Showing posts with label lobster tempura. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lobster tempura. Show all posts

Aoyama (Toronto)

In a small plaza sits two storefronts – Aoyama and Aoyama VIP. Enter to the one on the left and if you’ve made reservations, chances are you’ll be escorted back outside and into the VIP one. Yes, it’s a bit strange that they’re not connected, but when you want to expand and the opportunity arises (albeit not directly beside your existing restaurant), you need to seize the availability.

Just ordering your meal can take time if you’ve never visited. There’s a leather bound menu that already has numerous options, but then you’ll also want to sift through several laminated loose pages, and there’s even a wooden board with drawn images that gets circulated with other a la carte items.

Indeed, the cheeky wooden board drew us in to try some of their hand rolls ($3 for spicy tuna and $3.50 for spicy salmon). Having been spoiled by ones that chefs insist on handing you and having you eat right away, I did find the seaweed chewy and a bit tough to bite through. However, for the price, these are great, a pretty generous portion of fish wrapped in seaweed, although the spicy mayo needs to be spicier.

During the weekend, Aoyama offers a “sushi set upgraded weekend special” ($125) that comes with a more sushi and luxurious appetizers, compared to their regular option. To begin, there’s a sharing platter of small eats containing chawanmushi (a savoury egg custard), lobster tempura, yakitori skewers, other small nibbles, and a pot of seafood consommé.   

Normally, chawanmushi is served hot. At Aoyama, it’s cold so ends up being denser and almost the consistency of a savoury flan. The temperature and jellied soup takes some getting used to, but it tasted good, the dashi (?) flavours seeping through. Finishing it with a teacup of the umami-filled seafood consommé is a nice combination.

Plump pieces of lobster tempura is dressed with the all-colour-no-heat spicy mayo. Nonetheless, the lobster was cooked nicely, it just needed a bit of salt or something else to dip it into. Surrounding the dish were pods of dry edamame and tempura burdock root that was cold but tasty to nibble on.

What makes yakitori skewers delicious is when they’re hot off the grill and you can smell and taste the smoky caramelized glaze. In the platter, the chicken and scallion yakitori were cold (having been brought over from the other store) so the chicken became hard and the sauce congealed and lumpy. Really, Aoyama should consider replacing these with a starter that doesn’t need to be hot.

Something to consider when you make a reservation: what is important about the meal for you? Is it hot food or a comfortable sitting environment? While the VIP room is spacious and has an ambiance of a brightly lit piano lounge, there isn’t a kitchen so food is transported over in a non-insulated metal container arriving lukewarm to cold. To get the best of both worlds, you’ll want to order cold items when sitting in the VIP area.

Luckily, the huge plate of sushi that’s part of the set menu can withstand the frigid journey. That evening, it contained two types of tuna, the fattier toro and the regular blue fin variety; sweet soft pieces of unagi (barbequed eel); surprisingly clean pieces of aji (horse mackerel) that’s further topped with tons of ginger and green onions; tried and true kampachi,  salmon, and salmon maki; a decent take on tamago (egg) that had the flavours but not the lovely layers; as well as generous portions of hotate (Hokkaido scallop), ebi (raw shrimp), and uni (sea urchin).

In terms of the sushi rice, something I’ve really started to learn to enjoy, it had a great consistency but needs more vinegar and could benefit from being warmer. The rice is an important element to get right given it’s such an integral part of sushi.

Since the set meal lacked vegetables, an order of the wakame salad ($6), ice berg lettuce tossed in a creamy sesame dressing and topped with a sweet seaweed salad, was welcomed and helped add that freshness we were craving.

Off the a la carte menu, the seafood zousui ($18), a Japanese-style congee, was beckoning during the cold winter night. Pieces of shrimp, salmon, crab, a fair-sized scallop and various mushrooms gave the dish a lovely sweet seafood essence.

The rice sits at the bottom of a clear seafood broth, rather than being boiled for hours so that the grains combine with the soup, so you’re able to taste just the soup and then also have it with the soft rice. Indeed, the broth is king and despite being tepid had a warming property to it. If there was more seasoning and the seafood was added near the end of the process (so it doesn’t become rubbery) it’d be even better.

A bowl of tempura udon ($13) also seemed like a good choice. While the broth is rather run-of-the-mill, it was at least hotter than all the other dishes and the noodles chewy and springy. Something about ending the meal with a hot bowl of soup really suits me.

The VIP room was so comfortable that after two hours we still wanted to stay. A round of desserts helped extend the experience a little longer.

Deciding on the black sesame mochi ice cream ($4.30), it arrived two to an order. The small ping pong sized mochi needed a few minutes to rest as at the beginning it was tough to cut through. A thin chewy layer of glutinous rice flour pastry encapsulates plenty of ice cream. While it was pretty, the dessert lacked sesame flavour and tasted more like vanilla ice cream. For real black sesame ice cream you’ll want to stick with the ice cream with red bean paste ($4.50) combination.

Once the store between Aoyama and Aoyama VIP vacates, they can finally combine everything into one continuous restaurant. At that point, patrons finally won’t need to decide between quality of food or atmosphere. Until then, choose carefully.  

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 2766 Victoria Park Avenue

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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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