Where do Japanese coming to Ulsan go for authentic Japanese-style sushi? Sushi Bar Haru, of course! Having been written up in Japanese travel magazines, Sushi Bar Haru has seen more than its share of Japanese tourists and business people come through its doors, all of whom have given owner Son Yeong “Brian” Jin two thumbs up for authenticity. Local fame hasn’t escaped Sushi Bar Haru, either as it has been featured on MBC and UBC here in Ulsan.
It’s not difficult to find a restaurant that serves raw fish in Ulsan, but quite often its either 흿 (“hwey”) style (raw fish in a spicy-sweet red pepper sauce) or just a heavily-Koreanized version of simple slices of fish on lumps of rice served with kimchi. Sushi Bar Haru has none of the Korean ambience and is as close to Japan as one can get without actually going there. From the extensive Sake wine list to the fresh-ground wasabi, you’ll swear you had already crossed the East Sea to Japan.
The decor features soft line pine woods and dark blue cloth coverings that give it a clean but warm and rich feeling. Guests have a choice of table and chairs, low table with floor seating or right at the sushi bar. Being tall and long-legged, I chose the table and chairs, for which my knees thanked me later.
For appetizers we had broiled snapper belly in a teriyaki glaze, scallops fins and abalone. The snapper belly was amazingly soft, the oily flesh making a nice landing spot for the rest of the fabulous meal.
My dining partner, Jared, and I both had a sampler platter of sushi for the main course. Having been to a number of Korean buffets where the tuna was a chewy pale pink, I was especially pleased with the blue fin tuna which was deep red and literally melted in my mouth. Instead of mae-sal, the Korean sushi fake crab, there were thick crab legs, shells carefully peeled back and teneciously strapped to a ball of rice. The eel, one of my favorites, did not disappoint either. Lightly broiled and painted with teriyaki glaze it was scrumptuous.
The tempura was quite good, too. Carefully arranged in a crown of colorful morsels, the shrimp and vegetables were served with a tangy soy, ginger and green onion dipping sauce.
We accompanied our meal with first the basic run-of-the-mill sake, served warm. One nice touch was the waitress gave us our choice of sake cups from a large tray of hand made and uniquely beautiful pieces. After the regular sake was gone, we moved upscale to a more expensive bottle of chilled sake. Although the sake was 100,000 won, the delicate purity and slightly sweet taste was heaven to anyone who has consumed the much harsher Korean rice wine of soju.
Brian, the owner of Sushi Bar Haru came by to give us the low down on his business. He’s been serving up Japan style sushi in Ulsan since 2002, his first restaurant having been no larger than a closet and a few blocks further south. Brian, an affable man with a good sense of humor, is fluent in English due to his having spent years in Toronto, Canada. He helpfully explained the nuances of various sake wines he carries and the types and portions of fish we were happily eating. Brian makes no bones about the high quality of his fare. He is not one to sacrifice quality and only the best is selected for his customers. This is definitely going to be one of my regular stops.
To get your own taste of Japan in Korea at Sushi Bar Haru, head to Samsandong. From the corner of Hyundai Department Store and the McDonald’s walk to the right of McDonalds and walk north thru the narrow alley along side the parking garage. Sushi Bar Haru is one block further north, across from ProuMedi Hospital’s rear entrance.