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

Yukashi Japanese Cuisine (Toronto)

In my youth, all-you-can-eat and chicken teriyaki was what came to mind when thinking of Japanese cuisine. Boy, have things changed. Now, the word that I associate with Japanese food is omakase – the concept of leaving it to the Chef to decide what to eat.

Generally, omakase menus aren’t the most wallet friendly. At Yukashi, while still pricey, they attempt to cater to different price points with 4-course ($75), 9-course ($150), and the one-week advanced notice Yukashi menu ($300+). There’s even a la carte options for those who don’t want to leave their taste buds to chance.

Eight stools flank the bar and kitchen area. These seats around the chef’s table are definitely the ones to try to reserve. Dinner starts with Chef Daisuke Izutsu grating wasabi, a noiseless affair until he breaks the silence and tells us we’re being too quiet. He gets us chatting and warmed up by passing around a miniature version of the grater so we can try to guess what it’s made from (inside out shark skin, if you want to sound knowledgeable).

Meanwhile, Chef Jin Lee tinkers in the kitchen. He doesn’t speak to the group, but is coordinating the staff within to make sure the hot dishes arrive at a well-timed pace.  Like the warm deep-fried sesame tofu appetizer that has a chewy soft consistency like mochi, but nutty and savoury. Flavoured with a thick fish sauce, it’s then topped with yuzu zest and wasabi to give it a fresh element.

Their “soup” course is actually a hearty chawanmushi, the egg custard surrounding slices of charred mochi and sweet clams so you’re greeted with different flavours with every bite. The pea sauce covering everything was a nice spring element but could be saltier, especially when the crab paste dumpling was also fairly neutral. Nonetheless, it was a tasty dish.

If you’ve been to other omakase restaurants in Toronto, generally sashimi and sushi will follow to finish off the menu. At Yukashi, they serve kaiseki cuisine so while you receive raw fish, there’s not an ounce of grain accompanying it. Kaiseki strives to use seasonal ingredients to create dishes with different textures and also highlights its natural flavours. Above all, it’s recognized for beautiful plating where an ingredient’s colours are used to create dishes that could be considered an art form.

The otsukuri embodied the concept perfectly where an array of fishes were dotted across the plate and combined with painstakingly slivered and twirled garnishes. While it comes with a dish of sweet soy, there’s also ground salt, yuzu zest, juicy seeds (to calm down the soy’s saltiness), and a host of other items to flavour the seafood.

Three fish are included: the famed otoro or cubes of fatty tuna that’s best described as sushi butter; a chewy red snapper; and the most interesting addition… smoked yellow tail. Cooked over a warayaki stove that uses smouldering straw, the yellow tail smells like a cigarette butt and even tastes a little like tobacco. While the flavours can be a bit overpowering (try it last), it’s really different from other fishes offered. In lieu of ginger, there are potato stems that have a juicy spongy texture and acts as a palette cleanser.

After having the otoro, their signature dish pushed my richness quotient to its limit. The uni niku starts with slices of Mizayaki wagyu: one that’s fattier so it simply melts and a relatively leaner slice that’s more flavourful. If it weren’t enough, the wagyu is then topped with uni (the creamy insides of a sea urchin) and foie gras. It all gets a good torching so that the fats heat up and meld together. Then try your best to wrap the glistening tower inside half a shiso leaf, and eat.

Chef Izutsu notes he got the idea for the signature dish when thinking of something that would have decadent elements that work together or alone. Indeed, it smelled amazing and if you like really really rich items you’re in for a treat. I’m glad there were only two slices … anymore and I’m not sure my stomach could handle all that fat. 

After having the sashimi platter, I thought we already had the “fish dish”, but then another intricately assembled seafood platter arrives, even prettier than the otsukuri. They call this the harvest plate and there’s so much to taste and discover: a cold seafood medley that’s almost like a ceviche except flavoured with a cherry blossom and sake (?) foam; marinated shrimp; roasted fish; deep fried bamboo shoot; lotus root; and skinned tomato. It’s certainly gorgeous to look at, but merely tastes okay as each element had to be prepared ahead of time so isn’t at its peak.

Between the seafood and meat dish, the chef serves the amuse bouche - monk fish liver with pickled radish. While it looks like it would be another heavy item, the pickled radish helped to balance the warm liver that tasted like a lighter foie gras. A good bridging bite.

In seeing the meat dish, I had high hopes that it would be amazing. Something that contains sakura sticky rice, duck, and egg yolk butter… what?! In reality, it sounds better than it tastes. We’re instructed to “break” the egg yolk butter into everything and mix it up. I abstained and broke off pieces and mixed it in every bite. This was a good call as the yolk really didn’t taste like much and the oiliness would have been too much. Meanwhile, although the duck had nice flavours and was tender, I was a bit disappointed that it was so cooked through that the texture resembled beef.

While you usually think of tempura as items dunked in a thick batter, at Yukashi it’s an intricate roll made from tile fish, shrimp, tofu skin and shiso. While it’s deep fried, it’s not battered so you end up with a relatively light dish, especially with the fruit sauce that accompanies it. Although I was expecting something savoury and crunchy, in hindsight, after all the heavier dishes proceeding the tempura, it was nice to have something delicate. 

Likely the simplest dish of the evening, the rice and dashi soup was also my favourite. I really needed that umami-filled hot broth that when mixed with the rice created a congee-like bowl. Restrained elements of kelp, seaweed and salmon roe kept it hearty and humble. I could have used another bowl.

In preparation for dessert, Chef Izutsu brings out what looks like a large cantaloupe. After breaking through the rough exterior, the fruit is pale green, a shade lighter than honeydew. I had my doubts … fruit for dessert? How boring. But then, I’ve never heard of a muskmelon.

Yukashi flies them in from the Shizuoka Prefecture of Japan, where these fruits are so coveted that people wait for hours and pay upwards of ¥16,000 (or about $200 Canadian dollars) a fruit! They command this price as all the small buds are removed at the beginning of the season so that each vine only grows one melon. All the nutrients and resources are directed into one fruit to create the juiciest and sweetest melon I’ve ever had … so maybe melon is better than red bean mochi ice cream.

Back to why I think scoring one of the eight seats around the chef’s table is important – it’s all about the experience. There are some delicious dishes at Yukashi, but there are also others that are pretty to look at but tastes satisfactory. So, what really made the night a success was being able to chat with Chef Izutsu. 

While prepping he’s serious and zoned in. Afterwards, a playful side comes out and he loves to chat (if you’re a chef, let him know as he’ll want to visit your restaurant). It's also a shared event with the other guests sitting around the bar – whether it’s seeing their reaction to dishes or eavesdropping on their conversation with the Chef. The experience is why omakase is now a phrase that elicit excitement for me. 

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 643A Mount Pleasant Road

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more -
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: