HAPA IZAKAYA: Fresh Fish Steals Show

647 748 4272  |   $5-13 Small Plates

 

I’ve read some polarizing things about Hapa thus far. Before it opened, people lauded it as another hiqh quality izakaya in the mold of Guu, but more recent opinions have labeled it more pedestrian and used the dreaded word: ‘fusion’. I decided to drop-in anyways and give it a shot.

Food

The menu is basically split into three parts: cold tapas, hot tapas and the fresh sheet, an assortment features, rolls and desserts. There’s a ton of variety and you could probably eat all fried things or all sushi if you felt like it. Naturally, I mixed it up for the sake of the review.

Before eating, I began with a Shiso Mojito that sounded like a clever shift from the usual. I’ll say it might be tough to pick it out blindfolded, but I think it’s good value for $9. There’s also a heck of a sake selection (if that’s your thing) and some good beer if you’re a fan of Blanche de Chambly and Amsterdam brews.

Our first dish was the Salmon Yukee (above) topped with a raw quail egg and some nori chips. The tartare was clean, the egg for richness and moisture, and a nori chip that added a unique twist. It’s definitely fusion, but it worked for me.

Next up was the scallop tartare with bacon, mustard mayo, and some wontons. I think the bacon, mustard, scallop flavour combo made sense, but perhaps a bit heavily dressed for something that’s generally a little more delicate.

I think this was my favourite dish of the night. Beef tataki, quickly seared, sliced thin with an addictive sesame-chile topping, crunch, lemon for acid, and a good amount of raw red and green onion. It’s clearly not rocket science, but it’s well executed and hits on all the things I was looking for in a bite.

One of the few hot tapas we ordered was the Ebi Mayo: a very simple preparation of tempura prawns and some ‘spicy mayo’. Outside of the fact I’d call the mayo more ‘zingy’, that was a perfect tempura prawn. Really juicy and tender with a nicely crisp batter made me wish we’d ordered two.

This next plate, the Aburi Saba, is what everyone will tell you order - both for the show and the taste. Your server will bring out a blow torch and give the raw mackerel a quick 5-10 seconds over top. Mackerel is already fairly fishy and the torching brings that out, provides some novel temperature contrast and a slight char flavour. If you like mackerel (I do), you’ll really enjoy this. If not, steer clear.

If you had to nominate one dish you’d find at Joey’s, this halibut taco dish would be it. It’s tempure halibut with bacon bits topped with shoestrings served with a roasted jalapeno tartar sauce. I know it sounds pedestrian, but the sauce packs a good punch,the fish is ruined and the grilled taco is actually tasty. I didn’t want to like it, but I couldn’t help myself.

The last dish we shared was the tuna carpaccio with yuzu dressing. It looks simple, bright, moist and pure, and accomplishes all those things when you drop it in your mouth. Another successful fish preparation.

QUICK NOTE: This is a tapas restaurant, so if you’re not looking to spend big, you’ll likely come away hungry if you entered with an appetite. Luckily, it’s surrounded by super cheap pho places, so keep that in mind.

Service and Ambience

One thing you’ll always get at Guu is an unrivaled ambience. It’s buzzing, borderline too loud, and the kitchen greets you with joy and fervor. Something about the room feels less authentic and more ‘Milestones’ (flat screen TVs will do that), so even a similarly joyous greeting just seems out of place.

Service throughout the night was attentive and helpful, with our server recommending sake for the newer drinkers at the table and delivering all the dishes promptly and as ordered. No complaints here.

The Reco?

Like a lot of pretty well-executed ‘Asian fusion’ restaurants, Hapa probably has taken more heat than it deserves. I almost think of it more as upscale comfort food in some ways, and try not to hold it to the standard of other ultra-authentic alternatives. If you walk in with the same mindset, I’m pretty you’ll come away feeling similarly satisfied.

Other Reviews? 
 Globe and Mail  |      Kat Can Rawr

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Oct 28, 2012

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