Showing posts with label omakase. Show all posts
Showing posts with label omakase. Show all posts

Shoushin (Toronto) Revisited in 2022

Shoushin has really matured since my last visit - granted this last visit was in 2017, a time frame approaching five years. We had plans to go back in 2019, but we all know why that didn’t happen. It’s a restaurant that is more sure of itself: there’s only two menus to choose from with the omakase at $300 or a more personalized experience, the obsession perfection, priced at $450+ depending on the selection. Their staff are more knowledgeable - about the restaurant, alcohol selection, and the ingredients used – and operates with a synchronized precision that would make Henry Ford happy.

Right after the menus are whisked away, a hot hand towel arrives, followed by cold drinks, and an amuse bouche - a bite of spinach boiled in kelp broth and topped with dried rich tuna flakes. For the winter, the kelp broth seemed to be a cornerstone of their appetizers, a comforting staple like chicken soup.

This is followed by another warming dish, a piece of smoked king fish sitting in a puréed daikon broth. The accompanying cutlery was difficult to use. Although pretty to look at, the wooden spoon combined with a shallow dish made reaching the broth difficult (unless you pick up the vessel and drink from it). From what I manage to get into the spoon, the savoury silky soup went well with the lightly scented meaty fish. The fish was described as quickly deep fried, but there wasn’t a crunchy element, which if they could have managed a bit of crispiness would have made the dish even more interesting.

Sashimi arrives next, served over three dishes to ensure we enjoyed each one as intended:

  • To begin, pieces of aged lean tuna and big reef squid. The tuna was extremely tender… not an ounce of sinew and such a mellow light “sweet” bite. The fish’s texture contrasted by the gummy squid that has a slightly chewy sticky consistency that reminded me of having tendon.  
  • I couldn’t really taste the “marination in kelp” that was used to describe the following tile fish. Frankly, maybe I could have done without the marination if that’s what made it fibrous, not really a blow-your-mind type of bite that needed to be showcased solo.
  • Unlike the firefly squid, which is so special and rarely found on Toronto menus. We’re told that these little creatures are currently in season as they migrate to shallow waters in Toyama Bay and are caught at night when they glow (hence their name). At Shoushin, they are cleaned and blanched with ginger to preserve their natural flavours, a slightly sweet essence and a different experience from the traditional calamari or cuttlefish. Sometimes served alongside drinking in an izakaya in Japan, they certainly have an elevated place on Shoushin’s menu.

My favourite dish of the night was the fatty tuna simmered in plum broth. The rich savouriness of the fish balanced nicely with the slightly sweet tartness of the fruit, sort of like having pork chops with apple sauce. It’s fragrant, flavourful, and warming, something I could have had an entire steak of surely.

And before the sushi, a cup of miso soup made with red and aged miso, which was so light on the salt that I wouldn’t be surprised was not seasoned at all. Nonetheless, it’s surprisingly flavourful with an umami acidic property to it. The finely chopped shallots were an interesting choice, maybe for the slightly crunchy texture, but a bit overpowering given the under seasoned soup.

Not surprisingly, the ingredients showcased in their nigri sushi is seasonal. During this visit, I learnt that in the winter we can expect more fish, while in warmer months is when shellfish are also featured into the menu. With that in mind, we’re started off with the stripe jack, the light fish really helping to highlight the lovely, vinegared rice used at Shoushin. I like that the grains are cooked less so you can feel their smooth texture against the tongue.   

Needlefish and yellowtail marinated in soy followed, both lighter yet different as the ‘meatiness’ of the fish all varied with the needlefish being the heaviest of the bunch.

The obligatory bluefin tuna trio ranging from the lean akami to the fatty otoro was featured next. I’m still marveled by how tender I find the lean tuna, only to then taste the fattiness of the otoro and have your mind warp for a second. Oh, if only bluefin tuna wasn’t endangered.  

Mackerel arrives next – not the aji variety – this one stronger (something I could definitely taste with the slight fishiness) and pickled to help combat the more pungent fish.

While this may sound off putting to some, the trigger fish served with its own liver is genius. It’s such an interesting bite that’s unlike the rest, a creamy juiciness that’s so surprising for what looks like a piece of mild white fish. Of course, trigger fish is not a candy, but if it were it’d be like a Fruit Gusher.  

Only to be followed by the even juicer ikura – so maybe scratch my last comment, this would be the Fruit Gusher of the fish world – that was so lovely and refreshing.

And to wrap up the nigiri, a piece of uni that is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s SO sweet and silky that it could even pass as custard, we’re told that Shoushin uses sea urchin that doesn’t contain preservatives – really all restaurants should go organic if that’s how it will taste.

Their chopped fatty tuna handroll incorporates white leek versus the traditional green onion. It’s a nice change as the leek is mellower and when it’s mixed into the pulverized tuna the hand roll has such a delicate creamy centre.

Lastly, Shoushin’s tamago that’s made with egg and shrimp paste. Truth be told, the taste doesn’t change that much, but the intoxicating aroma is so wonderful. Just hold it to your nose and take a whiff before you enjoy.

For dessert, we opted for both offerings, the crème brûlée incorporated a bit of squash that gave it a lovely earthy finish. It’s way more interesting than the icy matcha with red bean. Although, the ice cream is ideal for those who don’t like sweet desserts or diabetics as syrup arrives on the side so you can customize its sweetness.

This attention to detail is what I notice most about Shoushin’s growth: like how the chef angles the nigiri differently depending on if you’re left or right-handed; or the servers whisking away our tea at regular intervals and replacing it with a steaming hot cup.

What hasn’t changed is their comfortable hospitality - the sushi chefs welcoming conversation, despite busily preparing dinner. They are the first to speak to us, putting me at ease to start asking more about what we’re eating… something they probably regretted later. I love seeing this growth and progression and can’t wait to see what Chef Lin has in store for us next. Hopefully, I don’t have to wait another five years.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3328 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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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

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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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

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: