It’s Taste of Yaletown season!
It also happened to be my sister’s birthday a while ago, so we celebrated at Minami.
A bit on Taste of Yaletown: it’s an annual event that looks to entice Vancouverites to the Yaletown area by offering special feature menus at a number of Yaletown restaurants, the menus usually at set prices $25 or $35. The menus often (but not always) come at a good price and are curated to provide a well-rounded experience of what each restaurant has to offer in terms of food. A portion of the proceeds go to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, which is an added incentive.
What’s important to take into account, once you decide to participate is the kind of event, is the expected quality of food and service you might receive. Think Dine Out Vancouver: restaurants are busy, busy, busy pumping out a wide selection of items for one menu alone, and there’s (theoretically) more traffic. So when I go through this review of my experience, I must also acknowledge that if I returned to Minami at a regular time, my experience might potentially be better. The review today is a review of Minami for Taste of Yaletown, not Minami as it usually is.
And with that, we’re off!
Aside from her, our family hadn’t been. I’d been to Miku before, which was a wonderful dining experience and my first introduction to aburi (lightly seared) sushi. Miku is Minami’s sister restaurant–quite literally: both restaurants were named after the owner Seigo Nakamura’s daughters.
We all set about ordering. I was the only one to try the Taste of Yaletown menu, which, this year, offered the following:
- First: aburi sushi (salmon oshi, ebi oshi, sunset roll, nigiri)
- Second: minami zen (aburi bincho with wasabi masatake sauce, miso marinated tofu salad, saikyo miso baked sablefish, braised Fraser Valley pork cheek)
- Dessert: spiced pumpkin brownie ice cream
The menu also came with recommended sake pairings, which I opted out of.
Nowhere on the menu did it mention miso soup, but I was presented with one.
Soon, the family’s dishes begun to arrive.
The ebi fritters were good, especially if you’re a fritter person. I have to say I prefer the ebi mayo dishes offered at izakaya joints like Kingyo, but I completely accept that it’s unlikely a restaurant like Minami would serve what’s basically pub food. Still, I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t a fan: the batter was very thick and breadish, as per a more western tradition.
Someone ordered the Aburi Lunch, which came with a miso soup and a selection of aburi signature nigiri, oshi, and sushi rolls.
Another ordered the kaisen soba peperoncino. Hm, fusion.
The signature Minami roll: spicy prawn and cucumber wrapped in aburi short rib, topped off with wasabi masatake sauce.
My sister ordered the Minami roll for me to try. I, in turn, traded her some of my starter oshi.
The Minami roll disappointed, though. I thoroughly enjoyed the Miku roll at Miku, but the Minami roll was… not particularly unique tasting, despite the short rib wrapped around the rice. The roll itself wasn’t a mess, but the inside of the roll (the prawn portion) was practically mushy. Moreover the combination of wasabi on short rib, combined with rice and prawns… it was a mix that didn’t settle all that well with my tastebuds. Ultimately, the overall flavour didn’t make the Minami roll worth it’s $16 price tag.
Selection of aburi sushi.
Now I’ll focus on my own dishes. The selection of aburi sushi was delicious–each with it’s own unique flavour. I have to say, aburi-style oshi sushi at Minami is spot-on, taste and presentation-wise. I mean, look at these… and lightly seared? So good.
The came the second course, with four different selections.
The pork cheek and sable fish.
I loved the pork cheek. It was tender, chewy, and the sauce added texture and a mild punch of flavour. The sablefish was good, but not as good as the one I had at L’Abattoir. It wasn’t as moist and fatty, and while dark, leafy greens are a go-to compliment, I wasn’t a huge fan of the kale gomae. Kale is kale, so it’s usually going to feel a bit dry (at least, from my own experiences it has been. It’s totally possible that this is not the case). I guess I was hoping for a dish lacking any dryness whatsoever.
I should probably comment on the fact that the sablefish wasn’t all that dry. I’m just being very nitpicky.
Miso marinated tofu salad and aburi bincho (tuna) with wasabi masatake sauce.
