When you enter Misai Japanese Restaurant in Calgary, the first thing you feel is at ease, thanks to the comfortable but classically decorated decor.
Everything about the restaurant leaves you feeling relaxed, especially the all-wood interior featuring high-walled, slatted privacy booths and cushioned bench seating.
The menu is extensive—a cornucopia of everything you would expect in Japanese cuisine: sushi, sashimi, several different kinds of rolls, ramen, hot pots, and various other fare. Each dish is described on Misai’s elaborate menu with colourful and detailed pictures.
Having been in business for more than 10 years, Misai is on the verge of rolling out a brand new menu, as they do every two years, with a focus on sushi rolls and a shift towards modern, fusion Japanese cuisine.
“When we opened the restaurant 10 years ago, we were one of the first Japanese restaurants in Calgary, so the food we brought out was researched in Japan and then brought over here,” said Katherine Or, owner of Misai.
“But now, as tastes in Calgary have evolved, they’ve gone down a slightly more fusion path.”
Our party of three was given the opportunity to sample several items planned for the new menu, the first being a pork and egg salad with sesame dressing. A welcome departure from the usual appetizer suspects such as spring rolls and tempura, this dish is a lettuce-based salad with thinly sliced, tender pork and an over-easy egg stacked on top, drizzled in a light and flavourful sesame dressing. The variety and contrast of textures—the creamy, rich egg yolk, warm, juicy pork, and cold, crisp lettuce—make this dish a treat.
Next was a sushi roll dubbed Unagi (eel) Fantasy. Featuring an imitation crab and avocado roll with smoked eel on top served beautifully in a ring with a thick unagi sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and spicy mayo, the roll is delicate, subtle, and light with a refreshing smokiness.
We also tried one of Misai’s Halloween specials, Hokkaido Milky Seafood Nabe, which is accompanied by green tea and ice cream.
“For our new Halloween promotions, we have a nabe, which most people in Calgary have not had before. It’s like a one-person hot-pot, but it’s already flavoured inside the pot, so it’s a very traditional type of dish in Japan, but it is not seen very often here,” said Or.
Served atop a portable tabletop burner, it is an impressive, classical dish on which to feast the eyes. The bulk of the dish consists of several kinds of seafood such as scallops, mussel, and prawns, complimented by a variety of delicious Japanese mushrooms, an impressive silky, soft tofu, as well as other vegetables served in a milk-based seafood broth. One of the nicest touches was finding several tiny hand-bundled taro noodles happily soaking up much of the broth.
All the seafood is perfectly prepared and extremely fresh, as the restaurant brings in the fish daily from Vancouver through an individual supplier rather than buying through a wholesaler.
Or said part of Misai’s menu update will involve implementing “izakaya,” a type of restaurant and drinking culture in Japan similar to the more familiar tapas, which features a large variety of smaller inexpensive ($1.50–$3.00) dishes such as grilled meat, edamame, and skewers, the idea being to casually dine while sharing a drink with friends or colleagues.
“A lot of restaurants advertise as Japanese tapas because the Calgary Japanese culture is not quite to the state where if I said to someone, ‘Do you want to go for izakaya?’ they would go ‘Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about.’ We’re still at the stage where it’s not very well known.”
We all agreed that we greatly enjoyed our time and our meal. Needless to say, we left completely stuffed. If you’re in the market for quality Japanese cuisine, you can’t go wrong with Misai. Check it out at 1915–32 Ave NE.