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red dragon Jul 29, 2008 06:12 AM

I read some posts here and thought I'd give it a try. Do they have AYCE, or is it menu only. I don't eat sashimi but love california rolls and other rolls that are cooked, my husband eats anything. How are the prices?

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  1. BokChoi RE: red dragon Jul 29, 2008 08:50 AM

    Hi Red Dragon,

    Zen is not AYCE, I've put another post elsewhere with prices, but I'll copy it down below as well:

    For taste and atmosphere, I would highly recommend Zen. Though it is strangely located in a strip mall in Scarborough (a particularly seedy one at that), the inner décor is very authentic. My favourite roll is their Spider Roll (soft-shelled crab with a wonderful mayo that I usually despise in other restaurants, but find quite pleasant here). The teriyaki dishes tend to be a bit overcooked for my liking, but I enjoy their grilled squid, the natto (strangely enough – though not for the faint at heart), the tempura (one of the lightest and crispiest I have ever sampled), and their broth for their udons. In terms of price, their priciest maki checks in at $13 (spider roll). The rest of the rolls vary from approximately $6 (tuna roll) and mainly sit at about $7.50 (Futo Maki). I just happened to have one of their take-out menus handy, so I’m quoting this from the menu directly (prices may have changed slightly since this version, so please don’t be upset if the prices have increased by a couple of dollars!). The chirashi will set you back by about $23, and the Tokujyo Sushi (highly recommended) is approximately $27. Udons are cheaper and are less than $15. The teriyaki dishes are also <$15. Since it appears to be in your price range, and hopefully satisfies your other criteria, I hope it will fit the bill.

    Cheers and Happy Eating!

    35 Replies
    1. re: BokChoi
      wciu RE: BokChoi Jul 29, 2008 11:04 AM

      Few people mention their Matsumae Sushi, which I like quite a lot. Their grilled sardines, when available, is really good too.

      1. re: wciu
        hippotatomus RE: wciu Jan 14, 2009 09:11 PM

        What is in the Matsumae sushi? Is that the name of a set of sushi?

      2. re: BokChoi
        red dragon RE: BokChoi Jul 30, 2008 05:04 AM

        Hi Bokchoi, love your screen name! Thank you for copying your post for me. A few questions please:
        1. Seedy meaning bad area, bad parking?
        2. Not all that famililar with rolls since I've mainly ate at AYCE and combo platters. Is maki like a california roll and you mean if you order 1 in comes sliced into, say 6 pieces?
        3. The spider roll sounds delicious and I know many people find it weird that I don't like sashimi, I do enjoy all the cooked varieties. I don't think I've had soft shell crab, do you mean the shell is edible?
        4. What is Chirashi?

        Thanks again in advance for your reply!

        1. re: red dragon
          BokChoi RE: red dragon Jul 30, 2008 07:02 AM

          Hi Red_Dragon, thanks for the compliment!
          1) seedy as in pretty dingy neighbourhood - there's an adult entertainment complex nextdoor. The strip mall has a lot of dollar stores and convenience stores. The parking is quite limited, though I have never had an issue with securing a spot (yet)
          2) yes, one specific type of familiar maki would be the california roll. I have yet to try Zen's version, but do try the Spider Roll (deep fried Soft Shelled Crab - excellent. IMO the best in the city) and you get 6-8 pieces, depending on the type of roll I believe.
          3) yes, the shell is edible. The crab molts and during a certain phase when it outgrows its shell. During this period, fisherman will catch/sell these delicious delectables to buyers and voila! They come all nice and battered on a platter. The Spider Roll has the softshelled crab inside a maki along with a bit of mayo, cucumber, fish roe and avocado.
          4) Chirashi Don is typically a chef's choice of assorted (raw) fish that comes atop a bowl of rice. Your dining partner may appreciate this - and I would liken it to sashimi on a bed of rice. I would definitely give it a try though as Zen is definitely the place to go to sample fresh fish for the first time. You're guaranteed not to have a bad (read: expired fish) experience

          Cheers and Happy Eating!

