A unique dining experience

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Shuraku provides a little more polish than the typical izakaya-style of many Japanese restaurants

Mia Stainsby

Chef Masahiro Omori of Shuraku Sake Bar and Bistro holds a tempting tray.


833 Granville St., 604-687-6622.


Open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone.

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‘I feel like Survivorman,” my partner said. I rolled my eyes.

My brave he-man had just eaten a fried prawn head. We’d ordered some spot prawn nigiri at Shuraku Sake Bar and Bistro.

They arrived achingly fresh with the heads sitting neatly beside the nigiri. “We can fry them for you,” our server said. “Okay,” we trilled.

Upon their return, I lost my trill, nibbling only the tickle-me tentacles. My partner dug in, though. Not quite Survivorman-like, he took mouse-sized bites and stopped at the accusing little black eyeballs.

(For those out of the loop, Survivorman is a TV show where this guy is dumped in the wilderness and films himself surviving without food or shelter or tools for seven days in each episode.)

Be it the 25 premium sakes by the glass, the twinklingly fresh sushi, the stand-out tempura or the lure of fried spot prawn heads, you’re in for a unique dining experience at Shuraku.

You might think it’s an izakaya, the plot in many of the newer Japanese restaurants. Although Vancouver izakayas have migrated upward from the beer-plus-eats version in Japan, Shuraku is much too polished to count as one. It does offer small plates and sharing plates, but it also offers sushi and sashimi, not common in izakayas. Instead of beer, or wine, they really make a big deal of sake, a tribute to owner Iori Kataoka’s grandfather, who was a sake maker. (The “shu” in Shuraku means sake.)

Kataoka also owns Zest restaurant at Dunbar and 16th, a really polished Japanese restaurant which I recommend.

She bought out Kitto, which she operated in this same spot for 10 years. Shuraku is its transformation.

A prawn head or two, incidentally, is not adventurous dining for the Japanese.

“The Japanese would not miss it,” Kataoka says.

The chef, Masahiro Omori, worked in high-end hotels in Tokyo but also wanted to learn izakaya cooking so after his high-end shifts, he worked in an izakaya. Shuraku blends the two styles. Omori is the one with the black plastic hair band holding back his hair, girlie-style. “It’s supposed to be trendy,” Kataoka says, sounding like she needs more convincing.

The sushi we tried were top- notch; there are the classics as well as “Innovative Rolls” which I often find go over the top with sauces and extreme size.

His are more refined; however, one exception, called Pink Igloo (deep-fried salmon, scallions, radish, sushi rice wrapped in pink soybean paper and sitting on drizzles of cream cheese mayo) was bland in spite of all that was going on. I liked the Renkon Hasami Age (a lightly deep-fried sushi roll with shrimp and lotus root).

The back ribs glazed with Japanese barbecue sauce are positively yummy; the Ban Ban Gee is a tweaked Chinese-style chicken. Cold shredded chicken with sesame sauce is tamped into a puck so dense the server loosens it with a fork for you.

The eggplant poppers are cool considering most everything you do with eggplant is limp and wet. These crunch.

He inserts chicken and pork into an incision in a piece of eggplant, batters, then deep-fries it to a light crispiness.

Shuraku is easy to miss on Granville Street amid what looks like a psycho public works project. Wear sensible shoes because while Canada Line construction continues, you’ll be slip-sliding on gravel.

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