Miku first opened in 2008 at Hastings and Thurlow, as restaurant group Tora Corporation’s first location outside of Japan. Since then, Miku has moved to its current waterfront space, opened the near-identical sister restaurant Minami in Yaletown, Gyoza Bar and expanded to locations in Toronto, all under its Aburi Restaurants Canada brand.
Miku was the first to bring the concept of Aburi (flame seared) sushi to Vancouver. When it first opened up I was still on student loans but finally saved enough to try Miku for a special occasion. It was my first high-end sushi experience at the time and completely blew my mind. I can still picture my first bite of the Aburi Salmon Oshi Sushi: the smokiness of the seared mayo, the touch of spiciness from the jalapeno, perfectly cooked rice and the way everything melted together in the mouth.
Looking back 12 years, I feel quite privileged that I’m now in a position to be able to order takeout from Miku and even critique its food.
The Take-Out Experience
Almost immediately after the COVID-19 lockdowns started in March 2020, Miku pivoted and started offering a dedicated takeout menu which continues today. It contains most of Miku’s core dine-in items, along with exclusive takeout offerings such as bentos, donburi and rolls. What usually justifies Miku’s high cost is the experience of their gorgeous waterfront dining room and top notch service, so it’s nice that most takeout items are cheaper than their identical dine-in counterparts.
Ordering is easy via Tock or Uber Eats. The pickup process is smooth, as a hostess is always available at the front to greet you in their spacious waiting area. Orders are retrieved instantly with no fuss, allowing a quick grab-and-go which is great since the street parking on Cordova is $8/hour and ever-increasing.
It would’ve been nice if they stapled the bag with the miso soup shut, since there’s a lot of empty space and they ended up tipping over in the car. Thankfully the lids were tight and spillage was minimal.
The bento boxes were packaged elegantly, and it felt like eating out of a real bento box instead of a plastic takeout container. The sushi fit perfectly in the box so nothing flipped over (unlike the kappa maki).
Miku’s miso soup was excellent as usual. Unlike many restaurants, you can tell they made the dashi broth from scratch and can actually taste the umami from the kombu and the fish flavors from the dried bonito flakes. The subtle addition of enoki mushroom further elevates the soup.
The Unagi Donburi is unique to the takeout menu and the portion size would be decent for one person as a main. The rice was properly cooked and the eel was fresh, juicy and had the perfect amount of sauce.
The Miku Shokai Bento is also unique to the takeout menu, and includes two appetizers and 10 pieces of sushi as shown above. For $32, it’s a great value and a good introduction to some of their best dishes. Otherwise if dining-in for dinner, the only way you could try a little bit of everything would be to do their Kaiseki set menu which costs a lot more.
This consists of white tiger prawns in a herb-beer batter, sweet chili aioli, chili powder and balsamic reduction along with some pickles and greens. It’s one of their classic appetizers but I didn’t really enjoy it. The prawn was overcooked and the batter was a bit soggy, probably due to the takeout factor.
The sablefish was tender and the sweet-salty miso soy marinade really penetrated the fish. The accompanying veggies had so much freshness and flavor. However, the flower was super bitter and I’m not sure it was meant to be eaten. It’s kind of frustrating when ambiguous items are included in a dish. It took a few minutes to cleanse my palate.
It’s hard to believe that 12 years ago, Aburi-style (flame seared) sushi didn’t exist in Vancouver. Their oshi sushi is pressed inside a box-mold, cut into pieces, sauced and then flame seared with a torch and a piece of charcoal. This chars the sauce with a smoky flavor and lightly sears the exterior of the fish. Combined with the pressed sushi rice, the entire thing basically melts into your mouth and Miku’s flavor combinations are honed to perfection.
Nowadays you can find copycats of all 3 varieties in many sushi restaurants across Vancouver, and they even replicate the dish down to the slice of jalapeno on top of the salmon. However, nothing beats the original.
Their specialty rolls are intricately made and haven’t changed since they first opened, so you can bet they’ve perfected the flavor combinations by now. It’s the toppings that really add a whole other dimension to the rolls… they’re deeply flavorful and not just there for the looks!
The Miku roll is my favorite, I don’t have a closeup since I was too eager to eat it. It contains salmon, crab and cucumber, topped with Miku sauce (the same as the oshi sushi) and rolled in tobiko (flying fish roe) which is then seared Aburi-style. The seared tobiko is smoky, briny, fishy and crunchy at the same time and provides a lot of contrasting flavor and texture.
The top 2 pieces of nigiri were done Aburi-style while the bottom 2 were traditional. They were excellent but don’t really stand out amongst other restaurants that specialize in nigiri and Edomae-style sushi. The sushi rice is not always consistent and sometimes a little mushy. While the Aburi offerings typically mask this issue with layers of flavor and texture, it’s evident in the nigiri where the rice is supposed to be the star of the dish.
The spicy tuna roll isn’t offered in their dine-in menu, and you can tell. It was pretty sloppy, and if you compare it with the closeups of the Red Wave and Garden rolls above, it almost looks like it came from a different restaurant. You can even see how some of the spicy tuna got smeared as it was being cut. Most neighborhood sushi restaurants would offer better quality and a bigger roll at half the price. Disappointing.
This was another disappointment. Kappa maki (cucumber roll) is one of my favorite rolls and acts as a refreshing palate cleanser, so I almost always order it at every restaurant. The photo above speaks for itself. The sloppiness of the roll aside, they didn’t even bother julienning the cucumber into thin strips, which is a pet peeve of mine. You’re basically chewing on a solid piece of cucumber, instead of having the strips break down homogeneously and refreshing your entire mouth.
Having dined-in at Miku’s sushi bar counter and witnessing them at work, it’s pretty clear that they have separate stations like an assembly line, with each chef being responsible for specific items. They probably have their inexperienced chefs making the “cheaper” takeout items. I think this might eventually damage their brand if they don’t apply the same standards to every single dish coming out of their kitchen.
The Green Tea Opera is another dish that’s been around since the beginning. As per the menu, it consists of green tea génoise, matcha butter cream, dark chocolate ganache, azuki bean cream and hazelnut wafer. The bitter notes in the matcha and dark chocolate go well with sweetness of the red bean, and the hazelnut wafer provides a bit of crunch. I think the sauce in the container is a type of berry coulis and it provided a freshness and acidity to the dessert which kept everything in balance.
A nice sake was an obvious choice to pair with this meal. My knowledge of sake is quite limited, but I tried Dassai while in Japan, really enjoyed it, and it was one of the more accessible brands that was available everywhere. Within their range, Dassai 50 was the most affordable, which was recently replaced with Dassai 45. The polishing ratio means that only 45% of the rice grain remains after polishing, with a lower number generally pointing to a higher quality (at least within a brand’s range).
If I recall correctly, this 720mL bottle was around $50 at the Signature BC Liquor Store on Cambie, but the website only lists the 300mL size now. This was a little fruity and super smooth, with a crisp and dry finish. It’s probably a little too smooth and easy drinking for my tastes, but an excellent sake that’s sure to please.
While many of us are familiar with casual sushi takeout, it’s great to see a higher-end Japanese restaurant like Miku offer a well-thought-out dedicated takeout menu. Compared to its peers, Miku’s takeout program is more accessible and affordable (in relative terms), allowing customers to try a variety of Miku’s food for less than dine-in prices. I’d recommend sticking to their bento boxes or simply ordering a few Aburi-style oshi sushi and specialty rolls à la carte, which is what they’re known for. You should probably stay away from their “regular” rolls and hosomaki to avoid disappointment.
#70 – 200 Granville St Vancouver, BC
Price Range: $$$$