Showing posts with label sea bream. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sea bream. Show all posts

Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto Restaurant (Toronto)

Tucked in the Japanese Cultural Centre, walking into Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto transports you to another country. Given their limited seating, their doors may be locked, so give the posted number a call and in no time, someone will greet you at the entrance and lead you through the orange torii gates into the dining room.

There’s so much to take in that the first ten minutes is like sensory overload. Take a deep breath and get ready for the meal; Hashimoto only serves three tables an evening, there’s plenty of time to explore after dinner. So, settle into your private dining room and decompress for the meal to come.   

Hashimoto describes kaiseki as “much of an art form as a style of food preparation” and this is certainly accurate. Each dish was beautiful and like a gift waiting to be unwrapped; a sense of excitement settled over me as I lifted the dome from many of the courses.

The eight-course meal ($350 per person) began with an onjyaku-zen (amuse bouche) consisting of three hearty soups designed to warm-up the stomach. Hashimoto’s saikyo miso soup wasn’t overly salty but rather rich in umami made with white miso, topped with a braised carrot, and a pea-sized amount of mustard to add an expected spice against the broth. Meanwhile, the nutty flavour that burst through the cube of goma (sesame) tofu was incredible, almost bordering bitter if it weren’t balanced out by the thick savoury soup. If anything, I could have done without wasabi on the tofu as the sesame taste was already so pungent.

Of all three bowls, my favourite was also the simplest and what Hashimoto calls “seasoned rice”. It’s like a thick congee studded with cubes of sweet soft squash and topped with slivers of salty dried kelp (?). The bowl was lovely and comforting and had us wanting another taste of it to end the meal.

Paper thin slices of tennen madai (line caught sea bream) was featured in the sashimi course, so delicate that it’s like eating flower petals made of fish. Around the plate were three agar jellies flavoured with ginger, carrot, and seaweed, as well as a washer-sized daikon filled with thinly julienned pickled vegetables. It’s a much lighter dish following the onjyaku-zen and really showcases the knife skills of Chef Masaki Hashimoto.

Diners are asked to refrain from wearing strong scents to ensure they’re able to enjoy the sensory experience of the food. The yuzu aroma that escapes from the owan-mono was so refreshing, although at first whiff, it leaves me wondering if a citrusy soup is something I’d enjoy.

Hashimoto didn’t disappoint, balancing the yuzu in a savoury consommé and pairing it with a host of rich flavours: a silky chawanmushi (egg custard), a thick chewy rice cake, and a soft braised daikon. The slice of amadai (tile fish) was cooked perfectly and I loved that the fish’s scales were deep fried to form a crunchy garnish on top.

The yaki-mono (grilled course) featured a host of ingredients that were in-season during the autumn in Japan. Generally, I only have persimmons raw, yet somehow the fruit tastes so good baked, releasing more of its sweet flavours with chewy pieces of mochi included to soak up some of its juices. The fruit was so inventive that the grilled shima-aji (stripe jack) almost seemed secondary; I found the fish a tad overcooked and in need of a stronger glaze to make it stand out.

To finish the yaki-mono a host of seasonal produce were used as palette cleansers including crisp lotus root, a gooseberry topped with egg yolk (surprisingly, it works), mountain yam, and a lovely mountain peach that’s almost tastes like a cross between a plum and strawberry.

The Spice Girl’s song, When Two Becomes One, is what comes to mind when I think of the taki-awase course. The dish begins with ingredients being stewed separately – in this case, cubes of octopus, vegetables, squash, and daikon – and are then steam together to blend the flavours and aromas without causing the ingredients to become overcooked. After simmering for four hours, the octopus was so tender that if our server didn’t tell us what the protein was, I would have thought we were eating brisket.

Following the softer steamed dish was the shii-zakana (signature course), which provided a textural contrast with different crispy elements:

  • Medallions of the most incredible chicken teriyaki encapsulating a soft walnut and wrapped in a thin crispy skin. I could munch on rounds of these in lieu of chicken wings.
  • A ball of flavourful mashed Japanese potatoes filled with wagyu beef cubes and rolled into crispy rice grains creating something that rivals arancini with its crunchy and soft elements. Of course, in this case, instead of the traditional ground beef and peas, it’s filled with rich wagyu. Oh boy.
  • Even the garnish of popped wheat was edible; a bit fibrous when I took a bite of the entire stalk, but once we started picking out the individual grains from the husk, became almost like a nutty popcorn.

