Showing posts with label japanese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label japanese. Show all posts

Sushi Yugen (Toronto)

Omakase is like the ramen craze from a decade ago. Every season I hear about another Japanese restaurant offering a chef’s menu – some at $100 or less, while others in the hundreds of dollars. It’s difficult to decipher which are good, the options seem endless.

I’ve heard of Sushi Yugen and their $98 main counter omakase and determined it’s a place that maybe I’d visit. It wasn’t until a friend who indulges in a lot of fine dining mentioned the restaurant, giving their chef’s table menu ($275/person) a high recommendation that I finally booked a reservation. And I was not disappointed.

The higher price point gets you into a more intimate room where Master Chef Kyohei Igarashi personally prepares the meal. Igarashi spent 15 years in Japan, learning the craft at high-end sushi and kaiseki places, before finally settling into a Michelin starred restaurant where he spent another seven years.

Indeed, the omakase menu showcases his background, starting off with six kaiseki dishes before the nine pieces of nigiri are presented. He comes out shyly, his accomplishments touted by a translator, and immediately launches into squaring off fish filets so the slices end up all evenly presented amongst the diners.

Our winter menu begins with a hot bowl of broth. Japanese turnip is cooked and then likely pulverized so it melts throughout the soup, causing it to thicken a bit. I would have thought the monk fish liver and leeks would be strong, but somehow the addition of yuzu mellows the ingredients and ties everything together.

Sushi Yugen serves a menu worthy of a Scandinavian spa as it goes from hot to a cold plunge. A bowl of fluke arrives in a beautiful ice dome doused in a special soy-based sauce and covered with black truffle shavings. The delicate white fish allows the truffle’s flavours to be prominently featured. The combination of meaty fish and the fungi’s earthiness is an interesting flavour profile that somehow works.

A bowl of soumen arrives adorn with edible flowers and thinly julienned Japanese ginger, sitting in a three-fish broth (bonito, tuna, sardine). Normally, the bowl of noodles has a deep savoury taste. Sushi Yugen’s still has that element, but the floral and ginger finish gives the silky noodles a bright burst… almost like that pop of basil on a gooey cheesy pizza.

Steaming sauce is brought to the table and quickly ladled into individual bowls to cook the seabream table side and create Yugen’s version of shabu shabu. While the rich soy-based broth was too tad salty to finish, it helped flavour the fish, which was just cooked through remaining flaky and tender. Make sure to use some of the yuzu chili paste, it’s such a great condiment that I want to use on everything.

Being Chinese, I’ve had my fair share of abalone, but having it fresh was a completely different experience. Chef Igarashi trims off the gills and liver, using them to create a thick rich sauce. Meanwhile, the meaty part of the sea creature was simply sliced and more tender and sweeter than my past experiences. We’re advised to leave some of the sauce in the bowl, at which point, Igarashi places some rice so we can mix it into the rich sauce and finish it off.

The uni rice bowl was like an over-the-top seafood risotto, the uni sushi rice adorned with chopped fatty tuna, ringed with briny fish roe, and then topped with caviar. Looking at it, you’d think it would be so rich and decadent, but surprisingly the vinegar in the rice cuts through it to make it lighter than you’d expect, while still having a powerful taste of the sea (in a good way) and a lovely creaminess.

After the last flavourful kaiseki dish, the nigiri begins, but not before a big pile of chopped ginger helps cleanse the palette. Cut into smaller pieces, I enjoyed the little bits that helped provide a refresher without being too much.

The nigiri starts with a piece of filefish (kawahagi) adorned with its liver. It’s meaty and creamy, but also lightened with the heavily vinegared rice that’s made with a combination of three vinegars.

I had the cleanest tasting scallop at Sushi Yugen, it’s sweet without an ounce of gumminess. When pressed, Chef Kyohei Igarashi did explain the three-step process he uses to ensure it’s so silky and fresh. I promised I wouldn’t give away his trade secrets, so you’ll have to ask him yourself.

