After reading really wonderful reviews about Sushi Bar Zipang I had really high expectations when I visited for a late lunch (1:00 p.m.) Tuesday two weeks ago. Bridgeland isn’t on any of my normal routes, so every time I would read a glowing review I would remind myself that I really wanted to check them out…
Maybe it was because of those positive reviews I had previously read that I had high expectations at Sushi Bar Zipang, or maybe they just don’t bring their ‘A-game’ for lunch, but either way I was disappointed.
Dishing on the menu
Looking at the menu was the beginning of my disappointment – I just wasn’t inspired by the menu. In part, I wasn’t thrilled with the high prices ($3.50 for one of my favourite nigiri sushi pieces, which costs between $1.15 – $2.50 at other places I’ve visited recently) and part due to the repeating disclaimer that no substitutions would be available, and the number of items that had been crossed off the menu.
Both my companion and I decided to go for the sushi and sashimi lunch combination which came with miso soup and either salad or rice. We also opted to order a few extra pieces of sushi to accompany our meal – chopped scallop and salmon eggs (Ikura) for me, and mackerel, scallop, and chopped scallop for her.
Dishing on the positives
In an effort to be positive about our experience, I’ll share with you some of the good points about our experience…
- Parking: Although there is paid parking on the main street out front, there is also a small parking lot behind, (which was full when we were there) and a bit of street parking (2 hour limit) in the neighbourhood. Sushi Bar Zipang would be a pretty good walk from the C-Train as well if you were to walk; maybe an option for an evening during good weather, but a bit too far to consider over a lunch hour.
- Ginger: There were heaps of ginger on both our individual combo plates, as well as on the shared additional order plate – fantastic!
- Atmosphere: The atmosphere was simple but clean and orderly. There were a number of people in the restaurant when we arrived, but still there was ample seating available without rubbing elbows with our neighbours.
Dishing on the food
Our starters (soup and salad) came quickly at the same time shortly after we ordered. The salad was ok, although I prefer a different dressing, the tomato wasn’t cut small enough, the salad included onion, and half of the lettuce was inedible (it was the end piece that’s a big huge chunk – hard to eat with chopsticks, and it’s usually bitter tasting. Still.. it’s just salad right?
The soup… unfortunately wasn’t any better. The soup lacked flavour, apart from the excessive amount of onions in the soup. I think there were two tiny pieces of tofu, and overall it was bland. I think maybe they forgot the bonito flakes or something, and decided to substitute in more onions?
I was glad however that I ordered the salad instead of the rice – because the rice was terrible.
Good rice is integral to good sushi – not only does it need to be cooked correctly (not too hard and not too mushy) but then sushi rice also needs to be seasoned correctly. Good rice will bring out the flavours of the fish and enhance the meal. In turn, bad rice will constantly be obvious, and will make each bite seem “off”. When we were there at lunch, Sushi Bar Zipang had “Bad Rice”. The flavour was just off with every bite I took.
I started off with the three tiny salmon rolls – the rice was off, the salmon tasted fishy, and the nori (seaweed) was rubbery – as though the rolls had sat around for too long, with the nori soaking up moisture from the rice.
Next, the nigiri sushi. The order came with one Tuna, one Salmon, and one Prawn nigiri sushi. (Where the fish lays on a little bed of rice.) Once again the rice was just terrible, and affected the fish. While the pieces of salmon and tuna were large (which was in sharp contrast to the sashimi (raw fish without rice) pieces which were quite small in comparison) they didn’t have a great flavour or texture. I suspect the chef had chosen flesh from closer to the tail of the fish, because there was a lot of stringy bits throughout both the salmon and the tuna, and both tasted “fishy”. (A sign that the fish wasn’t as fresh as it should have been.) The sashimi suffered from the same problems – on multiple occasions I picked out stringy bits, and even found a fish scale on my salmon! The tuna literally fell apart when I picked it up as well, which I found strange. The sashimi also included a tiny (smaller than I’ve ever seen!) piece of clam. (Which tasted fine.) The sashimi fish seemed to be the quality you’d normally cut up and put in rolls, not serve by itself, or highlighted as nigiri sushi.
Had the server come by more than to just drop off the cheque, I might have said something about the meal, but I never had the opportunity.
Moving onto the additional order of nigiri sushi, I was feeling apprehensive, and I wasn’t wrong to do so.
For sushi, salmon eggs (Ikura) should be bright, shiny, and firm. They should have a fishy-salty taste, and they shouldn’t stick to one another. Unfortunately Sushi Bar Zipang’s Ikura had none of these positive characteristics. While the rice they sat upon was poorly flavoured as all the rice thus far had been, and the nori was also rubbery and tough (again, a sign that it had absorbed too much moisture somewhere – though it’s unlikely that they were pre-making these rolls…) the salmon eggs were sticking to one another (and the back of my teeth!) and mushy. They lacked the bright colour and bright taste. Overall, a huge disappointment – particularly for the exaggerated price!
The chopped scallop was no better, though I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. I presume it was just that the rice was poorly seasoned, and it ruined the whole dish. (Plus more chewy nori…) It tasted very much like conveyor belt chopped scallop rolls that have been sitting on the conveyor belt, going around and around, for far too long to be enjoyed.
Dishing on the service
As previously mentioned the server wasn’t very attentive, and in fact when I laid down cash to pay my ($30+!!!) bill, my companion opted for credit. While I was off to the washroom (which could use a bit of work) she waited to pay, and when I returned, she was still waiting! She went up to the bar, and I overheard the server comment that she hadn’t seen my companion. At the time there was only one table of diners (a pair) left in the restaurant.
Dishing for their fans
If it weren’t for the incredibly positive reviews (and the high price point) I might have been less critical about my meal. If this were fast-food sushi from Co-Op or Edo of Japan I might have shrugged my shoulders and presumed that they had a bad day, or an inexperienced person seasoning the rice and selecting the fish. I might have suspected that my Ikura and Chopped Scallop had been sitting around in the display case for a while before I got there. If I’d paid $15 for my meal, I would have still been paying more than I usually do for lunch, but figure I spent an additional few dollars on the company and experience of visiting a new place. However, the quality I was expecting and paid for was far above what I received, and it left me disappointed. On possibly an unrelated note, I also ended up having to cancel my evening plans as I had “tummy troubles” after arriving home from lunch… possibly unrelated, or possibly due to the food I’d eaten.
For those of you who love Sushi Bar Zipang… my apologies for this terrible review. With such good reviews I hope that we just caught them on a day when they had an inexperienced person cooking the rice and selecting the fish, and that you can return and enjoy the quality of food and service you’ve come to expect. If you have positive reviews of their lunchtime service, please share them in the comments section below… I’m afraid that with such a terrible lunchtime experience, I am not likely to go back.
Sushi Bar Zipang
1010 1 Ave NE
Calgary, AB T2E7W7