Highway Robbery

Zen –

I don’t know where to begin…I know, how about this? Zen Sucks! I’ll spare you the usual introductory paragraphs and get straight to the mostly crap food my family and I had for dinner a few hours ago at Zen sushi.

I’ll start with my son’s dish, the chicken tonkatsu.

The breading was hard as rocks and greasy as hell. How hard was the breading, you ask? How about making a big ‘CLUNK’ as it was dropped on the table hard? The breading was so hard that my son found it impossible to bite through. My wife had to physically remove the chicken meat from the breading in order for my son to eat it. During the meat extraction process, my wife found pieces of bones with sharp edges interspersed with the meat. She was relieved that she caught the bones before my son bit into them. Once all the meat was removed from the breading, we realized that there was very little of it. My son was still hungry after he finished the rice and the paltry amount of meat. We actually had to stop at McDees on our way home because my son kept complaining that he was still very hungry.

My daughter was also still hungry after she had the two items she ordered. The first item she had was a bowl of sushi rice with two orders of ikura (salmon roe).

My daughter thought that the salmon roe was pretty average tasting. She said that it tasted exactly like the salmon roe that we would sometimes get for her from Asian supermarkets. This, along with the tempura shrimp that my daughter had as her second dish, were probably the two best dishes we we served today.

The shrimp tempura.

Again, my daughter stated that the tempura was very average. It tasted like the tempura at almost every other average or below-average Japanese restaurant we’ve taken her to. She said that there was definitely more batter than shrimp and the batter felt heavy instead of light.

The thing with the tempura was that we told our server that we wanted the assorted tempura, but somehow she put our orders in as the tempura shrimp, which happened to be the most costly of their tempura dishes. All in all, the two items my daughter ordered cost in excess of $22. Quite expensive for a non-filling meal, if you ask me.

My wife and I both ordered the $28 set dinner. We had a choice of starter, main dish, and dessert. That sounds like a lot of food, but the portion sizes were actually quite pathetic.

My wife’s starter was the trio of ebi (shrimp).

First of all, the plate was very visually unappealing. It looked like a half-finished plate of food.

The trio of shrimp consisted of the following three items:

  • a skewer two scallops wrapped by two shrimp – this was basically a generic piece of pre-frozen shrimp with a generic piece of tiny, pre-frozen scallop in a generic sweet sauce. The shrimp and scallop were both flavourless and the sauce was one-note sweet. Very forgettable.
  • tempura of shiso-wrapped shrimp paste – The shrimp paste had almost zero flavours. The only flavour that could be detected was the flavour of shiso. Deep fried shiso with a squishy paste. Whopeee.
  • shrimp meatball – Where’s the shrimp? This tasted like one of those bargain cocktail meatballs that could be found at the freezer section of bargain supermarkets.

My appetizer was the “triple S” roll.

The three S’s stood for spicy tuna, salmon, and something else. It didn’t really matter what that something else was because the roll basically tasted like 99% cream cheese and 1% spicy tuna. Eating the roll was like eating cream cheese with rice. There was a very faint flavour of spicy tuna. It was so faint that I wondered if I really tasted its flavour or if I was just imagining it. The texture of this roll was all squishy, from the rice to the cream cheese to the avocado to the fish. This was definitely one of the worst tasting rolls I’ve had in recent memory.

The sushi that both my wife and I ordered as our main dishes was actually even more of a failure than the ‘triple S’ roll.

If I had to pick the best item on the plate of sushi, it would have to be the three pieces of spicy tuna roll. The tuna tasted like raw fish and it was spicy. Otherwise, I’ve had better. The pieces of the spicy tuna roll actually fell apart when I tried to pick them up with my chopsticks. They were also pretty salty for some reason. I don’t recall ever having a spicy tuna roll that I considered salty, so this was a first for me.

The five pieces of nigiri sushi  on the plate were also pretty pathetic. Our server only mentioned that one of the pieces was sea bream, and I had to guess what the other four pieces were. To me they looked like salmon, tuna, tuna, and tuna. And they tasted like ponzu, salt, ponzu, sesame oil, and more sesame oil. What the hell? I mean I could feel the textures of raw fish, but I could not taste the raw fish in any of the pieces. The sea bream and one of the pieces of tuna were so drenched with ponzu that I could not taste anything else. The salmon was similarly flavourless. The only flavour that registered with my taste buds was salt. Then there was the piece of red tuna and the other piece of albacore. Sesame oil. Really? There was so much sesame oil the the two pieces of nigiri sushi that I felt like I was eating coagualate sesame oil on rice instead of nigiri. These pieces of nigiri were probably the crappiest piece of non-vomit-inducing raw fish on rice that I’ve ever had.

My wife and I were so disappointed and wanted to leave the restaurant so badly that we didn’t eat any of our two orders of dessert. One was a cookie with vanilla ice cream, and the other was brownies with vanilla ice cream.

The kids had the two scoops of ice cream. While they were digging through the scoops of ice cream, we found something else for us to complain about: one of the scoops of ice cream was hollow inside. There was nothing but air. AIR!

The bill only added insult to injury. $98 after taxes and before gratuities. I’ve never paid $98 for crap like this. I’ve never even paid $10 for crap like this. Even with my $25 groupon, the total came to $73 before gratuities. That’s a rip-off if I’ve ever seen one. Quality of food aside, the quantity was simply not enough. A mere five pieces of nigiri and three pieces of roll for our main courses? A scoop of hollowed-out vanilla ice cream? Rock-hard-and-indeible tonkatsu breading that covered kids-appetizer-portioned chicken meat?

Did I mention that the service was rushed and that the interior of the restaurant looked nothing like the pictures on the restaurant’s website? Did I mention that our order had to be reviewed by someone in the back to determine if the total was adequate for us to use our groupon (which made not mention of this ‘restriction’ when I bought it)? Did I mention that the tonkatsu came with either vegetables or rice, but not both? Did I mention that…


Sushi town doesn’t seem so bad compared to Zen.

Zen Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon


About dontcallmeafoodblogger

Just like most people can think of a song that perfectly fits the mood of a moment or a particular situation, I often think about meals or dishes that would be perfect for a specific moment. Most of my thoughts are about food and I think in terms of food. To me, food is much more than something you ingest, desire, crave, or dislike. It relates to culture, to family, to politics, and to every other aspect of my life. I admit I might be a little obsessed and maybe even addicted to food, but I've been afflicted all my life. I was born with it and with this outlet for my food thoughts, I'll have a chance to run wild with it.
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3 Responses to Highway Robbery

  1. iamonlyhereforthefood says:

    Let’s just say you weren’t the only one. Fellow blogger Mijune borderline trashed that place, specially when she asked about sushi and their reply was “just sushi which I could find anywhere else”. Ouch?

  2. Moe says:

    Try Hamaei in North Vancouver. Amazing sushi, great service, and very homey. Medium price range, but definitely worth it.

    • I’ve actually dined at Hamaei more than a few times but have not gotten around to posting about my dining experiences there. I will say that its prices approach the higher end of the spectrum if you’re trying to make a meal out of ordering nigiri sushi piece by piece.

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