Sen Zushi chef Kozo Kawada didn’t let a fire that burned down his business last spring get in the way of providing Victorians with the authentic Japanese food we’ve come to enjoy.
I meet Part and Parcel chef Grant Gard at Sen Zushi’s temporary digs on Store street, in the former Kaz restaurant location.
We’re quickly seated in the small dining area and brought steaming cups of green tea.
Gard chose Sen Zushi for two reasons: it’s open Mondays and Kawada presents a style of Japanese eating that hasn’t really lit up the local food scene yet.
“It’s the closest thing in Victoria to izakaya … basically a bar that sells food,” he says.
In Japan, the trend started with sake shops that began to allow customers to drink on the premises. Small plates of food are served alongside.
“It’s not usually sushi. Finger foods, small snacks, they drink a lot of sake and eat a lot – it’s kind of a Japanese tapas bar,” Gard explains. “Vancouver is izakaya crazy. I’m really sad that it’s not here yet.”
But Kawada’s menu provides the next best thing.
After only a few minutes Gard and I realize we are on the same page as far as the menu goes. Octopus, check; raw fish, check; tuna, check; tofu, check. My mouth is already watering.
We order a crispy roll filled with vegetable tempura, burdock, pickled radish, cucumber, lettuce and a sweet soy sauce; big eye tuna belly nigiri, raw tuna on top of rice; agedashi tofu, deep fried tofu in broth; Nanohana Ohitashi, rape blossom salad with sesame dressing; and takoyaki, a small dumpling filled with diced octopus. We talk about ordering karaage, bite-sized bits of deep fried chicken, but, as Gard says: “It’s easy to order too much.”
Since it’s lunch time on a Monday, we forgo the sake and stick to tea, but the feast doesn’t disappoint.
The salad is a bright green mound dotted with toasted sesame seeds, both chewy and crunchy, it’s a satisfying snack. The crispy roll falls apart too easily for my hashi skills, but Gard says the pickled radish provides a nice, fresh flavour.
With only slight trepidation, I pick up a piece of the takoyaki. Taking a cue from Gard, I place a few shreds of pickled ginger on top. This ginger, prepared by Kawada as are all the sauces, has a slightly salty flavour providing a nice contrast to the dumpling’s mayo sauce, instantly, I’m a fan.
We’ve done the tofu no favours by not eating it quickly. It’s had too much time to sit in the broth before we dig in, but it’s still a creamy delight, melting in my mouth. Only manners keep me from drinking the broth with a spoon.
The big eye tuna belly nigiri is a delicious departure from the usually lean tuna I’m used to. “Fat adds flavour,” says Gard.
Kawada’s special menu has several other choices we eye, but a busy work day awaits us both. With more than 30 years as chef under his belt, Kawada fed Japanese Emperor Akihito and his wife Empress Michiko when they visited Victoria in 2009. It is definitely food fit for a king.