I’ve heard Japonais Bistro heralded as the “best sushi in the city” by some, and as “expensive and disappointing” by others. I figured it was time to check this place out for myself.
I've been hearing about Japonais (pronounced za-po-ne) Bistro for a while now and, despite its current status as one of the hottest restaurants in Edmonton, the comments have been very inconsistent. Some have had fantastic dining experiences, while others have been disappointed. Never one to take someone's opinion as a given (especially with food and movies), I knew I'd make my way to this restaurant sooner rather than later.
The verdict: I liked it. It's a lovely restaurant and the food is very well-prepared. It didn't, however, blow my mind as a trendsetting, risk-taking restaurant - it's very good and it has some innovative dishes but, in concept, it's quite similar to other Japanese establishments in the city.
Why would I expect a sushi restaurant to be different, you ask? Well, for one, everyone's been talking the place up as a sort of ground-breaking sushi house. Expectations are built. And, for another, it's all in the name. Japonias (French for Japanese) Bistro (French for bistro). The restaurant makes claims towards innovative, North American inspired Japanese food, while hinting towards the influence of French cuisine. It causes one to expect pairings of classic French cooking with the sharp, unique flavours of Japanese delicacies.
In this regard, I was a little disappointed. The menu does have some new, inspired dishes, such as the Yuzu Truffle Kanpachi (sliced amberjack with yuzu truffle, himalayan pink salt, and sake jelly) and the Sushi Tortilla (salmon, tuna, avocado, red onion, tomato, cilantro, jalapeno, and arugula on a crispy honey tortilla), but I suppose I expected more of a fusion between East and West. Distinctly Japanese flavours highlighted by Western-style cooking.
So, yes - the name might mislead slightly. But what Japonais Bistro does offer extremely well is their traditional Japanese fare. In this respect, the restaurant deserves their highly acclaimed status.
There's plenty of traditional Japanese dishes to choose from: sunomono, tataki, sashimi, sushi, tempura, makimono, bento boxes, and grilled delights. Japonais Bistro doesn't skimp on the options - they've got something for everyone.
We tried a variety of dishes for our first visit: Fuji Beef Short Ribs, Halo Maki (salmon, cucumber, torched smoked salmon, sesame sauce, jalapeno), Mango Tango Maki (shrimp, cucumber, mango, avocado, sweet soy), Rainbow Rolls, and Tuna and Salmon Sushi.
The maki were flavourful and fresh, each with an innovative ingredient (jalapeno, mango) that made it different from the usual fare. The sushi was excellent, each feathery-light piece of fish melting in your mouth with subtle flavours and a delicate texture. The short ribs were a revelation - one of my favourite dishes, Japonais Bistro cooked them perfectly, marinating them in a beautiful apple soy sauce that held in all the smoky barbecue flavour of the grill without overpowering the senses with a charcoal taste.
We left satisfied, without bursting at the seams from eating too much. For two people, it amounted to approximately $35 per person, without drinks. It's a little pricier than other sushi places, but pretty much on par with Mikado and Kyoto, the other two Japanese staples in our city.
I'd return to this restaurant simply to try other things on their menu. I've already got my eye on the New Style Sashimi (sashimi seared with hot olive oil, soy, ginger, garlic, green onion, sesame seeds, and yuzu soy), the Seafood Ceviche (assorted seafood, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, onion, fresh lime juice, and wonton chips), and the Soft Shell Crab Salad (organic greens, crispy soft shell crab, fresh fruits, avocado, and ginger vegetable dressing).
I'm also dying to try their "Omakase" experience - translated as "I'm in your hands," the diner pays a set price to be served a variety of chef's choice dishes, made to order. Japonais Bistro charges $75 for the Omakase dinner: a must-try for the sushi fanatic.
At the end of the day, Japonais Bistro is a Japanese restaurant. Their sushi is perfect and they have an extraordinary ability to take traditional Japanese flavours and give them a unique spin. Whether their innovation comes from North American or French influences, it's hard to tell - all you need to know is that it tastes damn good.