          1. re: BokChoi
            red dragon RE: BokChoi Jul 30, 2008 07:11 AM

            Thanks again - I'll be sure to post my thoughts after we've dined there!

          2. re: red dragon
            pinstripeprincess RE: red dragon Jul 30, 2008 07:55 AM

            red dragon... you may benefit from a sushi crash course before you head into a place like zen or from a persistent inquisitive mind. i wouldn't want you to feel intimidated by zen but knowing more than you seem to be displaying will help you in having a greater experience.

            this is a pretty basic primer and while i can't vouch that everything is correct, it's pretty darn good. http://www.sushifaq.com/ i think wikipedia probably has a very good description as well.

            otherwise, try your best to communicate and learn from the sushi chef or even the servers about this particular cuisine. ask as many questions as you can. i'm not sure how they are at zen, but at times this can be trying as i've found many sushi chefs in toronto who won't even look me in the eye when presenting food.

            2. maki is the general term for a roll, a particular subset of sushi as a whole. ie. california roll = california maki. if you ask a restaurant for say... tuna sushi you will not likely get a roll (maki). sushi generally translates to nigiri style (slice of fish/other on finger sized piece of formed sushi rice). if you want maki, ensure that you specify this though they usually have cute names to distinguish their fillings. futo maki is a fairly traditional roll (though sometimes i feel it has korean influence, maybe it's vice versa) and is often filled with egg and a variety of pickled vegetables.

            3. soft shell crab has a shell that is edible. it is fried and you can usually also get this item as a whole crab that is cut up into pieces. delicious either way, but like fish it is best during a particular season (of which i am not entirely aware of).

            4. chirashi is essentially sashimi served on top of a bed of sushi rice. may also come with non raw fish on top. it might not sound all that different from say ordering a meal of sashimi that comes with a bowl of rice, but that bowl of rice isn't usually sushi rice (which is vinegared) but plain rice.

            to be honest.... unless you eat nigiri or sashimi i find that the benefits of places like zen over say your run of the mill ayce may not be as noticeable. it is the subtleties and the depth of flavour from the imported and/or impeccably fresh fish, the perfect pressure and molding used to make the fingers of rice, the balance of the vinegar and sugar in the rice seasoning, etc etc that you just don't really notice as much in maki. i don't want to discourage but i do hope that you try a few pieces of items like unagi nigiri (broiled eel) rather than just maki to get a good feel for places like zen. either way their cooked items are likely significantly better than ayce.

            1. re: pinstripeprincess
              skylineR33 RE: pinstripeprincess Jul 30, 2008 08:12 AM

              Great suggestion ! Just one thing, order the Anago sushi (sea eel) at Zen if they have it instead of the Unagi sushi please.

              1. re: skylineR33
                pinstripeprincess RE: skylineR33 Jul 30, 2008 08:25 AM

                do they have anago regularly? dear lord am i dying for the stuff.... after having a whole fillet over a single bundle of rice for 600Y... nothing compares! i will have to pick the time i go to zen based around anago.

                another suggestion to red dragon, if they have both you should perhaps get a piece of each and compare the two (anago = salt water eel, unagi = fresh water eel). both lovely but differing in texture and flavour especially compared side by side.

                1. re: pinstripeprincess
                  skylineR33 RE: pinstripeprincess Jul 30, 2008 08:35 AM

                  I have Anago in there a few times, so I suppose they should have them regularly?!

                  Mind you, it is served with a cut of it like unagi, not the whole fillet like what is common in Japan. Well, it is good and I guess I can't complain too much !

              2. re: pinstripeprincess
                red dragon RE: pinstripeprincess Jul 31, 2008 08:12 AM

                Hi there - thanks for the link ...LOL. My husband eats sashimi, so it will be worth it for environment and fresh taste rather than an AYCE place. I have tried broiled eel by the way.

                1. re: red dragon
                  pinstripeprincess RE: red dragon Jul 31, 2008 08:47 AM

                  i'm sure you have, it sounds like you've tried enough to know what you like and don't like... but like any other item at a sushi restaurant, zen will be much better than those ayce places.

                  it's really just a whole different experience going to some place like zen. i mean at similar style sushi places i've watched chefs take raw pieces and broil and baste it with their own homemade sauces. you can guarantee that you won't find that at most sushi joints. so if you like eel then i highly suggest the side by side anago vs unagi tasting and i'm sure both you and your husband will enjoy it.

                  1. re: red dragon
                    skylineR33 RE: red dragon Jul 31, 2008 01:13 PM

                    I do not think it is that good an idea with maki and cooked food omakase at Zen ... but who knows ? Maybe it turns out good.

                    Just to give you an idea on their pricing of their sushi/sashimi omakase at Zen, they are both $45. I order either one or both everytime I go there.

              3. re: BokChoi
                sugarcube RE: BokChoi Aug 20, 2008 12:40 PM

                Thanks to all these helpful reviews, I got an opportunity to try Zen today. Can't believe this place was sitting in my own backyard. Whenever I would drive by this plaza, I would pass the gem it held. (the sktechy 'adult entertainment' club beside it didn't help persuade me to make a stopover either!)
                However, once we stepped inside we were transported to a safe and pleasant food sanctuary :) The decor was indeed authentically Japanese (two seats were in the traditional cross-legged sit down). We opted to sit at the sushi bar (as suggested by reviewers) because we wanted to be closer to the action (the seats were also larger and cushier too)
                Although it was lunch, we were allowed to order off the a la carte dinner menu. From the dinner menu we ordered the softshell crab, and from the lunch menu the sashimi/sushi combo as well as the tempura.
                The combos came with a refreshing little salad and miso soup. As I drank my soup, i excitedly exclaimed to my mum that the chef was grating REAL wasabi on a microplane (This would be my first time eating the real thing!)
                The tempura came next: three shrimp tempura and 5 other tempura battered veggies (green bean, sweet potato, turnip, eggplant, and zucchini). They were delicious: warm, light and crispy, not at all soggy or doughy.
                Next came the softshell crab, and was it a sight for sore eyes: the rolls were the size of large medallions. a meaty crab piece was nestled amongst soft and melty fanned avocado slices. The meat was so tender and held a whisper of warmth indicating that they just came out of the fryer. The crab was not at all greasy either.
                Finally the sashimi and sushi arrived: the sashimi pieces were especially buttery-tender and very flavourful.
                To finish, my mummy opted for the black sesame ice cream (which she loved-- and I teased her for a black coated tongue after) and I eventually succumbed to trying the mandarin pie (reminded me of a panna cotta but in wedge form with gram cracker crumbs as the base and the filling kissed with mandarin flavour. (The top was decorated with fresh whipped cream and mandarin segments.
                The staff were very friendly and their service was efficient. We will definitely return (we have so much more to try :) ... the chef told us we needed to return too to try the tempura ice cream!)
                Thanks again chowhounds for the great recommendation!

                1. re: sugarcube
                  skylineR33 RE: sugarcube Aug 20, 2008 12:56 PM


                  The wasabi at Zen is not really real. They mix it with the fake one.

                  1. re: skylineR33
                    tjr RE: skylineR33 Aug 20, 2008 01:34 PM

                    That's a pretty depressing cost-saver; if they're going to grate wasabi, why bother mixing it with the powdered version (which I'm sure the clientele wouldn't complain about anyways)? That seems a little absurd to me.

                    1. re: skylineR33
                      sugarcube RE: skylineR33 Aug 20, 2008 06:09 PM

                      how do you know this skylineR33? did you ask and they told you?

                      1. re: sugarcube
                        pinstripeprincess RE: sugarcube Aug 20, 2008 06:38 PM

                        what was the texture like? i'm surprised they would use a microplane rather than a sharkskin grater. i imagine it would be one of the smoothest textures this way.

                        1. re: pinstripeprincess
                          sugarcube RE: pinstripeprincess Aug 20, 2008 06:43 PM

                          Pinstripeprincess, the sharkskin grater is what they used.. microplane was the first thing that came to my mind as I forgot the name of the other (my mistake).

                        2. re: sugarcube
                          skylineR33 RE: sugarcube Aug 20, 2008 07:23 PM

                          No need to ask. The sweetness of real wasabi is not really there and the after taste spiciness is too strong and too long to be truly real wasabi. It is a mixture of wasabi and horseradish or something like that.

                          1. re: skylineR33
                            sugarcube RE: skylineR33 Aug 20, 2008 07:50 PM

                            I did find it spicy but I just thought it was the wasabi working its magic.. I saw them grating the wasabi root, so I figured it was the real deal (since I have no prior 'real' wasabi tasting to compare it to)... guess I have to go elsewhere to find genuine wasabi.

                            1. re: sugarcube
                              pinstripeprincess RE: sugarcube Aug 21, 2008 07:45 AM

                              it is difficult to find real wasabi in toronto... at best i've been given a mixture.

                              i personally found it to definitely be sweet and almost have a creamy oily nuttiness and fruitiness to it in flavour (not texture) that reminded me of coconut milk. there was a really mild burn and often times it can be a bit watery in texture since it's straight off the root.

                              1. re: pinstripeprincess
                                BokChoi RE: pinstripeprincess Aug 21, 2008 04:47 PM

                                The one I have with the Taro Fish take-out tastes like the real deal. Not sure if one of you with more experience can attest to that. The heat doesn't linger on your tongue and it has greater depth of flavour than the typical 'squeeze bottle' or powdered type.

                                1. re: pinstripeprincess
                                  zarathustra RE: pinstripeprincess Dec 1, 2009 06:12 AM

                                  Kaiseki Katsura (hope I'm spelling it right) has fresh wasabi root provided with their sushi course... they provide a little grater for you to grate as needed.

                                  That's not a recomendation to go there as other than that, I wasn't much impressed with the food (Kaji and Hiro were much better by comparison).

                                  Can't wait to try Zen.

                                  1. re: zarathustra
                                    pinstripeprincess RE: zarathustra Dec 1, 2009 07:05 AM

                                    sakura rather than katsura... i have heard that but the time i went there wasn't a sushi course in my meal.

                                    kaiseki sakura isn't in the same league as kaji and, well, hiro is sushi which to me is a whole different bucket of worms. i would be concerned about the freshness of the root as many pieces i've seen in japanese grocers around town look a bit old and musty.

                              2. re: skylineR33
                                tjr RE: skylineR33 Aug 20, 2008 07:51 PM

                                Oh well, par for the course for most Toronto sushi, I suppose.

                                1. re: skylineR33
                                  Googs RE: skylineR33 Aug 21, 2008 04:21 AM

                                  So skyline, is it your tastebuds or your eyes that has detected the difference? I believe you've dined at the bar. Did you witness the cocktail being shaken?

                                  1. re: Googs
                                    skylineR33 RE: Googs Aug 21, 2008 07:26 AM

                                    Hello Googs, my tastebud detects it and also I see they have a big pot of "prepared" wasabi, no way it is all real wasabi from that big pot. Nevertheless, I enjoy the sushi at Zen.

                              3. re: skylineR33
                                ascendance RE: skylineR33 Aug 22, 2008 09:25 AM

                                Uh, no. They serve the real wasabi with the high cost, high end dishes (puri, otoro, etc.), and they use the pre-packaged wasabi for most of their dishes.

                                It's not mixed.

                                1. re: ascendance
                                  T Long RE: ascendance Aug 22, 2008 09:43 AM

                                  I can visualize both senerios being valid....the real stuff is mainly there for the high end meals, but because it is available they would mix some with the fake wasabi if there is any excess. (I would imagine that real wasabi has a shorter shelf life, so if high end meals are not leaving the kitchen, it would be a waste to just throw it out).

                                  1. re: ascendance
                                    skylineR33 RE: ascendance Aug 22, 2008 10:04 AM

                                    This is what I mean as sugarcube does not order expensive stuffs. And T Long is right too regarding the mix of real and not-real wasabi. You don't notice it when you put it into your mouth ?!

                                    1. re: ascendance
                                      Googs RE: ascendance Aug 23, 2008 05:30 AM

                                      ascendance, you sound certain they don't mix while the postings of others sounds like conjecture. What makes you sure?

                                      1. re: Googs
                                        skylineR33 RE: Googs Aug 23, 2008 02:30 PM

                                        Googs, so what do you think about their wasabi as you have eaten at Zen before ? Whether it is real, partially real or all fake, there is a differences in taste.

                                  2. re: sugarcube
                                    Full tummy RE: sugarcube Aug 20, 2008 10:49 PM

                                    Are you sure it was fresh whipped cream on top of the pie? Every time I've had it, it had fake "whipped topping" on top. It's really my only complaint about this otherwise excellent sushi resto.

                                    1. re: Full tummy
                                      sugarcube RE: Full tummy Aug 21, 2008 03:39 PM

                                      hmm, well it was piped out as small stars and didn't taste like fake 'cool whip' topping, or something out of an aerosol canister.
                                      It taste fine to me, but i'm not particular about whipped cream because I only have a bite and forgo the rest to eat the acutal dessert. (if I knew if came with cream on top, I would have asked them not to include it in the first place)

                                      1. re: sugarcube
                                        Full tummy RE: sugarcube Aug 21, 2008 07:40 PM

                                        Well, to each his own... I am all for whipped cream and would rather more than less--except when it's not real cream, in which case I would prefer that it be kept off the dessert. However, I still do enjoy that mandarin pie.

                                2. BokChoi RE: red dragon Aug 2, 2008 09:44 PM

                                  Hey Red Dragon,

                                  I just posted a picture of the spider roll, natto (traditional Japanese dish - I've been warned that not many foreigners like this dish) and a very basic Sushi Dinner. Take a look to get a feel for the type of presentation offered by Zen.

                                  Spider Roll: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
                                  Basic Sushi Dinner: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
                                  Natto: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...

                                  I plan to go later this week to order their Omakase, I'll keep you posted once those photos are available.

                                  Cheers and Happy Eating!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: BokChoi
                                    red dragon RE: BokChoi Aug 3, 2008 06:43 AM

                                    Thanks again for the wonderful pics! How did you like the natto?

                                    1. re: red dragon
                                      BokChoi RE: red dragon Sep 13, 2008 07:54 AM

                                      Hi red_dragon. Just noticed this question. I actually really enjoyed the natto. I was getting worried looks from the staff at Zen as I guess it is not often ordered by non-Japanese patrons. I thought it was very different, pungent, but not in a repulsive way, and had an excellent texture. It was not as strange as I had read about at all - and was actually one of the tamer items I have ever tried.


                                  2. e
                                    esf2003 RE: red dragon Aug 2, 2008 10:05 PM

                                    I have to add, the sushi/sashimi omakase are probably the best dishes you can order at Zen... the variety is amazing for a sushi restaurant in Toronto, and I love how they are like sushi restaurants in Japan, in that they employ different seasonings for different types of fish. It's not the same level as say Mizutani or Jiro in Tokyo, but at about $45, it's probably the best value for high quality sushi in Toronto.

                                    Does anyone know if they have simple Anago on rice instead of sushi? I find a single order of Anago to be quite pricey, and that is why I order omakase sushi as it seems to always be included.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: esf2003
                                      skylineR33 RE: esf2003 Aug 3, 2008 06:16 AM

                                      Yes, I think it is not fair to compare sushi in Toronto to Japan. But if we are talking about pricing, the sushi shop around Tsukiji market is more on the level of Zen of Toronto, eventhough Zen is more expensive, but qualitywise it is just not quite comparable. Zen is closest you can get though.

                                      Zen does not have Anago on rice. I think you can request for it, but I bet it won't be cheap.

                                      1. re: skylineR33
                                        Charles Yu RE: skylineR33 Aug 3, 2008 06:38 AM

                                        Hello skylineR33! Talk about quality. I went for a quick early dinner at Michi Friday and was delighted to find out that Toshi San specially ordered some ultra special 'Blue Fin Tuna' for the holiday long weekend. The toro he gave me was amazing! Even the maguro was much better than your day-to-day Toronto varietal! Brought back instant fond memory of similar dish from Tokyo's Jiro or NYC's Yasuda. Pity I have to work!
                                        BTW, when are you heading down to New York?

