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Best fancy Japanese (omakase preferred) in Toronto for cooked dishes (no raw seafood)?

My wife's birthday is coming up and she's a few months pregnant, so I'd like to take her to a nice Japanese resto (preferably something w/ omakase) that will serve her only cooked dishes (nothing raw).

I think Kaiseki Sakura was suggested a few months back, any other places I can call up? I'd prefer something either downtown or as far up as Richmond Hill (i.e. Kaji in Mississauga is a bit too far for us).

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  1. I have not yet been to Kaiseki Sakura, but its a clear favorite of many on this board. The best places for cooked Japanese food that I've been to are Ematai and Nami, with Nami having the more "elegant" atmosphere.

    12 Replies
    1. re: T Long

      Another option is Take Sushi at BCE Place. I think its a bit more "new-school" upscale than Nami. Interestingly I think I read on this board that there may be an ownership connection between Nami and Take Sushi. Neither places are the small quaint little ownership run establishments where the owner is also the sushi chef, but for really decent food in a decent atmosphere, both fit the bill imho. Btw, while I can't vouch for "authenticity" (whatever that means), the food and meal is enjoyable which is what counts for me.

      I think I have the same dilemma that you do...ie my spouse shys away from raw sushi also (she will sometimes even dip the raw fish in hot soup like Udon...what a waste), whereas I love the raw stuff....and this is a permanent condition for us, whereas for you it is probably not;)

      1. re: T Long

        When I used the word 'authentic' in my reference to Nami, I was comparing dishes offered by them with similar dishes I had in Japan. As an example, I would expect the broth used in the soba dishes to come from 'ichi' broth made from dried kelp and bonito flakes. Likewise, I would also expect the glazing used in their yakitoris to be reduction from sake infused top soy brewed with bonito addition. ( try Japango's version ). Ikura ( salmon roe ) used in sushi should be prepared by first washing and then marinated in sake, mirin and soy. ( most if not all non-authentic japanese restaurant run by Chinese and or Korean serve this ingredient directly out of 'the box' ). All these I find lacking in Nami's versions. Hence my 'authentic' comment. The 'short-cut' version can still be tasty and enjoyable but, when compare to the real McCoy, the difference is clear!

        1. re: Charles Yu

          Hi Charles: Yeah, I think I understand where you are coming from. Vorpal also replied to my "authentic" mini-rant in a separate thread...http://www.chowhound.com/topics/466368. Both of you have experiences with foreign foods that exceed mine probably quite extensively, so I accept that you can determine whether a food compares favorably or not to how you think it should taste. To the extent that you are trying to share these experiences, I think that is great and is of potential benefit to me (and are interesting reads). But I also think that both of you are the exceptions rather than the rule and that the use of the term authentic is very often misused on this board.

          While it may be interesting whether a restaurant is "authentic", I'm really more interested in whether I will enjoy eating there...the food and the surroundings. I have tried a number of establishments based on recommendations here, and must say that authenticity is not much of an indicator that I will be enjoying my meal....my 2 cents.

          1. re: T Long

            Me too, and I agree that "authentic" is bandied about all too often...and while my impression is that Charles has for more foreign experience than I do, I do have a lot of Japanese experience (i.e. I lived there for awhile, in a small town near Tokyo, eating Japanese food every day for a year, in people's homes, in the schools (I was teaching English) and in restaurnats, I and used to go back on business with an expense account).

            Anyhow, while Charles is surely correct in that 'short-cut' versions are not as good as (I'm going to call them) traditionally prepared versions, there are LOTS of places in Japan that use short-cut versions as well, in my experience. Not every Japanese meal is an exquisite zen-like experience of perfectly prepared textures and flavours. Indeed, I've seen just as many people over there wolfing down cut-rate sushi as I have here! On the other hand, most people know the difference between the two, while over here they don't, in general, tend to....

            So in my mind it's less a question of what is "authentic" and what isn't, as it is what is traditional and what isn't, and what is an enjoyable dining experience and what isn't. For example, Hashimoto is not traditional kaiseki. And he's very up front about it (read the website) Rather, he's interpreting kaiseki in a manner that makes it more accessible for people. And as he's a fantastic chef, he makes it all work. But not strictly authentic. Of course, not a shortcut version either.

            In any event, I think in the end we're all of the same mindset (i.e. most people who take the time to post on this board like to eat well), even if we all arrive there using different routes, and different philosophies. My 2 cents.

            1. re: bluedog

              Hello T Long and Bluedog. Totally agree with both your view point! In fact your '2 cents' are worth 'mega-bucks'!!

