MS|SM (Toronto)

MSSM isn’t your traditional omakase restaurant. As you ascend the steps from Yorkville, the energy level of the restaurant matches the neighbourhood. At least three people yell out shari as you enter, which means ‘sushi rice’ in Japanese. There’s music pumping and in lieu of the typical wooden sushi bar the dining room contains white graffitied walls and pink neon lights. We aren’t in Tokyo anymore Toto.

Also, unlike typical omakase spots, the sushi bar is HUGE. It can easily accommodate twenty people with five chef stations laid out so that each are preparing food for about four customers. Despite the sheer number of patrons, there’s something intimate about being nestled in a group around one chef, in an instant he put me at ease with questions and jokes… conversations are encouraged here.

What also makes them different is the price point - $98 per person instead of the $200+ that you’ll usually pay. Chef Masaki Saito realized not everyone could afford (or get a reservation) to his two Michelin star restaurant, hence opened MSSM as a means of allowing more people to get to experience the art of omakase.

Traditions be damned, MSSM starts off their menu with a hand roll. Filled with finely chopped tuna and pickled radish wrapped with shiso leaf and freshly toasted nori, it’s an interesting and hearty way to start off.  

The following bonito with apple onion sauce was too pungent for my liking with so many leeks, ginger, and chives. Perhaps if it’s accompanied with something creamy, like a sesame sauce, it would help balance out the dish.

MSSM also uses a sense of showmanship, presenting trays of the seafood that would form the ten pieces we were about to sample before slicing and preparing. Once ready, a bucket of rice is whisked out and periodically changed to ensure it’s at the optimal temperature. Indeed, the rice is nice and warm but could use more vinegar.

To start, the stripe bass (shima Suzuki), a clean and light tasting fish that is often used to warm up the palette. It’s immediately followed by salmon (zuke sake) that’s been marinated for a couple of hours in a “mother sauce” that gets cooked, added to, and reused… not unlike a sourdough starter. What a flavourful piece topped with a finely chopped green onion paste.

MSSM’s scallop (hotate) tastes clean especially when finished with drop of lime juice. I love that it’s not overly gummy so that you could chew the seafood and take in the scallop’s sweetness. A sprinkle of sea salt may bring out the flavours even more.

A hand torch crisps up the skin of the sea bream (madai) while also bringing out the fish’s oils and flavours. With a light dusting of salt, a bit of chili radish paste, and a drop of lime, it’s a nice bite that gives out heat and a slight smokiness.

In fact, I really appreciated the garnishes used on the nigiri. The bit of chopped yuzu peel on the blue fin tuna (akami) gave the fish a freshness that awoken the otherwise meaty fish. Our chef explains that they chop the garnishes by hand as they found using a food processor adds a bitterness to the items. Yes, that is one of the many tasks that keeps them busy before dinner service.

What really intrigued me was the chawanmushi sushi. I’m a big fan of the steamed egg and couldn’t understand how they were going to morph it into sushi. What first arrives is the typical dish – steam egg steamed with bonito and kelp stock. It didn’t look like much, and we’re told to just have a taste of it – good but not overly exciting.

The chef than takes it back and adds sushi rice, Dungeness crab sauce, yuzu peel paste, and wasabi before re-presenting the chawanmushi in front of us. Once it’s all well mixed together, it becomes this incredible eggy seafood risotto that is one of my favourite bites of the dinner.

After the high comes a small low, a spot prawn (botan ebi) with lime. While I’m glad it wasn’t too gummy, I still don’t like the texture of the raw shrimp … not one of my favourite bites.

It’s unclear whether torching the bluefin tuna belly (toro) makes it better. Sure, I liked that the fish oils were starting to liquify, but I found the piece a tad chewy – not necessarily from the fish, but perhaps from the spring onion inside. While still a nice piece, it just didn’t the pow of flavour that normally comes from a fatty tuna.

Give me dashimaki instead of tamago any day. At MSSM, the egg omelette is warm and savory with a moistness that keeps the layers light and fluffy. All hail the dashimaki!

The hand torch makes one last appearance with the sea eel (anago). After being liberally heated, some lime and yuzu peel is added to the slightly sweet, delicate, and tender eel. What a wonderful final bite.

So, what makes MSSM’s omakase experience different, other than the price? It certainly relies on volume. The five chefs are preparing the omakase at a decent clip and soon after they are done the miso soup arrives. The broth is made with fish bones instead of a strong dashi so there’s a mellowness to the soup. It’s adorned with Japanese chili powder and spring onions, giving it a spicier finish than traditional versions.

Dessert consisted of house made strawberry daifuku. Certainly not as incredible as the version I had at Kappo Sato, but still a good rendition of chewy mochi encapsulating sweet azuki paste and a juicy strawberry.

As a warning, don’t arrive too early for your reservation. As MSSM relies on volume, the seatings are close together and they may not be ready if you show up more than five minutes early. Luckily, Yorkville is a great place to walk around, so we kept ourselves entertained for ten minutes with ease.

Given some of the chefs and staff have worked together at Tachi, there’s a natural ease in the operations despite our opening week visit. I love the comradery and casualness between the staff, which makes us laugh and feel comfortable speaking to the strangers sharing the table around us. After all, it’s not every day you hear the sous chef joke that the chef is her “work husband” instead of curtly replying “yes, chef”.

Not taking themselves seriously and laughs is what MSSM is about. When I asked what the name stood for, our chef cheekily replies - Masaiki Saito Sexy Man. It’s unclear if this is real or he’s joking, but after seeing their sake pot, I thought there could be some truth to the name. And yes, call me a child, but if you serve me sake in that vessel with two round cups, you must expect a photo like this. Take it easy and just enjoy the shari!

Overall mark - 9.5 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 154 Cumberland Street, 2nd floor

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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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