Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Genji: sushi divinity in Centretown

Apologies for my long absence; I haven't had much to say about what I've been cooking or eating, but things are looking up, starting with this entry about a fantastic meal we had on Satruday night. More to come soon.

Saturday was a busy day for Chris and I – we spent most of it out and about, dodging torrential downpours. By the time we got the grocery shopping done at 6 p.m. I was in no mood to cook anything. When we started brainstorming places to go, Genji popped into my head. It’s a sushi restaurant that’s been getting good buzz for about three years now, and why we had not been there yet I have no idea, but all of a sudden I wanted to go there very badly. I knew from having visited the restaurant that previously existed in that location that it’s not a big place, so I made a quick call to secure us a table. Good thing, too – when we arrived the place was nearly full and hopping. A good sign.

The room has small bamboo divider screens sectioning the tables into near-private "rooms", and our two-top was on its own, giving us wonderful conversation space without feeling isolated. The noise level was high, but not irritatingly so, and the waitress pleasant without being obsequious; we were well-attended to without being hounded through our meal. The deep brown colour of the ceiling makes the room feel cozy, and the white plastic IKEA lotus flower pendant lights were a lovely modern yet exotic touch. Lighting was low but not so dim that we couldn’t see our food, and I don’t recall any music, which was fine – either there was none or it was soft enough not to intrude on conversation.

I was thrilled to find mango juice on the drinks menu and ordered an iced glass of it, while Chris indulged his love of Tsingtao beer. We had planned to order some edamame, but when two amuse-sized portions arrived with our drinks, we gobbled them up and decided to try some other things from the extensive appetizer section of the menu. Eventually we settled on seafood soup (me) and gyoza (Chris). I will admit to being disappointed in the seafood soup after enjoying the version at Mikado in Montreal last year immensely. Genji’s was a small bowl of clear, flavourful broth containing one small shrimp and one small chunk of white fish, along with some bits of carrot, green onion, sliced green bean and enoki mushrooms, and a few sheets of seaweed. It was tasty enough, and for $3.95 not a bad deal, but not exciting enough to bother ordering again.

Chris’s gyoza were very good, by contrast – five pillowy steamed dumplings filled with well-seasoned minced pork and served with a vinegary dipping sauce. Next time I’ll try some of the more adventurous sounding apps, like the king crab, seaweed and cucumber salad, or the sashimi tartar with tempura bits and Japanese mayo. Yum.

The fabulousness factor increased tenfold with the arrival of our sushi and sashimi. Chris ordered an unagi and cucumber roll (after a gentle reminded from me that the eel is cooked and he had tried it and loved it once before) and a tempura roll with fried shrimp, cucumber, lettuce and Japanese mayo. The umagi came drizzled with a light barbecue sauce; the tempura roll arrived waving flags of lettuce and shrimp tails, stacked into something resembling one of the castles from the original Nintendo Mario Bros. game. He pronounced each bite to be awesome.

My desire to go to Genji had been driven by a craving for yellowtail sashimi, which at Genji is available in three- or five-piece servings. It’s some of the priciest on the sashimi menu, but I bit the bullet and ordered the three-piece, alongside a rainbow roll. Containing faux crab, avocado and cucumber with Japanese mayo, wrapped with paper-thin avocado and slices of red tuna, snapper and salmon, it was the most gorgeous maki roll I’ve ever had the extreme pleasure of eating. And what about that yellowtail sashimi? Well, the high price proved itself to be excellent value when I caught sight of the serving size: each chunk of sashimi was slightly larger than a 9-volt battery. Generous indeed, and utterly delicious, it was without a doubt the best sashimi I’ve ever eaten in Ottawa.

We didn’t even want dessert, lest we break the spell of the sushi. We nearly floated out of there to find the rain had mostly stopped. For $75 including taxes and tip, it was an extraordinarily relaxing and delicious evening that we’ll certainly be repeating as soon as possible. Four chopsticks up, Genji – we’ll be back.

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