High-end Miku has sushi with fiery style

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Eye-catching presentations on the menu include blowtorch-seared aburi chicken

Mia Stainsby

A chef at Miku torches sushi to create Aburi Sushi, which is a specialty of the restaurant. Photograph by : Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun


Overall 3 1/2

Food 3 1/2

Ambience 4

Service 4


1055 West Hastings St., 604-568-3900. www.mikurestaurant.com. Open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Friday; dinner only on Saturday and Sunday.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars.

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In North America, there’s only one response to eating raw chicken and we all know what that is.

In Japan, however, chicken sashimi is a delicacy. A friend who lived there ordered it against her partner’s ardent protests and lived to say it tasted just fine, thank you very much. The thing is, the chickens are raised and processed cleanly and certainly not in industrial settings.

That brings me to Miku Japanese restaurant which recently opened downtown. The company that operates Miku is based in Miyakazu, on the island of Kyushu, home to many of these chicken farms. Miku’s parent company, Toro Corporation, operates seven restaurants in Japan and while some may serve chicken sashimi, Miku in Vancouver does not. The closest to it is aburi chicken, flame-seared, just to doneness.

Miku specializes in aburi sushi, meaning the fish is lightly flame-seared on the surface by blowtorch. “We take a stick of charcoal and place it in front of the flame so the gas smell doesn’t transfer to the sushi,” says Tai Hasumi, the general manager. If he stops by your table, talk hockey — he played pro hockey when he lived for a few years in Japan. He also was bar manager at the Nobu Tokyo, which is co-owned by Robert DeNiro.

Hasumi tried chicken sashimi in Japan. “It took me three tries to put it in my mouth but it was fabulous. I can only compare it to seafood. It has the colour and texture of tuna. Perhaps in the future, we’ll do a week of chicken sashimi. These chickens are organic and very pampered. They limit the numbers on the farms,” he says. (Do not try this at home, folks!)

Miku almost lives up to its name (beautiful sky) with soaring ceilings. Before the Shaw Tower went up, the room had a gorgeous view out to the harbour and mountains and now that it’s gone, they hauled nature indoors. There’s black granite (exactly like the stone in my kitchen), white Carrara marble, rough granite and a pebble walkway. Glass “clouds” (which looked more like Arctic ice floes) hover high above and there’s more icy glass on the walls. The effect is dramatic but a little polar.

Miku does some things well and others, not so well. The fish is fresh; they buy locally as much as possible; produce is organic; presentations are really eye-catching (tempura comes on a bed of twigs) and the room seems to be teaming with staff in the open kitchen and on the floor — but that might be just while they are in training mode. But it comes with a price, evident in some of the sticker-shock prices, like the $12 chestnut gelato with rum-infused chestnut cream that barely spoke of chestnut or rum. A small glass of beer was $6.

Dishes are somewhat unique to Vancouver. Although one of the reasons for aburi sushi is to cut down on fat, I really don’t think anyone’s complained about fish oil. In fact, the complaint is the lack thereof in most people’s diets. And frankly, Vancouver is so addicted to raw fish, I’m not sure aburi sushi will fly.

The suzuran (Japanese rose) platter, $28, has 10 sushi pieces, including tuna, shaped into a rose, aburi and oshi sushi (flat, pressed). The tora oshi sushi plate looks like sushi petits fours; tuna and salmon are sandwiched between sushi rice with toppings like crab, eel, fish roe, scallop and tuna.

Inari “with modern touch” ($9) goes one better than regular inari (sushi rice in marinated tofu pouches). The “modern touch” is the tasty toppings on each of three inari on the plate. The aburi chicken with garlic soy sauce ($16) has a tell-tale touch of flamed smokiness. Agedashi tofu in ponzu sauce, topped with spicy yam was delicately constructed and beautifully presented. In Miku’s efforts to play to the local market, they offer several udon pastas. I say leave the pasta to the Italians. Udon is too soft for pasta and the one we tried with spicy beef, jalapeno, garlic and pepperocino pepper ($18) didn’t invite a revisit.

There are two pastry chefs (one who trained in Kyoto and another, from Poland). While the chestnut gelato didn’t score points with me, another, the “chocolate parade” was really expensive ($20), but delicious. It was really three desserts — a delicious chocolate tart, a white chocolate mousse and chocolate gelato.

The chefs will also do omakase (Japanese tasting menu) for $60, $80 and $120. Should you be served a raw whole prawn in any of your dishes, the server will ask if you’d like the kitchen to deep-fry the head for you. Hasumi says when his Caucasian server suggests it, diners are more willing to give it a go. He’s like the passport to exotic Japanese fare.

All in all, Miku acts high-end and looks high-end but falters here and there in delivering silken high-end fare.

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