HAKONE JAPANESE CUISINE

There are, unfortunately, very few options for sushi on the North side of Edmonton. Sure, there are Tokyo Expresses and Mt. Fujis galore, but they’re a cheap alternative to the good stuff. We might not have West or East Coast quality sushi in our landlocked city, but there are still some excellent Japanese restaurants throughout Edmonton.

Hakone Japanese Cuisine is neither terrible nor great – it sits entirely in the middle. It’s average.

The restaurant is located in the most unusual of places, squeezed between a Money Mart and a nail salon, just a stone’s throw away from 127 Street’s Lucky Supermarket. We’d never have known it was there if we hadn’t happened to drive past it once several months ago. We made note of it and made a point to eat there recently.

Hakone’s interior is cute, clean, and simply decorated. There are only a few tables because the space is quite small, but it’s intimate and pretty. I was immediately hopeful.

My hope ebbed slightly when the young server came over to drop off some menus. There wasn’t a hint of a smile on her face and she seemed irritated that we’d come in to eat – it had just turned 5 and the restaurant was empty. She left us with the menus for a few minutes while we browsed.

Hakone’s menu isn’t extensive, but it’s fair. There are the regular maki, sushi, and sashimi options, along with some great-looking bento boxes. The prices were on par with Kyoto/Mikado, so I expected everything to be of the same quality.

When we were ready to order, we were told they were out of the Dragon Eye roll which, from what I’ve seen, is one of their most popular items. They didn’t have Clamato juice for a sake caesar (I’m not sure they actually carry it on a regular basis), so I resigned myself to a bottle of hot sake, which was great. The waitress said that she didn’t think they had any crab for the crabstick sushi, but didn’t come back to confirm.

We ordered miso soup, two half-orders of salmon and tuna sashimi, rainbow rolls, and a bento box with chicken teriyaki and sushi. The maki were pretty good and the bento box was extremely generous. Both of those items were satisfying.

The sashimi, though, wasn’t great. Both the salmon and tuna were chewy and cut really thickly; while eating them, I kept thinking of Japonais Bistro’s pillowy-light tuna sashimi with longing. I’ve had much worse, don’t get me wrong – at least Hakone’s sashimi wasn’t frozen – but it was average at best.

Halfway through our meals, the server brought over my crab sushi, which I hadn’t known to expect. Throughout the course of our dinner, the service actually became friendlier (we got a smile), which I thought was weird until I noticed that there were, at that point, several other tables in the restaurant.

At the end of the day, the meal, including 10 oz of hot sake, cost about $90. In my opinion, this was too pricey for average sushi, indifferent service, and a menu that wasn’t complete. We ordered a lot of food, so I understand why the bill was so high. When I think of spending almost $100 on Japanese food, though, our average experience at Hakone means that this likely won’t be my go-to sushi restaurant in the future, even if it is on the North side.

Hakone Japanese Cuisine
13907 127 Street
Edmonton, AB T5L 4Y5
(780) 761-3006

2/5

DYNASTY CENTURY PALACE

Dynasty’s dim sum isn’t bad, but the main selling point is the low, low cost. If you’ve never had dim sum at a large-scale Chinese restaurant before, you’re in for an experience. It’s Good Buddy times five. Dearly-deceased Noodle

ALL HAPPY FAMILY RESTAURANT

For years, Chinatown’s Garden Bakery was my go-to Chinese food hotspot. The dishes were delicious, the service prompt, and the bakery downstairs always sold my favourite curry puffs and peanut balls.

Dining there recently was a huge shock. I don’t expect to be eating food cooked by a Red Seal chef, but I do expect that my noodles will be fresh and al dente, rather than microwaved into a gelatinous blob reminiscent of an antagonist in a 1958 horror film.

When a restaurant goes downhill to this extent, it’s time to take up shop elsewhere. In my case, I moved my loyalties next door to All Happy Family Restaurant.

All Happy is best known as the place to go after a wild, drunken night at the bar. They’re open till 4am, allowing you to fill your junk food cravings after spending the night dancing and drinking your face off at Knoxville’s or Central Social Hall. It’s cheap, the food is served within minutes, and it’s a delicious alternative to a packed McDonald’s drive-thru.

However, unlike many of my friends, I also like to eat in Chinatown during the day whilst still moderately sober. I visited All Happy for a dinner with my friend Amanda–my usual date for a Garden Bakery romp–and we were sold. The noodles were as good as the Garden Bakery’s used to be and had all of the flavour that its next-door neighbour appears to have lost.

Amanda and I are purists when it comes to our Chinatown dinners: we order the same two things each time (but don’t worry–as a halfer, I’ve tried a variety of Cantonese cuisine and a smorgasbord of Mandarin delicacies throughout my life).

The Seafood Chow Mein was beautiful. Crispy, fresh noodles served as a bed for a mound of crunchy gai lan, tender scallops, shrimp, carrots, and squid. The sauce, which can turn to jelly if old, left sitting on a counter, or microwaved, had a perfectly thick consistency and was full of savoury seafood flavour.