The saba was flavourful with a pop of freshness, despite not being heavily loaded with green onion and ginger. Left neutral it was still delicious.

A trio of tuna arrives afterwards with the lean akami being marinated so it was flavourful, especially brushed with an extra bit of sauce.

Indeed, the fattier tunas were decadent. I was surprised by how soft and buttery the chutoro was already, to a level that made the otoro seem not as different.

A tray of hot charcoal arrives for the next piece. They are used to sear the top of the nodoguro saikyozuke, a black throat seaperch to crisp up the skin and emit an intoxicating aroma that reminds me of Japanese barbeque. The fish almost has a unagi (eel) consistency, delicate and soft, and very flavourful as it was already marinated in miso, but with a fresher finish.

The anago or conger eel was tasty, but it’s hard to follow the delicious seaperch. Nonetheless, the eel was hot and meaty and has that slight sweetness that’s synonymous with eel without being too sugary.

Yugen’s tamago was cake-like in consistency with an almost savoury finish. I only wish the piece was larger and served warm.

Our meal ends with another bowl of piping hot soup, this time the traditional miso consisting of a rich broth with finely chopped seaweed.

The dessert leans towards kaiseki preparations again. Instead of the typical musk melon, ice cream, or mochi, Yugen presents a beautifully prepared fruit jelly topped with white bean paste dusted with matcha powder and adorned with a salted Sakura flower. What a beautiful finish.

Summing up Igarashi’s menu, I’m impressed by how well he balances rich ingredients to create a dish that still has a freshness to it… I left satisfied but not feeling heavy. Armed with our remaining champagne, we’re invited to their “patio” in the lobby, where we could finish the drinks without being rushed to leave.

In Toronto we’re blessed to have so many omakase options. Sushi Yugen’s is top notch especially for its relatively reasonable price. When is it time to dine at Chef Igarashi’s counter again? I hope soon. 

Overall mark - 10 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 150 York 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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Shunoko (Toronto)


Most people visit Shunoko for the $100 omakase and may skip their a la carte menu. Admittedly, it’s not extensive, comprised of appetizers and nigiri by the piece with a few handrolls and maki for good measure. Yet, it’s a great option for those who want a quick and/or lighter meal.

The butter on fire roll ($19) would elicit a fire emoji. While it has a delicate and tender consistency, the little pops of crunch and flavour changes gives the maki interest. While it sounds weird, the hint of bacon and nuttiness from sesame gives the typical shrimp, avocado, and cucumber combination an unexpected flavour. The torched salmon was also done well, using a bit of aburi sauce for creaminess but not saturating the sushi.

Similar to the above is the can’t go wrong ($20), which substitutes torched scallop for the salmon. The protein gives off a lighter and slighter sweeter finish.

If you’re in the mood for a unique roll, the coconut spicy tuna ($18) elicits bursts of crunchiness without being deep fried or containing tempura bits. Rather the spicy tuna and avocado maki is rolled in popped rice balls and topped with toasted coconut shavings to give add a lot of crispy textures. It’s a surprising first bite that gradually grows on you.  

For those wanting protein, get a hand roll. The spicy tuna ($12) was stuffed with six slices of tuna, lettuce, and just a small amount of rice. Its spiciness sneaks up on you… the first bite was heavy on the maple soy sauce reduction, but then when the defence system goes down the following filled out the spicy mayo. One of the best hand rolls I’ve had in a while.

While you can order nigiri by the piece, we preferred the nigiri 10 ($70 and $71 from my experiences) that consists of ten pieces of sushi, tamago, and miso soup. It also made ordering easier and was a great option as it already included many of our favourites.

