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Yua Bistro’s oju box is three tiers of hidden delights in Victoria

‘Plain nigiri will never again satisfy me’
Yua Bistro at 622 Fisgard St. in Victoria. (Photo by Allan Reid)

It is not every day that a server sets before me a beautiful box, like a gift on a table littered with glassware and cutlery, little dishes of soy sauce, side plates, an angular candle cage, a stand-up drink card, and chopsticks still in their wrapper. A second, identical cube, red-lacquered with its chrysanthemum motif in black and white, is set before Dennis. It is a small table, just for two. I, on the banquette, have my back to a wall of smoothly sanded plywood “tiles” that I can, nevertheless, see in the full-wall mirror across the room. A mirror upon which are painted colourful hook-nosed salmon swimming toward an enormous painted octopus, its tentacles on full display, which fills a second mirror by the bussing station and open kitchen where some bar seating awaits. Below the salmon are booths also of unfinished plywood, each lit by wide, colourful, stained-glass pendant lamps hanging from a ceiling of unfinished slats. A wave of similar slats covers but does not conceal the street-side window. Yua Bistro, on Fisgard Street across from city hall, is a warm and comfortable room just three steps below street level.

I have ordered the ocean oju box ($29). Dennis has the beef tenderloin oju box: same box, same price, different surprises. Each is like a culinary condo, offering three floors of hidden treats. Lifting the lid I find the tempura room, featuring two tempura shrimp and one fat slice of tempura-coated zucchini. Lifting off this top layer I find six maki and four of the most artful nigiri I’ve ever seen or tasted. This is the nigiri of a master chef: far more than a slice of fish laid over a cube of rice. These are visually reminiscent of dainty petit-fours under ornate frosting, each topped with a different fish, individually sauced and finished with different colours of tobiko (fish roe in black, green and red), or chrysanthemum petals. The flavours are balanced yet complex. Creamy, buttery, hints of sweetness. I am forever spoiled: plain nigiri will never again satisfy me.

And I still haven’t reached the bottom layer. An artfully arranged concentration of sashimi and other delicacies where I find three intact mini octopi (tako), red in colour and steamed but served cold. They share the basement tray with two jumbo scallops (hotate) and squid (ika), prepared two ways: three raw and a pile of marinated slivers. All are served over white rice mixed with clear, golden, noodle-like imitation shark fin (agar-agar) both of which are completely concealed from view. The sashimi above is then topped with a row of red and yellow roe (tobiko and masago, respectively), as well as a plethora of yellow chrysanthemum petals and tiny little balls of crisp rice. A mixed salad sits in one corner.

The variety of flavours in these three trays is impressive enough, and yet they were preceded by a bowl of miso soup, with a spoon offered should you want one, but I recommend you decline – the spoon, that is. Pick up that bowl, place it on your lips and savour it as you sip down a cloud of miso suspended within the clear broth sprinkled with bits of green onions and swimming with three different types of seaweed. Here is a complexity of flavour I have never before experienced in miso soup.

Honestly, this was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had in Victoria.

Allan Reid (Black Press Media file photo)