If you're headed to Davie Village's popular Sushi Bella and suddenly see a new restaurant in its place, fret not.
The owners are the same, and some of your favourite dishes are still on the menu.
The new Hatzu Japanese Bistro (1175 Davie Street) is still run by Davie Street's Sushi Bella owners Caleb Yoondoh Lee and Sophie Won. The pair also operate Ramen Koika, the West End ramen joint only a few doors down at 1231 Davie Street, which they opened in 2014.
Lee and Won launched Davie Street's Sushi Bella back in 2013 as a franchise of the North Vancouver French-Japanese fusion restaurant opened by their friend, chef-owner Kabel Youngki Kim. (Sushi Bella also has locations in Kitsilano and Metrotown, and has a sister branch called Blue Bella Seafood and Oyster Restaurant on Robson Street.)
They closed Sushi Bella on January 21 for renovations and reopened as Hatzu on February 1.
Lee and Won, who both hail from Korea and have lived here since 2010, told the Georgia Straight in an interview at their new eatery that they sought to venture and experiment beyond Sushi Bella's menu, which focussed primarily on sushi and sashimi.
"We were getting a lot of requests from our regular customers," Won said. "They're like, 'Oh, is there anything new?' Because that's what they're expecting from us."
She explained that the new menu will help them to cater more specifically to the preferences of West End patrons and demographics.
Lee added that in a competitive food market like Vancouver, it's important to offer something unique.
"If you want to make customers satisfied, you don't want to make the same food that your next door makes," Lee said. "If you don't change and if you don't customize [the menu] to their taste, I don't think they will love us forever."
Both have visited Japan several times to learn more in-depth about Japanese cuisine and culture. Lee, a former banker, even attended ramen school in Chiba, Japan ("I was crazy about ramen," Lee confessed with a laugh).
Lee also noted that Japanese restaurants in Korea have become much more sophisticated, and he learnt some new recipes on a visit to Korea last year. He also brought some food equipment (oshizushihako, or a Japanese sushi box to make pressed sushi) and plateware from both Japan and Korea for his new restaurant.
As Japanese food has long been said to please the eye, Won said their focus is to maintain reasonable price range but with a sophisticated presentation.
"Our concept is to make them [customers] feel like they are having really fancy restaurant meals in our restaurant," she explained.
Here is a sample of just some of the items on the revamped and expanded menu.
A new item is salmon carpaccio (six pieces, $11.95), with avocado, capers, radish, garlic chips, balsamic reduction, and basil pesto sauce (plus secret ingredients).
Truffle dancing shrimp (five pieces, $8.95), with truffle oil, pesto, tartar sauce, balsamic vinegar, masago (fish roe), and homemade potato chips, is another innovation.
Gyu sushi burger ($7.95), with cheese-covered gyu beef, lettuce, onion, tomato, chili pickle, chipotle, and wasabi on a deep-fried sushi rice bun (with tempura yam fries on the side), offers a unique take on the Western staple mixed with Asian flavours.
Classic sushi pizza ($6.95) with tuna, salmon, masago, and chili mayo on deep-fried sushi rice is another inventive Asian approximation of a Western favourite.
Orange county futomaki (five pieces, $7.95) is a traditional roll remixed with—believe it or not—orange slices, cucumber, crab, salmon, masago, red pepper, and nori (seaweed) to create a fruity twist on the longstanding classic.
There are even Mexican influences, such as taco with soft-shell tortilla with mango salsa and garlic mayo and either deep-fried salmon ($9.95) or deep-fried panko-breaded prawns ($10.95), and Korean-inspired dishes, such as the hot-stone tobiko don ($12.95), with rice, masago, kimchi, cucumber, oshinko, and raw egg.
Lee said they're offering more vegetarian options (look for the vegetarian icon on menu), such as tropical sushi pizza (made with fruits and vegetables), an entire vegetarian sushi roll section, tofu teriyaki, and several salads. Due to requests for kale, they're also now offering kale gomae.
Sashimi towers, deep-fried sushi, udon, teriyaki hot plates, and more round out the extensive menu. Lee said that some of the new items were actually offered as specials at Sushi Bella, and that they'll be tweaking the new menu over the next little while.
The name of the new venue is a play on the Japanese word hatsu, which means the first or first-born. Lee and Won explained that the name is a reminder for them to remain dedicated to their original intention and passion for opening the restaurant. Considering how popular their Sushi Bella franchise was, staying true to their original vision while they broaden their appeal seems like a wise strategy to ensure success with their new venture.