CUISINE: Sushi ADDRESS: 900 Oxford Street East DATE: December 23, 2013
One of the things I love most about Christmas Break is Homecoming: not the drunken debaucherous kind, the one that Western girls use as an excuse to wear underwear as pants.
I mean that thing where all your friends who have moved on to bigger places and better things come home to their parents, and are looking for a reason to get out.
In my case, I get the distinct privilege of seeing former students during holidays Seeing them as grown ups, living on their own and being successful is one of my FAVOURITE things.
Them seeing me having a glass of wine
(or two, as the ladies do) is their favourite.
Truth be told,my students have been some of the biggest supporters of my blog. First of all, they think it’s hilarious that their old lady teacher is on TUMBLR (I keep trying to tell them that many hipster celebrities are OLDER THAN ME). If I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, I hear about it. My student Emily told me her mom reads it religiously.
One of my students even confronted me about my controversial Bungalow review (that place DESERVED half a star!), where he works as a dishwasher. Oops!
After yelling at me a bit, he did acquiesce that it was at least a little bit funny.
So it was no surprise that one of my former students that I’ve remained close with, Erin, posted this back in October.
A WORD ABOUT ERIN: Erin was in the Top 5 most organized, dependable, and fastidious students I’ve ever taught. In fact, she will probably debate her ranking only in the top five, demanding to know who is above her and recalling minutiae that will render the others obsolete.
At any rate, it was no surprise to receive a message from her at the beginning of break, requesting a date and time for our meeting. Also joining us would be another former student Katie. Katie and Erin were indispensable to our drama program while they were in high school: they volunteered with the musical in Grade 9, starred in the shows after that, and lead every group in drama class. Katie has been in commercials, and acts at her university. Erin still comes back and volunteers with costumes when she can.
ERIN: I don’t have to be back at school until Thursday. Can I have the keys to the costume room so I can sort everything?
And because people are around at the holidays, we ended up with a big group for the Hanata House. Blog-regular Andrew was home for break as well, and Tribe, in his third blog appearance, is usually up for dinner out.
Katie and Tribe, a blog up-and-comer.
And in a first time blog appearance, my baby, my friend in his 20s who looks 14, and perhaps the most foul-mouthed person I know, Colton.
Do I look like I could be filthy? I’m a BABY!
We got to the restaurant on a snowy Monday around 7. I had no clue where the Hanata House was, but it turns out that it’s in the Kelsey’s plaza on Gammage. Along with a Mr. Sub and a Little Caesars, it makes up quite a sad little plaza of everyone’s second choices.
Ian and I picked up Tribe and Colty downtown, and when we arrived Katie was already holding down the fort for us. Andrew followed shortly after, but it was Erin who made the grandest splash with her entrance: carrying Katie’s pre-ordered 2014 calendar.
Erin runs the highest-ranked Quidditch team in Canada (of course). The University of Ottawa now has an A and B team of the made up Harry Potter sport (KATIE: It’s really hard! It’s hard when the brooms don’t fly!), and to facilitate all the national and international travel they have to do, they do a fundraising calendar.
You know, like those British ladies do: a semi-nude fundraising calendar. Ahem. Sexy University of Ottawa players in their underwear posing seductively. And one of them was my precious, Type-A Erin.
This is last years’ LESS SALACIOUS calendar shot. Harry Potter games and semi-nudity seems wrong, but…
But you know what? She looked hot. I got over it. As soon as we put the calendar away and never spoke of it again. I CAN handle my students growing up, I swear…
Hanata House resembles many all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants with its exposed kitchen, banal furnishings and paper placemats. But we noted that it was missing some of the quirky charm of other places: framed nail art posters, sticky carpet (I’m looking at you, Wonder Sushi) or the wonder that was “Hockey” Sushi in Guelph (whaaaa?).
Andrew and Ian contemplate their future…
The other thing we noticed it was missing: an order form for the menu. With over 200 items listed, this was an exciting challenge. Hanata House provided us with only a few things: a standard-sized yellow Post-It, a pen, and a high probability of not getting what we wanted.
And to that end, they DELIVERED.
The menu itself was interesting: nothing mentioned how MANY items we were getting. For edamame, you figure out a “bowlful”. But what about gyoza (dumplings)? Or chicken skewers? Or sushi rolls? if we ordered 5, were we going to get 5…or 30??
Oh, good. I’m so glad they have APPERTIZERS.
There are always menu items that are intriguing on a sushi menu, and this was no exception.
ERIN: I find it alarming that there’s something on this menu with the word NACHO in it.
MEGAN: Really? Ew. (Pause) Where?
ERIN: (pointing) I think you should order it for scientific purposes.
Now, here is the problem with all-you-can-eat sushi: it not like a buffet, where you can try different things, and if you don’t like them…. Oh well.
Because if you don’t like things, you still have to finish them, or you’ll end up paying for them.
Like these things…pork buns? Bread flowers with brown? Either way, thank God there were only two of them.
I still remember one fateful visit to Wonder Sushi with my friend Brandon where he stashed three unwelcome pieces of sushi in his UNDERWEAR, rather than be stuck with them at the end of the meal.
SIDENOTE, APROPO OF NOTHING: This is the third unrelated mention of underwear in this post.
Erin would have ordered it herself, of course, for SCIENCE, except that she and Katie are both vegetarians now.
(1996. The fall term at the University of Windsor. Megan has been a vegetarian for six weeks, after watching a scary documentary in the dorm room of boy; a boy that she mayyyy have been trying to hold hands with during said documentary. Her best friend from home, Katie, has come to visit. They visit the residence cafeteria, the very exclusive French restaurant, Cafe Chez Vanier.)
MEGAN: (to the cafeteria lady) Um, I’ll have the rice thing I guess.
KATIE: What? They have chicken burritos.
MEGAN: Yeah, well, actually I’m a vegetarian now.
MEGAN: I am! For six weeks now.
KATIE: How can you be a vegetarian? You love chicken.
MEGAN: That’s true. (To the cafeteria lady) Actually, I’ll have the chicken burritos, please.
(And Megan’s “vegetarianism” was never spoken of again.)
I feel like everyone is a vegetarian at some point in University. Anyway, I agreed to take the plunge on the nacho sushi, as well as having a go at organizing our order.
I decided to make a chart like this:
This system seemed best, except it required everyone to be looking at the same part of the menu at the same time.
MEGAN: Ok. Number 1 is miso soup. Who wants soup?
ANDREW: I’ll have one.
KATIE: I’ll have one, please.
MEGAN: Anyone else? OK, number 6 is edamame.
IAN: Yes. edamame.
MEGAN: How many people will eat that? Everyone? How many should we order?
ANDREW: I eat them with the skins on. That’s where all the nutrition is.
ERIN: Me too. (Looking at the menu) I want a number 3.
KATIE: What’s that? (Looking) Oh, me too.
COLTON: Wait can we go back in time to 1? I want soup, too.
ANDREW: Yes. This menu is listed temporally. You can only have soup at 1pm.
COLTON: Haha! YA!
SPOILER ALERT: We got the edamame.
Needless to say, the ordering took almost an hour.
We decided to submit one crammed Post-It, ask for another, and hope for the best.
Strangely enough, the edamame didn’t come out first: after about 10 minutes, one plate of rolls arrived, along with the soup and salad.
COLTON: I feel like I could MENTION that the…salad? Like the dressing? Instead of five DOLLOPS, it could have done with a SMIDGEN.
When the rolls came out, it was often a guessing game as to what we were eating. I feel like this is true of most sushi, but with two vegetarians at the table, the pressure was on to be right.
I’m pretty SURE this isn’t vegetarian, but you never know….
Is that tuna, or yams? Let me eat three and try to figure it out…
FULL DISCLOSURE: I find myself laughing at, and writing down pretty much everything that Andrew says. It just happens. But that means if it’s a big group of diners, I can be neglectful of some of the other opinions expressed.
I’m hilarious. It’s my THING.
MEGAN: Tribe. I don’t have anything from you. What do you think of the soup?
TRIBE: It’s OK.
ANDREW: The cloudy soup was good. It was a good spice level and had a good taste, but its “giblets” had the texture of papier-mâché.
Look at that TEMPURA ALLOTMENT!
MEGAN: These crispy spicy rolls have a lot of sauce on them. Which is good. And they have a tonne of tempura in them!
ANDREW: I somewhat like the texture. And there’s a lot of SOMEWHAT.
This salmon sashimi was fine. But it took 2 hours to cut up 5 pieces of fish. And we ordered six.
(Megan scrapes up the last of the dollop of wasabi on the communal condiment tray)
TRIBE: Is there more wasabi anywhere?
ANDREW: Yeah, there’s another wasabi testicle down here.
ERIN: I think these yam rolls are good. They’re a little mushy.
ANDREW: Yes, the innards are simply TOO MUCH CREAM.
Avocado and cucumber…sprigs.
The thing we noticed much more than the quality or crispiness or relative sauce ratio was how slow the service was. As I said, we were delivered rolls first, then soup and salad, then nothing for 10 minutes, then edamame and sashimi, then nothing for 15 minutes, then more rolls, nothing, tempura, NOTHING, and then 14 gyoza (that’s what “2x gyoza” gets you).
These dumplings are weirdly fluffy and deep-fried. Not a fan.
At one point, Colton noted, “don’t these places usually have, like, an hour limit? We wouldn’t have eaten anything by then!”
Ian likes to get these meat things. Presentation: not a priority.
At 9:15 pm, more than 2 hours after we arrived, the waitress came over and announced that we had received all of our orders.
There always seems to be something that is not delivered when you get all-you-can-eat sushi. When you’re stuffed and trying to finish what you already have, you are grateful that the waitress forgot your dragon roll. But we were kind of agog for a moment: we weren’t even CLOSE to getting our full order. At least 10 items, including Tribe’s Iced Tea (1x #186), Ian’s calamari (2x #45) and my NACHO SUSHI (1x #85) had failed to appear.
We looked around at each other, and our eyes said, “there was other stuff we wanted, but this is EXHAUSTING.”
We were defeated by the slow service and poor ordering system. There was only one thing to do: order the compulsory ice cream and get OUT OF THERE.
Hanata House is one of at least a DOZEN all-you-can-eat Sushi places in London. I would put Sushi Galore and Conception Sushi far above this place.
Was the food awful? No. It was pretty much the same as most sushi in London. But when you’re trying to have a nice catch-up dinner with friends, the last thing you want to be doing is feeling frustrated with the menu, the orders, and what you did and didn’t get.
And really, fixing the problems at Hanata House would be easy. They need someone with top organizational skills. Trust me: Erin would have that menu sorted out in two seconds flat.