Sake Bar Kushi (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 257 Eglinton Avenue West
Website: http://sakebarkushi.ca/
Type of Meal: Dinner



Now this is what I expect from an izakaya – semi closed off tables allowing patrons to get a little rowdy. Loud enough so that you feel you don’t need to whisper yet quiet enough so you can still talk and unhurried service so you feel comfortable getting multiple rounds of drinks. 

Sake Bar Kushi proves that you can still get the izakaya experience without having staff members constantly scream at the top of their lungs; we were greeted in unison by a couple of people as we entered and left and personally I felt this was more than enough. Moreover, they should be recognized for their willingness to take reservations, which makes visiting with larger groups easier.  Really, isn’t that the whole point of an izakaya – an easy-going casual atmosphere to hang around and drink?

With 30 bottles of sake to choose, drinking can easily be accomplished. With prices ranging from $9 to $380 per bottle, there’s selections for all.  Staying at the lower end of the spectrum, we ordered the Kinmon ($24) which was dry and light tasting, great for sake novices like ourselves. Afterwards, we continued on the night with pitchers of Sapporo which were only $19 each.


In terms of food, there were some hits and misses but with such an extensive menu (literally four different ones) we likely could have missed their house specialties. To begin, we ordered a round of skewers to go with the sake.  The majority of them being offered were grilled (yakitori) rather than the deep fried kushi I was expecting. This just seems a bit strange given kushi is in their name, but to be honest, I wasn’t that involved with ordering the skewers so we could have misunderstood the options.

The yakitori selection arrived with negimi or chicken with green onions ($2), hotate or scallop ($4.20), shrimp ($3.50) and buta bara or pork belly ($2.60). Note: prices are per skewer. To be honest, none of them were impressive as they were a tad over cooked (especially the scallop).  The pork belly was extremely fatty and could have benefited from being breaded and deep fried. 


The katsu ($2.80) or deep fried breaded chicken was spot on - juicy and succulent with the right amount of flavor from the tonkatsu sauce. If only all the skewers were this delicious! Considering it was the best skewer of the night, Sake Bar Kushi should consider dedicating more of their menu to kushi. We also got a single sausage ($1.80), that I didn't try, but judging by my friends’ comments it appeared mediocre. 


Not in the mood for their set dinner ($37 a person), we ordered a mix of tapas to share. The first dish to arrive, the tuna tataki ($11), was an amazing start and my favourite of the meal. Lightly seared so that a thin ring circled the fish, the tuna was fresh and just flavoured enough from the ponzu and garlic chips without being overpowered. A bed of grated radish laid below and added a fresh crunchiness to contrast the tender tuna. 



The lobster roll ($13) was decent with pieces of meat rolled in rice and more lobster on top. The meat itself was rather bland and lacked the natural sweetness you’d expect, so any flavouring came from the spicy mayo and soy sauce topping it. All in all, it was good enough but rather tame for something that features lobster. 


Meanwhile, the kaki fry or deep fried oysters ($6) was better. What appeared to be freshly shucked oysters had a seafood essence to it and benefited from being just lightly breaded. Served with tartar sauce it is a simple but tasty dish and quite good for the price. 


Continuing with the ups and downs, the grilled pork ($11) was poorly executed. I found it so over cooked that it became tough and barely edible; sadly, the quality reminded me of some barbequing experiences I’ve had where I’ve left pork chops on the grill and forgot about them. Given its sole flavor came from salt (even then there wasn’t much of this), little could be done to improve the dish. 


The most disappointing dish of the night was the gindara or grilled cod ($11). Perhaps it’s because this is generally one of my favourite dishes, I eat it often and have high hopes. Sake Bar Kushi’s was overcooked, bland and slightly bitter from being burnt. That tender, flaking apart, buttery texture I’ve come to expect was nowhere to be found. 


As long as you’re not squeamish about tentacles, the kadako karaage or deep fried baby octopus ($11) may be a tasty option. Given they used baby octopus it was tender and an interesting combination between the soft chewiness of the body and the crispy tentacles. 


The last dish we ordered, kimchi pork ishiyaki bibimbap ($14), ended off the night quite well. The heated stone bowl was a flavourful cacophony of ingredients and sauce, which thankfully helped mask the overdone pork. I’ll admit, it’s not the best bibimbap I’ve ever had, but compared to some of the other dishes we had that night was a pleasant ending. 


After the food, we decided to stay for more beers and as the night went along the chef presented us with two complementary dishes. The first, a salmon tempura topped with greens, was very nice. The cooked salmon was tender and covered with a light crispy coating. Tons of chopped scallions topped the fish and really brightened up the dish.  Even the sweet and sour type sauce was a nice change compared to the mostly mayonnaise based ones from earlier dishes.


The second, a take on poutine expect without the gravy, was a miss. The fries, although made fresh with potatoes, were limp and slightly hard and needed to be double fried. Since there was no sauce, the melted cheese was congealed and hard by the time it reached the table. Even so, we appreciated the chef’s gesture at giving us the dish and ate most of it. The waitress advised us the fries weren’t part of their regular menu; some changes should be made before its ever added on.


Our waitress for the night was extremely nice and pleasant to be around. The dinner brought me back to memories of dining in Japan where my experiences with service are similar - attentive, respectful and always doing everything they can to ensure the customer is pleased.

Overall, although not all the dishes we had were spectacular, there were some good ones including the tuna tataki, katsu kushi and salmon tempura. Generally, I found the grilled dishes poorly executed (primarily on account of everything being overcooked), so would suggest ordering the fried, stone bowl or stir fried items instead. However, it’s the overall experience that shines through. Maybe one day the chef will adjust the cooking time for some of their dishes and the experience can be improved that much more.


Overall mark - 7 out of 10


Like the blog? You can now follow me on twitter for notifications - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog

____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Sake Bar Kushi on Urbanspoon