I used to get together with friends on a monthly basis and each time we’d choose a new place to go for dinner. Sometimes we’d try something we had never tried before, but most of the time we’d pick one that one of our group would personally recommend.
Kinjo was one of the places that was highly recommended by one of the people in our group – however it was only recently that I finally got there.
I had read somewhere (probably UrbanSpoon) that it was sushi-boat style, and while up until (fairly) recently I had avoided those places, after a great experience in Banff, I decided that they were worth a try again, and with such a positive recommendation, and plans in the area, I figured it was time to check it out.
We showed up around 5:30 on a Friday, and I expected the restaurant to be busy, but it wasn’t too bad. There was quite a bit of room at the sushi bar, but neither of us are big fans of stools, so we waited about five minutes to get a booth, and luckily one right along the sushi bar at that. (I kept wanting to take something directly from the bar – and it was also cool to see what things that I didn’t order looked like.)
We were pointed to our seats once they were ready – which was kind of strange, but since the location is small enough it wasn’t a big deal. Quickly the server came with four pieces of ‘free’ sushi. Unfortunately she didn’t tell us what they were, so although you would think that ‘free’ = good, we hesitated a bit. The review – putting hot sauce on sushi doesn’t make it good sushi.
The menu is pretty vast, with many items on the “price per plate” menu (usually with two nigiri-style sushi pieces, or four pieces from a roll) plus a large menu of entree dishes. I’ve seen sushi-boat places where there are only a few things on the menu, which is a concern when you’re looking for more variety. Here, there is a LOT of variety which is awesome. One problem I had with the menu was that although there were photos, there were no descriptions. This meant that when it came to rolls, I wasn’t entirely sure what to order… something that looked like salmon might have been tuna; the colours on the menu photos were very deceiving, so I hesitated to order anything that I didn’t know what it would be. I have been taking a shine to trying different fusion-rolls, but I still like to know what to expect!
Scallop sushi - Volcano roll in the background
Volcano roll & Scallop sushi
The first (non-free) sushi that we had was the volcano roll. In the photo I wasn’t sure what to expect, but then realized that the yellow ‘blob’ on top in the photo was actually a blob of spicy sauce. I have the sneaking suspicion that the server just grabbed this and the scallop sushi off the sushi-boat, because neither tasted particularly fresh or good. The volcano roll was fast-food quality (and I mean Edo-of-Japan fast food quality, rather than Co-op fast food quality…) and poorly forgettable. I normally adore raw scallops when having sushi, but these seemed to have been taken off the boat – and didn’t taste as though they’d been freshly prepared. They were also drenched in thick (soy?) sauce, with mayo, hot chili sauce, and green onions. Eh. I understand that having things pre-dressed is a bit more fancy – but what I love about raw scallops is that fresh crispness, and scallops have enough of their own flavour, that all of this dressing was just overkill. I saw the same dish go ’round on the sushi boat several times, so I guess a lot of other people figured out before hand what I took longer to learn – the scallops just aren’t tasty with the dressing and lack of freshness.
We placed an order of avocado tempura (because we haven’t had it before – or remembered having it) and an order of prawn tempura. The avocado tempura was REALLY hot (not quite inedible it was so hot, but almost) and came with a drizzle of sauce on it, but no tempura dipping sauce. I didn’t mind the avocado tempura – though it didn’t really have any avocado flavour. I would have far preferred the yam I’m sure. My companion had one piece and decided that was enough. The prawn tempura on the other hand was cold – as though it had been sitting on a counter for a long time, though there was a dipping sauce with green onions in it. The big problem with cold tempura – it starts to feel ‘heavy’ very quickly. Even though there were only 4 prawns, it was too much because it really felt greasy.
Oysters from Kinjo - special scallops in the background.
I was excited to see raw oysters on the menu, and ordered a serving (four oysters). I was really disapointed when they came. Although they seemed fresh, the oysters were quite small compared to what I’ve had elsewhere, and they were pre-dressed. While I really liked the pre-dressing Ponzu sauce on the oysters at Shibuya which was a flavour I hadn’t expected, these oysters from Kinjo were drenched in more green onion, and I didn’t care for the sauce (which I think was just soy sauce?). Plus, the dressing wasn’t even across each oyster, and some had huge blobs of hot chili sauce on them as well. I definitly don’t recommend the oysters here based on this experience.
