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Sep 28, 2005 04:52 PM

Vancouver Report - Tojo's Or NOT Tojo's

  • t

After our amazing meal at West we were really looking forward to our sushi extravaganza at Tojo's the following night. Having previously confirmed our reservation for the sushi bar (and confirming that we wanted the $125 per head omakase), we arrived on time for our 8:30 seating. The place was hopping, and the small sushi bar was packed, the centerpiece in a hustling, bustling restaurant.

We were greeted by a shaved head young man, gave him our name and reservation time, and he scribbled a "#1" on a sticky note and stuck it on my wife's hand with a smile. He then proceeded to escort us past the sushi bar to a small, barely padded bench along a wall just off a service vestibule.

He quickly disappeared without even asking us if we wanted a drink. Next thing we know a party of five (drinks in hand) was escorted to the same area, forcing me to slide down, my broad, American butt now with even less space on the small and increasingly uncomfortable bench.

After about 15 minutes our greeter came by and we reminded him that we had a reservation at 8:30 for the full omakase, the lovely Denise asking specifically how much longer we would have to wait. Shaved boy muttered something unintelligible and went off yakking up the sushi bar guests, all of whom were obviously well-ensconced in the middle of their meals.

Another 10 minutes sitting, still with no drink orders taken and no perceivable progress at the sushi bar, and my jaw was starting to clench up. What kind of restaurant so thoroughly ignores a party that is planning on dropping upwards of $300 for dinner?

Not the kind of restaurant we choose to patronize. We up and left after stewing for a few more minutes, passing several staff members on the way out, none of whom even bothered to say anything.

I had noticed Earl's from our cab and remembered some 'hounds making positive comments, so we walked a few blocks back up Broadway where we were promptly and warmly greeted and seated by the lovely young Scottish lass manning the outside reservation desk.

We proceeded to enjoy the next several hours with good drink, good food and good service, for less than the cost that one of us would have dropped up at Tojo's.

As we had sushi on the mind we ordered their bento box appetizer, along with the fried baby calamari.

The bento was very nice...dynamite shrimp rolls were delicious, as were the togarashi shrimp with their strong grill flavor. There was a lovely chunk of sweet-glazed salmon as well as a handful of edamame to enjoy.

The calamari appy was just as good...nicely fried up in a light, tempura-like batter, sided with a tangy tzatziki sauce. We asked for a second ramekin of sauce and happily popped squid bits in our mouths with the bento box chopsticks.

As the appetizers were pretty sizable, we opted to split a bacon cheddar burger for dinner. We were disappointed to find that the kitchen would not cook the burger anyway except medium well, but our server assured us the burgers were big, moist and flavorful. He was right...the half-pound patty had a nice beefy flavor and was perhaps only a bit on the dry side. Fortunately they dress their burgers with a "rustic onion mayo" that was to die for...ended up asking for more so we could have it with our fries, prepared extra crisp as requested.

After polishing off the burger we went for the Sticky Toffee Pudding dessert. The vanilla ice cream, housed in a hardened toffee shell, was deelish. The accompanying chocolate cake with fudge sauce was a bit on the pedestrian side, and was left unfinished. Along with a couple of yummy coffee drinks, we wound up very pleased with our decision to leave Tojo's, and headed back into downtown to catch the midnight comedy show at YukYuk's.

Tojo's is obviously surviving on their reputation, with many patrons choosing to put up with the totally lame service in order to avail themselves of what is supposed to be the best sushi in town. We could not care less...it is just bait after all is said and done. Any restaurant with a $125 prix fixe offering should understand that service is just as important as the room and the food for customers willing to drop that kind of coin. Tojo's obviously doesn't get it, and as such will never get any of our Vancouver vacation dollars.

Given Vancouver's reputation for sushi, we'd appreciate hearing from you Canuckhounds as to some other estimable sushi bars for our next visit.

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  1. Next time - NOT TOJO'S. When have been to Tojo's once nad only once and it has never crossed out mind to go back. The food was very good - however there is something to be said about good food and a good atmosphere make the meal. Tojo's is lacking atmosphere - very out dated decore & Tojo himself has a very large head...thinks he is the best and only the best.

    There is a 'gem' of a sushi place (should probably not talk it up too much or else every chowhound will be there...) however, it is called AJI SAI and is located in Kerrisdale on West 42 near Arbutus. Is is a wonderful little sushi bar, and little it is - it seats maybe 20 people. There is no kitchen - by this I mean it is SUSHI ONLY - nothing is cooked nor deepfried, the way a sushi restaurant should be. The menu has a ton to choose from, something for everyone. The prices are very good, but it is more about the quality and the freshness and the atmosphere.....oh just talking about it make me want to go eat there. The service is great, very Japanese so how could it not be. So next time you are in town GO!!!!

    Note it is closed on Mondays. And do not take reservations - they open for lunch at 11:45 - 2 and dinner is served from 5pm on. I would go when they open as there is normally a line by about 6pm.


    3 Replies
    1. re: JWh
      Tha Groovin' Gourmet

      Thanks for validating my feelings. I love you man! ;)

      And thanks for the tip on Aji Sai. We look forward to exploring
      much more of the city, so Kerrisdale it is when next we visit.

      1. re: Tha Groovin' Gourmet

        Well I will be the voice of dissent and say I've been to Tojo's twice in the last cpl months and can't get enough of it. Granted I haven't sat at the sushi bar, sat outside on the patio with the gorgeous view both times. The sushi is the best I've ever had, hands down. I can't say enough about how great that place is. I think maybe those who don't sit with mr. tojo have the better experience, the wait staff is always friendly and helpful.

        First time we did omakase and second time just ordered like mad from the menu.

        1. re: Nehna

          Just a note to the original poster though....if that had happened to me, much as I love tojo's, I would have walked out too....

    2. g

      I know that Tha Groovin Gourmet travels a lot and eats in a lot of fine establishments, based on his reports on other Chowhound pages.
      That he'd have such complimentary things to say about Earl's, which we Vancouverites think of as a slightly-better-than-average eatery, speaks very clearly about the quality of cuisine we have on offer here in Vancouver and BC in general.
      So, Groovin', don't forget to come back and visit Vancouver Island as well. And share your informative reports as well. Thanks for taking the time.

      2 Replies
      1. re: galluping_grmay
        Tha Groovin' Gourmet

        You betcha!

        We loved our 2 days in the city and our repositioning cruise (HAL rocks!)
        We're already talking about catching another cruise on the flipside, and would gladly do the same itinerary again, with perhaps a couple of more days in Vancouver next time.

        As for Earl's, the overall vibe was SOOOOOO much better than Tojo's,
        and the food was solid. Given what we went through down the street
        both me and missus felt it was a good call.

        I would totally agree with your assessment...we came away feeling
        that Vancouver is a helluva 'hound town.

        1. re: galluping_grmay

          not to be a smartass, but Earls' newfound quality come from its executive chef, Michael Noble, who devises menues out of Earls' test kitchen at its Dalhousie location in CALGARY. Noble did not move to Vancouver when he left Catch, even though this has been misreported here and on eGullet. So Earls says nothing, really, about Vancouver cuisine. Its menu is the same in Calgary (and Edmonton and Winnipeg, etc etc).

          Try Yoshi in Denman for the best sushi I've had in Vancouver.

        2. b
          Buddha Belly

          How you can compare Earl's (a chain, a decent chain) with Tojo is beyond my comprehension

          4 Replies
          1. re: Buddha Belly
            tha Groovin' Gourmet

            Who's comparing? My post was merely a retelling of an evening's chow quest.

            Tojo's screwed up, Earl's got my business instead. Plain and simple.

            1. re: tha Groovin' Gourmet

              I did not read it as a comparison, how he read it as a comparison is beyond me. I read 2 reviews here, one for Tojo's , and one for Earl's , yes, within one post, but that was because of the situation, totally understandable.

