Showing posts with label nigiri sushi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nigiri sushi. Show all posts

Toshi Ryoriten (Richmond Hill)

Do you remember your last meal at a restaurant before being quarantined? Mine was an exquisitely long two-hour omakase affair ($90 a person for the Toshi course) in celebration of my father’s birthday. Over a bottle of chilled light sake, we sampled, drank, and conversed … beside each other. All while we dined in front of a chef who handled the ingredients without a mask or gloves. Wow, how things can change in a blink of an eye.

Toshi Ryoriten isn’t afraid to start boldly: right out of the gate we’re served a sashimi of two tunas and shima aji (?). Usually, there’s a build up of dishes until the tunas are presented - I didn’t mind this procession, having a rich taste of fish within the first bites. They were all a great temperature and thickness, the way you want sashimi to be. I just wish someone described the dish to us, instead of just having the sushi chef drop it down and walk away.

Dinner then switches to hot eats, a cube of tofu incorporating seaweed and slivers of crunchy lotus root. Fresh from the fryer, it’s hot and the tofu’s edges are remarkably crispy against the silken centre and the thickened sauce adds flavours without making it soggy. If they made this into a tofu steak, I could eat this instead of sirloin any day.

Clean and crisp uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon fish roe) generously tops a sphere of warm rice and makes for a big flavourful bite that’s creamy and leaves an oceany umami essence to the tongue.

The grilled yellowtail looked better than it tasted; sadly, the lean fish was overcooked. And after the amazing egg tofu, the crispy rice “biscuit” was surprisingly dull and bland. The best part of the dish was the blanched spinach, at least it’s cold and refreshing. 

After all the starters, the nigiri experience begins – eleven pieces of bite-sized sushi made at a well-scheduled pace. With about 3-5 minutes between each piece, it’s enough time to admire (and photograph) and converse, without feeling like an overdrawn affair. 

The medai (seabream) was a nice start. Meaty but light, the fish reset the palette for the rest of the meal.
Toshi’s ika (squid) was a tad dry from the blowtorch, so it ended up being sticky as I chewed the sushi. While not necessarily terrible, it’s also texture that’s rather unexpected. Perhaps it just needed a stronger glaze on top, the quick brush of soy sauce was not nearly enough. 

The kanpachi (amber jack) was incredibly good. I just couldn’t make out what the black bits were on top – it’s salty but doesn’t have that crunchiness of volcano salt. Once again, a bit more direction and conversation from the chef would be nice.  

I love when raw salmon is warmed. At Toshi, the salmon is seared slightly developing a mild smokiness and the heat melts the fat. The akaebi (sweet shrimp) was a nice follower, but like the ika could use a bit more seasoning.

While the shima aji (skipper jack) looked like a lot of the earlier white fishes, the texture is surprisingly “crispy” for a fish and a nice contrast against the other softer consistencies. 

Hopefully, you’re not a light eater, as Toshi saves the most decadent pieces to end. Of course, there’s the otoro (fatty tuna), the fish world’s equivalent of high fat butter, with its flavourful oil that oozes and coats the tongue. 

After a sip of sake, a liberally toasted hotate (scallop) adds a lovely sweet contrast. This followed by an even sweeter unagi (sea eel), which like some of the torched counterparts was a bit overdone. 

I hate that I really enjoyed the foie gras - it’s not an ingredient I support for ethical reasons. Scoring the fatty duck liver helps create these grooves that holds onto the oils; and for once the long lick from the blowtorch really helps to add a lovely smokiness without overcooking the ingredient. If you think otoro is rich, this piece brings it to a whole other level. 

To end, you’re offered a hand roll or maki. I end traditionally with the hand-held form that incorporates bits of tuna and green onion. The seaweed needs to be toasted more as it was a bit chewy to get through. In hindsight, the maki form may be a better choice. 

The best decision was to add on a chawanmushi ($9.50) and suggest it be served right after the nigri procession. While it doesn’t have that intoxicating aroma that escapes as the lid is lifted, the egg custard is piping hot and a lovely silky consistency. Other ingredients make their way into the steamed egg: mushroom and spinach stems on top and hearty cubes of shrimp and chicken on the bottom. 

As part of the regular Toshi course menu, the small bowl of soba with dashi broth ends the savoury items. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of tempura bits in soup, but these were added at the last minute, so it doesn’t arrive as a soggy mess. And mixed with the green scallions, everything works, down to the last hot drop.

Instead of the typical ice cream, Toshi serves tofu cheesecake for dessert. It’s surprisingly creamy and dense for tofu but lacks any discernable flavour. At least the whipped cream imparted some sweetness.

If you’ll be seated at the sushi bar, make sure to request to be sat on the right-hand side of the bar. Relegated to the left corner, we were essentially ignored by the chef who only speaks to the four people directly in front of him. 

And while it’s nice to see the chefs’ technique, Toshi ruins the experience by leaving a huge platter of fish to be broken down right by the sink on the left. Halfway through the meal, it’s finally put away, but makes for an unpleasant backdrop for those who have it in their eyeline. In terms of the environment and the chefs’ hospitality, this was one of the worst omakase experiences I’ve had.

Still, looking back on the dinner, I’ll only have fond memories. Dinner at Toshi Ryoriten was an unhurried relaxing public affair I can’t wait to eventually enjoy again. As a last pre-COVID meal, this was a great ending.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Richmond Hill, Canada
 Address: 1380 Major Mackenzie Drive East

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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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Solo Sushi Ya (Newmarket)

Location: Newmarket, Canada
Address: 291 Davis Drive
Type of Meal: Dinner

In preparation for an upcoming trip to Japan, my husband and I are expanding our palettes by ordering omakase style (left up to the chef to choose).  Having heard about this Newmarket establishment, we made the 35 minute drive up North to put our taste buds in the hands of Chef Jyo Gao.