Guilt washed over me as I took my first bite of Chef Hashimoto’s hand carved radish crane… it must have taken so much time to carve its delicate neck and legs! It was the last thing consumed so that I could appreciate its beauty before finally dipping it into the carrot sauce and devouring the refreshing décor.

The last savoury course brought a bowl of sticky rice topped with slices of A5 Hyogo wagyu, the prized beef from the Kobe region. While it was delicious, I do wish the beef was left thicker and cut into cubes so that more of the fatty rich flavours would be locked in and flow onto the tongue.

A bowl of noodles and soup is always a delight. In this case, a cha (tea) soba served in a fragrant dashi broth that was good to the last drop. What a lovely way to end and cleanse the palette before dessert.

Like many Japanese desserts, the mizu-mono was a fruit plate prominently featuring the expensive Shizuoka musk melon. A sizeable melon is upwards of $200 a fruit and commands the premium as supposedly they are raised to only have one melon per plant to ensure all the flavours are concentrated into one fruit and there being less of a chance of the melon having blemishes.

Indeed, every time I’ve had a slice it’s the sweetest melon ever and tastes like a cross between cantaloupe and honeydew. What also makes it different is the texture: when you have a normal melon it tends to be very soft and sweet in the centre, then gets hard and flavourless as you approach the find. The musk melon tends to have a more uniform sweetness and tenderness throughout.

It’s strange when I’m excited to try fruit, at Hashimoto they also provided a white strawberry encapsulated in a light jelly and topped with condensed milk. Truthfully, it just tasted like a lighter Ontario strawberry that you can purchase at a farmer’s market when it’s in season… I don’t think I would pay the ~$40 for a pint. It was my first experience having a shine muscat, which was like a sweeter and juicier globe grape without seeds. Set in gelatin and adorned with a gold leaf it’s crazy to think that a bunch of these grapes can be upwards of $100.

Aside from the fruit, we were treated to a leaf of uber-rich matcha pudding and a dollop of sweet azuki beans topped with a crispy candy. My recommendation is that Chef Hashimoto switches out the rock sugar with pop rocks to really give the diners a surprise.

With an extensive sake menu, if you’re not familiar with the Japanese spirit, they have a “sommelier” to help you choose one based on your preferences for other alcohol. Letting her know that we like a dry crisp wine, she recommended the Okunomatsu Junmai Ginjo Genshu Arabashiri that was offered in a half bottle on weekends ($55), which does have a less sweet finish.

For those who are abstaining from alcohol, they also offer pots of fragrant tea ($9 a person) or water served from a kimono clad Swell bottle ($7 a person).

Incredible surroundings and beautiful unique dishes aside, what makes dining at Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto an unforgettable experience is their service. With only three tables nightly, we were in good hands – just like in Japan, the hospitality rises to another level.

It evens ends warmly with our server offering to take a picture of us, which they email to us later that evening along with pictures of the dishes sampled. It’s a simple and sweet gesture that sets the restaurant apart, from the moment you enter and after you return home, dining at Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto is a true sensory experience. 

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 6 Garamond Court


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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CLOSED: Copetin (Toronto)


Dining at Claudio Aprile's Colborne Lane was one of my first forays into fine dining and tasting menus – a magically delicious experience where ice cream is made with nitrogen and puffs of foam cover meats. Hence, when it was announced that Origin King would be re-opened as Copetín and Aprile would be serving “inventive and elevated” cuisine, I was smitten.

Waiting about a month after the opening date - to give the restaurant the opportunity to work out any kinks – the dinner finally arrived. My first taste of Copetín’s creations wasn’t innovative at all, rather a complimentary Parker House roll that was nonetheless delicious: warm, fluffy, and as buttery as any brioche.


Told that the restaurant’s la plancha octopus ($17) was a popular dish, we had to try it. The grilled octopus wasn’t exactly soft and tender, but I don’t mind a bit of chewiness if it means fuller flavour seafood. All the accompanying items were light and summery including a crunchy jicama salsa, grapefruit segments, orbs of compressed cucumber, mint (this was a little heavy), and rich thick crème fraiche. Even the green curry paste was rather refreshing on account of it being served “raw”, where the spices weren’t cooked.


Be sure to get enough of the shaved dried cured egg yolk that tops the beef tartare ($17) – it’s delicious having a light smoky flavour and a Parmesan cheese texture except creamier. You’ll need it as the fried pasta chips are rather bland, which is understandable if the tartare is flavourful, but even the beef is mildly spiced with beef fat vinaigrette (likely not to cover the delicate pickled chanterelles). All in all, both starters weren’t out-of-this-world, but still good interpretations of the classic dishes.


