It can be said that Vancouver is the sushi capital of Canada, with over 300 sushi restaurants in the city. And in recent years, high-end Japanese Omakase has been growing in popularity across Vancouver.
Just last year, Richmond opened a spot offering a $400 omakase menu.
As sushi crazy as the city is, North Vancouver hasn’t seen the same explosion or intense love of sushi and omakase joints. But that may change as the new and highly anticipated Sushi MAHANA opened in the Lonsdale area.
Sushi MAHANA is North Vancouver’s newest premier luxury omakase experience ($200 & $250 menu), crafted by two seasoned chefs and an interior designer.
Below is a deep dive into the backgrounds of the individuals involved and the different components that make this premium omakase spot a vital part of transforming how sushi is seen on the North Shore.
How Chef Hiroshi Hoshiko Elevated Vancouver’s Sushi Culture
Sushi MAHANA is helmed by Chef Hiroshi Hoshiko, who has been part of Vancouver’s sushi culture ever since he arrived in 2012 in the city. Having trained at Kyushu’s prestigious Sushi Tora, he spent years at Minami as a Chef before opening a catering business in 2016.
For the next 4 years, he catered to enthusiastic sports fans at Rogers Arena for Canucks home games and various concerts held in the arena. During his time at Rogers Arena, he has serviced well-known celebrities like KISS, Mariah Carey, and Lady Gaga.
Later on, he was even asked to privately cater to Prince Harry & Megan when they were on Vancouver Island.
But when the pandemic arrived, Chef Hiroshi had to halt his business as hockey games were abruptly canceled.
Despite the troubles the restaurant industry was facing from lockdown conditions, he went on to create a high-end sushi bento box (ranging from $55 – $300 per box) and catering service called Orizume in May 2020.
In the same year, Chef Hiroshi approached now Sushi MAHANA owner & CEO, Yuki Aida, to open up a sushi bar together. Ms. Aida, who is an art & designer by trade, first rejected Chef Hiroshi’s idea.
But eventually, they banded together and recruited Chef Hiroshi’s cousin and now Sous Chef, Rika “Ghinn” Ginnaga – who has run several kitchens at popular Tokyo restaurants and has unique style focused on vegetable-centered culinary creations.
Fun fact: Sushi MAHANA is named after Chef Hiroshi’s daughter, Mahana.
Building of Sushi MAHANA
When it comes to creating a premium omakase experience, the mission, the ambiance, and the food need to be carefully and harmoniously crafted.
This is even more important when Sushi MAHANA strived to create a world-class omakase spot in the province.
The key mission of Sushi MAHANA is to reinvent the omakase experience in the city – to truly create a world-class encounter.
Before developing the foundation of Sushi MAHANA, the team flew to New York City to learn and be inspired by the top Omakase experiences in North America. That meant dining at MICHENLIN Starred Masa, Saito, and more to bring pieces of that to Vancouver, while adding in the team’s own specialty.
That specialty? The food and ambiance.
Sushi restaurants around the world have long relied on fish imported from Japan, creating an assumption that sushi made with Japanese fish is of the highest quality. However, this ignores the fact that locally sourced fish can be just as fresh, flavorful and delectable – if not more so – than their imported counterparts.
The prominence of more local usage of fish has been seen by other top Japanese restaurants in the city, like Chef Tojo (Tojo’s Restaurant) and Chef Tom (Tom Sushi).
At Sushi MAHANA, they use a combination of fish shipped from Tokyo Toyosu Market and the locally mineral-rich waters of the Salish Sea.
When it comes to his approach to preparing seafood, Chef Hiroshi uses a unique dry-aging technique practiced by sushi chefs from Tokyo’s Ginza district. Depending on the fish, he treats it with special marinades before aging it for one to two weeks – making the fish develop a stronger umami flavour.
In between the omakase courses, you’ll find Sous Chef Rika work her magic with beautifully crafted vegetable-forward dishes. These utilize seasonal ingredients and is meant to harmonize and transition between the different sections of an omakase meal.
As you would expect from a high-end omakase restaurant, the interior and service is refined, minimal, and subdued. But owner Yuki made sure to input bits of Japan that she adored into the interior.
When you walk into the dining room, your eyes dart to the large L-shaped bar. On one side of the room, a large charcoal burnt wall (done in Lion’s Bay) pays tribute to Yakisugi – a centuries-old wood-burning method to create a protective layer against erosion.
On the other side – and hides the cozy lounge area – is a wave-shaped wall design. At a closer look, you’ll notice that the waves appear to be crashing inwards to each other from top to bottom. This design actually signifies the Pacific Ring of Japan and Canada meeting in harmony.
Finally, if you pay attention, the beautiful plate ware may be different from your fellow diners beside you. That’s because some of the dishes are curated by Yuki from her own antique collection and from local artists.
We’ll gladly argue that a beautiful plate makes the food taste even better.
A Luxury Omakase Menu
At Sushi MAHANA you’ll find two omakase menus: an Introductory Course and a Premium Course. The introductory Course features fresh ingredients skillfully prepared, perfect for those trying out Omakase-style sushi for the first time.
If you’re looking for a culinary adventure, the Premium Course will have you go through 5 carefully crafted segments.
Each segment includes five or six nirigi and is meant to move you from lighter flavours (the Prelude) to ones with more umami (the Crescendo) to more rich and fatty fish (the Culmination). Then you’ll end your adventure with the Penultimate – more subtle sweet and warm fish – and the Finale – a chilled sweet Hojicha flan with Cherry Blossom Salted Grape.
In between each segment was a vegetable-forward dish crafted by Sous Chef Rika. Each of them are beautifully crafted, like a work of art.
Aside from the beauty of the dishes, they are also meant to showcase Sushi MAHANA’s uniqueness in using seasonal vegetables to help accentuate a segment’s theme or to transition a segment into another.
Another thing that surprised us in the Premium Course is the types of fish you’ll encounter. Yes, you’ll get your usual King Salmon, Aji, Bluefin Tunas, and Uni. But it was the first time we’ve had Tsubugai (Whelk), Murasaki Daikon (Ninja Radish), and Kohada (Gizzard Shad).
And although Chef Hiroshi prefers to stick to a more traditional Japanese garnish (so no mayo here), the combination of his umami-filled dry-age technique and experiencing more unique fish, made the meal eye-opening.
All in all – Chef Hiroshi and Chef Rika have years of experience between them – from Hokkaido to Tokyo and beyond – and are ready to showcase their expertise for Vancouver diners and really test whether the city is ready for this experience.
Whether you’re a lifelong sushi connoisseur or a novice looking to try something new, Sushi MAHANA has a premium experience worth checking out.
*Sushi MAHANA has 2 seatings and a constantly changing menu.
Address: 175 3rd St W, North Vancouver, BC