Yasu (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 81 Harbord Street
Website: http://www.yasu-sushibar.com/
Type of Meal: Dinner


Yasu tops my list for traditional sushi in Toronto. No, there's not going to be dynamite rolls but you will find a train of nigiri served piece-by-piece so each one is fresh and at the optimal temperature. Chris Nuttall-Smith, the Globe and Mail’s food critic, gave it a rave review. Nonetheless, I set my expectations low as the only point of comparison to Yasu I have is Jiro Roppongi (a two Michelin star restaurant in Japan where they live and breathe sushi).

I’m happy to say my expectations were blown away! To be fair, Jiro was still a better experience (the deftness/evenness of the fish slices, the flavouring of the rice and meticulous preparation of each ingredient). But, for less than half the price, Yasu was absolutely amazing! If Canada ever awarded Michelin ratings they would be at least a star.

With only two 12-person seatings per day (at 6pm and 8:30pm) space is limited. With the exception of a table for two, all other spots are located around a sushi bar so patrons can watch the two chefs prepare each piece in anticipation.


It’s an omakase menu ($80/person), meaning you essentially eat what you’re served.  They will inquire about allergies at the onset but I discourage visiting if you have aversions to seafood, rice or seaweed. We eagerly waited as the 18 pieces were crafted in front of us. Each prepared with a recommended amount of wasabi and sauce so once placed in front, all you need to do is try not to make a mess gobbling it down.

To begin striped jack (shima aji) a neutral white fish that was great to warm up the palette.


Next a beautifully coloured salmon (sake), which was lean so that the fish oil taste was not over whelming.


My husband and I both agreed the horse mackerel (aji) at Yasu was much crisper tasting than the ones we’ve had in Japan. So, if you’re normally turned off by the strong fish essence of mackerel you may still enjoy this.


A vibrant piece of marinated lean tuna (maguro) arrived next. It was just ever so lightly seasoned so that the delicate fish took on a bit of sweetness.


Yasu lightly blow torches their scallop (hotate) rather than serving it completely raw, helping to counteract the gummy texture.  Topped with just a pinch of yuzu pepper it was already spicy enough to warm up our mouths. I was so excited to eat it that I forgot to take a picture of the scallop in its fully dressed glory.


The fifth piece consisted of monk fish foie gras (ankimo) with shiso leaf. Another excellent combination with the creaminess from the liver balanced by the citrus basil element of the shiso leaf.


This was followed by a piece of sea bass (suzuki), another crisp, clean and mild fish which is a nice contrast after the richer liver.


Although the Chef removed the skin from the sardine (iwashi), this tends to be a fish that has a stronger taste. Luckily, Yasu tops it with some ginger and green onion to counteract the fishiness and make it milder.


The marinated salmon roe (ikura no shoyu zuke) was quite nice and served make-your-own hand roll style with a sprinkling of freshly grated lime zest. I appreciated the extra big piece of toasted nori to fully encapsulate all the roe so I could take smaller bites (with no fear of making a mess) and really enjoy the briny flavours. 


Indeed, the snow crab (zuwai gani) was good but, in my opinion, would have been better if the crab was boiled and removed from its shell just prior to serving. In the end, it lacked the sweetness that I expected from crab meat.


The following sea bream (tai) was soft and had a surprisingly creamy texture that was quite enjoyable.


Another piece of mackerel was served next (except not the horse version) so was more intensely flavoured. The large slice of pickled daikon and sprinkling of green onion helped to counteract its essence.


Fatty tuna (otoro) is always a treat. Yasu blow torched it to let out some of the oil’s essence and topped with freshly grated wasabi. An absolutely delicious piece of sushi.


After the rich otoro, the yellow tailed amber jack (buri) almost acted as a palette cleanser with its refreshingly light taste.


Another one of my favourite pieces of the night was the stunning looking lightly charred bonito (katsuo). The fish itself was delicious and fresh and had a kick to it from the pepper rub used.


Each individual was offered a tuna hand roll next. The seaweed (nori) was lightly toasted on the oven then filled with chopped tuna, shiso leaf and wasabi. It left my eyes watering and me breathing heavily to rid my nose of its burning sensation.

 

Sadly, I was too anxious to eat the eel (unagi) that followed and forgot to take a picture. Trust me when I say there was a nice big piece of it. It had been roasting on the grill during our dinner then topped with a thick sweet glaze complimenting the tender meat. I can still taste it now…

Our last piece of sushi was egg (tamago) without rice, a light and slightly sweet ending.


Yasu offers a choice of desserts at the end of the meal. The sesame ice cream was the popular choice amongst the diners that evening. It was delightful with a fluffy texture but still had an intense black sesame flavour.


Meanwhile, the green tea panna cotta was much richer and creamy. I enjoyed the addition of maple syrup drizzled on top as it added sweetness but also masked the subtle green tea flavour of the panna cotta itself. All in all, not a bad dessert.


Yasu’s drink menu is one area that can be improved. With only Chardonnay offered by the glass it presented limited options for single wine drinkers. My husband and I ordered beer instead (Asahi and Kirin) and they arrived in frosted glasses. He believes they were stored in the same fridge as the fish, as when it first arrived, he found a faint fish smell on his glass, but not something I noticed.

Do yourself a favour and make reservations soon before it becomes impossible. I was able to score our spots two weeks in advance but overhead the waitress telling another couple that smaller tables now have a month lead time and large seatings even more. If you want to eat traditional sushi the way it’s meant to be prepared, Yasu is definitely the place to visit in Toronto. 

Overall mark - 9.5 out of 10



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____________________________
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!


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