              1. re: bluedog

                bluedog,

                The food at Hashimoto is traditional except that it is not served in a tatami room or served by kimono-clad, yes he makes it more accessible for people but does not mean it is not traditional. This is first sentence in his website :

                "We invite you to come and try the true and traditional taste of Kaiseki. For a genuine dining experience contact us now to make your reservation."

                In fact I have talked to him in person. Hashimoto is serving Kyo-kaiseki if you know what I mean. Not sure why you said the food is not traditional there...

                1. re: skylineR33

                  Also from the website:

                  "Kaiseki cuisine has a reputation of being very expensive and not available to most people so Hashimoto added the word "Yu-zen" after "Kaiseki" in the name of his restaurant. This word "Yu-zen" allows Kaiseki be a little more flexible in the way it is prepared and served. Hashimoto's goal was to let those who enjoy Japanese cuisine also be able to enjoy Kaiseki at a very affordable price. The word "Yu-zen" allows Kaiseki to be prepared according to the customer's tastes. Of course, there is no menu of any sort; ingredients and courses served will be the chef's choice, but changed at the customers request."

                  In other words, he is not serving traditional kaiseki, in the *strict* sense of the word, hence the term "kaiseki yu-zen", which is exactly what I said. Anyhow, it's splitting hairs, which was the original point of my post: who cares if the food is fantastic?

                  1. re: bluedog

                    "This word "Yu-zen" allows Kaiseki be a little more flexible in the way it is prepared and served."

                    I can think of this example, the original and official version of the very popular chinese "Yang Chow fried rice" uses Gin Wah ham, but many restaurants in hk/china use cha siu (bbq pork)because it is more economical as gin wah ham is a more expensive ingradient in comparison. It does not make the dish of yang chow fried rice less authentic if it is "cooked" properly.

                    Also, Hashimoto is not served by kimono-clad and in private tatami room which will increase the cost.

                    I think the intention of Hashimoto is stated very clearly in the first sentence of his website.

                    Anyhow, if you interpret it as non-traditional, then I have nothing to say.

                    1. re: skylineR33

                      Dude, read the post, cause I think you missed the point. Don't want to get into a contest about who knows more about kaiseki. Indeed, I think you PROVED my point with your comment about Yang Chow Fried Rice. I'm not questioning authenticity, but arguing for a broader definition, as opposed to strictly traditional interpretations. Indeed I AGREE with you, just from a different angle.

                      1. re: bluedog

                        We all agree on the broader view, but I simply want to point out what Hashimoto served is not "not-traditional" as stated by your post. Please read the first sentence on its website again and please not try to alter the good intention of it.
                        I think I have a pretty good idea about your knowledge of kaiseki by reading your post.

                        1. re: skylineR33

                          Lord. OK. I've had Kaiseki in Japan, but think what you like. I'm happy to admit that you probably know more about this than I do, but I'm trying to take a broader view of things, in light of my own experiences eating in Japan, and here.....

                          I mean, the whole argument was based aorund the view that "authenticity" is often misused. I was not in any way trying to alter the good name and good intention of Hashimoto. I think it is one of the best restaurants in the city, Japanese or not, and highly recommend it to everyone. It was my recommendation to Royaljelly in the first place!!!! One of the things I most admire about it is how he is serving very "traditional" Japanese food but still streamlining it slightly to bring it to a Toronto audience without any loss in "authenticity", as people often narrowly define it. I mean, you said it yourself: no tatami rooms, no kimonos, and "prepared to customer's tastes". He's working in kaiseki without being STRICTLY bound by its formalisms.

          2. re: T Long

            I second Take Sushi. I have only ever been for omakase and my last time there, I recall that only 2 of the 9 courses were raw (one was lobster tail sashimi and the other was the sushi/sashimi course). I'm pretty sure any good omakase place will serve a cooked menu for you as long as you ask them in advance.

        2. Kaji is in west Toronto

          -----
          Sushi Kaji
          860 The Queensway, Toronto, ON M8Z1N7, CA

          2 Replies
          1. re: jayt90

            I think the Kaji omakase is mostly raw. Haven't been recently, though.

            1. re: gps_shag

              The last Omakase dinner I had there, we were offered quite a huge array of stupendous 'cooked food'. They included cream crab croquette, sweet corn 'ravioli', baked oysters in a champagne cream sauce topping, braised winter bamboo shoot, a Japanese surf and turf that featured a lobster tail, a huge scampi and veal tenderloin, a 'foie gras' dish. soba, and b-b-q sea eel!!
              Food quality was still top notch. But for us folks who live way up north, that westerly drive was quite something!!

