Hapa Izakaya – Modern Japanese Experience

It’s January of 2013, and Vancouver foodies will think of one thing: VANCOUVER DINE-OUT!!! This is a large restaurant festival where many food places will have set dine-out menus for the price of $38, $28, or $18, depending on the restaurant. To poor student gourmets, this is an once in a year chance to dine out at fancy restaurants for an affordable price.

After fun times taking my grad photos, my best friend and I hopped onto a bus and headed downtown. You see, there is this izakaya (Japanese bar) on Robson street where you can never see what’s inside unless you peek through this really tiny window or someone opens the door. The exterior looks dark and black, and the logo rather unnoticeable. I heard that the place was as expensive as it was delicious, so I had never dared step in. Thank goodness for Vancouver dine-out, I can finally try out Hapa Izakaya!

Hapa Izakaya has many locations. The one I went to is located at 1479 Robson St,  Vancouver B.C., Canada.

Here is the diner out menu for the West End branch: http://hapaizakaya.com/wp-content/uploads/DineOut_HapaW2.pdf

Having foodie friends tell me that the place was good, I was ridiculously excited, but also had rather high expectations.

This is your usual Japanese fine-dining in Vancouver. Sophisticated, classy, and modern, but also retaining the casualness of an izakaya. The candle-lit room makes you want to bring your significant other, but the place is suitable to bring co-workers too. (Co-workers that you LIKE. Haha.)

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For the first course, we had the Negitoro and Tuna Avocado Salsa Dip.

If you truly love Japanese food, you will know that negi (spring onions) and toro (tuna) is a combination as common as having black hair in Asia. But I have never considered putting it on garlic bread, EVER. It tasted good, but was actually nothing mind-blowing; it literally was like having negitoro on garlic bread. Only ever order Negitoro if you really love Albacore tuna belly (like me, haha) because you can probably get a better dish for the same price. I really liked the presentation of the dish though.

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The Tuna Avocado Salsa Dip was simply delicious. Both the avocado and tuna were fresh and the dressing for the salsa was flavourful but not overpowering. The nori (seaweed paper) was a great addition to the dip, and the plantain chips were so darn addictive. While tuna avocado dips are nothing new (youtube has everything, I swear), the dish was as visually appealing as it was appetizing – really made me look forward to my second dish!

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For the second dish we had Ebi Mayo and Halibut Taco.

“Ebi” means shrimp and “mayo” is short for mayonnaise. I love shrimp, so there was no way I could not order this even if it is such a common dish. Juicy shrimp. Slightly crunchy deep-fried coating. Creamy and spicy sauce to match. It was deliciously perfect, but it lacked uniqueness as I’ve had ebi mayo many times before. Where is the modern?

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I regret ordering the Halibut Taco. The taco shell tasted dry, cold, and bland. I could live with that, but something in the taco was super spicy. I know I have a lower tolerance of spicy food than most, but even my friend who love spicy food said it was too hot. I took only ONE bite and was sweating like crazy. I appreciate spicy food, but if something is spicy to the point I can’t taste anything at all, there is a problem. I even picked out the deep-fried halibut to eat, but even that made my mouth explode. I really hope this was just me. Spiciness aside, the dish was much less visually exciting and the veggies were rather tasteless. I would only recommend this to those who can take the heat.

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Third course was Kinoko Meshi and Sushimori.

“Kinoko” means mushroom and “Meshi” means rice or meal. This was absolutely delicious. Assorted Japanese mushrooms, perfectly seasoned, rested on a steaming hot bed of rice waiting to be mixed, and then devoured. Filling, hearty, and flavoursome. Superb.

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Sushimori was a playful and colourful platter of three types of sushi. I believe the one closest to the camera is called the hanabi roll. It was crunchy and spicy and very yummy. The sushi in the middle looked so cute that I couldn’t bear to eat it. My friend said it looked like a small cake, hehe. It was salmon, avocado, cucumber, toasted coconut shavings and plum sauce on rice. The sushi on the very end looked like your typical cheap california roll, but don’t be fooled like I did! Rather than imitation crab, there was real crab in it! Overall, a very fun and satisfying dish. Would totally recommend.

Lastly, for dessert, we ordered the Chocolate Tart and Almond Panna Cotta.

While I was excited for sweets, I didn’t expect much as izakayas are known for sake, drinks, and salty snacks, not desserts.

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The Chocolate Tart was delightful in every single way. The taste was as simple as the dessert. I like the combination of dark chocolate and orange, so I really enjoyed this, but I know this isn’t anything special.

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Lastly, the Almond Panna Cotta. It was completely to my liking as it was sweet but not too sweet and creamy but not too creamy. Don’t expect this to taste like real Italian panna cotta, cause it doesn’t. My friend and I concluded that it was much like those dessert tofus from Asia. The sugared almonds added a nice crunch to the milky pudding, and the longan berries added a very unique and distinctive taste. Very modern indeed. What a wonderful way to end a meal.

Service was decent. Atmosphere and interior lived up to it’s reputation. Food was overall a delightful experience (except for the taco). It’s a 8/10. I don’t think I would normally come here to have a meal though, as that would be too  costly without the dine-out menu or their happy hour menu.

Maybe I’ll just grab a drink and share a few snacks with a close friend.

Until then,
Shiina Mint

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