Posh offers an adventure in sukiyaki

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Fuelled by enough single malt, many restaurant critics will confess that they love being served complicated food because it gives them so much to write about. Rhapsodies about nuanced sauces; verbal orgasms over the subtlety of the nage; poetic images evoked by evocative jus, foams, spumes, and all the other terms that evoke a cross-Channel swim—bring it on.

      Steak houses, on the other hand, are no fun. There’s tenderness, temperature, size, and bloodiness, but what do you write about after that? Well, service, if it’s beyond the usual auto–Barbie ’n’ Ken variety endemic to Vancouver, and there’s always the chef’s potted bio.

      The very worst places to review are those where the diner doubles as cook, which is most likely why fondue fell out of fashion. You can’t blame the chef, you can only blame yourself, which is why if I’d reviewed my own cooking at Posh, I’d have slammed it so badly that this chain’s first venture into the city of Vancouver would have closed overnight.

      In less than an hour, I had splashed rich broth all over my sweater, burned the tip of my tongue to a glossy pinkness, and set fire to my paper napkin while using it as an oven mitt to move the cooking pot. Other than that we had a fine time, although I wish they’d provided printed instructions—laminated and fireproof—for newbies.

      Posh highlights one thing, all-you-can-eat sukiyaki (a hotpot-type dish of Japanese origin), and uses the same tick-the-boxes system as countless sushi places around town, except that here the boxes are beside raw ingredients. But I’m racing ahead. Before we get to the yam, taro, and Chinese mushrooms, let’s look at the room.

      It’s modern-Japanese smart, with good-looking and functional ceiling vents, walls with alternating vertical panels of dark and light wood, lipstick-red banquettes, chairs covered in pearly-gold leather, tall partitions, and a central pillar, all of which create intimate spaces. And when we were there, Diana Krall’s Live in Paris DVD was playing at an acceptable decibel level on big screens.

      Too hungry to order with any discrimination from the 27-item checklist, we asked for a broad selection. What came was a heaping platter of raw western and Asian vegetables, two stacked black boxes containing precisely arranged thinly sliced raw pork and beef, and two raw eggs in their shells. According to a server (not our server, who told us nothing, but one who saw us regarding said eggs), they’re pasteurized, and the vegetables are all organic. (He also told us that one of the teapots on the table held water to thin the cooking broth, and the other sukiyaki sauce.)

      You break the egg into a small bowl, swirl it with your chopsticks, and dip the cooked meat or vegetables, which the server said instantly cooks the egg. Didn’t work for me so I double-dipped the item back into the boiling broth.

      The screamingly hot black iron pot that comes to the table holds broth and a yellow-green mound of raw shredded cabbage that quickly collapses into a tasty bed for the other ingredients once the server turns on your burner. You put in meat and veggies, let them simmer, and then fish them out with your chopsticks. This would be good first-date food: cooking for each other, feeding each other, and sharing wry but soulful grins as you bite into a lump of yam that you realize should have stayed in the pot far longer.

      Here’s what I’d tick off next time: the fat-rimmed beef and liberally marbled pork (subtle warning to calorie counters), because they add an unctuous undernote to the broth; tong ho chrysanthemum leaves, for their pleasant bitterness; and iceberg lettuce, which unexpectedly wilts to a satiny texture. Mushrooms are lovely, ditto the tidy knots of cooked vermicelli, soft tofu, and bok choy. But I’d pass on taro root, faintly purple and veined like a fading black eye, with a taste that’s not to everyone’s, mine included.

      Order more at will, but note that the restaurant sensibly charges $3 for wasted portions of raw meat. The drinks list spans beer, sake, cocktails, and virgin cocktails. If you stick with the free tea, this is an astonishingly cheap way to eat: $9.88 at lunch, and $13.88 at dinner for the same menu.