          2. Hi again Royaljelly! Congradulations! Guess in a few months time, we'll seeing more 2 am postings from you. Ha!
            Solo-sushi-ya a little further up in Newmarket has very good cooked authentic Japanese dishes. Mention your 'all cooked omakase' request to the chef/owner during your reservation and I'm sure he'll go out of his way to accommadate your party. There, your wife can have good cooked food and at the same time you can have good raw stuff as well! Win-win situation! Last time I was there they have an amazing 'conch stew' thats so tender and delicious! BTW, at less than $50/person, its great value for Omakase. Quality of food is very similar to Kaiseki Sakura, may be a bit better in a few dishes. However, Sakura's braised ox-tongue is good!
            PS: In my opinion, Nami's cooked food is not authentic enough Japanese for me.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Charles Yu

              I think Solo's cooked dishes are even better than their raw offerings. Their chawanmushi is heavenly, the dashi packs loads of flavours. It is one of my fav hidden gems, very rewarding if you're willing to travel that far north.

              A website has popped up, it is rather bare bones. It does have the archive of Amy Pataki's article on the restaurant.

              http://solosushiya.com/toronto_star_r...

            2. I thknk the perfect venue for this is Hashimoto, on Dixie Road up near the airport. Very accessible, astonishingly good, and almost never mentioned on this board:

              http://www.kaiseki.ca/component/optio...

              4 Replies
              1. re: bluedog

                Agree! If Royaljelly don't mind the drive!!

                1. re: bluedog

                  Last time I was there I received more raw seafood than at Kaiseki Sakura. Excellent (as usual), but definitely would recommend Sakura if one is trying to avoid raw food.
                  Sorry, don't know anything closer.

                  1. re: estufarian

                    I'm sure if you informed them of the "pregnancy" requirements they would accomodate.

                  2. re: bluedog

                    Hi RoyalJelly, Kaiseki Sakura is a good choice if you don't want raw seafood and provided there are only 2 restaurants that serves kaiseki in TO area, the sashimi course I had only contains 4 pieces of 2cmx2cm sashimi, I think this portion should have no problem with your pregnant wife. For me, Hashimoto is clearly a better choice.

                  3. If Hiro's wasn't so run down and service surly, I would have recommended it since they had a "kitchen omakase" option on their menu that focuses on cooked dishes. I like the Hashimoto recommendation of others on the board... and I'm sure the kitchen could come up with something to replace raw items on the menu to accommodate a pregnancy. It would be most appropriate to let them know of the circumstances at the time of booking, though, to be sure.

                    1. It's a shame you don't really want to trek out too far, but Hashimoto is perfect. My girlfriend treated me there for my birthday, and I can definitely see them accomodating any request fairly easily...

                      However Sakura is definitely a decent subsitute. The beef tongue is amazing!

                      1. We had a terrific 7 course meal at Kaiseki Sakura tonight. They are so lovely there, I am sure that if you told them you were wanting to avoid raw they'd accomodate. One of our party doesn't eat hoofed meat or fowl and even though all three of us had omakase, where the standard dishes were duck/chicken/beef delicious substitutes were made. The biggest regret about going there pregnant is not being able to enjoy the cocktail matches, which are superb.

                        There will be a special menu between Christmas and New Year -- then they will close for the first 10 days of the year to go to Japan. Upon their return there will be a new menu also.

                        Although the setting looks quite cold, it was surprisingly cozy there, with warm, gracious service.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: orangewasabi

                          Hi orangewasabi! We went to Sakura as well on thursday night, I wonder if we had the same items for the 7 course meal? I took photos as well, but I need to confer with my wife on the details of each dish before I post a followup of the meal (it was loud and I couldn't hear all the ingredients in each course).

                          Instead of the sashimi, my wife got an amazing wagyu beef dish! I found the conch course too sweet, and the assorted balls/dumplings/tofu shooter course to be too heavy. More details later (when I get some time from all this xmas shopping).

                        2. Ok, time to report back on the meal my wife and I had at Kaiseki Sakura on Thursday night. You'll have to excuse my grainy and occasionally blurred photos, as I got a new pocket camera only a week ago and didn't want to lug my huge dSLR with me to the restaurant. We got there pretty early (6:15pm, in hopes of getting home by 9:30pm to relieve the baby sitter). Room was more modern/stylish than I had imagined for a Japanese restaurant.

                          Room decor: http://img86.imageshack.us/img86/27/0...

                          There was only one other table of 2 there when we arrived, but by 8pm they were full. We managed to finish and pay for everything by 9pm.

                          I forget the our waitress' name, but she was very nice and mentioned my wife's birthday celebration a few times and also asked about the pregnancy and any food concerns we had. Aside from the obvious raw stuff for my wife, everything else was fair game for us. nfortunately we didn't go with the drinks pairing, since I was driving home. Our waitress was the only one explaining all the dishes to various tables, so she was kept busy. The other servers couldn't really answer my questions about the contents of each dish.

                          They started all tables off with the amuse of a lightly battered shrimp cocktail w/ potato croquettes and a yuzu foam sauce (sorry, no photo of it). Shrimps were delicated battered/fried and foam sauce was about the right sweetness.

                          First course was chrysanthemum leaves, delicate chicken meatballs and deep fried leek shavings. Soup was light and meatballs were very tender. I couldn't notice much of the chrysanthemum though. Leeks were a little hard to chew at times.

                          Soup: http://img412.imageshack.us/img412/31...

                          Second course my wife had a beautifully seared slices of wagyu beef... I couldn't believe my eyes since it was the first time I've ever had wagyu beef before (had to confirm it with the waitress that it was in fact from Japan, she had mentioned that the chef normally didn't have this item on the menu and had recently attended some kind of show in Yorkville to acquire it). Nonetheless, it was amazingly soft and tender, definitely the best piece of beef I've ever had. My wife did have Kobe beef a few years back in Japan, and she thought this one @ Sakura was outstanding.

                          Wagyu: http://img412.imageshack.us/img412/91...

                          As for my second course, it was a sashimi platter of amber jack fish and rice cake coated grouper to be dipped in a ponzu sauce (to soak up more of the flavour). I usually prefer my sashimi to be the melt-in-your-mouth kind of quality, but I found neither of the fish on this night to be of that nature (perhaps it's not meant to be that texture?). The grind your own wasabi was a lot of fun though.

                          Sashimi: http://img513.imageshack.us/img513/94...

                          Third course was slices of conch, diced apples and tomatoes in a sweet cream sauce, with a sweet beet sauce on the side. Both my wife and I found this dish to be overly sweet with the apples, beet and cream sauce all together. The ingredients just didn't seem to work well together.

                          Conch: http://img412.imageshack.us/img412/85...

                          Fourth was an assorted platter, which I've tried to label on the photo. It consisted of a tofu and sesame oil shooter (much too oily for my taste), a puff pastry scallop dumpling (reminded me of the chinese dim sum dishes I have often), a egg (light and fluffy), Japanese yam ball (I incorrectly labeled on the photo as "potato ball"), 2 deep fried fish and ginger balls (rather plain), kyoto turnip wrap with cooked yellow tail, and another turnip w/ miso filling (I didn't like either of the turnip pieces since the flavour it was marinated in was rather odd) and a seared salmon w/ a sweet sauce we couldn't identify. Overall I found this platter to be a bit of a mess, flavours were all over the place and lacked the harmony that I've come to expect from many fine Japanese meals that I've had over the years. The one good thing about this dish was that it really fills you up (but who wouldn't be full after drinking a shooter full of sesame oil)?

                          Platter: http://img513.imageshack.us/img513/25...

                          Fifth dish was a duck hot pot w/ baby mizuna greens, Japanese onion and pepper paste to spice up the soup. The broth had an amazing depth and level of sooth "comfort" to it, especially on a cold winter's night. Duck was rather simple though (I'm so used to eating Shanhainese smoked duck and French duck confit), but I guess it's appropriate for this kind of hot pot. This is the special dish that comes w/ the 7 course taking menu. Note: the duck slices were not actually as pink as what you see in the photo.

                          Duck Hot Pot: http://img210.imageshack.us/img210/73...

                          Sixth was the chef's signature dish (as the waitress put it) the beef tongue in a miso reduction sauce (takes 3 days cooking to reduce it down), and Thuet bread slices to mop up the extra sauce. I've eaten a lot of beef tongue in my days of chinese restaurants and mom's cooking, and this one was the absolutely most tender tongue I've ever had. BTW, what's all the hype about this Thuet bread... it wasn't that amazing.

                          Beef Tongue: http://img210.imageshack.us/img210/46...

                          Seventh course was a simplier soba noodle in a warm broth. I found the broth was a weaker version of what we already had in the duck soup, so it was more of a filler for those who aren't quite full by this point of the night.

                          Soba: http://img210.imageshack.us/img210/27...

