Kaito Sushi Omakase (Toronto)


Chef Donghwi Jang opened Kaito Sushi Omakase after working at Tachi and seeing how patrons seem to enjoy the omakase experience even in time-crunched situations. It’s an experience that’s now commonly found in Toronto: a small group of diners (8 at Kaito) sit around the bar and a chef makes the sushi piece-by-piece so that it’s eaten optimally. Some substitutions can be made if there’s an allergy, otherwise, you leave it all in the chef’s hands, literally.

Unlike many places, at Kaito the atmosphere is more casual. Chef Jang encourages conversation so of all the experiences, it was one where we conversed with the chef and fellow guests the most. Maybe it has something to do with the fish being pre-sliced and sitting in piles on the board. There’s not that same hush that falls over the crowd as a sharp knife is yielded and you watch as a piece of well-trimmed fish is deftly cut into even slices.

In fact, Chef Jang doesn’t seem to cut at all, rather you’re watching him assemble the sushi. To be fair, it’s similar to Tachi. Tachi just hides it better with an elevated table, which keeps the fish hidden, and chefs complete finishing touches on the protein so it seems like they’re actually cutting before presenting. I get it, you need all this prep work to keep the meal down to an hour, otherwise it’d be difficult to get diners through twelve pieces in such a short time ($55 a person at the time of the post, will be $65 starting September 2019).


A meaty piece of hotate begins the meal, the scallop fresh and sparsely garnished so it starts off as a light bite.


I rather enjoyed the quick torch the chef used on the madai, which helps warm the sea bream slightly bringing out the fish and wasabi flavours. Yet, I’d suggest scoring the skin around the fish to make it easier to bite through as it tends to be chewy cut.


Interestingly, the fatty otoro makes an appearance early on in the meal - it’s usually that flashy piece that chefs generally leave to the latter half. At Kaito, they’re heavier on the soy glaze, but it works and you certainly taste the flavourful fish.


Chef Jang followed this with two stronger mackerels. The aji’s consistency was a little soft for my taste and had a very fishy finish … I definitely consumed a number of pickled daikon after tasting this one, Kaito’s version of the pickled ginger.


Meanwhile, the sawa tasted cleaner, the Spanish mackerel augmented with a decent portion of wasabi and soy sauce to help balance the strong fish.


When a diner asked why Chef Jang decided to branch out to start an omakase restaurant, he replied that he thinks omakase is trendy right now. It’s an interesting thought, is omakase the next ramen or udon? One would hope not. No offense to the noodle makers, but being a sushi chef requires a more skillful hand and I certainly wouldn’t want any Joe Shmoe to open up an omakase restaurant. After all, to leave my palette and stomach to a chef, I need to have some level of trust for the person.

He also noted that he wants to do things differently and be too traditional. Some pieces in the latter half of the meal showcased this perfectly. Firstly, the tuna marinated in soy sauce so that the fish almost gets a ceviche feel, it was a tasty piece.


To break up the avante garde sushi, a piece of seared katsuo is served, the bonito nicely warmed and topped with green onion. It was good but could use more of the garnish.


Quite frankly, I would have liked more of Chef Jang’s creative concoctions. The next piece he removes from a cloche that was sitting on the counter since the beginning of the meal. In it lies pieces of salmon that although looks like any other raw salmon is actually smoked so it gets that lovely rich flavour, but without the heat so the fish’s texture doesn’t change.


The ikura is a refreshing piece to follow, served very cold so the salmon roe almost acts like a salty palette cleanser. I enjoyed this this progression after the smoked salmon.


The warm anago was delicate and tender, but there was too much of the sweet sauce slathered on top that the eel became lost. As a rice and sauce bite, I guess it tasted fine.


Chef Jang should consider closing the meal with the sashimi roll, a piece of neutral white fish rolled with crispy Asian pear to add a juicy sweetness, fish roe for saltiness, and a slightly spicy gochujang sauce. It’s an interesting bite filled with different flavours and would have ended his inventive menu perfectly.


