Showing posts with label sashimi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sashimi. 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

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!

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Going back to Akira Back (Toronto)


When Chef Back visited Toronto in July, I returned to Akira Back to sample their “new” menu. My first visit to the restaurant was fine, but it wasn’t impressive. Surely things will be better when the head honcho is in town? After all, he has his name to protect.

Upon cracking open the menu, I was disappointed to see not much has changed. Indeed, a couple of dishes were added but by and large everything remained. The only surprised for the evening was a special lobster 4-ways menu for two ($100). Our waitress noted they’re testing the dishes to see if there’s interest, so what’s detailed in the post is subject to change or may be discontinued all together.


I think most of us coughed on our first sip of the lobster miso soup as we weren’t expecting it to be spicy. The initial surprise aside, the rich hot broth was delicious, the lobster legs infusing the salty and spicy soup. Plump little mushrooms were strewn throughout and a nice addition with the seafood essence.


Having had lobster sashimi a couple of times, Akira Back was the best experience - the lobster tail lightly torched to take away any gumminess, but the meat left raw and sweet. A bit of the freshly grated wasabi and house made soy sauce was all it took to flavour the dish.


The lobster tempura was okay, but since the batter was dense (where are the wispy crunchy bits of tempura?) it ended up tasting like fish sticks instead of chunks of lobster claw. Akira Back needs to work on the batter’s consistency and frying temperature of the oil as the sea urchin tempura ($18) was no better. The creamy urchin wrapped with citrusy shiso leaves was a good idea, if it weren’t for the heavy coating that completely covered the seafood.


What arrived with the fourth course seemed too small for two people - a small sliver of poached lobster with nori butter sauce. In general, this menu for two would be insufficient, tables will need to add on a couple of items to round out the meal. Perhaps a bowl of the wagyu fried rice ($14) for some grains? While it is a tad oily – not surprising with wagyu – the rice had such a great wok hay essence. It’d be even better with more scallion.


Akira’s miso black cod ($31) incorporates the traditional sweet glaze but I’ve had better (and for more reasonable prices compared to the dainty portion of fish). Regardless, it was decently prepared, the black cod having a light smokiness and the glaze slightly caramelized for an extra bit of texture. At least it was better than the wagyu short ribs I previously had; although hot izakaya dishes are not Akira’s forte.


Their cold dishes are much better. The Hokkaido scallop kiwi ($23) was no exception. Sliced raw scallops are layered with kiwi and flavoured with an onion salsa and yuzu soy. The dish is refreshingly delicious and shows restraint, so the scallop’s sweetness isn’t overtaken by the other flavours – even the onion salsa isn’t too strong, adding flavour but not sting.


With Chef Back’s visit there was also a special dessert… date ice cream with a mango mousse ($15). A plate of granita first arrives with an egg carton in tow. Our waitress proceeds to take out an “egg”: the shell made from candy; the whites a date ice cream; and the yolk mango passionfruit sorbet. Luckily, I took the picture before everything was crushed into the sweet ice, creating a dessert reminiscent of bing su. The light dessert was a beautiful and whimsical finish. Maybe things are better when Akira Back is back.


Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 80 Blue Jays Way, 2nd 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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Sushi Kaji (Toronto)


Before sushi became popular, when most people thought California rolls were the real deal, Mitsuhiro Kaji already started serving authentic offerings to those lucky enough for score one of the 30 seats in his quaint Etobicoke restaurant.  

After trying Yasu, Shoushin and Yunaghi, visiting Sushi Kaji, where Japanese fine dining in Toronto arguably began, was a pilgrimage that seemed important. Similar to the later two restaurants, Sushi Kaji’s omakase menus aren’t pure sushi; instead a mixture of small dishes and sushi - for an extra $30, they’ll also prepare a sashimi course.

Since it was our first visit, the takumi ($130) experience was in order. Instead of miso, Kaji presents a bowl of smoky butternut squash soup; a light consistency yet still incorporating a strong powerful flavour. While the broth was fantastic, the chicken meatball was rather neutral and needs to be enjoyed with the soup.


As the salads are presented, we’re advised the dressings are on the side so we can customize the potency of the flavours … of course, I ended up adding everything. Thankfully, the sugary sweetness of typical seaweed salads was missing, instead, Kaji pairs the seaweed with lemon miso that’s enhanced by slightly sweet radish slices.


Meanwhile, the daikon salad pays homage to the legendary Japanese knife skills – impossibly thinly sliced and crispy, so refreshing with a creamy sesame dressing.


The salad was a great cleanser before the sashimi. With a dusting of lemon rind on the sea bream and amberjack, the white neutral fish were refreshing. While both these fish are somewhat soft, the Spanish mackerel has a harder fleshy texture having a crunchiness to it, if fish could be crunchy.