              Try Toshi on W.16th Ave, around the corner of Main St. in Vancouver. Very packed, small place, yet great service. Only open for dinner though, no reversation, and you feel a little pressure of leaving soon after the meal, as there are always a long line of waiting patrons outside, on weekends, and sometimes even on weekdays.

              If you can go to Gilford area on Surrey, which is a bit far out for most people, then Hanako is a great little best kept secret. Very small place, family run (and serve). Excellent sashimi plate. Not a lot of cook food on menu, but good enough. Highlight: Sashimi Deluxe combo, blue-fin sashimi, aji sashimi, Hanako carashi.

              These 2 replaced Kiyo in Richmond as one of my favourite sushi restaurants.

              1. re: fortissimo
                Tha Groovin' Gourmet

                Thanks for backing me up, and for the tips.

                Both sound like places worth trying, though it
                may take a couple of trips to get them both in!

            2. re: Buddha Belly

              I'm a little late on this thread as I just discovered chowhound.com (and am loving it!)... just had to put in my 2 cents worth on Tojo's.
              I've lived in Vancouver my whole life. I've also travelled and eaten extensively my entire adult life... I don't understand Tojo's rep. It's just not that good! And to compare it to Matsuhisa!!!
              I've had sublime meals at Matsu/Nobu globally (almost monthly at Matsu) and sometimes the food was just good. But I've eaten at Tojo's 3 times in 8 years and it was all mediocre food, mediocre service at best, no atmosphere... and way overpriced for the experience. Just my opinion...

            3. We were spending 3 nights in Vancouver, and after reading some very positive reviews about Tojo’s on Chowhound and other sources, we decided that one of our dinners would be there. All in all, I must say that Tojo’s was a great disappointment. First and foremost, I feel that the tasting menu did not focus enough on sashimi or sushi. Second, while the dishes were tasty, the only real ace up Tojo’s sleeve seemed to be his use of yuzu. Yuzu is a wonderful and mild citrus that brightens dishes, but its repeated use leaves one uninspired. Third, the service was sub par relative to the price. The interval between dishes on the 5-course tasting menu was rushed, so we had to intentionally slow down our pace so that we wouldn’t be out of there in less than 45 minutes. Near the end of our meal, one waitress even tried to politely “force” us to finish our sushi plate. And while a jovial atmosphere is appreciated, some waiters took it a little too far, making the restaurant seem more like an informal izakaya (Japanese “tapas”). I'm a huge fan of izakayas, but not if I'm going to spend over $100. If the service was better, I could have excused its lackluster décor and location.

              Overall, we forked over $130 CD per head, including drinks, but we feel that our money would have been better spent had we ordered one or two of his signature dishes and a sashimi omakase for the six of us. I felt that the tasting menu was pushed really hard, saying that the dishes defined Chef Tojo. As mentioned above, the dishes were tasty but nothing inspirational. The catches of the day were highlighted as being top-notch and the implication was that some of the dishes on the tasting menu would contain these items, but I don’t recall any of our dishes having the high quality blue-fin tuna they so raved about. I am confident that our experience would be far superior if we asked our local sushi chef in San Francisco (Murasaki, for example) for a similarly priced omakase. While not having sampled the full extent of Vancouver’s restaurants, I find it hard to believe that Tojo’s is the best restaurant in town. Personally, I would not recommend Tojo’s to a friend, given that we walked out feeling that our money was not well spent.

              During my next visit to Vancouver, I will most definitely sample other Japanese restaurants. On the other hand, I would most definitely go back to Guu with Garlic (on Robson) since we have a very enjoyable and authentic Japanese experience there. Three of six of us in our party have lived in Tokyo for over 10 years, and each of us was delighted to eat at Guu.

              1. My uncle swears by Shijo for good japanese sushi / sashimi.

                It's a bit pricey, and i think they had a switchover. I've gone to Tojo's three times. The first time I thought it was amazing. I think the food's been good each time, though the surprise of the omakase seems to have gone down since the first time i've been there. Though it is true what they say about the decour. The waiters / waitresses have always been really friendly to me.

                Try Shijo instead ?