Instead, the meals finishes similar to Tachi, with a temaki hand roll filled with chopped tuna with plenty of green onion. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a delicious piece, but switching this and the sashimi roll would have given a more impactful and memorable finish. After all, we’re not following tradition anyways!


Overall, the meal had some good pieces and others that could be improved. For the price ($55), it was a fair-valued omakase menu. Yet, despite the more comfortable environment (you actually get to sit at Kaito vs. the standing bar at Tachi) and the longer meal time (an hour instead of 30 minutes), what Kaito lacks service.

There were a couple of nitpicky things I noticed:
  • The prepping area around the bar wasn’t meticulously cleaned and wiped down as with other experiences. When there’s raw fish involved, I really would rather not see stray water and water spots around the counter.  
  • Something that perhaps doesn’t matter to everyone, but the wasabi is not the freshly grated version. For me, I’d rather pay an extra $5 to get a good quality condiment.
Moreover, the overall ordering and paying process is awkward. Instead of just listing all the specials at the beginning, Chef Jang announces somewhere during the third piece that they’re also offering uni for the night for an extra $18. It seems to put people on the spot and group think settles in as guests end up doing what the first outspoken person decides (none of us added this piece). 

Despite there being someone else at the restaurant during the ordering phase, Chef Jang cashes us out. Yet, instead of giving a printed receipt, he simply presents the paying terminal with the total already entered. After the first couple points out their total seems off (what he thought was tea was actually hot water), other patrons start asking for an itemized bill.

Lastly, the meal ends pretty abruptly, so you feel pressure to just pay and exit. This is despite half the restaurant being dedicated to a lounge area that’s supposed to be used post dinner so guests can enjoy tea and sweets. In fact, no one asks if we’d like dessert, which is listed on the menu… I just didn’t realize I’d have to order at the beginning. Instead, we paid and quickly trickled out so the group waiting outside could go in.

At Tachi, this hasty finish doesn’t matter as much given the restaurant is located in the General Assembly Hall - customers can easily get a dessert or drink from another vendor and settle into the communal seating area. When you’re located in a quiet area on St. Clair Avenue, it’s a bit of a letdown for people who want to make it a night.

In the end, the meal just isn’t as polished. So yes, perhaps omakase is gaining popularity, but it’s also an experience that requires a high level of hospitality and professionalism. As much as I enjoyed the imaginative new ideas for sushi that Chef Jang is creating, you can’t beat the warming cordiality of traditional Japanese dining.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1211 St. Clair Avenue West

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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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Adamson Barbecue (Toronto)


As the age old saying goes, “Things are bigger in Texas”. When it comes to Adamson Barbecue, this isn’t necessarily true… their parking lot only holds 16 vehicles, they prepare enough product for the day (often running out before closing), and the meat on the lunch plates is satisfying but definitely not American sized portions.

For groups of four or more, ordering sides by the container and meats by the pound are their suggested value option. Visiting with only two people, we decided to each get a lunch plate, which allows you to choose from one ($15), two ($20), or three ($25) meats, all arriving with two sides.


Two pieces of lean brisket and baby back ribs are freshly cut and placed on my tray. Is that it? It’ll be gone like that, there’s no way I can share! I thought.  One bite into the succulent smoked rib, as it melted into my mouth, had me wondering if it’d be inappropriate to suck every ounce of sauce and meat off the bone in a public forum. That baby back rib was the best I’ve ever had, which made it SO difficult to share the other.


Even their brisket impressed, although eat it first and quickly. The initial bites of the tender cut were surprisingly moist for what can sometimes be dry and crumbly. Liberal amounts of dry rub melded into the beef so that it forms a beautiful smoke ring and creates a flavourful brisket – sauce be damned. But, once left for 10 minutes and starts getting cold, the meat becomes noticeably drier so that some of the thin tangy sweet barbeque sauce is required.


If you don’t mind the cholesterol, ask for the fattier cut of brisket instead. Having portions of my husband’s, this definitely stayed succulent to the end. While there are some blubbery areas, the fat is soft and simply breaks apart to combine with the beef.


