At 1:20 on a Saturday afternoon, the hostess put down the phone and called out to the staff at large, “No more reservations tonight!”
Nori Sushi is just that kind of place. The chefs call out genuine greetings to patrons as they cross the threshold, orders are sung out from the other side of the room, the phone rings frequently, and there’s a constant happy burble of delighted diners chowing down on amazing Japanese food. And the place was already sold out for the night.
In Nanaimo. On Vancouver Island. In early April. I guess offering the best sushi and sashimi on the Island in a casual ambiance with a welcoming vibe at fair prices will do that for you.
Tip #1: Make a reservation for a Saturday night dinner.
Yesterday they had red tuna available, so the tuna tataki above was even more melt-in-your-mouth outstanding than usual.
We had the pleasure of sitting at the bar where we could watch Kenny and James pull culinary magic out of plain rice and raw fish. Well, perhaps there’s a bit more to it than that.
It’s the perfectly cooked, slightly warm rice and fanatically-fresh cool fish. It’s the palpable pride in their craft, and the enthusiastic and upbeat front- and back-of-house teamwork. These are what make Nori TripAdvisor’s “#1 in Restaurants in Nanaimo.”
I really hadn’t planned to write this review when we first decided to nip in for lunch, so I let the delicious miso soup and tuna karrage appetizer drift away with our idle chitchat about shopping for brass hose bibs and onions.
I even neglected to take note of the brand of warm sake we ordered. (Gekkeikan, it turns out. And I’ll just leave this right here in case anyone’s taking note of Christmas gift ideas for us.)
At $8.99 for the medium bottle shared between the two of us, it was a GREAT choice with our meal.
But then James set our Dragon Roll down in front of us, and I started to pay attention.
At first, I was just taken with the delicate (and delicious!) flash-fried lotus root chips, and how much I was looking forward to the slightly salty “pop!” each one of those red and black flying fish roe would make in my mouth. Why, I wondered, did James use two different colored roe?
Then I looked again and saw the dragon, with its mouth open wide and its lotus-root wings furled out at the base of its long neck.
I asked James, and he explained that the “red” (they look more orange to me) are the regular “tobiko,” and the black are the same thing, just dyed black with octopus ink.
I learned something important about sushi yesterday: there’s more to the art than slapping around some sticky rice, fish, and seaweed and calling it “maki.”
… and propane torches.
James explained that the heat works to quickly pull forth and meld the oils from the fish, avacado, and their house-made Japanese aioli. He also said several other things about why they do it, but by this time, I was into full blown “photo composition” mode and missed it.
Sorry, but trust us: this is, bar none, the best sushi we’ve ever eaten, and if James says “torch it,” then torch it.
If you’re a foodie at all, the sushi bar at Nori offers front row seats at a live Cirque Du Inspiration.
I would just be thinking “Oh, no you didn’t!” and be snapping surreptitious iPhotos (at least, I hope I was a little surreptitious and not a complete pain in the patooty to my fellow diners) and be ready to burst into wildly inappropriate applause, and James would quietly say, “Not done yet.”
I have no idea what this thing of beauty is called, but I’m going to show them this picture next time we’re in and say, “This, please.”
And more of this, too, please.
Tip #2: Go easy on the soya sauce and wasabi “dunk,” or at least try a piece first as it’s delivered to your table. The chefs at Nori take great care to marry just the right flavors, textures, and temperatures in their offerings, and if a dish needs wasabi, it’s already there under the fish. If you habitually drown everything in super salty wasabi soup, you’ll be missing a whole world of wonderful.
In sushi as in figure skating, chefs are scored on originality as well as degree of technical difficulty. Nori has obviously put in their 10,000 hours of practice on both.
James is proud to be there. He told us he was there to learn everything he could from John, the gregarious and high-energy owner, and that it all starts with the quality of the fish.
We asked James how they source their fish, and he says that it’s delivered to them, but they make their vendors compete to ensure they are always presented with the highest quality fish that’s available in our market.
This salmon nigiri tiptoed on to our taste buds in silk-bottomed ninja slippers.
Thanks, John, and your staff, for another great meal.
Just one final question: when are you going to offer a cooking class?
6750 Island Hwy, Unit #203 (Right in front of Costco)
Nanaimo, BC V9V 1S3
Wednesday & Thursday: 11:30 – 2:30, 5:00 – 9:30
Friday & Saturday: 11:30 – 2:30, 5:00 – 10:00
Sunday & Holidays: 12:00 – 2:30, 5:00 – 9:30
Closed Monday & Tuesday. (I love that their staff gets two predictable days off every week.)