                                        1. re: Charles Yu
                                          skylineR33 RE: Charles Yu Aug 3, 2008 06:50 AM

                                          Right ! Michi is the other reliable place for sushi. However, they (and other establishment) do not always get ultra good toro, I guess it depends on availability...

                                          Will soon to NY, yeah.

                                          1. re: skylineR33
                                            BokChoi RE: skylineR33 Aug 3, 2008 08:13 AM

                                            Just got back from NYC. Loved the food there. Much more reasonably priced than here in Toronto for similar calibre, IMO. Enjoy your time there. I've made a few posts on the NYC board with photos - I'll be putting up my Jean Georges revue soon enough.

                                      2. re: esf2003
                                        BokChoi RE: esf2003 Aug 3, 2008 07:47 AM

                                        Thanks esf2003, I'm looking forward to trying it. Any tips on having a good experience there? Is there anything I should say/do ahead of time/while ordering? Thanks

                                        1. re: BokChoi
                                          esf2003 RE: BokChoi Aug 4, 2008 02:31 AM

                                          Just order the sushi and sashimi omakase. You'll be pleasantly surprised. :) No need to make any requests... if you're still not full, just order what you liked from either dish as they are great samplers.

                                          1. re: esf2003
                                            BokChoi RE: esf2003 Aug 4, 2008 07:19 AM

                                            Thanks esf2003. I'll leave my fate in their hands then. The more adventurous the meal, the better IMO anyway. I hope they have something exciting to prepare when I finally get to try the Omakase!

                                          2. re: BokChoi
                                            Googs RE: BokChoi Aug 17, 2008 10:23 AM

                                            Best tip for enjoying yourself: Make reservations. The seating at the sushi bar and booths is very minimal.

                                        2. skylineR33 RE: red dragon Aug 4, 2008 08:16 PM

                                          Here are the pictures of their sushi and sashimi omakase for reference. They are taken on different dates.

                                          16 Replies
                                          1. re: skylineR33
                                            BokChoi RE: skylineR33 Aug 4, 2008 08:47 PM

                                            Thanks SkylineR33 - Looks great. Leaning towards the sushi Omakase now after browsing your photos. What else is included in their Omakase? Typically how many little appetizers/amuse bouches do they include? What were some of your favourite offerings?

                                            1. re: BokChoi
                                              skylineR33 RE: BokChoi Aug 4, 2008 09:04 PM

                                              The sushi or sashimi omakase has no little appetizers and amuse bouches, it is just one plate of sushi or sashimi as the name suggested...

                                              1. re: skylineR33
                                                nart RE: skylineR33 Aug 4, 2008 09:58 PM

                                                you usually get a bowl of edamame's. a lot of the time, if you sit at the sushi-bar and chat with the sushi chef, they have goodies behind the bar and will give you somel to try.

                                                i was there two weeks ago and they had tako (octopus) in a wasabi based sauce that was really good. we just asked them what was good that day and they offered it to us. also had the sushi omakase.

                                                1. re: nart
                                                  skylineR33 RE: nart Aug 5, 2008 06:22 AM

                                                  I don't think you read the question correctly. You have these even if you do not order omakase. I am refering to there is no additional items in omakase as Bokchoi asks "what else is included in their Omakase?".

                                                  1. re: skylineR33
                                                    BokChoi RE: skylineR33 Aug 5, 2008 07:22 AM

                                                    Thanks for the information. Interesting - the other versions of Omakase I've seen (i.e. in Boston and advertised on their websites) usually include little prepared dishes that show a chef's flair. I always thought it was a multi-course meal. I guess this may be considered blasphemous by some...? LOL Nothing beats fresh, pure fish I'm guessing!

                                                    1. re: BokChoi
                                                      pinstripeprincess RE: BokChoi Aug 5, 2008 07:30 AM

                                                      it isn't blasphemous, it's just a very common style of "omakase" in toronto.