Surprisingly, Kaji’s sashimi incorporates rich pieces of tuna belly, generally reserved for sushi, which melts in the mouth and best left as the last fish you’ll eat. The relatively large slices of octopus are tender, but left plain so you can still taste the seafood’s sweetness.


While the satsuma age, a deep fried seafood cake incorporating pieces of octopus and a slight zing from ginger, was tasty, it was the potato salad (yes, you heard right) that was outstanding. Instead of the typical chunks, Kaji shreds the starch into match sticks and mixes the potatoes with micro-fine diced onions, which really makes the side pop.


Lastly, before the sushi, a meaty plate of sautéed wagyu leaking its oily flavours onto the equally meaty oyster mushrooms. In the middle, were large chunks of soft braised short rib, lightened by a splash of chrysanthemum sauce. The dish was hearty and swoon worthy – momentarily silencing everyone at the bar except to sneak glances at how much their fellow guests were enjoying it.


Sitting at the bar allows you to witness Chef Mitsuhiro’s assembling skills. While the entertainment at other sushi bars is watching chefs deftly cut through fish like butter, when it comes to sushi at Kaji, the seafood is pre-sliced… hence why you’re really watching Mitsuhiro assemble the sushi piece-by-piece.

Nonetheless, it’s still an entertaining affair with the Chef’s elaborate gestures – with the salsa music in the background he could have been doing the flamingo with each arm flick. I was so entranced by the dance that I missed photographing the octopus – another slice of the tender flavourful protein, except in this case drizzled with olive oil and sprinkling of salt.

The following raw shrimp, in my opinion one of the worst ways to enjoy this seafood, wasn’t overly gummy as Kaji covered it with a lemony light cream sauce.  Yet, not cooking the shrimp does nothing to enhance its sweetness and the consistency raw shrimp is rather off-putting.

Tuna arrives next with the customary lean (akami) followed by the fatty belly cut (otoro) to highlight how the same fish can offer such different texture and tastes. The akami was a beautiful vibrant hue with a strong wasabi finish, while the otoro served whole (instead of chopped into little pieces) so you can really enjoy the marbling.


After a quick blowtorch to sear the top of the scallop, this piece was covered with melted butter with a strong kick of black pepper. Indeed, it’ll help mask any fishy tastes that the mollusk may have, but also covers up any of the scallop’s mild sweetness.


Surprisingly, after the octopus, Kaji also served calamari as well – in this case raw so there’s a sticky chewy texture, but very clean tasting. With raw ginger and finely sliced shiso leaf, it’s rather refreshing.


The following flounder (hirame) received a similar preparation with crushed shiso leaves topped with warmed olive oil and salt. A good tasting piece on its own, but too similar to the calamari. Sisho is such a strong herb, akin to a citrusy basil, that back-to-back it’s overpowering.


Unlike other high-end sushi establishment, at Sushi Kaji you do get a plate of soy cause and wasabi - rather than the chef swiping on the amount deemed optimal for each piece. Instead, Chef Mitsuhiro coaches diners on what to do (no soy or little soy). Still, some pieces, like the Japanese horse mackerel (aji) could really use a thicker soy and all the toppings makes it difficult to dip so would benefit from having a helpful swish from the chef.


The eel, heated through in the toaster oven with the sweet thick glaze, is absolutely delicious. Kaji tops it with lemon rind adding a great lightness to the otherwise richer sushi.


To end, a piece of spicy tuna maki. I commend the restaurant for trying to elevate such a common roll with chopped otoro without any of the dreaded tempura bits mixed throughout. It was certainly better, but the seaweed could be crispier (still rather chewy like the common versions) and the spicy mayonnaise also unexceptional.


Chef Mitsuhiro plays with different condiments, marrying Western and Asian elements, so you do get interesting tasting pieces at Sushi Kaji. However, a person can only enjoy so much olive oil and salt. Maybe I prefer sushi traditional, but I found oil and salt tasty with the scallop but really detracted from other items. The entire time I just wanted a swish of condensed sweet soy… where was it?!

So many chefs believe the most important part of sushi is its foundation – rice. Although Sushi Kaji’s rice is soft and creamy, it lacks the hit of vinegar I’ve grown to love. The temperature could also be warmer.    

Interestingly, the restaurant switches the tea before dessert for a lighter smoother blend. The sweets were pleasant but conventional: a scoop of vanilla ice cream on red bean paste and a run-of-the-mill gelatin textured panna cotta with chopped pears and shiso sorbet – someone really loves this herb!  


The restaurant’s bar seating arrangement is strange: despite there being empty chairs, they choose to sit everyone right beside the next couple instead of spacing everyone apart. Yet, for a first visit you need to sit at the bar, to fully immerse yourself in the experience. Just don’t expect any privacy.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 860 The Queensway

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:


Sushi Kaji Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato