Cross-posted from Calgary is Awesome.
Some people may be surprised that this little hole-in-the-wall Japanese place is still surviving despite much larger competition across the street, but considering that the same building houses two deli/diners that claim to specialize in Montreal smoked meat, I suppose anything can happen in Marda Loop.
I first tried El's Japanese Fusion two summers ago, when one of the trainers at the gym where I worked took me there for lunch. He is Korean, so he liked/likes the Korean-owned El's because he could chat up the owners and sometimes score a free salad or soup (the same goes for Sushi Hanami). The lunch menu then was tiny, and we always opted for the bento boxes anyway just because they were quick and easy, so I was a little taken aback when I went for supper on Friday night to find that the menu is actually pretty huge!
El's prides itself on its tempura - while most sushi restaurants will have chefs preparing sushi behind the bar, at El's, the deep fryer is in full display and you can see the chefs mixing up the batter and dipping various ingredients in it before throwing it all into the hot oil. As a result, most of its extensive selection of makis involves tempura in some way. Usually I would have no qualms about that, but I'd just finished off some cottage cheese that was about to expire at the office and was looking for a light dinner; combined with the fact that the small, 20-seat space was a little sticky with grease, it was a little off-putting!
After a bit of hemming and hawing, we finally chose three rolls to share - the W-Spicy maki (spicy tuna and salmon), the Yuke maki (raw sirloin beef on top of a crab roll), and the Seaweed Salad maki (seaweed salad and other veggies in soybean paper).
The W-Spicy maki ($9.95) was my least favourite of the three that we ordered (which is why I snapped such an unflattering photo of it, haha) - I thought the tomatoey spicy sauce overpowered the tuna and the salmon too much, whereas most spicy sushi I've had just has a little dot of Sriracha sauce. Still, the portions of fish were generous and I liked the contrast in flavour and texture between the light, buttery tuna and the meatier, more flavourful salmon.
We originally ordered the Yuke maki ($12.95) as it was simply listed as "raw sweet sirloin beef" on the menu, so I envisioned a sushi roll with raw beef inside it (logical, right?). When it arrived, we were a little surprised to find that it's actually a roll with crab meat inside and a small slab of raw beef on top, topped with slivers of raw garlic, chopped scallions and a dollop of masago. The Korean influence is evident in this sushi as the beef is drizzled with a sauce that is reminiscent of Korean barbecue sauce.
The Seaweed Salad maki ($8.95) was the surprising favourite. My friend and I both agreed that it was very refreshing (not to be confused with the Refreshing maki, $7.95), most likely due to the fact that there isn't any rice in it, and the usual slimy, saltiness of seaweed salad was masked by the mixed greens and shreds of daikon. The soybean paper that the sushi was wrapped in was pretty neat too, originally I thought it would be like tofu skin, but seeing its vibrant green colour, I'm guessing these soybeans were not fermented.
Although the meal wasn't mind-blowing, I think I will definitely go try El's again when I'm more in the mood for something fried. Support the little guy, right?
El's Japanese Fusion
17-2008 33 Ave SW
Calgary AB T2T 1Z4