Special scallop and Ikura
So finally my total favorites – special scallop (chopped scallop with mayo and tobiko) and Ikura (salmon roe). After a number of disappointing dishes, I was kind of worried… but didn’t need to be. The Ikura was firm and fresh, and the proportions were good. The special scallop was excellent (I ordered another order after the first) although one of them fell apart on me while I was trying to eat it. Again, the proportions were good (with all of the ingredients) and it tasted freshly made. I never did see any more of either on the sushi boat though – so I guess that’s the trick at Kinjo – don’t order what is on the boat (because you don’t know how old it is); instead order the things you love that are NOT on the boat. If eating at the bar itself, consider the sushi boat like a moving picture show, rather than a buffet of choices.
Back when Peter Kinjo was running the restaurant at Eau Claire market – he used to give away Pocky for dessert – and this continues at Kinjo. My companion thought that it was the best part of the meal, and while I disagree, it certainly is a nice treat! (And adds value to the meal overall.)
Service & atmosphere
When eating at the sushi bar, feeling like there is limited time is fine – however I don’t like to feel rushed while sitting down for dinner. Between the servers running all over the place, spending a minimum of time with each patron, the chefs yelling orders, hellos, and the rest, and plates piling up on our table, it gave the impression of “get in, get out!” and not in an exciting, energetic way. I felt as though we were rushed the whole time. Rushed to order, rushed to fill the order, rushed to eat, and rushed to get out so that the table could be cleared for the next patron. I get that it’s high-volume… but that’s just not my style when it comes to dine-in sushi. If you have a movie to get to on the other hand, the fast service might be just what you’re looking for.
With that being said, the servers were very friendly, though with the rush-rush-rush and strong accents, it was hard to understand our server more than once. (I had to ask three times before figuring out that “chocolate” wasn’t “Grape”.) I don’t have any problem with this – but it is challenging with all of the noise, and feeling like I was being rushed in and out.
One other note about the sushi bar in the middle…. I LIKE seeing the chefs prepare my sushi. It assures me that the food is fresh and being made to order. (Even when I haven’t given any specifics about my preferences.) I like seeing the skill of someone rolling a roll or how many times they wipe their knives… what I don’t like seeing is boxes, microwaves and rolls of saran wrap. From the booth side at least, that was our view. Heads, shoulders, yelling, and rolls of saran wrap. Worse still, the fryer. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to see the fryer. I especially don’t want to see anyone scooping out the unused batter and cramming it down some slot thing while I eat. I don’t want to smell the fryer either. This kind of thing should be kept in the back, out of sight in my opinion. I also think they need a better way of dealing with garbage/waste. Bringing a garbage bag through the restaurant is kind of gross.
The final tally
My final thoughts on Kinjo – although my friend recommended it strongly, I wouldn’t bother going again, even if I was in a rush. Although some of the items I had were really good, the overall atmosphere and quality just didn’t appeal to me. I did a little search for other bloggers talking about Kinjo, and Eating is the Hard Part (a blogger from Edmonton) wasn’t terribly impressed with Kinjo either. Rune over at ChowHound also wasn’t impressed, but offers a really interesting history of Peter Kinjo, which gives major props to the owner for all that he has accomplished in his life.
On the other hand, both Eating in Calgary and Elsie Hui both give brief but generally positive reviews of Kinjo, and the reviews on UrbanSpoon are generally mixed (with good points being the cost and efficiency/speed of service). Maybe what I was really missing here was Peter Kinjo himself. (Apparently he’s opened a second Kinjo in Dalhousie, and that’s where he is most of the time.) Between his crazy, fun-loving attitude, his wanton (and totally harmless) flirting/teasing, and his Pocky-games, Kinjo needs a little more Kinjo perhaps!
If you’ve been to Kinjo – what do you think? Do you like this fast-food style sushi, or would you rather enjoy a more relaxed dining experience?
|| $3.25/ 2 pieces
|| $3.75 / 2 pieces
|| $7.80 / 4 oysters
|| $3.75 / 2 pieces
|| $3.75 / 4 pieces
|| $3.80 / 5 pieces
|| $4.80 / 4 pieces
Kinjo Sushi & Grill
7101 Macleod Trail S