The slice of white bread, mild thinly shaved white onions, and crispy dill pickles went perfectly with the pulled pork allowing us to make our own sandwich. Of all the meats, it arrives in the largest portion, a good baseball size that definitely gave us our fill. Salty, smoky, and having a light pork flavour, it made for a satisfying last bite.     

There are plenty of sides to choose from and after looking through the station the kale Caesar and cornbread were the things that stood out. Other options include coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, fancy pickles, beans, and loaded potatoes (available weekend only).


Kale is kale, but the cornbread is king. Moist, cakey, and just slightly sweet, it almost felt like a dessert to end the barbeque. Plus, it’s a side that’s perfect for wrapping to go (even without the Texas size portions a lunch plate is difficult to finish) and tastes great the next day.

I get the love and why people line up early for a taste of Adamson Barbecue, it really is that good. To be fair, I have yet to visit Texas to sample the smoked meats of the South, but really how much better can it get?

While most people rave about their brisket, the baby back ribs is what earned the golden star for me. Adamson does it low and slow in a wood burning oven and keeps everything warmed until it is cut-to-order. With barbeque this good, I’ll stay out of the states just a little longer.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 176 Wicksteed Avenue

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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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Adamson Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chotto Matte (Toronto)

Nikkei is a term that describes Japanese people who live outside of Japan. In the food world, the word is also synonymous with Japanese Peruvian cuisine, which combines both countries’ love for seafood with traditional ingredients found in each culture (miso soy with Inca corn anyone)?

There’s also the tried and true sushi. Chotto Matte dresses it up Nikkei style ($28) by topping the seafood with elements like aji Amarillo (a hot pepper), black garlic, and truffle. Traditional condiments like yuzu also make an appearance to give the sushi a burst of freshness. The tuna, salmon, and yellowtail were all delicious; the scallop even better.


Most of the tuna tartare found in Toronto is made from the lean and vibrant Albacore tuna. Chotto Matte serves their’s ‘o-toro’ ($23), the fattier cut releasing a flavourful rich bite. Just make sure to get to the bottom of the dish where you’ll find sweet soy with a hint of wasabi, it’s where you’ll find the flavours. Yet, the dish really needs something like toasted nori as an accompaniment: to add a textual contrast against the soft tuna and act as a chip to eat the tartare from.


For the price, I was surprised to only see one shrimp spring roll ($14.50) arrive, but I guess it was a really really tasty one. Filled with succulent pieces of nobashi shrimp and shiitake, a shisho leaf is layered with the wrapper adding a citrusy herbal taste.


The kitchen made a terrible decision serving the barriguita de chanchito ($18.50) and gambas huacatay ($29) together. The pork belly is such a powerful bite having been marinated in a salty and spicy aji panca and aji amarillo chilli sauce … it reminds of a fattier deep fried chorizo.  Biting into the rock shrimp tempura afterwards tastes like eating plain batter. The gambas are said to be accompanied by mint and butter ponzu, but the dish seemed like overly soft tempura batter with what could be pieces of diced shrimp mixed into it.


From the robata, the pollo den miso ($21) is surprisingly tasty for a dish that’s really just grilled chicken. The miso glaze gives the dish flavour without rendering it overly sweet like teriyaki, while the yellow chili salsa bring in the Latin flavours of Peru. In the end, it’s also that lovely charcoal smoky aroma of the robata that ties everything together.


Peruvian fried rice is one of my favourites - the arroz chaufa ($9.50) is a bowl that needs to conclude each meal. Each kernel of rice infused with spicy soy and augmented by bits of herbs that adds a lovely freshness to an otherwise heavier dish. The bits of crusted rice strewn throughout creates a lovely toasted aroma and enough texture that the hard corn nuts are really redundant and frankly really annoying to bite into.


Chotto Matte brings a westernized version of the cuisine to Toronto (original outposts can be found in London and Miami). But then, it’s not trying to hide that it’s not authentic - the Andy Warhol like dining room and the black light bathrooms are a dead giveaway. It’s a place to be seen, shout over loud music, and sample Nikkei cuisine in the safety of corporate Toronto.

