A year after they took over the shuttered Central Bar & Grill downtown, Allen Chen and Wayne Deng have finally unveiled their Itami Sushi restaurant.
The transformation from live music room to ultra-modern restaurant has been incredible — and expensive.
The nearly $1-million makeover of the property at 708 View St. was delayed for months because of permit issues and the massive undertaking of gutting and replacing every inch of space with everything new, including the kitchen.
But the end result is stunning. Itami opened March 11 and has had steady streams of customers who are a little overwhelmed at the changes — including the dark-wood finish and Japanese designs, slate floors, spot lighting and an ornate entry of curved ceilings and fascinating little bamboo fountain.
“It’s really quite something. I’m amazed at what they’ve done here,” said one diner this week as she looked over two dozen bouquets of flowers from well-wishers. “And you know, the food was really good, too. I’m really impressed.”
Itami is a bold move for Chen and Deng, who also operate the Chiba Sushi restaurant at the Hillside Avenue-Douglas Street intersection.
The new 130-seat restaurant isn’t just the biggest sushi place in Victoria — rivaling the popular Azuma on Yates Street — it’s also one of the largest restaurants in the city.
“We wanted to be downtown and we wanted a very special place,” said Deng. “We are happy that people really like it.”
The partners are enjoying a brisk business from the office and retail lunch crowd and say the dinner clientele is building as the word spreads. Early reviews on Urban Spoon, the Internet review site, has been positive with diners praising the food and prices.
Lunches range from $11 to $15 and dinners from $20 to $25.
“Some of the best sashimi — by far,” one blogger wrote. “Tuna tataki was wonderful, too. We go out for Japanese at least once a week and the food quality at Itami was very impressive.”
Another reviewer said: “I had a bento box that was absolutely massive and all the components were really good … I work about 10 paces away, which might be dangerous!”
Chen, 36, has been making sushi for 20 years, said fresh ingredients — including 20 varieties of seafood — are key to his diverse menu. He also said taste is essential and “much goes into the presentation.” All of his chefs have decades of experience.
The menu is huge with a variety of Bento boxes, appetizers, soups and salads, udon and soba noodle dishes, nigiri sushi, rolls, sashimi, dinner entrées and desserts.
Both Chen and Deng are long-time friends and came from China with their families more than 20 years ago.
The restaurant employs 30 staff.
Itami, by the way, is named after the Japanese city near Osaka International Airport and is one of the important sake-brewing cities in Japan. Some historians claim Itami was the place where seishu, clear sake, was invented. Itami serves seven varieties by the bottle as well as three kinds of Japanese beer.
Call 250-381-8868 or check itamisushi.com
© Copyright 2013