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Jun 3, 2008 05:12 PM

With No Omi what's the best sushi joint?

Can anyone offer advice on a sushi place in Toronto that has great food and a good vibe like Omi used to. Has anyone seen or heard from John Lee?

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  1. OMI will open in the old Town Grill location, which I believe was on Carlton?

    John Lee is obviously at the helm, and hoping to be open by mid July.

    1. SUSHI MARCHE will take care of your needs but you'll have to take it home, save money on overpriced beer and sake is always a bonus though.

      4 Replies
      1. re: fuelbydamon

        Agree that Sushi Marche has ultra fresh sushi & sashimi for take out. The presentation is nice too. John knows how to treat clients well that keeps them coming back.

        1. re: fuelbydamon

          Was disappointed today that the prices at Sushi Marche have skyrocketed. Sashimi lunch went from $18 to $20, but sashimi dinner went from $25 to $35! It's still high quality and gorgeously presented (where else does takeout include edible flowers, and a kumamoto oyster?)

          It's worth the drive to Brampton for Toshi Sushi on Main just south of Bovaird. Huge slices of lovely fresh fish - sashimi lunch is $17.

          I'm never returning to Japango. How on earth can they justify such tiny slivers of fish? Ridiculous.

          1. re: Food Tourist

            I agree about Japango. We went for a b-day last month and the omakase was average at best. A couple things were good, but nothing was memorable. Very disappointing because it used to be our favourite Japanese in town. I don't think we'll return for the omakase.

            1. re: Food Tourist

              I recommend you just tell them a price you're comfortable with for an omakase, and the number of people for the price. I've never ordered any of set lunch/dinners there. They'll ask you for preferences, they're a friendly bunch.

              Just remember to call in your order first, rather than sit there and wait.

          2. In term of food, Omi is good but I can find other sushi joints in downtown that is comparable ... Just wondering what kind of sushi have you eaten at Omi that you cannot find or not comparable elsewhere ? For great fresh sushi/sashimi at downtown, there are places like Japango, Takesushi and Ichiriki as it here :


            28 Replies
            1. re: skylineR33

              I actually agree with skyline; my preference would go to Takesushi. I went to Omi once due to all the great write ups I read on this board. Sadly I was very disappointed. My friend and I wanted to try their a la carte items first and if they were good, would come back for their much talked about omakase. We shared a few dishes from the kitchen which were unmemorable now since we went there a few years ago. However, I do remember we complained at the cost/size ratio. As for sushi, anywhere that serves 'butterfish' (aka as escolar), a fish that gives you gastrointestinal problems isn't a good sign of a quality sushi restaurant. You can find this fish at most AYCE sushi places due to it's low cost. Butterfish is a low quality 'filler' whose flesh absorbs water during the thawing process and releases it like a sponge in your mouth. Quite honestly I don't even think it's a sushi fish in Japan. Anyway, getting back to my Omi experience - what did I find covering 1/3 of my tiny $22 Chirashi sushi box - butterfish! From what I gather, this John Lee only cares about his omakase crowd as that night they all seemed to be enjoying their $75+ meal. If that is the case, I suggest he only concentrate on omakase at his new place because he doesn't seem to care about the quality of his a la carte menu.

              1. re: wasabi_girl

                Most fine sushi establishments do not serve escolar. John Lee used to serve true butterfish (poronotus triacanthus) in the summer, which is mostly found in waters near Boston. This is not the same fish as the black cod or sablefish either.

                As for escolar, have a quick read of this article to learn about why it has such a poor reputation.

                1. re: dlw88

                  Thanks for the link. The one and only time I visited Omi was during the winter. And the 'butterfish' he supplied that evening was indeed the inferior, previously frozen type that I described in my above post. I am sure his omakase was great, using high quality items but it's wasn't the case in his a la carte items. Hopefully if he wants to build and maintain his non-omakase customers he will do something about it once he opens shop again.

                  1. re: wasabi_girl

                    The more I read about sushi on this board, it seems to me that it would be more informative to distinguish between omakase and non-omakase when rating I appreciate your attention to this distinction. As one that only became aware of Omi after it closed, I'm amazed at the continuing discussions about a place that shut down....looking forward to future discussions about a place we can actually patronize.

                    1. re: T Long

                      T-Long, that's a very good point and may I suggest a third category - AYCE/fast food type. We really can't group the three together as they are all in their own class. Good quality, fresh fish is a limited, perishable commodity and therefore reflected in it's prices.

                      I saw a TV report on sushi last year. A reporter went into nine or 10 sushi restaurants of varying price points, in one of the larger US cities. His mission was to test how many of these establishments served real tai/red snapper. He took the samples from all these places and had them tested in a lab. If I remember correctly, only three of the 10 served tai, the rest served a cheap 'substitute' in the form of tilapia. When confronted, the waitress brought out her supply of 'tai' in it's frozen vacuum pack like the ones we can find at T&T (made in China). Written on the package, clear as day said 'TILAPIA'. I'm sorry but tilapia is a cheap farmed fish that should only be served fully cooked. We all know vacuum packed fish of any kind is not sushi grade. Sushi grade tai is a relatively expensive fish but many unscrupulous restaurant owners pass along the cheaper, inferior fish to their customers but still charging a premium price. After watching this program, it made me wonder how many of our city's sushi places are doing this. Besides price and deception, what worries me about these places are the customer's health and safety. Sorry about my bias but AYCE patrons, be weary of what you are putting in your mouth.

                      1. re: wasabi_girl

                        the grand majority of sushi places in toronto are serving tilapia rather than tai. once you get real tai it is absolutely blatantly obvious that everything else is tilapia... the only similarities are in the colour tones but even the distribution of it is different.

                    2. re: wasabi_girl

                      wasabi girl, in which winter did you visit Omi? The only time 'frozen' ever crossed John Lee's lips was when the City was trying to compel all sushi resto's to freeze prior to serving. As far as I know he never did it.

                      Having had as many a la carte's as omakase's there I can comfortably say the quality of ingredients didn't vary. The WOW factor was the only difference.

                      If you went during the winter that just passed that wasn't John Lee. If this is the case, I encourage you to visit him in his new location.

                      1. re: Googs

                        googs - I really don't remember which winter but it definitely wasn't this past winter. I moved back to Toronto in 2005, so either the 05/06 winter or 06/07 winter.

                        I will consider visiting again once he opens. But I am not sure I can sit through a whole dinner listening to John Lee loudly 'clapping' his hands together EACH time he made nigiri sushi. Both my dinner companion and I found it so annoying.

                        1. re: wasabi_girl

                          LOL Just goes to show ya, to each their own. I find that a joyous sound. Like a child showing his happiness.

                          1. re: Googs

                            This is funny. It reminds me one time when I was having omakase at Omi. John Lee prepared some nigiri sushi and then presented to us saying loud "Wild salmon nigiri sushi..... fresh from Japannnnn !" The sushi is good, but it is just quite funny when I think of the fact that there is not much salmon caught in Japan, even if so, quality is not good. Salmon sushi/sashimi is rarely served in any good sushi joints in Japan and never find in any high class places.

                            1. re: skylineR33

                              While I do think Omi was good, John Lee is not a sushi god. We had the omakase many times and found that it never really changed that much, a lot of the same old, same old through different seasons. He once served us wild BC salmon nigiri at a time when wild BC salmon was definately not in season. When we enquired, he told us that it was indeed frozen, and that freezing was necessary to kill parasites. Not that I mind the frozen part it was still good sushi, but not the best or most creative in the city. Kaji still comes out on top for that.

                              1. re: phisherking

                                That's right, salmon has to be deeply frozen for many hours to kill all (or most ?) of the parasites as it always swim back to river with shallow water.

                                It is wise not to eat salmon raw regularly. Same with Ocean trout which is the same thing.

                                1. re: skylineR33

                                  To play safe, for non frozen fresh salmon, I've seen Japanese sushi chef rub course salt over the fish during the 'initial preparation'- to kill germs and parasites?!. However, I was also told that parasites in Salmon can be easily spotted with the naked eye by skilled sushi chef, so freezing or salt preparation is not necessary. Any sushi expert out there who can confirm the authentic Japanese way of preparing salmon for sushi?

                                  1. re: Charles Yu

                                    That would make a great topic for a new thread...Toronto's 'trained' skilled sushi chefs. In Japan, to be a trained sushi chef can take up towards 10 years or more. I honestly don't think there are many of those sushi chefs in this city.

                                    1. re: Charles Yu

                                      Yes, the other way is to treat salmon with salt to kill the parasites and bacteria. Since salmon is really a fish with lots of bacteria as it swims back to the shallow river, I don't really think it is an good idea to eat it raw with no treatment. I have seen some "freshly" caught fish, when cut open, it is full of parasite eggs ! It is so horrible. But with freshwater fish, many of the bacteria cannot even be seen with human eyes.

                                      Unlike other fish, salmon sashimi is always bright orange and shiny. Eventhough when it has been sitting there for a while, the colour is unchanged, it is not easy to tell whether that piece of salmon sashimi is fresh or not by general public.

                                      1. re: skylineR33

                                        just out of curiousity, though you may not be able to answer it... when you cure salmon or make lox, i've been under the impression that one should freeze it beforehand to kill parasites and bacteria. however, if you say that the salting process would do this... then i'm confused as to the point of extra precaution. is salting really enough? or is there a specific process that is better than soaking fish in salt for over 24 hours to make safe salmon sushi?

                                        1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                          Maybe an experienced sushi chef can help us out here on the actual salting process, haha ! I have heard people using salt to do it, but same as you, I seriously doubt it is effective. Actually, almost anywhere in the world, most if not all imported salmon goes through the freezing process (from what I know).

                                          1. re: skylineR33

                                            I have heard that there is an incidence of tapeworm in persons who eat a lot of sushi in Japan, and also pickled herring in Holland.
                                            Salting is not able to kill the parasites, but deep freezing will do it.

                                            (The incidence of tapeworms found in humans was not great, in those two countries, but it does occur.)

                                2. re: skylineR33

                                  it's not served in japan because salmon is known to be a hotbed for bacteria. Reason being that it crosses between salt & freshwater during its lifespan. In general most freshwater fish are bad for sushi unless previously frozen.

                            2. re: Googs

                              you'd be surprised at the % of sushi you've consumed that've been previously frozen. I would say a great majority of it is.....

                              Also ultra fresh is not always the best for sushi. For instance, tuna needs to be aged to develop flavours (IMP/Umami). The difference is that the window of perfect aging w/ fish is much narrower than something like beef.

                        2. re: wasabi_girl

                          So, just so I have the "butterfish" thing straight, because the first time I had it was a Toshi about 2 years ago, and as I recall it was firm and fresh, but everytime I have had it since, including once at Toshi, it has been that watery spongy texture. Is there a good version like my first recollection and then a lousy "filler" version?...if this is the case, does anyone know where to get the good one?

                          1. re: Recyclor

                            Japango has the best butterfish in town.

                            1. re: Recyclor

                              Recyclor - I never had a good, firm butterfish (some places refer to this fish as 'white tuna') before. I was never fond of it even before I learned about the digestive problems associated with it. Personally, butterfish is my way to gauge a sushi establishment. I first noticed this fish being served in Toronto perhaps eight to 10 years ago, mostly in Chinese and Korean run sushi restaurants. So far, I have never encountered it at any quality Japanese run place in the city; Zen, Takesushi, Aoyama, Hiro, Kaji to name a few. Now, does that mean something? I am not certain but as one of my Japanese friends told me, her first taste of this mysterious butterfish sushi was in Canada.

                              Getting back to your question, not sure if there are different grades of butterfish. But with all the articles saying how it gives us stomach problems even when cooked, why would you want to take a risk?

                              1. re: wasabi_girl

                                Why?...because butterfish as I recall it the first time I had it was tasty, + everything in moderation – 2 pieces of sashimi aren't going to make you ill...thanks for your input w_g..I think I will give it one more chance at Japango...

                                1. re: wasabi_girl

                                  I have had it several times but never had any digestive issues with it. I did encounter the spongy watery texture in the past but recently have only had good textured versions, like at Ichiban on Queens Quay (Korean run).

                                  I remember reading that it might cause stomach problems for "some people"; guess I'm not one of them.

                                  1. re: wasabi_girl

                                    Escolar affects certain people, so not everybody will suffer from digestive effects.

                                    popular reference would be the olestra trend, where chip makers marketed it as a low fat alternative. Well, a lot of people poo poo'ed that into pop culture oblivion.

                              2. re: skylineR33

                                I humbly and respectfully disagree skylineR33. Fresh elsewhere yes, but the Omi omakase experience is unparalleled.

                                1. re: Googs

                                  Yes, I agree that the "overall" omakase experience in Omi is quite "interesting"/"unparallel" in Toronto. My post for Omi is just for food, that's why I use "In term of food...", in the beginning.

                              3. Thank you for all the posts. the best news is John is coming back. Omi was all about the customer experience, he manages to make everyone feel like his best customer. This fish was excellent but it was the overall experience that made Omi the place

                                1. Is this downtown only? If so I vote for Takesushi.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: abscissa

                                    I like Takesushi too. Regarding butter fish and white tuna. BC tuna(albacore)is called white tuna but escolar is not. they are totally different species.