Indeed, the Brookfield Place address brings with it high price points. Luckily, Chotto Matte is offering Toronto Life Insiders a 50% discount off of food items from now until early December, just by showing the membership card. If you’re going to visit with a large group, the membership will likely pay for itself, especially using the discount code below. Note: amounts listed in this post are the regular menu prices.  

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

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How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 161 Bay Street

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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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Chotto Matte Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cano Restaurant (Toronto)



Cano is one of those cozy Italian restaurants I wish was part of my neighbourhood. Living in the York Mills and Lawrence Park area, we have our fair share of great places slinging pasta and pizza, but Cano does both just a touch better.

Let’s start with the crust on the burratina pizza ($25), which is thin and chewy, everything I look for in pizza. It’s cooked until a golden crust develops that despite being covered by a generous layer of tomato sauce, remains crispy and holds up with one hand.  Then the toppings: having the sauce, cheese, and basil combination, it’s like a margherita but elevated with the dollops of creamy burrata dusted with black Maldon salt. The tomato sauce is fresh versus tangy and with a liberal drizzle of olive oil, even the bites with no cheese or basil still tastes magnificent.


Their pasta is also solid. The rigatoni annata ($20) a substantial mound of perfectly done pasta in a vodka rose sauce swirled with shallots, pecorino and pancetta. It’s similar to a carbonara but the creaminess tempered with a bit of the tomato’s acid. In fact, the sauce was so good I wiped my plate with bits of pizza crust to ensure it didn’t go to waste.


Visit on Tuesday or Wednesday and you’ll also receive half a dozen oysters free with any bottle of wine. It’s appeared to be a deal that most tables participated in, including us, where six freshly shucked St. Simon oysters arrived lacking none of the traditional cocktail sauce, onion mignonette, and fresh horseradish fixings. And a bottle of wine on a weekday... what can be more Italian?


Every bite was tasty to the finish. Their tiramisu ($10) is a good rendition of the popular dessert, done traditionally with plenty of espresso and creamy mascarpone flavours. A bit more of the lady fingers and lighter sprinkling of the unsweetened cocoa powder would have made it even better.


Yet, it’s the panna cotta ($9) that was the hit. The silky vanilla bean base so creamy and luscious it feels like you’re having tapioca pudding without the tapioca, but there’s just enough gelatin allowing the dessert to scoop easily into a spoon. Oh, and that drizzle of salted caramel? What a great finish.


In hindsight, it’s actually a blessing that Cano isn’t located a short walk down the street. The food is so comforting and delicious that I don’t think I’d have the willpower to not visit regularly. In that case, my waistline would definitely suffer from their close proximity.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1108 St. Clair Avenue West

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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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CANO Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Xango (Toronto)


To see Chef Claudio Aprile in real life is a treat. To get to preview Xango’s menu before it opens made the occasion even more special. By being a Toronto Life Insider Member, I had the opportunity to dine at the restaurant before dinner service commences on September 18th and know that Claudio was actually inside the kitchen. My mouth would taste the food his hands touched!



For someone who’s about to showcase a whole new menu, he’s calm and collected. Claudio explains that he loves the opportunity to cook food his own way and with his own flavours. Having dined at his other establishments - Colborne Lane, Origin, and Copetin – Xango certainly differs from the rest and is perhaps closest to Uruguay cuisine, the Chef’s native country.


Of all his restaurants, he felt this was his “riskiest” as Peruvian flavours are relatively under represented and through Xango he hopes to push Torontonians to try new things. While it’s a noble thought, I’m don’t necessarily agree as there are already tons of mainstream Peruvian restaurants (Kay Pacha, Mira, Baro, and Chotto Matte). Plus, being part of the Liberty Group means there’s a lot of financial and corporate muscle behind the restaurant, not exactly risky. Regardless, if it helps expand the culture palette of the city, I’m supportive.

Family style dishes came out in quick succession following the short opening speech. We’re warned that not all these items will make the final menu and that we should vote for our favourites of the evening. Ask and you shall receive. Here are some of the top picks from each category for me:

Starter – The crispy thin tostones topped with black bean and salsa with a drizzle of crema and silky queso fresco was delicious. A quick two bites that works great to warm up the taste buds or for passed nibbles. With a bit more seasoning, it’d be even better.


