Bistro Taiyo Sushi Bar & Izakaya, located in the heart of Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter has served up authentic Japanese home-style cuisine for years. Under new ownership since 2011, Takeshi Hirose and Shin Koshimizu have given it a sophisticated remodel while still keeping true to the character and friendly atmosphere of its previous incarnation. From the moment you are warmly welcomed by the gracious all Japanese staff, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a small restaurant in Tokyo, minus the happy hour crowd in suits. The space though modest, features a sleek sushi bar where one can get a front row seat of sushi chefs in action. In addition, there are tables lining a bench and wooden chairs with traditional paper lanterns floating from the ceiling. While we do recommend that you pull up a seat at the sushi bar, we grabbed a table in anticipation of the serious spread we planned on ordering. The extra table space was needed.
With such a vast selection, the Bistro Taiyo menu has something for everyone with Japanese staples such as a la carte sushi, sashimi, domburi rice bowls, noodles, bento boxes and combination dinners. What sets them apart from all other sushi joints in town however, is their Izakaya menu. Izakaya food consists of small plates which are meant to be shared. For those who like a little variety, it’s a great, economical way to sample Japanese fare without having to commit to only one dish. Some items worth mentioning: spicy ebi-mayo (tempura prawn with spicy mayo), gyoza (pan fried pork dumplings) and chicken karaage (deep fried chicken). There are also plenty of vegetarian options with agedashi tofu (deep fried tofu served with tempura dipping sauce), vegetarian spring rolls and crispy potato croquettes topping a list that would even tempt a carnivore into vegetarianism…temporarily.
No Izakaya menu would be complete without a selection of imported Japanese and domestic beers, sake, shochu (Japanese vodka) and wine. We were quick to delve into sake and shochu cocktails; dangerously potent, but refreshing once we got past the initial burn.
Nursing a slight buzz, we studied the vast menu which conveniently came with pictures of each item; a useful cheat sheet for first timers and the culinary illiterate alike. To start we decided on gomaae, cold steamed spinach with a sweet sesame and miso dressing and kinpira, a salad of burdock root and carrots with sesame oil. While both were tasty, the highlight was a tender, melt in your mouth salmon kama or grilled salmon collar. What makes this often neglected part of the fish so flavourful and prized by sushi chefs is its increased fat content (packed full of healthy omega 3) which gives it a wonderful buttery texture and taste. We couldn’t get enough it and we attacked the kama with our chopsticks picking every last morsel off the bone.
For our mains, we enjoyed an assortment of sashimi and a Volcano roll prepared and beautifully presented by our enthusiastic sushi chef. The assorted sashimi came with a selection of salmon, tuna, snapper, yellowtail, spot prawn, tamago (omelette) and scallops. The scallops in particular were a standout. Sliced and served in their own shell. they were delicate and creamy. The Volcano roll which had tempura prawn, avocado, tobiko, cucumber and scallops like the sashimi, was very fresh. The added crunch of the tempura flakes gave it a nice texture and the spicy mayo provided just the right amount of kick. You also get the added amusement out of watching your dinner companions’ most awkward attempts at fitting each piece of sushi into their mouths…bonus points for entertainment value.
We finished with a tempura banana drizzled in chocolate sauce for dessert served with black sesame ice cream at our request. Our adorable server eagerly brought it to our table giggling “this is my favourite!” as she beamed with excitement. It took mere seconds to realize why. You have not lived until you have tried the sesame ice cream! This unusual flavour has a wonderful velvety sweetness to it with a nutty after taste. We polished it off with reckless abandon…the kind that leaves chocolate sauce all over your face; an appropriate ending to an enjoyable meal. Our stack of empty plates, a clear indication that we would surely be coming back for more!
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Bistro Taiyo Sushi Bar & Izakaya
#2-321 Wesley Street in the Old City Quarter
Nanaimo, BC V9R 3A7
Open for lunch weekdays from 11:30am-2pm
Dinner from 5pm-8:30pm (Open late Fri-Sat until 10pm)
Closed Sundays and holidays