Gyuniku Maki at Ken’s Japanese Restaurant in Ottawa
I have mentioned the now defunct Ken’s Japanese Restaurant a number of times in other posts. Back when it was open, it was a pretty decent place to eat down in Ottawa’s Byward Market. It wasn’t a high-end place, and sometimes you might get served a dish that wasn’t the best, but mostly the food was pretty good. The Gyuniku Maki, or Beef Rolls, you see pictured above pretty much encapsulate the overall dining experience at Ken’s insofar as they were a bit flawed, but otherwise enjoyable.
There are many styles of Gyuniku Maki Beef Rolls, and most Japanese Restaurants will feature one version or another. One common form is the Negimaki, in which sliced beef is rolled around sections of Green Onion (Negi), and another favorite version has the rolls stuffed with Enoki Mushrooms. Other roll fillings might be asparagus, or even a mixture of vegetables, and, usually, the rolls are glazed, and served with a Teriyaki style sauce of Soy Sauce, Mirin and Sugar. The Beef Rolls at Ken’s, on this occasion, were filled, albeit sparsely, with both Scallion and Enoki.
Turning to the least impressive qualities of the dish first, I have to say that the presentation, as well as the quantity and quality of the filling were less than optimal. In all fairness, Ken’s was more of an Izakaya style of joint, rather than a Kaiseki Restaurant, so a more down-market level of plating and presentation is to be expected. As for the filling, however, this was a bit chintzy, with just a single piece of scallion, and only a few Enoki Mushrooms, which were stringy and tasteless. The issue with those may have been sourcing, but I also think they were not sufficiently cooked and could have been improved if braised in stock before being rolled.
On the plus side, the beef and sauce were excellent. The slices of beef used in Gyuniku Maki need to be relatively thin and it can be tricky cook the properly them without having them dry out during the process. Here, Ken’s managed to brown them nicely on the outside, yet still leave the meat tender and succulent. It was also apparent that the Chef used his Soy, Mirin sauce to deglaze the pan and this allowed for a terrific beefy-richness to come through. Overall, sparse filling and clumsy plating aside, these were very good.