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Jul 8, 2008 01:37 PM

Excellent Sushi in Toronto

I am visiting Toronto and will be taking some guests out for Sushi tomorrow. I did some preliminary research and looked at reviews. So far i've narrowed it down to Hiro, Zen, and Le Michi Cafe. I had Kaji on my list but i've been told that it has a greater emphasis on Japanese cuisine and the fish could be fresher so I'm putting myself at the mercy of the professionals and their palatial advice. I am looking for great/fresh sashimi. I am not too particular on the vast variety as long as they have the traditionally expected variance. I can go omakase if thats the best option. I also like hamachi collars, miso glazed cod, and other specialties if they exist. I don't need to be at the most expensive place, just the one of the greatest. I thank you all in advance.

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  1. I'd like to know who said the "fish can be fresher" @ Kaji. Kaji is the freshest and the standard by which all other Japanese or sushi resto's are measured against in this city.

    For "bang for buck" I'd go for Michi for a sashimi platter. Their Omakase is very filling and cheap too ($50).

    I don't mean to throw a tangent on you, but IMO the best bang for buck Omakase meal (not Omakase platter) is Aoyama - $60.

    1. If you prefer some great simple traditional nigiri sushi with no twist, I recommend Zen, with a great fish variety. The simple approach at Zen is to order both the sushi and sashimi omakase. Or if you want more interaction with the chef, ask what is the best fish of the night and order a la carte. Or both a la carte and omakase.

      I visited Zen recently and still find it one of the best in GTA for raw food offering. We ordered many different kinds of fish. Their normal hamachi is so fat and nicely cut which makes it very delicious, the night I visited also have red clam "Akagai" and wild immature hamachi "Inada" from Japan. The Toro is a disappointment, fatty but texture is not good. Their miso glazed cod is also very good. Overall, it is a great and enjoyable dinner. Sitting at the sushi bar gives me a feeling of eating at a cozy sushi shop at Japan. Service is a bit slow though when they are busy.

      Kaji, as you said, is both cooked and raw food, and you have no choice to select the fish as it is only omakase. They put the sushi course as the last course which to me, it is like a filler and most of the time, there are too much food to finish them all (which apply to many of my friends). Kaji has the best presentation of food and sometimes you will find some twist in their sushi, like using different kinds of sauce/dressing, which you may like it or not. Also, it is the most expensive besides the kaiseki Hashimoto.

      If for sushi only, I do prefer Zen over Kaji personally.

      11 Replies
      1. re: skylineR33

        i think that i'm going to attempt to go to zen this week, do you know if they're open saturday during the lunch hour? i'm going to assume as such but sometimes restaurants can be finicky.

        also, would you recommend an omakase over a la carte or vice versa? i've become much more convinced after my trip that ordering a la carte and asking for suggestions is the best way to go about sushi/sashimi eating.

        1. re: pinstripeprincess

          One thing, psp. Be prepared to witness people ordering rum & coke as an aperitif and red wine with their sushi. It takes some getting used to.

          1. re: Googs

            this sounds like a grand afternoon of potential entertainment actually. just like watching american business men turning red and trying to conceal their disgust as they attempt to impress their japanese counterparts with drink and food.

          2. re: pinstripeprincess

            I don't think they do not open saturday for lunch and it is close on Sunday and Monday.

            A la carte is 2 pieces per sushi item, which is good if you have two people going. The sushi omakase has 10 different sushi which does not repeat. But some of the items on their omakase is not on the regular a la carte menu. We usually have 2 people going, so I like order the sashimi omakase and a la carte sushi.

            1. re: skylineR33

              Opps, I mean I think it does not open on Saturday for lunch, and it is 12 pieces of sushi for the sushi omakase at Zen ... too sleepy when I wrote this last night. The 10 pieces is at Aoyama's sushi omakase.

              1. re: skylineR33

                well darn, this is the ideal time for now.

                any other suggestions? location being north york/scarborough/markham as preference.

                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  You may want to try Aoyama if you are in North York, I think they are open on Saturday for lunch, not 100% sure...

                  Also, there is a new fish shop opened at J-Town called Sakana-Ya "魚屋". I have not been to there yet. But from the look of it, it looks good as I was there one time when they just closed at 7:00pm. You may want to check it out.

                  The old Taro fish has moved to another location.

                  1. re: skylineR33

                    Aoyama started to close during lunchtime on Saturdays a few months back...suspect that's still the case. Great sushi at lunch-time on Saturdays (& Sundays) can be had at Michi the last time I checked.

