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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