Konjiki Ramen (Toronto)


There’s no shortage of ramen restaurants in Toronto, but Konjiki Ramen is the first international eatery that arrives with a Michelin status. It first started out as a Bib Gourmand pick, essentially being certified as a good deal for the price, but in 2019 Chef Atsushi Yamamoto’s Tokyo location, Konjiki Hototogisu, was finally awarded a much sought after star.

So much of Japan cuisine showcases ingredients prepared in a delicate form to preserve its natural flavours. Ramen is where things start to deviate as rich stocks are combined with a host of other ingredients to create a bowl bursting with flavours. Chef Yamamoto goes one step further adding even more enhancements (lobster, wagyu, and even truffle) to create really luxurious bowls.

One spoon of their tonkotsu ($13 at North York and $14 downtown) broth and you’ll taste the difference. Their menu explains that it’s made with vast amounts of bones, skins, and other portions of the pig cooked at extremely high temperatures for a long time … the entire process taking two days.


The first sip of the broth blew me away, it has this deep richness that pulls you in and finishes with an almost earthy twist. Of course, it’s also immensely creamy, to the point I’m beginning to think that there must be dairy in it. If there was ever a cream of pork soup, Konjiki’s would make the list.

There’s even a smoky black ($14) version of the tonkotsu taking it one step further adding roasted garlic oil, and smoked cherry tomatoes and ground pork into the mix. Indeed, there’s a smokiness to it, but not to the point that you think you’re dining in the Southern USA, it still tastes like ramen.


Meanwhile, their shio clam broth ($14) ramen is on the other side of the spectrum where pork is combined with clams and chicken to create a clearer base. There is a lightness to the soup, but still an umami essence throughout the broth thanks to the porcini paste and white truffle oil. Even so, these stronger fungi flavours show restraint so that it’s not necessarily the first thing you taste. The bowl is interestingly paired with chopped arugula, basil, red onions, and pea shoot stems to give it a really fresh element as well.


The clam broth garnishes were better chosen than the tonkotsu, which include the traditional scallion, pickled vegetables, and braised bamboo shoot. But, then the regular tonkotsu includes pickled ginger and the smoky version some smoked cherry tomatoes that were both so overpowering that I had to pick them out.

Add a red wine onsen egg ($1.50) to really finish the experience. It’s left whole and the yolk cooked through but still slightly fluid. As you bite into it, the slightly warm molten centre covers the tongue.

In the end, all the bowls were flavourful but not salty, rich but not oily. Konjiki’s noodles are also what you want with ramen, there’s no choice, all arriving fairly thick so they retain a lovely chewiness. Just the way I like it.


Their chashu (sliced pork) is the only thing that makes me pause. It’s certainly tender from being sous vide, but paired with the clam broth seems to have a strong pork aroma that’s not the greatest. I do like the peppercorn rub along the edges, which give it some extra flavour. Perhaps, a bit more of the spice would help to neutralize the porky aroma.

With so much protein, their vegetable spring rolls ($5.50) is a nice way to start the meal. They are the best meatless spring rolls I’ve tasted - the filling made from julienned tofu, bamboo shoot, celery and mushroom creates a lovely combination. Although they are not overly large, the wrapper is kept thin so the vegetables flavours are front and centre. It’s paired with a mango sauce that I can’t say I love, but is a nice change from the typical sweet Thai that’s so thick and sugary.



With every visit to Konjiki, there’s a new taste to experience. Alas, I know I’ll have to eventually return during the week as Mondays and Tuesdays are when their downtown location has a special wagyu option and Wednesday a lobster bowl in North York. With their regular menu offering already such powerful flavours, just how much more intense can it get?

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 5051 Yonge Street and 41 Elm 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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Dasha (Toronto)


A big thank you to my friend Parv for these amazing photos. Her phone's fancy.
Chef Akira Back is steering away from his Korean upbringing and the Japanese restaurants he’s founded towards another part of the Orient: China. Dasha has an impressive dining area, the bright neon bar situated in the middle of a spacious room creates the feeling that you’re eating outdoors… just in a really comfortable environment. Opening in time for the holiday season was smart as the restaurant will undoubtly be a popular destination for holiday parties with their shareable plates and private karaoke rooms on the second floor.


If you ask for advice on the menu, you’ll probably be steered towards the standard safe options – dishes like Peking duck and salt & pepper shrimp. If you don’t normally eat Chinese food, I agree, these are tried-and-true dishes that will likely delight. But, they are also options you can get anywhere, so it’s the less known rendition of these dishes we wanted to try.

Since Dasha’s ducks are what they’re known for, we definitely had to try the fowl. Instead of Peking duck, we opted for the black truffle version ($45) instead. It was an impressive dish: the duck still roasted with that lovely crispy skin like the Peking dish, but then it’s enhanced with a black truffle duck jus poured tableside so the fowl’s richness also gets an earthy umami essence. There’s even a couple of black truffle shavings placed on top.


This was a fantastic dish that was the highlight of the meal. If only there was more of it, the small portion was best suited to be shared amongst two people. In general, Dasha’s dishes are diminutive so you’ll need at two per person with a side to satisfy.

In lieu of the salt & pepper shrimp, we went for the wasabi prawns ($14). The battered deep fried shrimp is tossed with a mild wasabi crema so there’s a faint taste of the condiment without stinging the nose. A great way to start and a tasty starter.


While the smoked ribs ($19) lacked smokiness, it’s nonetheless a decent dish. Immensely tender ribs – the meat can barely hold together on a fork – is stewed in a slightly sweet sauce and then rolled in panko crust so that it covers the sauce and gives the pork texture. The coating also helps protect your fingers a bit if you give up on cutlery all together and resort to your hands.


The nest adorning the angry chicken ($16) plate is a cute idea but the ingredients used to build up the nest isn’t necessarily the tastiest … the traditional shaved taro still does it best. I was also expecting a lot more spice for a something that’s described as being Szechuan. Instead, the heat is so subdued that the only way you get any spice is if you actually eat the bits of chili rendering the dish fairly forgettable.


To round out the meal, we added on a number of sides including green beans ($11), which is quickly stir fried with garlic and chili so that it’s flavourful without being all shriveled or too oily. I liked that it wasn’t overly cooked and added an element of freshness to the meal.


The seafood fried rice ($13) was rather disappointing, essentially plain soy sauce fried rice with bites of green onion served in a mound with dried scallop on top – it’s almost like XO sauce but less exciting and flavourful.


Go for the chow fun ($14) instead, the rice noodles well-tossed so that there’s plenty of wok hay and there’s some small sweet prawns and crunchy bean sprouts thrown in for contrast.


Dasha’s service is friendly and hospitality seemed to be top of mind for some elements – the manager came by to make sure we weren’t cold with the doors opening and closing.  At the same time, they also seem to unnecessarily rush people out of the restaurant. As soon as we sat down the two hour warning was announced, which is a well-known and understandable practice, but should also be followed only if necessary.

Two instances stood out with my experience, the first being the hyper attentiveness of clearing dishes. During the first hour, it was done as things were finished, but since the dishes were the shrimp, duck and pork ribs, these tend to be consumed at a quicker pace.

For the second half, when the sides were the main things arriving, it became annoying as people came around on a couple of occasions trying to clear plates that still had food on it. This made us stop the conversation and attempt to divvy up the rest of the food before we were ready. Chinese food is notorious for being eaten family style, so just leave the semi-finished item there and bring on the next dish… there’s no need to have things cleared away before the next plate arrives.

The second instance was at the end of dinner. Despite having over half an hour left to the two-hour window, no one came by to offer us dessert menus (turns out there isn’t one) or to see if we wanted anything else. Finally, with 20 minutes remaining, we ask our waitress if there’d be enough time for a round of cocktails. The dining room seemed to only be half occupied, so we thought we could buy ourselves an extra 15 minutes.

We’re advised that there wasn’t enough time, but that we could sit at the bar. Personally, I would have handled it differently by suggesting they could bring over the cocktails, but in the event the table was required, they would move us to the bar at that point. This ensures they get the extra margins and keeps diners happy. Really, for an establishment who just had the manager come around to make sure we were warm enough, hospitality seems to only be warm during a two hour window.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 620 King Street 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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Goa Indian Farm Kitchen (Toronto)


My first job was at Bayview Village at the Bakery Garden Café (now turned into Tabule). Once a fairly homogenous mall with eateries serving mostly sandwiches, pizza, and burgers; the strip of restaurants by the O&B entrance has gotten a diversity makeover. A new addition to the fold is Goa Indian Farm Kitchen, the more upscale and polished restaurant by Hemant Bhagwani (also known for Amaya and Indian Street Food).

Lunch is a great time to gather a group for a visit: their lunch combination ($23.95) offers a choice of appetizer and main. Just be mindful of their advice - our waiter noted the starters are not shareable and are made for one person. In reality, the appetizer sizes are substantial and even the short rib samosa arrives as large as a baseball cut into two. So, listen to your gut and get a bunch of appetizers to share.

For us, we made the mistake of taking the waiter’s advice and ordering two portions of the saffron eggplant. Sure, they’re tasty, like shoestring fries made from eggplant, but since the vegetable soaks up oil, they start to feel heavy after half a dozen. I would have much rather alternated between the eggplant and the rawa pakoras as well.


The sriracha chilli cauliflower is exactly as it sounds: bit sized florets deep fried and tossed in a spicy sweet sauce. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the dish, it’s also not terribly exciting and lacks any Indian flavours.


Luckily, I got my fill of exotic spices from the Goan seafood curry main (additional $4.98), a combination of jumbo prawns, scallop, tiliapia, and mussel cooked to perfection. For those who prefer milder curries, this sauce is ideal with the coconut base enhanced by just a tiny bit of chili, adding flavour without massive amounts of heat. In fact, the sweet onion, tomato, and coconut milk tastes are what really comes through. Unlike their appetizers, the main dish portions are better suited for one person.


Combos arrive with basmati rice dressed up with onion frizzles, chick peas, and a bit of wild rice for colour and texture. While this was more than enough food – we had leftovers – we had to add butter naan ($4), a hot airy soft bread glistening with butter. Too bad we had to remind them about it after we were already halfway through our meals.


While you could enjoy lunch with cocktails and wine, it was the vegan mango lassi ($7) that filled in as a drink and dessert. It’s as thick as it gets, but absolutely delicious made with a coconut and soy milk base and tons of mango throughout. Sweetened with maple syrup and dusted with cardamom powder and pistachios it’s a small but tasty glass.



Even during the weekend it wasn’t overly busy at Goa Indian Farm Kitchen, which allowed us to stay longer and catch up. Of course, being situated in a mall, we could also run errands around the meal. For me, just being in Bayview Village brought back a sense of nostalgia, it was the place where I earned my first dollar.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 2901 Bayview Avenue (in Bayview Village)

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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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Goa Indian Farm Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Virtuous Pie (Toronto)


Vegan pizzas don't typically excite me - the dough is hard and the cheese too gooey. Yet, Virtuous Pie had my friend raving about how good they were … and she has had A LOT of vegan products. So, if I was going to tuck into a completely plant-based pizza, it might as well be at one of the best.

Unlike some other establishments, Virtuous Pie isn’t trying to remake a traditional pepperoni pie in a cheese-free and meatless form. Instead, they reinvent pizzas with flavourful vegetarian ingredients and get rid of the vegan cheese all together using a creamy cashew “mozzarella” that’s drizzled on like sauce.

Take the Stranger Wings ($15), where the chicken is not the mock version but rather deep fried cauliflower nuggets tossed in a slightly sweet and fairly spicy Buffalo sauce. Scallions and a “blue cheese” dressing , which tastes uncannily like ranch, is sprinkled on top so that you get a hit of spice and creaminess. Fried shallots and scallions sprinkled over everything for a fresh oniony finish. Of all the pizzas, it was the most flavourful.


Their Superfunghi ($14) uses a base of wild mushrooms that when toasted creates a meaty quality. There’s a light drizzle of cashew mozzarella, herbed potato cream, and a truffle ricotta, leaving the peppery arugula to become another prominent flavour. This pizza was a favourite of the table and adding a few drops of their chili oil (warning, use sparingly) elevates the pie to a whole new level.




Sadly, the Street Corn ($14), a version that seems tasty on paper, was the most disappointing of the bunch. The menu simply makes it sound so tempting: garlic paprika butter, feta, cashew mozzarella, and charred corn? Sign me up! But, the corn is so chewy and gummy that they actually sticks to your teeth, not unlike those dreaded caramel squares from Halloween.


While I don’t know why the corn’s texture is so sticky, my hypothesis is that Virtuous Pie uses frozen corn and the garlic butter, when baking, starts to semi fry and dry the kernels. I’d suggest switching to a canned variety and sprinkling the corn onto the pizza after it’s cooked, like arugula. The pizza is also nothing like the punchy Mexican street corn, it’s in desperate need of seasoning – even if it’s just more salt, or better yet, a smoky Cajun dressing.

In the end, their pizzas may be better described as flatbread topped with flavourful toppings. Crusts come in regular or gluten free form and surprisingly the later form is what impressed the table.



While the gluten free version does look like a crispy cracker, behind the crunch there’s also a bit of chewiness.  Meanwhile, the regular crust’s air pockets makes it look fluffy, but bite through the dough and you’re met with a dense hard crust that’s oddly similar to the gluten-free varieties of delivery pizza.

Virtuous Pie offers a seasonally changing variety of vegan ice cream, so a flight of three scoops ($8) finished the meal. Although the saffron rose water sounded exotic, the saffron was so overpowering that there’s no rosewater essence and it’s like eating a savoury ice cream with whole pistachios thrown in. It’s definitely an acquired taste, one that no one in our table of five enjoyed… my friend described it best when she noted it tastes like chlorine.



Of the three scoops, I enjoyed the Thai tea the most. While there was a bit of grittiness in texture, it’s at least more accurately described and tastes delicious. The bourbon vanilla was the creamiest of the bunch, but alas lacked any bourbon flavours. All in all, Virtuous Pie’s ice cream needs an overhaul and like the pizza, show me the flavours!

For an after work bite, order before 5:30pm and they offer great happy hour specials with $2 off many pizzas, house wine, and their ice cream flights. Everyone is oh so friendly and accommodating, even suggesting we put in the dessert orders ahead of time to secure the deal.

I’d be lying if I said Virtuous Pie is one of the better pizzas I’ve had – there are ton that stand above it. But, for the vegan variety, I haven’t tasted anything better.


Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 611 College Street

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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Buddhist Vegetarian Kitchen 佛海齋廚 (Toronto)


My first taste of Chinese vegetarian cuisine was from Buddhist Vegetarian Kitchen, a cozy casual restaurant tucked in a dated but nonetheless well-trafficked plaza in Scarborough. Things have changed: lunches were busier in my childhood, whereas on a recent visit there was no wait despite it being the weekend; and things were drenched in oil, while now they show restraint.

What stayed constant is their low prices and simple but satisfying dishes. Do not visit without getting a plate of the vegetarian “dim sum” (the small pictured for $4.50), which is deceiving as it’s not really the steamed dumplings synonymous with dim sum. Rather, they are pieces of gluten and tofu, prepared in different manners (braised, fried, steamed) and flavoured with various sauces (sweet soy, curry, sweet and sour) all served warm to munch on at the beginning of the meal. This is the “it dish” for the place. In fact, you’ll see many people visit just to get this as take out.


The stuffed bean curd skin ($4.50) was one of my favorite dishes, but sadly the recipe has changed. While they’re less oily, it’s now deep fried instead of pan fried so there’s no difference in texture on the wrapper (I loved having the contrasting crispy and silky bites of the past). The filling, which was hot and plentiful in the past, is now stingy and lacks all the different vegetables and fungus that gave it the interesting flavours.


Buddhist Vegetarian Kitchen’s soups are all a combination of bean curd, vegetable, corn and bamboo - the sweet corn soup with vegetable and bean curd ($4.50 for small) is one that offers three of the four ingredients. It’s a simple concoction made with a semi thick cream corn base with tons of tofu and bits of mushrooms mixed in. It’s tasty, but a few chopped green onions would help add some colour.


There seems to be a lot more noodles to choose from. The curry fried version with vegetarian pork ($8.95) is available wet or dry. We opted for wet, which wasn’t overly watery, but had enough sauce so that each strand had some slightly sweet curry sauce (sounds odd but actually works) covering it. Tossed well in the wok, it’s a dish that develops a great aroma.


The fried noodle with mixed vegetables ($9.25) is a traditional favourite, the crispy wonton noodles topped with a mix of vegetables (baby corn, snow peas), mushrooms, black fungus, and gluten pieces. The noodles have the perfect mix of crispy edges and a softer centre that soaks in the oyster sauce. They’re just as good as I remembered.


Stay away from the hot and sour noodles ($5.50), which were far too bland for a dish that’s meant to be punches of flavour – it was neither, spicy, sour, or even salty enough. The noodles were also soggy, making the dish a major flop even after we tried to salvage it with the condiments at the table.


It’s nice when a vegetarian restaurant offers simple vegetables as well. Their A choy with fermented tofu ($9.95) could be cooked a touch less so the stalks remain crispier, but they were well-flavoured without being too salty.


Service is definitely not their strongest feature, but it’s hardly the servers’ fault as they also act as prep cooks – de-stemming mushrooms, chopping vegetables, and cubing tofu… it’s all part of the job. So, at key points of the meal where you need to order or get the bill, just go find them or be patient.

Where servers do excel is knowing dishes well enough to offer their honest opinion. We tried to order the curry vegetarian pork with rice and she simply noted that we should reconsider as they don’t taste good together (despite it being an option). So, it was because of this frank advice we switched to noodles instead, which were a tasty combination.

Sadly, it’s not often I get to re-visit places I dined at as a child. But tucking into a plate of Buddhist Vegetarian Kitchen’s “dim sum” or noodles brings me back to the past. Whatever the restaurant lacks in with décor and service, it’s fully made up with the memories and the feeling of nostalgia. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3290 Midland Avenue

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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The Buddhist Vegetarian Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Quatrefoil (Dundas)


For my husband and I, each summer brings a week (at least) of staycation, where we take time off work and spend it exploring Toronto and its surrounding cities. Any locality that’s a 2 hour drive or less is fair game for a visit and after four years there’s still plenty of places to see.

Hamilton and its surrounding neighbours have been a favourite haunt. A typical outing consists of driving for an hour, hiking through beautiful scenery to stretch our legs, changing as discretely as possible in the car, strolling through a quaint town, and having a lovely meal to cap off the day.

August 2019 brought us to Dundas, Ontario and dinner at Quatrefoil. Their town is made for the eco-conscious with numerous stores selling sustainable and earth-friendly products (I found some great reusable produce bags for grocery shopping).  The end of the walk lead us to a quiet side street and a house that’s morphed into a restaurant. While the outside is a historical home, the dining room looks rather modern, complete with Instagram friendly white marble table tops.

On Fridays they offer a five course tasting menu ($72 a person) with wine pairings (additional $55). Like traditional meals, it starts off with an amuse bouche, a portion of braised veal cheek situated on a light tapioca cracker with dollops of crème fraiche. It’s a tasty bite, but a tad salty even with the tangy yoghurt.  


Followed by a great selection of bread including brown sugar pumpernickel (great combination), chewy French bread, oily poppy seed puff pastry, and a decent cheese and chive puff. It’s an enticing place and I had to try a bit of everything.


Quatrefoil presents beautiful plates. The seared sea scallop arrived with a lovely golden crust and while it was starting to split, the centre was cooked perfectly remaining tender and sweet. The buttery sauce was lightened with strawberry vinaigrette and the dish kept fresh with sweet spring peas and crunchy fennel. It paired wonderfully with the Chablis.


For a sweet and savoury course, I rather enjoyed the compressed cantaloupe salad. The melon was squeezed until the juices are removed so you get its sweet essence but it doesn’t overwhelm the other elements. It went nicely with the creamy whipped ricotta and the garlicky pesto and arugula keeps the dish savoury. It’s all topped with slices of summer truffle – eat these with the ricotta as with the strong pesto its mild flavours become lost.


The apex of the night was the Arctic char where the fish’s meat was flakey and tender but the skin could be a touch crispier. Paired with a tomato vinaigrette – a popular choice - at Quatrefoil it’s seasoned beautifully so you get a fresh tomato jus that’s also flavourful. The warm quinoa base acted as a great side.


Sadly, the last half of the meal is where the menu starts to falter. Tenderloin, when left in a longer cut, can be finicky to work with given it’s thicker in the middle and tapers off at the end. This leaves the thickest part of the steak arriving medium rare while the rest of it was really overdone – the heated plate probably didn’t help.


Without a proper steak knife, cutting through the thinner portions was difficult. Yet, the passable beef aside, the rest of the dish was tasty – the red wine and shallot jus lovely and slightly thickened so it clings to the meat. All the accompaniments were also great: meaty maitake mushroom, crispy broccolini, and the scrumptious potato and cheese croquette… it was the highlight of the dish.


The strawberry crémeux looks pretty but is a really sad dessert. Our waitress takes a fairly long time explaining all the individual sorbets (yogurt cheesecake, strawberry, and strawberry cream) and describes the dish as having an olive oil cake. It took me a while to realize that this “cake” was actually the crumb that propped up the decorative leaf.


I’m done with the deconstructed dessert and wish the preparation would just go away. If this is meant to be a trio of sorbets than give a larger scoop of each and call it that. Meanwhile, if this is meant to be a cake than just create a cake. As it stands, the meagre portions and laying each element out on a dish just seems like a lazy excuse to not employ a proper pastry chef.

Sweets are definitely not Quatrefoil’s forte, even the final bites were a letdown: the cappuccino macron too sweet and while the dark chocolate and strawberry truffle had promise (well balanced flavours and good quality chocolate) the shell was too thick.



Nonetheless, the friendly service and easy going pace of the dinner is what makes dining at Quatrefoil a treat. They were also accommodating, allowing me to get half a wine pairing so that I could have a taste with every dish without falling asleep on the hour drive home.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Dundas, Canada
 Address: 16 Sydenham Street

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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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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