                          For dessert (extra $10 charge), they made a green tea and bean mouse cake, with cookie (both the one w/ letters and the one w/ lit candle are edible), fresh strawberry and green tea cream. Cake was perfectly done, not too sweet and cookie/sauce was well balance for texture.

                          Cake: http://img210.imageshack.us/img210/53...

                          Overall I'd have to say that there were some truly outstanding dishes that I would definitely return for (wagyu beef, duck hot pot, beef tongue), but there's also some dishes that were really disappointing (conch, assorted platter). Although I understand that this is a winter season driven menu, I didn't find the overall progression of the courses to suit our expectation in the sense that after the sashimi dish, all the dishes continued to be either heavy creamed (conch) or else rich in soup (duck), batter (platter dish) or sauce (ponzu w/ sashimi). I was hoping that one of the courses would be a bit lighter and that would allow my taste buds to reset themselves as your getting deep into the meal (I recall some other tasting menu's I've had where they bring out some sorbet in between courses), but alas it was richness all the way through towards the end. One thing they did give towards the end of the meal was a "digestive tea". I guess this meals accomplishes it's goal in that you won't notice the winter chill after you leave the restaurant. :)

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Royaljelly

                            Great report Royaljelly. How much was the meal per person? Was it still $75?!

                            1. re: Charles Yu

                              Hey Charles, was it $75 before? Not it's jumped up to $100 per person for the 7 course, plus the $10 for the birthday cake. We also ordered green tea, which seemed to be included in the bill. Too bad we have any booze, I keep reading great things about their pairings.

                              BTW, I'm curious to see what others think of the presentation of the various dishes...

                              1. re: Royaljelly

                                Hello again Royaljelly! Happy holidays!
                                It was $75 per person when I first ate there weeks/months ago. The food was very similar sans the Wagyu beef eg had the tongue,duck and conche dishes etc. I believe instead of the beef, we had a tempura instead. However, for $100, I would drive a little further and pay $20 more for a better meal at Kaji. For sure, the raw stuff offered by Kaji will be more varied. And he includes the dessert as well! As for presentation, Kaji is more artistic.

                            2. re: Royaljelly

                              RJ, wow, I just relived the whole evening with your pictures. We must have missed you as there was no one taking pictures while we were there -- we arrived at 8:30ish.

                              I loved the tofo shooter that you found too oily - it was our favourites of the night - the texture of the sesame tofu was so intriguing. On the assortment plate, the salmon, while safe, was very tasty and like you, no one at our table likes the turnip bits. The beef tongue was a tender surprise (I had no idea that was Thuet bread, it didn't get any attention from us). The chicken dumplings were fluffy and flavourful - don't know what I was expecting but found them surprisingly good. I ate my tablemate's conch salad - he didn't care for it, I did, obviously :-). The sashimi platter was my least favourite.

                              We had the drink pairings ($35pp) which were really well matched imho. The standouts where the cranberry house signature cocktail served with the amuse bouche, the cucumber sake cocktail with the conch (which cut the sweetness perfectly) and the plum wine cocktail with the assortment platter.

                              By the time the duck soup was served we were all really full. We miscounted by including the amuse bouche in our count of dishes so we were almost disappointed when the soba came out and it wasn't dessert. I am so impressed you remembered everything, I was drunk on food by the time we were done and could barely remember my name.

                            3. If ordering strictly a la carte, how much approximately per person do you estimate the meal would cost (excluding drinks)?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: LTL

                                If you are asking about Kaiseki Sakura, they don't have a menu; it's the whole set or nothing.

                              2. kaiseki is NOTHING to write home about, but I have had amazing omakase at Hiro Sushi at King/Jarvis...
                                it is not cheap but crazy good/fresh.....:)

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: gravy

                                  Do you mean Kaiseki Sakura has nothing to write home about or the overall kaiseki has nothing to write home about ?

                                2. I had a splendid light dinner at Aoyama Sunday night. A pleasant small place on Victoria Park at Van Horne, we went early, and it was empty at 7PM when we left. When I reserved, Caroline was very gracious and receptive to individual whims, and when we got there, she organized the meal in a really friendly, personal way. I didn't see any meat on the menu, and did not ask. Soba broth was as good as I have had in Toronto, and mixed tempura also good although the sole (I think) was a bit lame as I left it too long. We did not have grilled mackeral, or miso black cod, but they were recommended, and there may be other hot items. Everything else was cold, and exemplary.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jayt90

                                    Nice to see Aoyama is adding to their cooked items menu, but I think their strength is still the cold sushi. Run by a delightful couple, my only minor fustration is their tendency to change the menu around....although Caroline has offered to honour any previous menu favorite...