The General Public revamps Main Street sushi scene

The General Public, located at the corner of 17th and Main, with its heritage facade, large windows and open floor plan, features  quirky decor, a “psychedelic sushi bar” motif and plaster busts of characters from pop culture like Burt and Ernie, Wallace and Gromit, and, unless I'm mistaken, the creature from the Black Lagoon. Each of them is adorned with antlers, conveying what owner Randy calls the “Miso Horn E” theme. 

The unconventional feel translates to the menu, which is heavy on non-traditional dishes. Sushi is, in many ways, Japan’s answer to the sandwich, albeit infused with much more formality and tradition. This formality often leads to a predictable and staid menu: kappa maki, tuna sashimi, California roll. However, like a good sandwich, sushi is incredibly versatile, which is why it is so refreshing to see the combinations which dominate the GP’s menu.

The menu will be familiar to anyone who knows The Eatery in Kits. The GP is its sister restaurant and features almost the exact same menu.

The two areas of the menu which most caught my eye are the tuna section (yes, they have a whole section devoted to tuna) and the vegetarian page. It would be easy to get repetitive in the tuna section, but every dish we saw showcases a different facet of this fish. The simplest treatment is the tuna rose, where slices of tuna are arranged to resemble a rose and served in a pool of thin teriyaki sauce. My companion is a serious tuna lover, so this dish excited her deeply. The teriyaki lightly cures the tuna as it sits and seasons the fish in a lighter, more balanced way than obliterating it with soy and wasabi.

 

In contrast, the tuna tempura is a slice of thinly battered tuna, cooked through. Usually cooking tuna all the way is a mistake, but it managed to remain moist. My companion remarks how this is the first time she has understood the phrase “chicken of the sea.” Another variation came in what Randy described as a tuna “mini-pizza,” a portion of spicy tuna served on top of a house-made rice cracker. It is reminiscent of beef tartare and, like a good tartare, the spiciness is balanced with sweetness.

The vegetarian side of the menu is large and the vegan and wheat-free dishes are all clearly marked. My personal favorite was the Yoko, a roll containing agedashi tofu and topped with inari. The warmth of the tofu contrasts with the sweetness of the inari, as do the two textures. This is a protein-rich vegetarian roll and very satisfying.

On the other hand, there was the Fat Elvis, a tempura-fried avocado, topped with teriyaki sauce and Japanese mayo. This is not a low-fat option, but it is creamy and decadent. The Berkeley, a roll containing tempura yam, avocado, and cream cheese, was the most familiar-tasting roll we tried. And then there was the spicy tofu salad, a dish with deep-fried tofu, glazed in a spicy, sweet dressing, served over tender greens. It was the type of dish I could easily have imagined seeing in a fusion bistro.

Obviously, this is not a standard sushi bar. Unlike every other sushi place I have visited, you cannot see the kitchen. This is decidedly a lounge-type atmosphere. It is the type of place you could sit and have a couple of beers rather than a cup of green tea. At one point, I hear a girl at the next table remark “I don’t usually like...” which is a sure sign of a pleasantly surprised diner. It seems to me that this phrase would come up a lot at the GP.

But the detail which perhaps represents the GP best is this: the soy sauce on the table, like the pickled ginger and wasabi on each plate, is totally redundant. We did not touch it at all. Each plate arrives at the table properly seasoned, so there is no need for further flavouring.

If there was one flaw in the meal, it would be the yam fries. The fries themselves are crispy and very well-prepared. However, the garnishes leave the dish feeling heavy. One the menu, it advertises them as garnished with a red pepper hollandaise, which I found to be a confusing choice. Not only did the sauce disintegrate by the time it reached our table, but it left the dish unusually heavy without conveying any of the delicate notes of hollandaise. The dish sorely lacked a shot of acidity, which could easily have been accomplished by serving it with a slice of lime, for example.

Overall, a few of the dishes would have benefitted from a bit of acidity to cleanse the palate and lighten up the meal. However, this is a relatively minor complaint. Overall, I can chalk up the flaws to the fact that the GP has only been open for a month, and is thus prone to a few growing pains.

The General Public is one of the places that I would definitely bring an out-of-town visitor who wanted to experience a truly Vancouver meal. With the prices and portion sizes, you could easily enjoy a full meal for $15 to $20.

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