. The duck’s flavour seemed to overpower the dish so we were glad for the side rice. Overall, the rice and stew complemented each other for a nice meal. In fact, the whole atmosphere of Wild Rice makes for a good outing. The music wasn’t too loud in the background, and the floor plan is such that every party has a little privacy—we were able to talk and laugh without being interrupted.
For dessert, we had the Chocolate and Mango Torte, which came with green tea jelly, and Chantilly. This torte is a must for any dark chocolate lover. The cool, neutral flavour of the green tea jelly accentuated the warm chocolate flavour. The Chantilly was topped with a garnish, which according to the waitress was a gooseberry. I think the garnish itself could have been dessert: a sweet but slightly tart berry to finish off the meal.
Throughout the night three different waitresses served us, each being as professional as the next, and the evening flowed flawlessly. Although the atmosphere seems tailored to be inviting to younger couples, most of the people around us were in their late thirties, and the ambience suggested a nice place for a date. In fact, Wild Rice is located right next to Tinseltown, so a movie and dinner might be the menu of the night.