I won’t detail the taste of every piece (for that refer to the omakase experience), but will point out the highlights:

  • Even though it looked plain, the layer of thin sea salt on the red seabream really woke up the fish and started us off to a great tasting.
  • Of course, I love the decadence of a fatty tuna, but find the simplicity of amberjack and striped jack so crucial to give a meal balance and a lovely neutral meatiness.
  • Shunoko continued to impress with the clean tasting horse mackerel. As was the case with the bit of grated turnip topping the bonito that helped mellow the otherwise strong-tasting fish.
  • If you’re hesitant to have raw scallop due to a potential gummy consistency, at Shunoko it’s fresh and flavoured with lemon and truffle oil. 

The tamago recipe changes sometimes with a citrus undertone or on another visit with a spike of ginger, which acts as a refreshing end to the meal. It also has a more delicate consistency, the omelette made with so many thin layers giving the piece an airiness.

Having visited Shunoko three times for dinner, all have been great experiences, and I can taste the tinkering with the sauces and garnishes applied on their nigiri.

The only slip to date was when they ran out of cava (how do you start dinner service without bubbly?), my drink of choice with sushi. An interesting pairing is their French cider, which is mellow in sweetness and has a tasty funk to it that goes well with fish. I’ll forgive the slight disappointment as the reasonably priced quality sushi is what I’m visiting for anyways. 

In a nutshell... 
  • Must order: chef's choice nigiri, spicy tuna hand roll
  • Just skip: nothing!

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3220 Yonge 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!


Is That It? I Want More!

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Alo Revisited in 2023 (Toronto)


As I recount my latest experience at Alo, I grapple with the final mark: would I still consider them a 9 or a “top pick”? There were dishes that were incredible, but then some that missed the mark. The tasting menu ($225 per person) was off to a shaky start when the canapés arrived.

We’re instructed to eat the four bites in a particular order. The first, an oyster with compressed cantaloupe and Iberico ham oil had a fishy essence without an acidic element (like the traditional mignonette or lemon) to help cut through the strong taste. It also seemed off that it wasn’t ice cold for something that should be served uber fresh. The first bite was a bust.

Slowly, the redemption started with the beautifully presented uni tart, which was made even creamier with a thick crème fraiche on the bottom. While this wasn’t mind-blowing, it was at least not repulsive.

After the fishy oyster I had doubts about the mackerel tart, but this was unfounded as the meaty fish was very clean tasting and well balanced with bright pops of the daintiest tomatoes and fruit. Indeed, there was an ocean-like essence from the caviar, but it wasn’t overpowering.

The canapés ended with a foie gras and strawberry jelly tart that created a sweet and savoury element. This was surprisingly good and wonderfully rich.

It’s unclear if Alo is pandering to Michelin inspectors as the procession of Japanese dishes just seem out of place at a French restaurant. Sure, I can understand if they want to throw in one dish that’s has a Japanese influence, but to feature a handful was just too much.

Moreover, some dishes just can’t live up to what you’d be served during an omakase meal. Chef Patrick Kriss should drop the madai course, a sea bream paired with chili oil, caviar, and kumquat. Like the oyster, it was fishy and warm. Give me this fish cool with freshly grated wasabi and soy sauce any day.

The kinmedai was better, the red snapper was at least cold and refreshing with the oh so finely julienned radish in the centre. The various oils complimented the fish nicely and this was an improvement over the other sashimi course. If Alo must have a sashimi course (why would it), one is enough.

Having a soft spot for chawanmushi I wouldn’t be opposed to this remaining on the menu. The actual steamed egg was hot and silky, but then enhanced with lovely French and Western elements: smooth foie gras tofu cubes, fragrant truffle paste, crunchy radish, sweet corn, and crispy chicken skin. All this amongst a pool of reduced capon broth. What an incredible dish!

At this point, the meal started having an upward trajectory. The chanterelle mushrooms were so meaty and cooked to the point of perfection – no longer raw and spongy but not too wilted either. Paired with spinach, artichoke, and a luscious whipped egg sauce, it was so delicious that I wanted to lick the bowl.