The Beef Chow Fun with Gai Lan–my personal favourite–was so fresh and hot that I burnt my mouth slightly in my haste to devour it. This version of Beef Chow Fun is the ‘wet version’ (something you should mention if you order it in a restaurant), which differs from the usual ‘dry version’ that is stir fried in spices. I prefer the sauce on my noodles, which is why I order this version. It’s tasty and a nice change from the usual if you’re feeling only slightly adventurous. Gai lan is my favourite of all Chinese vegetables; known as ‘Chinese broccoli,’ it’s crunchy and has a distinct flavour similar to kale.

I also ordered a Litchi (lychee) Cooler, a refreshingly sweet drink full of litchis, which are great as an impromptu after-dinner dessert.

Dinner for two at All Happy came to under $25–a bargain and perfect for those who love a cheap and cheerful Chinatown snack. If you haven’t managed to stumble into this restaurant in the wee hours of the morning yet, give it a shot. Maybe even try it during the day. You might just like it.

P.S. They deliver! Just make sure to order an hour in advance.

All Happy Family Restaurant
10011 106 Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5H v2S1
(780) 421-8297
Open 11am to 4am daily

3.5/5

NYC: KUNJIP RESTAURANT

If you know me at all, you’ll know that I have a semi-unhealthy relationship with beef short ribs. Korean-style beef short ribs. Cooked over a barbecue, preferably.

I’m obsessed with them. I’m constantly at the local Asian supermarket picking up pounds and pounds of these meaty treats. I check out which butchers sell short ribs, and have made plans to head to D’Arcy’s Meat Market the next time I’m craving Korean BBQ. Note: they have an excellent homemade recipe for Korean galbi (short ribs in a Korean soy sauce) on their website’s blog!

I’ll put up my never-fail recipe for Korean short ribs soon but, until then, I’ll leave you to drool over the pictures from Kunjip Restaurant in New York City.

Despite my obsession with short ribs, I’ve never actually been to a Korean BBQ restaurant. Rachel and I had heard great things about Kunjip and decided to check it out with all the apprehension and excitement of first-timers.

The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so potential diners have to wait in a long line that snakes through the restaurant and protrudes out onto the street and halfway down the block. It gets busy, but the line moves fast. If those Kunjip servers are anything, they’re efficient.

Perhaps a little too efficient. When we were seated (after about a 20 minute wait), they immediately started bringing out our order, which they’d taken while we waited in line. We ordered drinks–a cold sake for Rachel, a hot sake for me–and I had to very firmly request my hot sake despite the woman’s insistence that “cold sake is better.” Yes, it was a Saturday night, and yes, they had a long line-up, but the server made it very clear that making a hot sake to order was very much an inconvenience. I pressed my point and eventually received my drink from the mildly irritated middle-aged female server.

Our food was all delivered within a couple of minutes: seafood pancake (Hae Mool Pa Jun), rice with vegetables and egg (Sanche Bibimbob), and our short rib BBQ assortment (Gal Bi Gui). As first-timers, we didn’t actually realize how much food we’d ordered, and that the Gal Bi Gui came not only with short ribs, but with lettuce, ssamjang sauce, kimchi, purple rice, green beans, tofu, egg soup, and more.

We also didn’t realize that the trick to Korean BBQ is to create a lettuce wrap using the short ribs, ssamjang sauce, and any other fixings we desire. Luckily, the same woman who graced me with hot sake took pity on us, taking it upon herself to prepare us each a beef wrap before unceremoniously plunking them directly into our mouths (I’m not even joking…she fed us). It was hilarious, it was delicious, and it was actually very kind of her.

After that, we got on like a house on fire. There was clearly too much food, but we made the best of it, and the servers no longer rushed us (although they did eye us quite regularly towards the end of the meal).

One thing that did disappoint me, though, is that we’d requested the short ribs to be barbecued at the table. They urged us to let them cook it in the back–probably because our table was too small and they didn’t want to waste time barbecuing for two people–so the short ribs came out cooked. I’d have liked to see them cooked at the table; if that’s something that you’d go for, I’d recommend going with a small group. The groups that I saw there received more attention from the servers.

A word of advice to those who hate being rushed whilst eating (as do I) – just don’t let them. They’re not going to force you out of your seat. Eat your food, enjoy your company, and leave when you’re ready. Don’t bogart the table for no reason, but don’t feel compelled to bolt down your food and run out the door.

Despite the sense of urgency you get from the servers in their quest to flip tables, and despite the one lady’s reluctance to serve hot sake, I really enjoyed Kunjip. The food was excellent and the service was blindingly fast. And oh, those short ribs…they were worth the wait, and worth the rushing.

I look forward to trying Korean BBQ restaurants in Edmonton so that I’m able to compare between the two. If you’re in New York City, though, check this place out: it’s completely no-fuss, and you have to expect that you’ll receive authentic service for an Asian restaurant (i.e. often blunt), but the food is worth it and reasonably priced…provided you don’t over order.

Kunjip
9 W 32nd St
New York, NY 10001
(212) 216-9478
Open 24 hours

 3.5/5