As for the mains, there were hit and misses. The worst dish had to be the ricotta gnudi ($26), even though it looked and smelt amazing (compliments of the regianno broth). As it’s presented, I expected the gnudi to be soft, but the texture was almost sticky and felt like we were eating semi-cooked raw dough. There’s many ways it could be improved: made smaller so it cooks through or even if it were just hotter, who knows. Once I added the little bits of asparagus from the sea bream into the pasta, it tasted better.   


Curious how the dish should taste, a quick research brings up a popular rendition from The Spotted Pig in New York. As Serious Eats describes, “It felt almost like an under-inflated water balloon, a thin, thin skin that seemed impossibly delicate with a liquid center. I bit into it and felt the rush of warm savory sheep’s milk ricotta burst into my mouth.” At Copetín there’s no liquid centre and it’s more savoury dough than ricotta.

One staff member raved about the ricotta gnudi being her favourite dish while serving. Afterwards, she came back to inquire how we liked it. I had to be honest … the raw dough texture was just off putting. Perplexed, she noted it didn’t sound right as the texture’s not normally so mushy. Alas, she also didn’t do anything to correct for it either – no replacement dish that’s prepared correctly or offer to take it off our bill.

While the triple seared Australian wagyu striploin ($59) was decent for a steak, for wagyu it was disappointing. The Australian version pales in comparison to their Japanese counterpart, with no indication of marbling – the steak was so lean it’s no different from an aged Black Angus. Moreover, blue cheese is an ingredient that needs to be called out on the menu. With a love/hate relationship for many, it’s still rare that I actually like the sharp tangy cheese. Accordingly, it would be nice to know it’d be mixed into the smoked parsnip puree as it probably would have changed my decision on ordering the dish.


Luckily, the seafood mains were much better. The sea bream ($35) had a wonderful crispy skin; the fish’s meat was flaky and flavourful. On the bottom, the diced potato, clams, and asparagus medley was nice … all ingredients that go well with sea bream. While the corn veloute was a good choice as a sauce, it really needed more saffron as it left no taste or aroma. Despite the menu describing the dish as also incorporating chorizo and olive, it was surprisingly light tasting and overall needed more seasoning.


Of all the mains, the most impressive were the sea scallops ($39) – seared beautifully and under cooked so it remained sweet and soft. The Thai curry sauce was flavourful and fragrant, the spiciness balanced against the seafood’s sweetness. Moreover, there was contrast in textures with the kale chip and crisp taro root rosti on the bottom. Forget about everything else, I could have just eaten the scallops with coconut rice and been happy.


In time, Copetín will offer a tasting menu at the kitchen counter – you simply call in to discuss budget and menu preferences and the chef will create something special. Sadly, after our mediocre meal, even the promise of a customized menu isn’t something I’m dying to return for. Maybe it’s because I was too excited for the experience to begin with, hoping to re-live the Colborne Lane days. Or perhaps it’s due to staff members hyping up the experience too much - from the moment we walked in every dish was amazing or the best thing ever… the enthusiasm is great when the food can meet expectations, but makes things worse when it can’t.

In fact, it’s partly why we chose the caramelized tres leche cake ($13) for dessert. After a staff member implored us to save room to try the rosehip bavoir, the same person who loved the ricotta gnudi, I knew we didn’t have the same taste so went with the safer option instead. The tres leche was a decent ending: there was a nice char on the cake, the mole gelato an interesting sweet & savoury combination, and the caramelized bananas & smoked peanuts adding some crunch.  

Note to self: visit new restaurants with low expectations - don’t get too excited and definitely don’t let past experiences create anticipations. In my defence, Copetín’s website is also misleading, describing the cuisine as “inventive”. Having tried seven of the fifteen dishes, nothing stuck out as unique – octopus, beef tartare, and steak are all popular dishes on many menus.

Instead, the website is better off explaining that Copetín means community; as Chef Aprile explained in various interviews, it’s a drop-in casual environment he hopes to create in the new restaurant. I can see Copetín meeting this mandate, its King East location is central and staff members are welcoming and friendly. So maybe you’re not going for inventive or elevated food, but you’ll find a few good dishes and certainly a beautiful comfortable environment to enjoy them in.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 107 King Street 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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this: