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Watch: New 'uni bar' restaurant in Vancouver has a 6-course tasting menu

This new hot spot is even making cocktails with fresh uni

Sea urchin ("uni" in Japanese) is a cherished delicacy, often considered a special bonus to a sushi bar meal or a luxury addition to a dish. Now Vancouver has a new Japanese restaurant where one of its signature spotlight ingredients is uni. 

Takenaka, which operates a sushi-centric food truck and a charming café in East Vancouver, took over the former Rodney's Oyster House space at 52 Powell St earlier this year. For its third concept, Takenaka's Gastown restaurant has styled itself as an "uni bar," which means sea urchin features heavily on the menu.

In addition to having uni as part of its raw bar offerings and on dishes, Takenaka Gastown has an "Uni Colada" cocktail with mango, coconut, and uni. The drink is creamy, fruity, and has just the mildest whisper of uni's salinity. The cocktail is well-balanced and a fun use of the delicacy in an unexpected way.

New spot tied to popular Japanese restaurants in Vancouver

Takenaka began as a venture to showcase the culinary creations of Chef Shogo Takenaka, who is well-known in Vancouver for being in the kitchen of popular Japanese spots Raisu and Kingyo Izakaya.

Much like its siblings, Takenaka Gastown has an extensive menu of Japanese fare with eye-catching presentations. With an emphasis on seafood, particularly sushi and sashimi, a lot of the menu comes from the raw bar side of the operation, though Takenaka also makes room for several onigiri (filled rice "balls") and cooked dishes including noodles and wagyu. 

For those who find the packed four-page menu daunting, one simple option is the omakase tasting menu. Priced at $168 for two people, the menu includes two beverages (a fruit sake or one of Takenaka's house mocktails), a sashimi platter including oysters and a generous serving of uni, three "chef's choice" appetizers, miso soup, a deluxe seafood and rice bowl (with more uni and ikura), and two desserts. 

What do you get on the tasting menu at Takenaka?

The menu does offer good value, given that some of its dishes feature high-end components, though the three appetizers can be a gamble. While the matcha soba noodles with uni and egg yolk is a refreshing, rich opening bite, the kitchen's call for the other dishes could have you second-guessing if the tasting menu or ordering a la carte was the way to go. 

While a hearty portion of Japanese "hamburg" steak (ground beef patty with a rich sauce) presented on a playful bone-styled skewer of sorts was tasty, a bowl of steamed clams and mussels with asparagus and cherry tomatoes was watery, bland, and unevenly cooked. Neither dish seemed a great showcase for what Takenaka can do and felt more like "filler" than an exciting course in a tasting menu. 

Perhaps the demand for sushi bar dishes dictated the choice to drop cooked items into the tasting menu that evening; long waits between courses and all the appetizers coming out ahead of the first-listed sashimi course (and a wait to get our drinks) seemed to signal that pacing hasn't quite been nailed between the various branches of the kitchen and bar in the couple of weeks since Takenaka's opening. 

Seafood and sushi dishes shine on tasting menu

The raw bar dishes, however, were well worth the wait. The sashimi platter (which had landed at other tables with an oooh- and ahhh-provoking dried ice presentation that seemed to no longer be available by the time it was our turn) was interactive and vibrant, with crispy nori sheets to fold around uni and little droppers of ponzu to release into grated daikon to add to the oysters. That said, there were far more condiments and too much of each one to make use of, with just two oysters and three sashimi slices per person. 

The deluxe seafood bowl is a tower of chopped raw fish, roe, and uni on rice with a side of plump, briny ikura to pour over the peak, like a reverse volcano. It's a large dish and generous portion that is striking and engaging, which are hallmarks of Takenaka's sibling restaurants. 

Two simple desserts follow: a chocolate cake slice with ice cream and berries and a matcha creme brulee. Both were fine but not exciting.

Takenaka indicates when making a reservation that each table is limited to two hours, however, our desserts arrived just past the two-hour mark, so it seems those ordering the tasting menu may need to plan on being there longer. 

The tasting menu is a great solution for indecisive diners and balances the high-end factor of uni and seafood with some more casual, homestyle options. The inclusion of dessert and drinks adds value, and the meal is undoubtedly filling, if not a complete best representation of the restaurant's offerings. For those who aren't keen to gamble and who prefer to hone in on exactly what they want to try, picking and choosing from the a la carte menu is the way to go.

Takenaka Gastown is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Reservations are available online (and are recommended). 

Watch: Trying tasting menu for two at Takenaka in Gastown

@forkingawesomevia One of the newest Japanese restaurants in Vancouver features dishes with uni and does a tasting menu for two people for $168. Is it a good value? You get: - 2 drinks (fruit sake or house non-alcoholic drink) - 3 chef’s choice appetizers - sashimi platter with uni & oysters - deluxe seafood bowl - 2 desserts We left full, but if I went back I wouldn’t do the tasting menu again so I could choose my dishes. Service was a little uneven. Bill with tax & tip just over $200. #creatorsearchinsights #forkingawesome #vancouverbc ♬ original sound - sppoooke

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