Ellen was shocked when she found out I had an aversion to Japanese food. Well, at least to “authentic” Japanese food (on the off-chance colleagues or friends choose to dine in a Japanese restaurant, I’m probably happier than I should be with an order of chicken teriyaki and tempura). Ellen had lived in Japan teaching English for a few years, and understandably, grew to love the cuisine. She wanted to share that appreciation with me, and with an able guide, I was willing to experiment.
We agreed to meet at the downtown location of Mikado – one of Ellen’s favourite Japanese restaurants in the city – and fortuitously, within walking distance of where I live. On a Saturday afternoon, it was also much busier than I had expected, but then again, with three successful branches in Edmonton (the newest and most modern in the west end), that shouldn’t have been a surprise.
We were seated in a cozy booth that conveyed a sense of privacy, perfect for catching up, as well as completing the trials at hand that day. Service was pleasant throughout our stay – and though the colourful garments that enrobed some of the servers were visually appealing, I’m not sure they were necessary.
I was most excited about what was essentially Japanese pub food. We asked about okonomiyaki (a Japanese pancake of sorts), but unfortunately, rumours about this location serving it off-menu were unfounded. Still, an order of deep-fried tofu and chicken kara-age was a good introduction to dishes in this category, and we supplemented our meal with several other plates, including (drumroll please) raw fish.
The fried tofu ($5.95) turned out to be my favourite dish, likely because it was the least foreign, and is something I really enjoy regardless of its preparation. The salty, almost umami tempura broth gave it a nice depth, and I loved the shredded seaweed garnish – so pretty.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for the chicken kara-age ($8.95) – they were comparable to dry ribs, but too dry and without much flavour.
Ellen made fun of how I squealed when certain dishes came out – the plating was certainly a marvel to me. The spinach goma-ae ($5.95) was a good example, particularly as quantity seemed to go by the wayside in favour of presentation. The black sesame dressing underneath each spinach bundle was tasty, but I’m not sure I would order it again; I was just left wanting more.
Ellen chose an order of “dragon eyes” ($11.95) to ease me into sushi, knowing my squeamishness for raw seafood. Though Mack probably still wouldn’t try it (he despises seaweed), the combination of the cooked salmon, the light coating of batter, and slightly sour sushi rice was enjoyable. But then again – a bath in hot oil will improve the appeal of almost anything.
Dragon eyes (the spicy, rich dressing underneath was delicious)
But the moment of truth – my encounter with the raw. I saved my pieces of sake (salmon) and toro (tuna belly) for last – partly to psych myself up, but partly because of dread. My first bite of sake was comical – without warning Ellen, I sank into half of the roll, without first dipping it into the soy sauce/wasabi mixture (I had no idea eating sushi was so complicated). Granted, it did allow me to experience the marked improvement the condiments had on bringing out the flavour of the fish.
Serious chopstick/sushi fail! (Ellen warned me not to let the rice touch the sauce, which is of course what I promptly did)
Between the two types – toro was definitely my favourite, but only marginally so. Although Ellen tried to convince me of the creaminess of the belly, it was still difficult to overcome my psychological aversion to raw fish. As I chewed, the dialogue between my brain and my taste receptors was more of a one-sided taunt than a conversation: “What are you eating? Why are you eating that? Keep chewing…it’s not like the texture is getting any better…Can you smell it? It tastes like the ocean. You hate the ocean! Say it with me, ‘fish is meant to be cooked’…” and so on.
Sake and toro
Overall, it was a fun afternoon, even if it wasn’t wholly successful – of course it wasn’t realistic to think I would be converted in one instance. The big victory to me, however, is the fact that should I find myself in a Japanese restaurant in the future, I would actually feel comfortable ordering something beyond a bento box – thanks, Ellen!
10350 109 Street (2 other locations)