The seared scallop and roasted mussel continued the ascent with its superb execution. The scallop was seared beautifully and super sweet and the mussel so tender ending with a lovely clean finish that it’s unlike any mussel I’ve ever had. Paired with a savoury foam and parsley sauce, these were the perfect seasoning not overshadowing the seafood’s natural flavours.

At the beginning, we were asked if we’d like to substitute the rice dish for foie gras (supplemental $40). Why anyone would want to miss out on the Koshihikari rice with Dungeness crab is beyond me. Koshihikari is a short grain rice that’s cultivated to be used in many dishes, including risotto so that it has that creaminess but also a more distinct grain that Arborio. The risotto was cheesy and savoury with bits of snap pea added to give it a crunchy pop of freshness that was so good that I longed for more. To elevate the dish, thin slices of wagyu beef topped the dish, so that as it melts the fat seeps into the rice. Do not replace this baby.

A boneless lamb chop follows seared to perfection and having a lovely charbroil taste. As you have a cube of the meat with the garnishes, each bite tastes so different – whether it’s the peel tomato, fried shallots, or patty pan squash. Somewhere down the line you sample the the olive stuffed with sausage, which is good but a bit heavy, so I’d recommend saving it for the last bite.

Alas, the meal bell curves with the last savoury dish being mediocre. The striploin was fine, slightly over cooked, but at least having a nice grilled essence. Yet, it’s the miso sauce that really threw me off and added a weird funk to the steak. Perhaps if we upgraded the dry aged angus to the Japanese A5 wagyu (supplemental $90) it would pair better, but as it stood the sauce was a bust. Moreover, the deep-fried eggplant tempura garnish was too seedy and bitter.

The only saving grace was the pain au lait that gets paired with the striploin. It’s just as fluffy and fragrant as I remembered. I absolutely love Alo’s bread, so much so that they even gave us an order to go, what a sweet and unexpected gesture.

Normally, sorbet palette cleansers can be really tart and pungent. Alo tones it down with their take on strawberries and cream where the layer of cream at the bottom helps balance out the frozen Italian wine with strawberries and the champagne foam.

Dessert progresses with a tasty meringue with peach mousse and vanilla cake. Garnished with a verbena lemon sauce the dessert is a nice balance of sweet and sour. After so many dishes, I’m glad it’s a lighter finish that still has a sweetness that satisfies.

It wouldn’t be a French meal without a box of petit fours, presented in a lovely tree box. I love that they made a mini lemon meringue to pay homage to Aloette downstairs but it’s not nearly as good as the sister restaurant as meringue is so small that the bite was fairly sour. The passion fruit caramel was too sticky and the chocolate caramel too sweet. It was the simple strawberry gelee that was just right, enhanced by the fruit’s natural flavours and a great consistency. I felt like Goldilocks going through the petit fours trying to find the perfect bite.

Save room for their canale as it’s a lovely combination of crispy caramelized shell and fluffy moist interior. Consequently, it also paired perfectly with a cappuccino ($6).

The roller coaster food aside, Alo does excel at service. There’s a lovely chill we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously vibe with the 90s rap playing and the entire staff sporting New Balance kicks. Everyone we encountered was so friendly, professional, and knowledgeable that we knew we were in good hands.

As I reached the end of the post, I’m still grappling with whether Alo is one of my top picks. Ultimately, I decided to give them a 9, but only by a hair. Their blind tasting menu had some incredible dishes, but also a number that were mediocre. I just hope Alo isn’t trying morph into something they’re not only to keep their Michelin star. Sure, include one or two Japanese-inspired dishes in the menu (my picks are the chawanmushi and koshihikari risotto), but make sure the French dishes are the prominent part of the menu, it’s your pain au lait bread and butter, Alo.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 163 Spadina Avenue, 3rd floor


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!


Is That It? I Want More!

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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
 Website: https://ms-sm.ca/


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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this: