I once worked as a “Manager of Animation Development” for a then fairly successful producer of children’s television programs. My duties included developing series concepts, scriptwriting, story-editing, creating pitch packages, and, best of all, enjoying the occasional dinner with prospective clients. I remember traveling to New York once where I was treated to a grand dinner by the President of a major entertainment company. Following the completion of our main course and as the waitress was clearing the table, our host turned to me and asked: “Would you like a second helping?”. I stared blankly back at him. Huh? If we had been dining at his house, he explained, he would have certainly offered me a second helping. Why should it be any different in a restaurant?
Given my love for variety, it was a dining philosophy that stuck with me, and one that I put into practice whenever we traveled. If I was ever torn between menu items, I saved myself the agonizing decision-making process and simply choose both – a second appetizer, dessert, even main course “for the table”. After all, I would reason, when’s the next time I’ll be in Elizabeth, New Jersey?
With the proliferation of tapas menus, however, decisions have gotten a whole lot easier. Finally, I can enjoy a variety of plates without suffering the bemused looks of the wait staff or fellow diners. I can have multiple orders of a single dish. I can go to Yuji’s Japanese Tapas and sample 16 different menu items.
Okay, sixteen may seem like a bit much but, in all fairness, they were tapas-size portions and we were three. Of course, in saying 16 different items, I’m not counting multiple orders of the same dish or the three complimentary dishes Chef Yuji sent our way.
Other, more high-profile, Japanese restaurants may receive all the press but, in my opinion, Yuji’s offers some of the city’s freshest and most inventive creations.
Chef Yuji started us off with some complimentary starters: a sweet and smoky octopus and carrot dish, seaoned lotus root, and steamed cod milt in ponzu sauce (check out my December 3rd, 2006 blog for the story on this one). Although it’s no longer on the menu, I put in a special request for the Meguro mille-feuille – alternating slices of thick, melt-in-your-mouth Meguro tuna and avocado topped with a black sesame sauce. We followed this up with a wonderful wild salmon tataki which was served with crispy capers, green onions, and garlic chips in a ponzu sauce, and then a terrific Big Eye tuna carpaccio, also topped with crispy capers and garlic chips, but finished with a white truffle olive oil. Next was an all-around favorite: deep-fried spicy tuna roll – crispy on the outside, tender and medium-rare on the inside. We also had the creamy Meguro avocado crepe accompanied by both sweet and spicy chili sauces, the house prosciutto roll (mango and cream cheese on the inside, topped with prosciutto, served with pesto sauce), and an uni tempura maki roll.
Hang on. Let me catch my breath.
The black cod was sweet, our only foray into sushi (uni nigiri and the salmon ikura with the quail egg) fresh and satisfying. The sweet potato tempura sticks was a guilty pleasure while the kobe beef was a mini event in itself, served raw then blowtorched at the table. The curry calamari was a huge hit, as was the anago tempura – huge AND a huge hit. We ended our mains with the thinly sliced beef grilled beef tongue. Dessert was an excellent green tea creme brulee topped with premium vanilla ice cream.
Service was quick and friendly, the wait staff more than eager to offer their recommendations.
There are cheaper Japanese restaurants out there but, when one weights the quality of the ingredients and, yes, the variety, Yuji’s is very hard to beat.
Let’s check the mail –
Marla writes: “So which was your favorite Superbowl ad?”
Answer: I thought it was a pretty weak crop. The only one to really stand out – in a good way – was the Bud Light hitchhiker commercial.
Gwen writes: “Most of my Canadian friends are totally uninterested in football. How did you get so into it?”
Answer: I’m an atypical Canadian. I prefer NFL football and NCAA basketball over the hockey. My love of Canadian film is limited to the 1983 A Christmas Story, truly the greatest Canadian movie ever made. I don’t ski. I don’t skate. But I have tobogganed on occasion.
Neep writes: “Can you recommend a place with chocolate cake worth the trip from New Zealand?”
Answer: Straight chocolate cake? Hmmm. Not sure. But if you’re looking to do the dessert rounds in Vancouver I would highly recommend –
1. The Sticky Toffee Pudding at Caffe de Medici: Order it with an extra scoop of ice cream.
2. The Chocolate Lava Cake at La Terrazza: Crack the top of this chocolate souffle to reveal the pool of dark and milk chocolate.
3. The Stilton Cheesecake at Senses: It makes me long for the Gorgonzola Creme Brulee they used to serve at C Restaurant.
4. The Pecan Pie a la Mode at Memphis Blues: My favorite pie at my favorite rib-joint in town.
5. The Thomas Haas Signature Chocolate Bar at Diva at the Met: A crispy chocolate fondant with caramel, chocolate sorbet, and a sparkle cookie.
6. Deep Fried Mars Bar/Snickers Bar/Smores at Wing Nuts: If you’re worried about the calories, I’d suggest skipping the wings and just having dessert.
7. The Chocolate Creme Brulee at La Regalade.
Lynn writes: “What I’ve always wondered is when you’re writing a scene that needs a specific effect, do you give ideas to the special effects expert, or see what they come up with? Are you familiar enough with what they do to give imput on the process, or do you just trust their expertise? On the same subject, have you ever been totally impressed with what they came up with, and it took your idea farther than you expected?”
Answer: We always have something in mind when we write the script, but are always surprised by how our visual effects team can take that initial thought, build upon it, and produce some of the best visual effects on television. The minute-long bomb-dropping sequence in First Strike is a great example. Martin told me what he envisioned for the sequence when he was working on the script, but I was truly amazed by what Mark Savela and co. came up with.
Jason writes: “Do you know if MGM is planning on selling the DVD movies separately or together as a package?”
Answer: I honestly don’t know what MGM has planned regarding the release of the DVD movies. However, I’d imagine they would want to release them as soon as each became available rather than waiting for a double-release.