Yasu Revisited (Toronto)

Yasu Toronto

Since dining at Yasu in 2014, I knew the place was special and would earn the distinction as one of my favourite Toronto restaurants. Unfortunately, the $80 per person omakase meal doesn’t permit the eatery to be a frequent haunt; yet compared to the US$300+ versions in Japan, we can also periodically treat ourselves to the sushi bar.

After many months of reminiscing about the delicious meal, my husband and I decided we waited enough and it was time to return. Securing a spot wasn’t difficult – a simple process of using their online reservation and booking a few weeks out. But, a reservation is key, as Yasu only serves 24-28 diners per night (at 6pm and 8:30pm sittings) and during both visits all spots were occupied.

Similar to the first, the meal consisted of 18-pieces and a dessert. Since Yasu uses seasonal ingredients, about a third of the offerings were new this time. Starting off with a lighter fish to warm-up the palette, the striped jack (shima aji) had a firm clean texture and was gently glazed with a sweet soy.

Next, a piece of seabass (suzuki) was elevated with a dollop of Hokkaido sea urchin (uni) on top. The uni’s creaminess covers the tongue before the meaty sea bass comes through.

A sprinkling of salt is added to the Hokkaido scallop (hotate) for crunch. It’s fleshy but sweet and a splash of lemon wards off any fears of fishiness. That evening we learnt Chef Yasuhisa Ouchi is from Osaka, which may explain his affinity with using Hokkaido ingredients.

The fluke (hirame) is so delicate that what shone through the most was the ponzu laced soy sauce.

In contrast, the sardine (iwashi) was saltier and had a stronger flavour but still tasted great, especially when combined with the green onion. Additionally, I could see the improvement in knife skills – more accurately sliced with precision edges compared to the first visit.

A shiso leaf was sandwiched between a slice of red snapper (tai) and warm well-vinegared sticky Japanese rice. I preferred the leaf under the fish, rather than placed on top, as the rice helped release the citrus mint taste of the herb further. 

Although the snow crab (zuwai gani) still wasn’t warm, it was better drained and not as watery, yet still retained a wonderful oceanic saltiness. 

The amberjack (kanpachi) was another light fish and acted to cleanse the taste buds for the next piece - marinated fish roe (ikura no shoyu zuke). Served with a square of freshly toasted nori, I couldn’t inhale the salty juicy roe fast enough after remembering how good they were.

It’s the piece that’s always the fishiest, but Yasu does try to help cut the horse mackerel’s (aji) gamiest with green onion. Slits are carved into the fish to help the thicker sweet soy penetrate the sushi deeper.

The shrimp (ebi) was grilled just before serving and the smell filling the dining room was absolutely glorious. What hit my mouth next was just as heavenly as the smell – a light smokiness that blends into the shrimp’s sweetness and ending with the rice’s faint vinegar.  

My excitement compounded when I realized Chef Ouchi was going to serve three tunas together next. For a person who loves comparing ingredients, it was a dish that allowed me to see and taste the tuna’s differences.

First the leanest one, akami maguro, cut from the sides of the fish revealing a brilliant red hue and a concentrated flavour. The centre chutoro maguro, is a medium fattiness derived from the sides of the belly; it’s lighter with an alternating meat and fat pattern. Lastly, the underside of the belly or the fattiest otoro maguro, that instantly reacts like butter as it enters the mouth. When the otoro started melting, all I could do was savour the essence – it was bittersweet when it finally dissipated.

A lighter mackerel (aji) followed with green onions and a glossy slice of pickled daikon to add a refreshing crispness to the soft fish.

The charred bonito (katsuo) is so picturesque: the dazzling red colour, thin evenly seared ring, contrast of the dark rub and pop of green. Its taste is equally as varied – flavourful fish, peppery taste and the wasabi’s zing. 

Chef Ouchi, if you ever read this post – please make sure the braised sea eel (anago) is served every night! It’d be a shame if anyone didn’t have the opportunity to taste this sushi. The eel is braised in a soy and sake stock giving it so much flavour and rendering the eel to another level of softness. Once it entered my mouth I didn’t want to swallow – my husband was asking me questions but I couldn’t pay attention or answer – it was seriously a sad moment when the experience was over.

When you see the egg omelette (tamago), it’s an indication that the meal is coming to the end. The tamago was much better than the first visit – fluffy, light and creamy with a consistency reminiscent of an Uncle Tetsu cheesecake.

To end, a scoop of intensely flavoured ice cream. Rich and creamy, whole black sesame is sprinkled on top for textural contrast and further pop of flavour.

Yasu has improved since my last visit: the wine-by-the-glass menu has expand beyond Chardonnay and incorporates Riesling (if they add a Sauvignon Blanc I can finally order something); the beer glasses no longer have a faint fish smell; and the quality of the presentation has increased. What an amazing second experience … there were times I fell into to a food coma. Alas, now I just have to wait another year, to enjoy the sushi bliss again.

Overall mark - 10 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 81 Harbord 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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