Safe doesn't always mean boring. Then again, sometimes it does. Hikari, which opened up earlier this year in the old Mamma’s Ristorante location on 16th Ave. N.W., offers a hybrid of Japanese and Korean cuisines, but doesn't excel at either.
I was intrigued by the concept of a Japanese-Korean restaurant, so after a cursory search, it seems that it’s a relatively new Canadian invention, with similar restaurants existing in Ontario.
The concept isn’t a bad one, as it’s an effective way to introduce Korean fare to the Canadian market now that Japanese food has become somewhat of a staple. Sushi has become such a common commodity that it's available virtually everywhere, including most major supermarkets.
We ended up at Hikari on a recent Tuesday night, and it was surprisingly busy. The menu offers standards of both cuisines, with a balance of options that should appeal to pretty much anyone’s inclinations.
We decided to start with the vegetable tempura ($7.95), ordering our mains at the same time and opting to share a small sushi and maki platter ($27.95) and the bulgogi ($13.95).
The tempura arrived last, but we didn’t let that stop us from enjoying it. The batter was really light, as it should be. The sushi and maki plate offered a nice sampling of standard North American sushi. Because it was listed as a “chef’s choice” option, I had hoped that we would be treated to something out of the ordinary, but that wasn’t the case on this occasion.
That said, there were quite a few options, including several rolls and tuna, fatty tuna belly, salmon, mackerel, red snapper and yellow belly as sushi pieces. I forgot to count when the plate arrived, so I’m approximating that there were about 16 portions altogether, split evenly between the maki rolls and sushi.
In my opinion, the amount of wasabi on each morsel should be left to the chef’s discretion. In the end, I was glad to see a variety of heat levels and was pleased with the variance.
The bulgogi, or barbecued beef, was accompanied by traditional Korean sides including kimchi, rice, daikon, savoury potato pancakes, marinated seaweed and a cold mashed potato and vegetable mixture. When the bulgogi did arrive, it was presented much like fajitas, on a steaming skillet. The meat was tender and served with a mix of fried green onions, carrots, onions, red peppers and mushrooms.
Just when I thought I was going to escape a meal without feeling obliged to try a dessert, our waitress — who did an outstanding job throughout the meal — arrived with some tangerines, served ice cold and in grand fashion.
The three tangerines on the plate had been dissected so that part of the peel created a table on which sat tiny cubes of the fruit. With a toothpick sticking out, it was easy to grab the tiny fragments, offering a cold, sweet end to what was a filling, but not overbearing meal.
At the end of the meal I was conflicted. It’s not that the food was bad, it just didn't wow us. I’d recommend Hikari as a decent option for those looking to experience Japanese or Korean foods without being nervous about menu options or feeling overwhelmed. Realistically, however, there is already an abundance of places doing the same things in town, only better.
Hikari is located at 314 16 Ave. N.W.; phone, 520-8004.