The warm smell of jasmine tea and the greetings of the head chef provide a perfect entrance to Nori Japanese Restaurant in north Nanaimo. If you’re looking for an any-occasion restaurant, this is it. The rustic wood and comfortably modern décor invite you in with a mood that is elegantbut casual.
Seating in Nori snakes around corners to provide ample room while giving you the feeling that it is small and cozy. Since you can only see a few other people at a time, it also makes the restaurant somewhat quiet. If you want to laugh and joke with the owners and chefs, there’s always room at the sushi bar, where you can watch your meal be prepared.
Don’t come starving on a Friday night, because you will probably have to wait for your meal, but for the most part they keep it minimal. Complementary Genmacha tea is a treat and will hold your appetite while waiting for the main dishes.(This is a Japanese green tea that has roasted brown rice in the leaves to give it a subtle nutty flavour.)
The menu is large, with so many options I had trouble deciding. I started with a favourite: ebi sunomono, a Japanese salad with rice noodles floating in a sweet lemon-vinegar broth, with prawns, cucumber, and shredded vegetables—it’s a simple dish that tastes clean and fresh.
If you are coming for sushi, bring friends. The rolls are large enough that you might not be able to eat more than one or two alone, so it’s best to get a variety to share. I came with a few friends, so I got the chance to sample several dishes. First, I tried the rainbow roll, priced at $10.99. The tamago, or grilled egg, was perfectly sweet, probably the best I’ve ever had, and the seafood was very fresh.
I also tried the flaming viper roll, a dungeness crab California roll with inari (tofu), radish, and unagi (eel). This was a new blend of flavours that went well together, and the chef himself brought the flaming roll to our table—the presentation for this one was head-turning.
The teriyaki chicken and beef rolls were on the menu for those less partial to sushi but still wanting something similar. They’re $4.99 each and not visually appealing, but were quite tasty.
We finished off the evening with a dorayaki matcha dessert at $6.99. The serving was large enough that all five of us managed to try several bites, and it was beautifully displayed—sweet crispy pudding with a red bean custard centre topped with the delicate green tea matcha ice cream, and the entire dish was drizzled with caramel.
As we were leaving, the chef fist-bumped us and wished us a good night, which was a great cap for the friendly evening. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone wanting a friendly dining experience, from dates where you want to impress, to grabbing a quick meal alone, to families or small gatherings. The prices range enough for any budget, and the food was notable for being fresh. It was a great dining experience, and I’ll be going back, at least for another serving of dorayaki matcha.