                    1. re: T Long

                      i ended up at michi and while i really enjoyed it compared to my first experience there, i probably paid 2x as much and did not nearly consume anywhere near as much fish.

                      approximately 11 pieces of sushi plus a split order of kani (which i was surprised with the amount of creamy potato) and a green tea ran me $45 before tax and tip! at least i got a free maki with eel and proper japanese imitation crab ;)

                      perhaps it's my fault for going a la carte but i hadn't noticed that each piece ran at about $5. i would probably go cafe au lait style next time.

                      it's the best sushi i've had in toronto since my trip to japan (sushi marche was actually a slight disappointment though still good and ok priced). his fatty toro was delicious but not overwhelmingly oily such that i could actually consume two pieces, the kanpachi was pretty good though not the best i've had, ikura was just amazing... likely the best i've ever had, and the uni was a bit disappointing. i did get to watch him process some of a kanpachi which was fun.

                      the rice was pretty good. nicely seasoned without any particular ingredients standing out from the crowd. though i did notice that it was nearly impossible to eat the nigiri with chopsticks as half of the rice would promptly fall off after just lifting it up. eating with my hands was fun nonetheless and the rice perfectly packed for eating as such. note no wet cloth on the table.

                      he was a delight though and checked up on me frequently enough through his busy afternoon that i felt thoroughly taken care of. it was worth if for the experience but i might look towards more budget friendly options or plates the next time.

                      1. re: pinstripeprincess

                        Yes, that's why I have never really order a la carte at Michi except just order a piece or two sometimes. That's why I found I only have 3 choices if I want sushi/sashimi at Cafe Michi, which are the 2 kinds of Chirashi and the Deluxe sushi combo. Basically you save a lots of money if you order this instead of a la carte because the choice of fish is almost the same.

                        The firmness of the nigiri is not as bad though with my experience at Cafe Michi, well I guess it is just inconsistent sometimes ... it is still a good Japanese restaurant at GTA.

        2. seems like all the excellent sushi spots mentioned are out of the downtown core, anything good and fresh downtown?

          18 Replies
          1. re: pinkskittles

            Japango is highly recommended on this board, and I have never been disappointed there.
            My other favorites downtown are:

            Shogun in Yorkville.
            Ichiban on Bay/Charles
            Toshi on King W
            Haru on College

            But, my favorite is still Kaji

            1. re: pinkskittles

              You got to Zen before me skyline. I'm so jealous. Just saving it up for my vacation so I'll have to make the trip later. Good to know the previous poster just hit an off-night. What are the odds of that? One in a million?

              pinkskittles, the short answer is no. In my experience there are no places downtown that match or are even competitive with Zen or Kaji. For the moment, Take Sushi is as close as it gets.

              Shortly (I hope) John Lee of the original Omi will return at 243 Carlton St. The kraft paper still (completely, no peeking) covers the windows while the reno takes place. Then we'll have fresh from east to west.

              1. re: Googs

                Hi Googs,

                There are still things to pick on at Zen if I go into more details, like the rice of some pieces of nigiri sushi is a bit loose on the night we last went, the rice is good, just a bit loose to be picked up by chopstick ... does it mean it is not as good as before ? Not too sure ... Well, it is not perfect and it can be better, but I think overall it is very enjoyable to eat there and to me, price is ok, not too expensive, it is a great Japanese restaurant in GTA in my opinion.

                1. re: skylineR33

                  I generally solve that problem by using my (impeccably clean) hands. I'm great with chopsticks, but honestly enjoy my sushi hand-delivered. Give it a try the next time you're in the right company for dining with abandon.

                  1. re: Googs

                    Good idea. It is just that I always use this method to test the firmness of the rice being held together. Also, most of the patron eat with chopstick especially in North America and imo a sushi chef should take this into consideration when preparing the nigiri sushi.

                  2. re: skylineR33

                    I can't say how lose it was since I wasn't eating it w/ you, however, the proper technique for nigiri is to leave it somewhat loose. It is supposed to melt in your mouth, allowing you taste the texture of each grain. Plus you're supposed to eat it w/ your hands. I haven't been to Zen but Kaji san offers a towel before the nigiri course. This being a sign of the itamae wanting you to eat with your hands.

                    The itamae will shape the nigiri tighter if he sees the customer attempting to eat with chopsticks or worst dip the nigiri into the shoyu rice side first. An itamae would get laughed at if he were to pack the rice that tightly in Japan, as is common in N. America.

                    1. re: aser

                      I am not sure what you mean by saying "itamae would get laughed at if he were to pack the rice that tightly in Japan, as is common in N. America" -- because I have eaten in a lots of place in North America with rice that is packed just right. And of course I do not mean I want really tightly packed sushi when I say the sushi at Zen is a bit loose.

                      I don't know where you get the information that sushi are supposed to eat by hand. This is incorrect, you can eat sushi with your hand or chopsticks. Lot of people in Japan eat it with chopstick, even at top sushi place like kyubei and Kanesaka FYI. Eating a sushi meal is a dynamic experience, the sushi chef observes the eating habbit of the patron and prepare the sushi accordingly, and there is a certain order of presenting the sushi, usually from mild --> strong --> mild individually in a omakase in Japan FYI, and the sushi chef will make certain arrangement change with his observation towards the patron, etc, as I said, it is a dynamic experience.

                      I do not consider Sushi Kaji's sushi melt in the mouth with rice dissolve with the fish in harmony. I only have that experience in Japan.

                      1. re: skylineR33

                        You know what I mean by "in N. America". You and I both know most sushi restaurants here serve poor imitations of sushi. I know there are exceptions, but in my experiences most places pack their shari too tight.

                        You have the choice of eating w/ chopstick or by hand, but if you were to do an informal poll of itames, most will tell you they prefer their customers to eat nigiri w/ their hands. This is my preference, and I find that it avoids the rice falling apart problem.

                        I'll quote Toshi Sugiura (chef/instructor at Californai Sushi Academy) from a passage in Trevor Corson's "The Zen Of Fish"

                        "With American customers, it's different. You've got to judge how much experience they have eating sushi. A lot of Americans dip the rice side of their nigiri in the soy sauce instead of the fish side. Well, of course, in that case a properly made nigiri will just fall apart. So you have to squeeze the nigiri together much more firmly for them. But if you do that to Japanese people, they're going to tell you your sushi sucks - it's too hard and doesn't melt in your mouth." (Corson 272)

                        Personally, I admire Kaji's rice work, it's authentic to me. I especially am a fan of his wasabi control. We'll agree to disagree on that one.

                        I can't speak for your experiences, but I find the "I only find such & such level in _ country" to be myopic. There is amazing sushi outside Japan, just NYC (Yasuda, Masa, Kuruma) and LA alone will measure with anything in Japan.

                        1. re: aser

                          To eat with hand or chopstick is a person's preference. It has nothing to do with etiquette. There are certain etiquette to eat at a sushi place but this is not one of it. I have talked to Sushi chef in Japan and industry workers, it is sure acceptable and normal to eat with chopstick. And I am just telling you most people I see in Japan use chopstick with their nigiri sushi if you don't know. In Japan and most of the nigiri sushi I eat at Zen does not fell apart when I eat with chopstick, I am saying only a few piece has this problem of "a bit loose".

                          But yes if you prefer to eat with hand, it is fine too. You should go to Japan and visit different sushi places (top or non-expensive) to see yourself instead of quoting from a book if you insist the only proper etiquette to eat is to eat with your "hand", instead of quoting from a book. It really does not matter and relax !

                          I am not saying there is no good sushi place outside Japan, I am just saying Kaji's sushi is not quite up there when I compare it with some top places that I have tried in Japan. Maybe you should try some top places in Japan before you disagree with me. There are factors such as the ingradient use and chef's skill.

                          1. re: skylineR33

                            It seems you're dangling the "You haven't been to Japan so you can't comment" angle on me. That's rather unfair don't you think?

                            For the record, I've been to Japan, but I was younger then and didn't have the luxury/finance to eat at the ultra high end sushi places in Ginza district.

                            I am relaxed, I think you're the one that got a bit uppity thinking I was questioning your "pedigree", which I was not. That's why I prefaced my comment with "I can't say how lose it was since I wasn't eating it w/ you", I'm just trying to have a conversation. You got quite defensive by my original post which meant no harm at all. I simply passed on information that others might find informative in regards to nigiri preparation. You commenced to list your sushi pedigree, then moving on to the progression of an omakase, which had very little to do w/ the topic at hand.

                            Again, the eating w/ hand has been suggested by various chefs I've encountered, in combination w/ the hand towel right before the nigiri course.I didn't do this because I was "told" by a book as you stated. I just wanted to quote something to cite an example relevant to the discussion.

                            Instead of saying "supposed", perhaps I should use "suggested sometimes to eat it w/ your hand". Would that make you happier?

                            1. re: aser

                              You just don't get my point. When I talk about the progression of an omakase, I want to explain to you that a sushi experience should be dynamic, when a good sushi chef observes you use chopstick, it should be absolutely no problem for him to prepare the nigiri sushi to suit you as a customer, as this is very common everywhere and totally acceptable good etiquette behaviour in the world including Japan. This preparation should have no impact on the taste of the nigiri sushi itself whatsoever from my experience when the nigiri sushi is prepared by a good experienced sushi chef.

                              And I only want to point out to you, who seems only reply on information from book and sushi experience outside Japan, that eating nigiri sushi with chopstick is absolutely fine. This is from my experience at top, famous and also inexpensive sushi places in Japan, instead of what you said "you are supposed to eat nigiri sushi with your hand". I hope people do not get the misleading information.

                              1. re: skylineR33

                                You see quite hung up on this book passage and using it against me to discredit my opinion. Like I said, I only quoted it as a reference. I think it's relevant since it explains why a sushi chef might pack the rice tighter over here. The quote agrees with you, I'm not sure why you keep knocking it. It states the sushi chef does indeed customize his technique according to the customer. In this case a customer that dips the nigiri rice side down into the shoyu.

                                I've also told you that I've eaten in Japan, although not in the ultra high end Ginza district places. Your tone appears condescending to me in the regard that I can't comment accurately because I haven't eaten in "Japan". Don't you think that's rather harsh?

                                Again, I've stated I am willing to go back on my word and change the wording to "suggested sometimes". I am not saying it's an "absolute rule", nor did I use the term "bad etiquette" in describing eating w/ chopsticks. My point is that I've been told it's a way to deal with the loose rice problem, and that it's suggested by "some" chefs when they hand you a towel before the nigiri course.

                                1. re: aser

                                  Don't want to argue anymore. I appreciate you change the wording. Lastly :

                                  If you read my post correctly, I do not agree fully with your quote. A good experienced sushi chef can make "firm and dissolvable smoothly sushi at the same time" regardless you use chopstick or hand (when you use your hand or chopstick properly). Remember we are talking having sushi in some great sushi restaurants.

                                  When I said "relax", I meaning relax a little bit when eating out, of course with proper etiquette. You said when giving a towel, it is a sign of the itamae wanting you to eat with your hands, it sounds like the customer has to response correspondingly to this action. Use the towel if you like, eat with hand if that's your style, you are the one who pay. Any good sushi chef will not discredit you because of this.

                                  Lastly, I am just making comment based on my experience in Japan and outside Japan, whereas you are making comment based on the book and experience outside Japan, and there is a disagreement on our opinion. I do not mean to dis-credit you on purpose.

                                  I agree your point that eating by hand is a way to deal with loose rice problem on a certain level. However, the rice should not be loose in the first place when properly made (provided the person use chopstick properly). Somtimes, even if you eat by hand, your sushi can be loose too if you do not eat it properly. And sometimes, you cannot even use hand with the sushi like the boiling hot Anago or sushi that have some sauce on it.

                                  1. re: skylineR33

                                    When I ate at Sushi Yasuda in NYC last week, fellow chowhound 'Fourseasons' and myself chose to eat all of our 23 pieces each with our chops-stick and not our fingers ( even though they do provide a little wet napkin on a side dish for us to clean our fingers ). This being the case, Yasuda San still formed the sushi rice fairly loosely. One of the reason I guess was that we were instructed to eat our 'really bite size' sushi as served and to refrain from dipping the morsels into any wasabi or soya sauce. Before serving to us, every single piece was finish off with the master either brushing the fish or seafood with his own special soy, sprinkled seasalt, squeezed lemon juice...etc. With no further dipping action required, the risk of the sushi rice disintegrating is reduced to a minimal.

                                    1. re: Charles Yu

                                      Hello Charles,

                                      Yes, that's the way it should be, eh ? Maybe this is "some" of the criteria a great sushi chef should have, such as the level of consideration and attention towards the patrons ?! But I think this is kind of hard to archieve in sushi bar of Toronto, especially with the ratio of sushi chef to the patrons like 1 to 20 in a Toronto Japanese sushi shop.

