All-You-Can-Eat Sushi at Jukai
Five years ago I delved into the burgeoning AYCE sushi scene in Halifax, writing reviews of Wasabi Asian Cuisine, Genji, Zi Xiang (now closed), Mizu, Happy Sushi and Sushi Jet. I can’t vouch for the relevance and accuracy of these reviews today, but you can read them if you wish. At the time it was determined that Wasabi Asian Cuisine and Mizu were the best of the bunch.
Last year Halifax got a new AYCE sushi resto, located in King’s Wharf, and the reviews were great. It seemed everyone was talking about Jukai Japanese & Thai.
I won’t lie. I would rather spend my money on a smaller quantity of very good sushi, than a garbage pail of cheap ingredients thrown together. But I am a North American human and I am not immune to the All-You-Can-Eat siren song. The thrill of ordering with wild abandon, and gorging oneself on fish and rice is an ever-tempting concept.
So I took The Side Dish out for a pre-birthday binge, and to see what all the hype is about.
I believe the current prices are $16.99 for lunch, and $26.99 for dinner. We arrived during the lunch rush and were told it would be an hour’s wait. So we strolled along the Dartmouth Harbourfront, admiring the graffiti, until I received a phone call (30 minutes later) that our table was ready.
The restaurant was noticeably clean, and our table was already equipped with ice waters. We were given a tablet to order our food electronically which was efficient, seamless, and easy.
It was a good first impression.
Right away our shrimp tempura arrived, but we had to wait a little longer for our vegetables and dumplings. I’m pretty sure there was a pre-cooked batch of the shrimp on-the-ready because it’s a popular order. The tempura was crispy and tasty, if not a little oily. The gyoza was obviously a mass produced frozen dumpling, but unoffensive. I wish we hadn’t ordered any of the deep fried items because they sat heavily in our stomachs.
Finally, the sushi.
We ordered salmon, butter fish, surf clam, tomago (egg) and mackerel.
The salmon nigiri was shockingly flavourless. I like to have my first piece without any sort of flavour enhancements, allowing the salmon and rice to sing. But it was quite clear that this wasn’t that kind of sushi.
The rest of our nigiri was equally bland, except for the mackerel which had an acidic brine. The rice was sweet, and not particularly delicious. I don’t expect much from the rice at an AYCE sushi place, but it was still disappointing. Sushi is only as good as its rice.
Next up was a standard tuna maki. It was somehow watery, as if the tuna was left to thaw in a bag.
All of the traditional items screamed to be submerged in some ghastly mixture of wasabi paste and soy sauce (which is the sushi equivalent of smothering a cheap steak with ketchup).
The situation was dire and desperate.
Fortunately, the less traditional sushi was more palatable (if only because it came equipped with spicy mayonnaise). The spicy tuna and sweet potato rolls were a sigh of relief.
We actually thought about ending the meal then and there. Why introduce excess calories into our bodies without the crucial effect of pleasure?
“This is like, the McDonald’s of sushi,” whispered The Side Dish. But if there are three things that favourably sway westerners they are: 1) cleanliness, 2) service, and 3) gut-busting quantity.
Jukai has it all!
We decided we ought to order another round of food just to make sure we were giving it an honest try.
Up next: BC BBQ Salmon Roll and the Lucky Roll.
These were edible. We were quickly realizing that anything with a sauce to distract from the core ingredients was the pro-tip. The cooked salmon also had some flavour. Even if the rice was sticky and gummy, I was able to derive some enjoyment out of it.
The Lucky Roll had a couple types of fish inside. It doesn’t matter which ones because when you load up a roll with more than one type of fish, the subtle flavours are not honoured and it all blends together as the mere concept of “fish”. This is one reason why I don’t like fusion rolls. But I digress….
We weren’t feeling so lucky when we realized we had carelessly ordered a fusion roll with mango sauce on it. I generally like to keep fruit away from my sushi, but this was our own fault for not reading the description carefully.
This (un)lucky roll was topped with shredded imitation crab and draped with mango sauce.
But as it turned out, the Lucky Roll was indeed lucky after all! Somehow, the mango and artificial crab combo worked. It was my favourite roll of the day.
Embarrassing, but here we are.
We also ordered a Deep Fried Fire Dragon Roll, but one bite and we realized this particular item would not be entering out bodies. We politely explained that we didn’t like the taste, and asked for our bill. We didn’t even get ice cream. We just noped out.
Look – I realize this is an AYCE restaurant. I’m not expecting an itamae to serve me bluefin otoro from the Tsukiji fish market.
But I am disappointed. In any conversation about the best sushi in Halifax, ya’ll keep recommending Jukai among the likes of Doraku and Shige. Guys – this ain’t it. It’s not even close.
If you enjoy the AYCE sushi here, or any of the other AYCE sushi restaurants in Halifax, I’m not going to judge you. AYCE can be fun. But let’s not get this confused with the “best sushi in Halifax”.
It is what it is.
Personally, I would rather pay a little more or eat a little less. Life is too short.