The omakase menu ($58) presents six courses (the first course consisting of three dishes) and offers a variety of cooking methods (raw, steamed and braised).  It’s heavily seafood focused with the only taste of beef for the night being presented in the first course.  To start we were offered a trio of small dishes.  Starting from the left:

  • The first dish was a piece of simply prepared sweet squash, its softness contrasted well with the natto (fermented soybeans) that accompanied it.  The beans had an interesting chewy texture and were somewhat sticky from the glaze on top.  Although it’s sweet, there’s an indescribable depth to the flavour (unfortunately, hard to define you just have to try it). On top were little crispy specks similar to sesame seeds without the nuttiness.
  • In the middle, were pieces of tuna marinated with shoyu & sesame oil and combined with bits of spring onion & spicy chili.  The tuna itself was soft and delicious, with this dish filled with such good flavours that it could easily be featured in a larger portion as an appetizer.
  • Lastly, was the sole meat dish of the evening - made from some sort of soft root vegetable wrapped with pieces of dried beef.  The meat is the taste and texture of fruit glazed jerky which is an interesting combination.  Packed with flavour and fairly heavy tasting it’s definitely something to be eaten in moderation.
Next came a sashimi platter, which I’m still warming up to having only recently starting to develop a taste for it thanks to JaBistro.  The salmon, the safest of the fishes, is still my favourite and was tender and fairly delicate in flavour.  A piece of white tuna that’s lightly seared so that it just began changing colour had a nice black pepper taste.  Unfortunately, my piece wasn’t fully thawed so the middle slices had ice crystals which was gross (not a problem for my husband so likely on account of my thicker piece).  Regrettably, I haven’t mastered the art of eating sashimi in the right order so when I finally got to the other white fish (behind the shrimp head) it was rather flavourless so not very memorable.  However, in my case, I’d rather things not taste too strongly so I still enjoyed it.

This meal was my first taste of raw non-fish based seafood where I tried scallop and shrimp. Having a quarter of the scallop, I expected it to be revolting but surprisingly wasn't that bad.  Having placed it beside of a slice of lemon, the scallop took on some of the citrus flavour.  At first, I was afraid it’d be rubbery but is actually very tender – however, it doesn’t lend itself to chewing as the texture quickly turned gummy in my mouth.  Overall, the scallop wasn't horrible and I could stand eating again if it were perhaps in thinner slices.

On the other hand, the raw shrimp was absolutely disgusting.  Since it was whole (thankfully the head disconnected) and there was no fork or knife in sight, I had to bit into the shrimp meat.  Instantly, my mouth was flood with an extremely seafood/fishy taste combined with a mushy/sticky texture.  Side note, I’m actually cringing while writing this as I remember how bad it was.  Unfortunately, since I was sitting right beside the chef, I couldn't exactly spit it out so I quickly swallowed it whole and washed it down with a glass of hot green tea.  This is seriously something I don’t think I can ever acquire the taste for; no amount of sweet soy sauce or strong wasabi can ever mask that horrible taste.

Luckily, the next thing to arrive was a piping hot chawan mushi, a steamed egg custard, that helped get rid of the queasy feeling in my stomach.  Served in the cooking vessel, a cute lidded tea cup, the egg was filled with chunks of salmon, scallops, seaweed and large enoki mushrooms.  The broth was a condensed seafood consume which was very well flavoured and filled my mouth with a wonderful umami essence. 

For the fourth course, a miso mackerel arrives on a large plate in a light sauce. The fish having been braised was richly flavoured taking on the beany essence of the miso paste and a slight sweetness. Topping the mackerel were anchovy fillets (brings a brininess to the dish but I could have done without), paper thin slices of daikon and a piece of lettuce.  I rather enjoyed the daikon’s simple freshness and would have liked more of that in lieu of the anchovy.

The best dish of the night was the fifth course - four unassuming looking pieces of nigiri sushi.  The fish topping them (tuna, snapper, salmon and grilled eel) were of course fresh and cut to a suitable thickness that you could easily pop into your mouth and bite through. But, what made the dish extraordinary was the rice! The hand pressed pieces were lightly warmed and had such an amazing texture – the plump soft kernels of vinegary rice had a creamy feeling to it yet was still hard enough to pick up with chopsticks. 

In the Tokyo episode of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, chef Naomichi Yasuda notes the most important ingredient in his sushi is rice.  Sure, when I heard this comment it implicitly made sense to me since every piece of sushi contains it.  But, it wasn't until we had Solo Sushi Ya’s incredible rice that it really made sense.  Honestly, if the rice is this good, it could be topped with a thinly sliced cucumber and I’d be just as happy.

Last but not least was dessert - a bowl of cold gelatin topped with a berry coulis and more of those crispy white bits that started off the meal.  Normally, I don't have high hopes for Asian desserts because, let’s be honest, they're never that good.  But, it wasn't that bad; the gelatin had a light coffee taste and an interesting texture (lighter than Jello but still firmer than custard). 

Despite the 6-course meal, dishes came out like clockwork with the new one arriving as soon as finished ones were whisked away. In the end, we were done in a little over an hour, though I’ll admit we are quicker eaters.  Solo Sushi Ya is an intimate restaurant seating about 30 people so to be safe make reservations.  We appreciated Chef Gao’s friendliness and willingness to answer any questions we had.  Overall, the experience was great and we’d love to return to have some maki rolls, more nigiri and perhaps some noodles.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

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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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