                                      How do you compare the rice quality among Jiro, Yasuda and Kaji ? I believe both Yasuda and Kaji do not use Japanese rice that is actually grow in Japan, but in California. I think it really makes a difference with rice such as Niigata's Koshihikari rice or Akita's Akita Komachi rice.

                                      1. re: skylineR33

                                        Jiro's is better! I also find Yasuda's rice seasoning a touch too 'sour' for my taste. Its been over a year since I last try out Kaji so my recollection has faded.

                          2. re: aser

                            Yasuda is good by NYC or North American standard. However, when compare to the likes of Sawada, Sukiyabashi Jiro or Sushi Mizutani of Tokyo, the quality and standard is still not there yet. (eg., At the Michelin 3* Jiro, temperature is controlled for each of the different fish used, and the sushi rice is always kept at body temperature. Since sushi is a food in which temperature is as important as the freshness of the ingredients ). As for Masa, this must be the most over-priced place in North America! I don't care if every item is flown in by air from Japan, but at $400-600 for an Omakase, its borderline highway robbery! I have yet to eat at Urasawa of LA. May be their sushi is the closest one can get to 'Japan standard' in North America?!

                  3. re: pinkskittles

                    i would recommend fune (on adelaide) and their 'sister' resto yammamoto (sp?) in the yorkville area. best quality of sushi -- but there is no omikase etc.

                  4. There is a mysterious trend on this board to attribute great sushi to Kaji -- when in fact Kaji bills itself as "fine Japanese dining".

                    Go to Zen. Or if you prefer a more homely feel and are REALLY REALLY hungry, omakase at Aoyama.

                    DO NOT go to Cafe Michi--I assure you there are no memorable experiences to be had there.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: abscissa

                      Kaji's omakase always serves a sushi and sashimi course and it is great. Technically they are not a "sushi restaurant", but that does not preclude them from serving the "best" sushi, which of course is a matter of opinion.

                      1. re: Apprentice

                        Sushi Kaji was the best Japanese meal I've ever had. Period.

                        1. re: acd123

                          I agree. Kaji is fantastic Japanese food for Toronto. They have served me some of the best sushi and sashimi I have ever had. Hubby normally hates uni but will eat it at Kaji.

                      2. re: abscissa

                        I beg to differ totally wrt absissa's Cafe Michi remarks!!

                        I just came back from New York, having eaten a 23 piece sushi Omakase meal at Sushi Yasuda. Though rated NYC finest, even THAT is not memorable when compare to say the Jiro or Mizutani of Tokyo. Therefore it is unfair to use the word 'memorable' in trying to describe sushi experience in Toronto, which is in my opinion no more than second or third rate when compare to the likes of LA, NYC, SF or Vancouver finest let alone Japan.

                        That said, may be you havn't experience from Toshi san the 'horizontal' tasting of wild sea bream ( Suzuki ) from the Sea of Japan vs the East coast ( Boston) or the sea scalops from the sea off Hiroshima vs Hokkaido vs East coast? Apart from Kaji san, Toshi san is the only Japanese sushi chef I know in Toronto who actually marinates the Ikura with top soy, Murin and Sake. Also, apart from Kaji, who else make a to die for creamy Kani croquettes using fresh crab meat in Toronto?

                        Michi might not be the Best in Toronto but when it comes to value for money they are definitely way up there!

                        1. re: Charles Yu

                          Some names I have never heard of on this thread, I'm going to check some of them out.
                          I'm a fan of Shogun and Kaji (Bring your wallet...& your friends wallet). Nami is pretty good.
                          I'm going to go try Toshi in the next few weeks.
                          A guilty pleasure: Ichiban at Front and Wellington. I haven't eaten there in months but it was always fresh, staff was friendly and its reasonably priced.

                      3. Kaji is the best. The fish they use is simply the freshest and best. Actually, they're not really that expensive. We have been to Japan many times and we sometimes make weekend trips to Tokyo just to sample their food and do shopping. Their nice sushi places are usually more expensive than Kaji, even with our high dollar. So Kaji is really a bargain.
                        Then there is Hashimoto. This is also my top favorite Jap restaurant. Their main thing is not sushi but they serve some in their Kaiseki meal. The chef has a license in Fugu Ryori (Puffer fish). Too bad that in our country (we appear to have freedom but actually don't), we cannot eat Fugu. It's illegal to import them.
                        One other thing is, although these two restaurants appear expensive, they use the best ingredients. Their alcohol (sake) is sold with minimal mark-up. So I don't think they're as "greedy" as some would think.