Hapa Izakaya (Coal Harbour) -
Sometimes, when I don’t have half-a-clue as to where or what I want to eat, I will randomly visit a restaurant just for the heck of it. Today was one of those days, and the restaurant that I randomly threw a dart at was Hapa Izakaya’s coal harbour location. I thought I’d see what the food was like there even though I was not particularly impressed with the food I received at their Robson location when I visited it around six months ago.
The decor at Hapa’s coal harbour location was very different from their Robson location. It was decorated in a style similar to the more popular local chains. In fact, if I didn’t know this restaurant was a branch of Hapa, I would’ve thought that I was walking into a recently opened Cactus Club or Earls.
Even though there was a lunch section in their menu, the items on it were actually transplants from their regular izakaya menu. All three items we ordered from the lunch section were also available for dinner.
The first item we ordered was the halibut taco.
I thought that the larger size of the wrap we received resembled a burrito more than a taco. The deep fried halibut was beautifully tender while the vegetables included were fresh and full of juices. The sauce was subtly sweet and boldly spicy. The combination of ingredients was unexpectedly delicious. My wife thought that the tortilla was as great a match with the various ingredients of the taco as they were with each other. I thought that the flour tortilla tasted too generic, floury, and factory-made. It was too dense and hard-to-chew for my liking. I thought that a corn tortilla or even an Asian-style flatbread wrap that was either thinner, flakier, or bouncier would’ve worked much better with the immensely enjoyable filling. As it was, I still thought that the wrap was very enjoyable. But it was so different from a traditional taco that I think it should be renamed.
Our second item from the lunch menu was the teriyaki (chicken) ishiyaki, which is similar in style to the Korean dol slot bibimbap.
The bowl was similar to the dol slot bibimbap in that it was a bunch of ingredients on top of rice mixed in a burning hot stone bowl, but the flavours and textures of the contents of the bowl were entirely different. The crispy strips provided a crispiness that was different from the burnt rice crispiness of the Korean stone bowl bibimbap. The vegetables and mayo-based sauce combined to create sweet and fresh flavours that were totally unlike the flavours that came naturally from sesame-oil and pickled vegetables of the bibimbap. The pre-refrigirated and reheated too-dry chicken of the ishiyaki was an unpleasant contrast to the usually tender bits of beef included in a bowl of beef bibimbap. The chicken was the only component of the ishiyaki that neither my wife nor I liked. Other than that, we felt that the order of stone pot mixed rice was a welcomed change from the all-too-familiar flavours and textures of the stone pot bibimbap.
The final item we ordered from the lunch menu was the karubi – which I gathered was the word “kalbi” pronounced with a Japanese accent.
I ordered the short ribs for my son. He had every piece of meat from the cut-up pieces of short ribs. I was left with whatever meat, tendon, and fat was left around the bones after most of the meat was cut off. From the pieces that I tasted, I noticed that the short ribs were grilled to a drier consistency than most versions of Korean kalbi that I’ve had at local Korean restaurants. Although the sauce of the karubi was as sweet as marinated L.A. galbi, I thought that the flaovurs of the sweetness of the karubi had a distinctly Japanese taste on my palate that differentiated it from its Korean cousins. Again, like the previous two dishes we had, I thought that the karubi was a little different from normal kalbi served at other local restaurants, nnd I thought the the it was ‘good different’ as opposed to ‘bad different’.
We also ordered two rolls from the sushi menu. The negi-toro hosomaki has become my favorite sushi roll after my experience at Kaiba in Osaka. Naturally, I had to try the version at Hapa to see if it would at least be one tenth as enjoyable as the out-of-this-world amazing version that I received at Kaiba.
The negitoro roll at Hapa was not only different from the amazing ones I had at Kaiba, they were different from most versions served at local Japanese restaurants. The white tuna included in the roll was bland, lean, and most of all way-too-warm. It was so warm that I felt it was out-of-place in a cold sushi roll. It was so warm that it almost felt like the tuna could go bad at any minute. Another failure for the dish was its almost non-existent scallions. I would have enjoyed the roll a whole lot more if I was able to experience of the textural contrast between crispy nori, the chewy rice, the tender tuna belly, and the crispier scallions. The negi-toro roll was certainly different, but it was different in a very unenjoyable manner. It also the only dish that my wife and I thought was poorly prepared and poorly executed. It was the least tasty dish of the meal.
We also ordered the obligatory spicy tuna roll.
Both my wife and I were almost shocked by the totally unexpected textures we experienced with the familiar-looking spicy tuna rolls. The rice was extra teeth-bouncing and held its shape extra-well. No amount of dropping and fumbling affected the structural integrity of the roll whatsoever. The pieces held their shape even when they were dropped onto a plate after a free-fall of more than 13 inches.
The spicy tuna filling also had textures that I’ve never had in any other spicy tuna roll. The tuna had a texture that was gooey, chewy, and thick. The tuna had a texture that was an exact match with raw ika (squid). The included sprout stems created a great, perfectly-match textureal contrast to the tuna. They added just enough crispiness to the roll so that its sticky texture did not feel monotonous. Like most of the other dishes we were served, both my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the spicy tuna roll.
For a restaurant that I randomly picked, Hapa Izakaya’s coal harbour location served me food that totally rocked (compared to the food I was served at its Robson location). Every item tasted different from their more well-known counterparts served at other Japanese/Korean/Izakaya places. I thought that four out of the five items even tasted better than the run-of-the-mill preparations of original versions they were derived from. The lone exception was the negi-toro hosomaki. It was in no way comparable to the crazy-unctous version that I had the pleasure to experience at Kaiba in Osaka.