I bit the bullet. Tasting menus never really appealed to me, because I figured, I can order what I want off the regular menu and pay less. However, on this occasion I decided to splurge, and just as well that I did it at Zest, on the west side of Vancouver. Their Zest Dinner Course is $60 per person, which I think is reasonably priced for a set menu (I mean, Lumiere’s was $~120). The interior of the restaurant is extremely minimalist. I don’t mean Apple-minimalist, with a lot of chrome and white. That’s a very in-your-face style of minimalism (which may seem like an oxymoron). Zest’s interior is very understated, with grey painted walls, no art, and a plain black sushi bar. The only adornment is the small shelf of sake bottles behind the sushi counter. Upon walking in, I heard the chefs and servers conversing in Japanese with each other, and with a customer sitting at the bar; I felt I was in good hands. A lot of the customers here seemed to be regulars; the chef would greet them by name as they entered, and follow them to the door making small talk as they left. I guess Zest is a neighborhood favourite.
At the time when we were served the first dish, the Sashimi Salad, the light was perfect. The salad was also perfect; it was actually my favourite dish of the night. What single-handedly carried it to greatness was the dressing. Of course, the salad was crisp, the sashimi was fresh (and the tuna was bigeye tuna, an interesting change from the usual pinkish-grey colour of tuna), but the dressing was the perfect mix of sweet and tart. It had none of the excess oily taste that many salad dressings can suffer from. Strangely, it looked slightly gritty, but I was unable to detect any grit when actually eating it.
Next came a selection of appetizers. Clockwise from top right: Bamboo shoots, ankimo (monkfish liver), green beans with black sesame paste, bigeye tuna carpaccio. Got to say, it was my first time having monkfish liver, and at first glance I was a bit hesitant. But it was delicious; it had the texture and mouthfeel of pate, and the acidic zing of the ponzu sauce dulled any excess fishiness that may otherwise have overwhelmed the dish. The black sesame paste on the green beans did a great job livening up the otherwise bland taste of steamed green beans, although I think that anyone who can eat the whole dollop by the time the green beans are gone has a huge sweet tooth; I wasn’t able to. With the strong flavours of three of the dishes, I feel like the clean, watery, slightly salty taste of the bamboo shoots acted well as a palate cleanser, getting one ready for the next bite. In all, it was a harmonious combination of sweet (black sesame), salty (carpaccio), acidic (ponzu), and clean (bamboo).
Zest’s tempura was pretty standard, with prawn and carrot, but I’d never encountered asparagus tempura before. The prawns used here aren’t the typical strangely-long prawns you find elsewhere; they aren’t mutated, just normal prawns. The asparagus was easily the best of this dish, cooked perfectly inside the batter to be crispy, hot, and flavourful. I used to hate asparagus, but now it’s one of my favourite vegetables. I usually like it grilled, but now I can add ‘tempura’ to the list!
I guess this would be the “main dish” of the menu, the Diced Beef Rib Eye Steak. It was just steak; I didn’t think it was all that special, I guess they just threw it in to have a meat dish? It was cooked medium rare and tasted good, but not delicious, like the first two dishes were.
The last dish on the menu was a selection of nigiri sushi. From front to back: spot prawn amaebi, sockeye salmon, geoduck, hamachi (yellowtail) and bigeye tuna. I don’t really know why people make a big fuss about spot prawn, this one just tasted like regular amaebi to me. But then again, I don’t eat a lot of amaebi. The geoduck was an interesting addition to an otherwise pretty normal lineup of nigiri; the texture was somewhat like squid, but slightly less rubbery. Still had an interesting chew and taste though. The wasabi was mixed stronger here than at other sushi restaurants I’ve been to, and the nigiri came with a dab of wasabi under the fish. I’ve heard this is a traditional way of doing things, and I’ve found it to be notably absent at “fast-food sushi” restaurants. And as you can see, real ginger, not the fluorescent pink kind.
In addition to the set menu, I ordered a trio of ice cream. I usually don’t order ice cream at restaurants, but there was one that really intrigued me, beside the green tea and black sesame flavours. It’s right there in the middle: the sake and raisin ice cream. It actually did taste like sake! I actually don’t really like the taste of sake compared to other alcohols, so it wasn’t my favourite, but I just had to order it for the sake (no pun intended!) of its novelty.
This was a great introduction to set menu dining, and I can’t wait for my next chance to try it. I heard Kimura is good for omakase! Onward!