Shhh, a sushi gem in Kerrisdale

Sometime back in January, while strolling in Kerrisdale after doing some shopping at London Drugs, we noticed in a small adjoining alley a bustling sushi restaurant I've never heard of before called Ajisai. Amidst a light drizzle (by Vancouver standards) when I peeked into the window I saw a funky, modern spot that probably seated no more than 15-20 persons. If at first impression this must be the front portion of a larger restaurant, I decided to go back the following week for a more thorough, shall we say, investigation.

Surely enough I eagerly awaited with anticipation through the next week until my partner-in-dine decided there shall be no more waiting. We went back around 8pm on a Saturday evening and patiently waited just 10 minutes for a space at the sushi counter. Upon entry your senses are greeted with delightful sensations of sight, smell and sound. Certainly not the ambience one typically expects in a japanese restaurant, let alone a "sushi joint". The interior is abound in detail and design. The room exudes a minimalist yet contemporary, post-industrial flair with earthy tones and metallic textures. Then as I catch glimpses of colourful, Nobu-esque dishes go by I felt I must have died and gone to sushi heaven. No this is not Tojo's, nor is it priced like it. But if Tojo's ever came out with an affordable version of itself for the masses, Ajisai must be it or very close to it.

As we perused the long menu I realized there are no traditional hot items like tempura, gyoza, robata, ramen or chicken karaage (sheesh !). Serious sushi purists will instead find to their elation a huge variety of nigiri, cones and ready for this ? --- vegetable sashimi. Silken textured grilled/marinated asparagus, Japanese eggplant and red bell peppers are just the ones I can remember. There are also nigiri versions too. Protein choices include all the standard standbys like sake, toro, ebi and saba nigiris, except here the pieces of fish are immaculately fresh and large, laid gently over small delicate balls of rice and a hint of wasabi. There's also the yamamo(sp?) ume roll, a totally delicious contrast of crunchy savoury mountain potato and sweet plum. A dynamite roll came with prawns not fried but gently poached and surrounded with corn flakes. You read right, corn flakes. A textural surprise to the right brain that also appeases the health-conscious left brain. California rolls come with real cooked crab meat morsels that melt in your mouth balanced with alfalfa sprouts (hey this is the westcoast after all). There ought to be a bylaw against using fake crabmeat pollock rolls in sushi, period.

With a generous assortment of nigiri, rolls and starters all washed down with two small vials of sake, our total bill was well under $40 before tip (enough change to walk down to The Red Onion and get a piece of my fave pecan pie...). We've since been happily back to Ajisai twice , yet are sad at the same time that we're not likely to see much of our previous favorite sushi spots anytime soon, Musashi on Denman, Shiro's on Cambie and Taka Sushi on West Fourth.

Ajisai Sushi Bar, 2081 West 42nd Avenue in Kerrisdale, 604 266-1428

Bon apetit, SaabKen

Contributed by SaabKen