The salad was good, but nothing to write home about. Maybe some salad enthusiasts have some input?
I didn’t get to try the tuna, because I worried that my raw seafood intolerance would kick in after this much raw fish. (Wise choice. I didn’t get sick.) I did, however, question the person I passed it off to; he said that the tuna itself was very good, adding that the garlic in the Masatake sauce mixed with the wasabi was powerful.
Before I get to this part, let’s do a short summary of my thoughts on the food-aspect of Minami. For $25, you definitely get your money’s worth with the Taste of Yaletown lunch menu (note the Minami roll, which I lamented earlier, wasn’t on the ToY menu). Presentation is beautiful and for the variety of foods laid out for you to devour, I would recommend popping in.
But back to dessert… I can’t talk about it without finally coming to the speak about the service.
Throughout the meal, service was fine. One of the younger staff spilled a bit of my miso soup, but they looked pretty new and it’s not something I would ever make a fuss over.
But on dealing with the issue of my sister’s birthday, another waitress (perhaps it was more than one) made an alarming decision.
Remember that I was the only one to order the Taste of Yaletown set menu, so I was also the only one ordering dessert. It was lunch, and everyone was too full to order anything more. In fact, I didn’t really even feel up to dessert myself, although the staff didn’t know that.
Before my order came, my sister and I were each given a spoon. Later, a dish of spiced pumpkin brownie ice cream was placed in front of my sister, with a candle, in honour of her birthday. How sweet!
After blowing out her candle. Happy birthday, lovely!
But here’s the thing… my dessert never came.
Which was okay, since I didn’t really want it. We told the waitress to hold off on mine, and that’s when we were told, “oh”–a gesture toward’s my sister’s ice cream–“that’s it”.
Now, when a restaurant knows it’s someone’s birthday, they have two acceptable choices to make: 1) to wish them a happy birthday and leave it at that. This is something that I have no problem with; or 2) offer the birthday person a free drink or dessert.
Neither of those things are what the Minami staff decided to do. I’m being completely serious when I say that they literally took one of their patron’s desserts and gave it to another person without asking.
That was not at all what I’d expect of a highly-rated restaurant known for it’s class. I wouldn’t even expect it if we were at motherloving Denny’s. Wow.
That threw me off the whole lunch experience a bit. I had a lot of respect for the restaurant coming in for the first time. But… taking someone’s dessert away without asking, and giving it to someone else as an acknowledgement of their birthday? That’s… that’s weird. And kind of lame. I wasn’t planning to eat it anyway, sure, but they didn’t know that. The appropriate thing to do would at least be to ask, don’t you think?
So the dessert mess-up was a bit of disappointment to the end of my first Taste of Yaletown–and my first Minami–experience. I still maintain that the lunch menu is worth it, but whether I’d ever come back is another story.
As I said before, this is a review of Minami during the Taste of Yaletown event period. I have no idea what Minami is like regularly, although my sister and several other friends absolutely adore it. The food is generally delicious though expensive, and the decor sets a hip, classy Japanese-Vancouver fusion vibe–as it would be during regular operation. And I’d like to think that the lunch experience is better when the stress of ToY isn’t bearing down on the restaurant–and all ToY restaurants in general–so I wouldn’t take my review of Minami as a guide to how dishes normally taste, or how service usually is. The extra factors going into a ToY lunching experience should allow each restaurant a bit of leniency.
Finally, the big question is whether to visit Minami during Taste of Yaletown, or after.
I’m conflicted. The $25 set menu is what makes lunching at Minami financially worth it. But on the other hand, I’m still lemon-sour about the dessert rudeness. Maybe we can settle on this: don’t go if you’re celebrating a birthday. Go if you’ve desperately been wanting to try Minami out but have been turned off by the $16 sushi. (Because let’s be real, it’s still really good sushi!)
But yeah. Still birthday-bitter. So. Unbelievably. Rude.
[Update: Minami has since thoughtfully contacted us and apologized for the dessert decision. Way to go on going the extra mile to remedy customers’ experiences! Read about my return to Minami with my sister here!]