Sunday night dinner with the in-laws. The FIL has a penchant for Japanese food (as do I) and so we wanted to try out Hapa and see what they had to offer. Vancouver has quite a few good Izakaya places – we’ve tried Gyoza King, Kingyo, and a couple of the Guu restaurants.
We had heard good things about Hapa – and while the Chowhound review of results seemeed fairly mixed, we wanted to give this place a try. After all, with this awesome location – right across the street from Kits Beach – even if the food was terrible we could still go for a walk on the beach afterwards – all would not be lost.
Let’s get all the good and great things about Hapa out of the way first. The service – excellent. Extremely pleasant, friendly, available, and fast. The decor – while this place is a basement – level restaurant, the dark wood inside and lighting are perfect for a Japanese restaurant and you don’t miss being on street level because the inside is a serene spot that just lets you focus on the food. The lights aren’t too bright or too dim, and even though the restaurant was quite busy, it wasn’t too loud.
The food? Some hits and some misses. We ordered the amaebi – raw fresh spot prawns, Kaarage Iyan – fried bits of chicken, the Bintoro – seared albacore tuna sashimi, the Ebi Mayo – tempura prawns in a spicy sauce, the Renkon “Gyoza” – pork gyoza in tempura-battered lotus root, the Ika – grilled whole squid, and for dessert we had the black sesame ice cream.
All the dishes were very nicely presented, and all arrived hot (or cold, appropriately) and fresh. The good first: The Kaarage Iyan was super-juicy chicken, with a thick batter that wasn’t too greasy and came in a perfectly-balanced sauce of lemon, soy, and vinegar. I’d order this one any time. The Renkon “Gyoza” – tastes like regular pork gyoza but the tempura/lotus root give it a surprise crispiness and it’s not greasy at all as some fried gyoza can be. This one I’d order every time I would come here. The Ika – well, it was fresh grilled squid – tasty for fresh grilled squid, not rubbery, in a tasty mayo dipping sauce. Would I order it again? Well…if I was really hungry for squid, which I usually am not. So probably no. The Amaebi – raw spot prawns. The sweetness of these prawns stands out, and while a little bit on the slimy side for some people – I loved them. Just a remarkably good kind of raw seafood. Incredibly sweet – makes atlantic shrimp jealous. And for dessert – the black sesame ice cream was delicious. It had toasted sesame seeds on top which gave it a nice crunchiness, and the amazing appearance of this ice cream – it is jet black – like you’re eating little scoops of black holes – definitely I’d get this again. It’s definitely a savory dessert, but the coolness of the ice cream and the mouth feel of the fatty cream combined with the delicate crunch of the sesame seeds and the full flavour – this one I’d have any time as a small treat to share with the members of the table.
And what wasn’t so great? Well, the ebi mayo was a big disappointment. This is usually a pretty easy one for places to do (I’m guessing) – batter some shrimp, fry it, and serve it with some Kewpie Mayonnaise. Ta-da! Delicious food. I’m not sure what they did here at Hapa, but the shrimp batter was weak, had that old greasy fried taste to it, and the ‘sauce’ on it was more like sweet and sour sauce that came out of a bottle. The Mayo part of Ebi Mayo had gone missing. Just avoid these. And the Bintoro was just mismatched with its plate mates. Seared tuna has a delicate taste to it – you know it – you just get a hint of the grill from the outside searing and then the rest is that delicate, ephemeral taste of fatty tuna that is gone all too soon. But here at Hapa, the folks in the kitchen have put deep-fried garlic chips on top of the toro – so that when you pop a piece in your mouth, all you can taste is the acrid taste of fried garlic, and you’re saying to yourself “where’s the tuna?”. Clearing off the garlic – the tuna is fine, but definitely not the best that I’ve had. This dish is best avoided.
They quoted us $30 for corkage, which is exorbitant. And, no, I’m not comparing this to other corkage rates in Vancouver. I’m comparing it to the entirely reasonable corkage rates in Montreal (e.g. $8). Restaurants in Vancouver need to get their act together and start charging reasonable rates for corkage – more people will dine out more, and they’ll still order cocktails. All right, I’ll get off my soapbox.
So – summary: great location and service. Some good dishes, some not so much. Food definitely not as good as Guu with Garlic, but if you want an Izakaya place in Kits, this won’t disappoint.