Raw + Salads – I loved the big chunks of tuna in the ceviche. Along with watermelon, avocado, and daikon, it’s a great dish showcasing the mix of Latin and Asian flavours that’s popular with Peruvian cuisine. And those nori chips, yum! Such a good idea.


Even the simple tomato and avocado salad impressed. Intuitively, I wouldn’t have thought seaweed would work with tomato, but it actually sets off the fruit nicely and the kalamansi dressing adds a bit of acid without things becoming too sour.



Robata – We all swooned over the lamb chops that were cooked to perfection, simply seasoned with sweet chili. This has to be a keeper. Their octopus was also delicious brushed with a sweet soy so the meaty tender pieces has a wonderful balanced smoky flavour.



Large Dishes – Sadly, one of the dishes, the scallop, never made it to our table, despite numerous follow-up attempts. So, if I had to choose between the beef and chicken, beef generally is a top choice.  Like the lamb, the striploin is cooked to perfection – whoever is manning the meat grilling station is amazing. But, the fishy flavour from the encebollado really threw me off and doesn’t work with the steak unlike surf and turf. At the same time, I appreciate Xango’s attempt to push people out of their comfort zone and introduce an atypical combination of flavours. Maybe fishy beef is something I’ll grow to love.



Extras – In my haste to get some vegetables into the system, I forgot to snap a pic of the grilled and wokked gilan. The leafy Chinese green is elevated with a quick grill before being tossed with chili crisps. This works nicely as a side with the large dishes.

Sweet – To be fair there was only one dessert for the evening, yet it was all the table needed. A shallow dish of luscious coffee and milk chocolate pudding arrives with cinnamon dusted buñuelo (a fried tortilla) to dip into it. It’s a lighter alternative to churros, but still has that same satisfying end that you want with the meal.



There were some dishes that could be great, it just needs a tweak:

Overall, I really enjoyed the flavours in the spring rolls filling, which combined sweet shrimp and light maitake mushrooms. Yet, the filling’s paste consistency means the spring roll wrapper has to be crispier to provide a better contrast. Perhaps the more fluid filling is causing the wrapper to get soggy, so a layer of nori between the shrimp paste and wrapper may help to keep things crunchy.



While the halibut ceviche is such a pretty dish, arriving in halved coconut, it tastes bland since it’s really just a combination of mild fish with coconut milk. I’d imagine a hit of chili and something with texture, like Inca corn kernels, would help add pizazz to the dish.



The chimmichurri goes nicely with the whole roasted hen, but the actual fowl was overcooked. It could come down to the piece chosen or the difficulties with serving a whole bird to so many tables within a short time frame, but after the impressive lamb chops and steak, a dry bird is not how you want to end the night.



Most shishito peppers are grilled; at Xango they’re battered and fried like tempura. So while it’s tasty, I wouldn’t classify it under the “extras” sections, which to diners may seem like side dishes. It’s simply too heavy to be an accompaniment, but as a “starter” it works.



Lastly, if these dishes never made it to the final menu, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

For a dish the menu describes as being garnished with a caramelized peanut sauce, the crispy squid is oddly sour and lacks nutty flavours. I get it, calamari is a safe corporate option. But, it’s also on so many menus across the city that if it’s not fantastic, why even bother.



While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the skewer of chorizo, shitake, and pickled peppers, there’s nothing exciting about it as well. Literally, if tastes like you’re eating a mushroom, than chorizo, a pepper, and ending off with another mushroom. Is the progression of ingredients or combination really memorable or important? Not really.




In the end, it feels a little strange to be judging a Master Chef judge. After all, he’s the one that critiques the creations of so many hopefuls and offers suggestions in his calm friendly manner. Here’s hoping my thoughts came though as rationally as Chef Claudio himself. And to Master Chef Canada, if you ever need a judge, my services are always available. 
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Email me if you join and let me know the next event you'll be attending. Maybe we can meet in person!

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 461 King Street West

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this: