Solo Sushi Ya (Newmarket)

Location: Newmarket, Canada
Address: 291 Davis Drive
Type of Meal: Dinner

In preparation for an upcoming trip to Japan, my husband and I are expanding our palettes by ordering omakase style (left up to the chef to choose).  Having heard about this Newmarket establishment, we made the 35 minute drive up North to put our taste buds in the hands of Chef Jyo Gao.

The omakase menu ($58) presents six courses (the first course consisting of three dishes) and offers a variety of cooking methods (raw, steamed and braised).  It’s heavily seafood focused with the only taste of beef for the night being presented in the first course.  To start we were offered a trio of small dishes.  Starting from the left:

  • The first dish was a piece of simply prepared sweet squash, its softness contrasted well with the natto (fermented soybeans) that accompanied it.  The beans had an interesting chewy texture and were somewhat sticky from the glaze on top.  Although it’s sweet, there’s an indescribable depth to the flavour (unfortunately, hard to define you just have to try it). On top were little crispy specks similar to sesame seeds without the nuttiness.
  • In the middle, were pieces of tuna marinated with shoyu & sesame oil and combined with bits of spring onion & spicy chili.  The tuna itself was soft and delicious, with this dish filled with such good flavours that it could easily be featured in a larger portion as an appetizer.
  • Lastly, was the sole meat dish of the evening - made from some sort of soft root vegetable wrapped with pieces of dried beef.  The meat is the taste and texture of fruit glazed jerky which is an interesting combination.  Packed with flavour and fairly heavy tasting it’s definitely something to be eaten in moderation.
Next came a sashimi platter, which I’m still warming up to having only recently starting to develop a taste for it thanks to JaBistro.  The salmon, the safest of the fishes, is still my favourite and was tender and fairly delicate in flavour.  A piece of white tuna that’s lightly seared so that it just began changing colour had a nice black pepper taste.  Unfortunately, my piece wasn’t fully thawed so the middle slices had ice crystals which was gross (not a problem for my husband so likely on account of my thicker piece).  Regrettably, I haven’t mastered the art of eating sashimi in the right order so when I finally got to the other white fish (behind the shrimp head) it was rather flavourless so not very memorable.  However, in my case, I’d rather things not taste too strongly so I still enjoyed it.

This meal was my first taste of raw non-fish based seafood where I tried scallop and shrimp. Having a quarter of the scallop, I expected it to be revolting but surprisingly wasn't that bad.  Having placed it beside of a slice of lemon, the scallop took on some of the citrus flavour.  At first, I was afraid it’d be rubbery but is actually very tender – however, it doesn’t lend itself to chewing as the texture quickly turned gummy in my mouth.  Overall, the scallop wasn't horrible and I could stand eating again if it were perhaps in thinner slices.

On the other hand, the raw shrimp was absolutely disgusting.  Since it was whole (thankfully the head disconnected) and there was no fork or knife in sight, I had to bit into the shrimp meat.  Instantly, my mouth was flood with an extremely seafood/fishy taste combined with a mushy/sticky texture.  Side note, I’m actually cringing while writing this as I remember how bad it was.  Unfortunately, since I was sitting right beside the chef, I couldn't exactly spit it out so I quickly swallowed it whole and washed it down with a glass of hot green tea.  This is seriously something I don’t think I can ever acquire the taste for; no amount of sweet soy sauce or strong wasabi can ever mask that horrible taste.

Luckily, the next thing to arrive was a piping hot chawan mushi, a steamed egg custard, that helped get rid of the queasy feeling in my stomach.  Served in the cooking vessel, a cute lidded tea cup, the egg was filled with chunks of salmon, scallops, seaweed and large enoki mushrooms.  The broth was a condensed seafood consume which was very well flavoured and filled my mouth with a wonderful umami essence. 

For the fourth course, a miso mackerel arrives on a large plate in a light sauce. The fish having been braised was richly flavoured taking on the beany essence of the miso paste and a slight sweetness. Topping the mackerel were anchovy fillets (brings a brininess to the dish but I could have done without), paper thin slices of daikon and a piece of lettuce.  I rather enjoyed the daikon’s simple freshness and would have liked more of that in lieu of the anchovy.

The best dish of the night was the fifth course - four unassuming looking pieces of nigiri sushi.  The fish topping them (tuna, snapper, salmon and grilled eel) were of course fresh and cut to a suitable thickness that you could easily pop into your mouth and bite through. But, what made the dish extraordinary was the rice! The hand pressed pieces were lightly warmed and had such an amazing texture – the plump soft kernels of vinegary rice had a creamy feeling to it yet was still hard enough to pick up with chopsticks. 

In the Tokyo episode of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, chef Naomichi Yasuda notes the most important ingredient in his sushi is rice.  Sure, when I heard this comment it implicitly made sense to me since every piece of sushi contains it.  But, it wasn't until we had Solo Sushi Ya’s incredible rice that it really made sense.  Honestly, if the rice is this good, it could be topped with a thinly sliced cucumber and I’d be just as happy.

Last but not least was dessert - a bowl of cold gelatin topped with a berry coulis and more of those crispy white bits that started off the meal.  Normally, I don't have high hopes for Asian desserts because, let’s be honest, they're never that good.  But, it wasn't that bad; the gelatin had a light coffee taste and an interesting texture (lighter than Jello but still firmer than custard). 

Despite the 6-course meal, dishes came out like clockwork with the new one arriving as soon as finished ones were whisked away. In the end, we were done in a little over an hour, though I’ll admit we are quicker eaters.  Solo Sushi Ya is an intimate restaurant seating about 30 people so to be safe make reservations.  We appreciated Chef Gao’s friendliness and willingness to answer any questions we had.  Overall, the experience was great and we’d love to return to have some maki rolls, more nigiri and perhaps some noodles.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

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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!