                                                      there are places where an omakase is a very well thought out succession of cooked and raw dishes (former omi to be opened again soon, japango, kaji, hiro, etc.) and there are also a multitude of places in toronto that choose to present a chef's choice style platter for specifically sushi/sashimi omakases. i'm usually more fond of the succession of dishes just because i can get a much more detailed description than a quick gesture and mumbled naming, but alternatively i'll just order a la carte and query as i fancy.

                                                      1. re: pinstripeprincess
                                                        BokChoi RE: pinstripeprincess Aug 5, 2008 07:48 AM

                                                        I see... good to have my expectations in line then. This has definitely broadened my understanding of Omakase. I was going to go under the assumption it was going to be a multi-course meal. I surely would have been a touch disappointed if I had! But now I can prepare myself mentally...LOL

                                                      2. re: BokChoi
                                                        skylineR33 RE: BokChoi Aug 5, 2008 07:40 AM

                                                        Yes, you are right. There are different kinds of omakase...I think it has been discussed in some of the older threads before.

                                                        1. re: BokChoi
                                                          wciu RE: BokChoi Aug 8, 2008 02:59 PM

                                                          Omakase just mean that you trust the chef to give you the best. So that's open to interpretations. :)

                                                          If you order Omakase, reserve a seat at the Sushi bar. Part of the joy of ordering Omakase is the interactions with the Chefs, and you don't get that unless you sit at the sushi bar. And Soari san and Jacky are both fun guys to talk to.

                                                          Zen is by far my favorite Jap restaurant in town. It's not as fancy as others, but the people is great and you get really really really good stuff from time to time. (Not that their normal stuff aren't great, but once in a while, they get a very high grade o'toro, or some special fish that cost $15-20 a piece in Japan in the Omakase, those are the times that you remember. :)

                                                          Once, they give me 2 pieces of otoro, and asked me which I prefered. They were testing if I can tell the difference between 2 sunazuri(a special part of otoro), one is a piece from a wild blue fin, another one is a piece from farmed blue fin. Fortunately, I picked the right(wild) one, otherwise, I am not sure they would have laughed at me. :p

                                                          Anyway, it's a great place, with great food, and great people. So enjoy your omakase. :)

                                                          1. re: wciu
                                                            skylineR33 RE: wciu Aug 8, 2008 09:33 PM

                                                            I think it is pretty easy to tell the difference of taste between wild and farmed fish. Also, there are different kinds of bluefin.

                                                            I had good and not-so-good otoro at Zen before, sometimes they have toro from Turkey, which is not a good quality one. But in general, I agree that Zen is a great Japanese restaurant in town.

                                                            1. re: wciu
                                                              BokChoi RE: wciu Aug 11, 2008 10:00 AM

                                                              Thanks wciu. sounds exciting. I have to get myself over there as soon as possible. Timing did not work out this week, but hopefully will have an opportunity soon enough. I overheard another customer trying to set up Jacky on a date with her neice when I was there last time, so it seems like they get along with the customers quite well LOL. I hope the O-Toro is better than the one I sampled in Boston - I found that one to be too tough for my liking.

                                                              1. re: BokChoi
                                                                wciu RE: BokChoi Aug 11, 2008 03:58 PM

                                                                Have to say that I agree with skyline, Otoro at Zen is not consistent. I've had really really good ones there, and some not so good. However, the dinning experience as a whole has always been good for me, which is something I can't say about Kaji or Michi. That's why Zen's my favorite.

                                                                I'll give you another example. My girlfriend really likes Shiso. We used to order Umeshiso to finish off a meal. After doing that for a few times, Jacky started putting shiso into some pieces of sushi, or use shiso instead or nori for our orders. Things like this make you feel that the chefs really do care about you, and that(IMO) makes the food taste better. Needless to say, my girlfriend loves Zen. :)

                                                              2. re: wciu
                                                                Googs RE: wciu Aug 17, 2008 10:21 AM

                                                                Let me start by saying I love Zen and have for several years. After reading your experience there, wciu, I can only react with disgust. If you prefer one cut over the other, what does it matter what they think? It's about pleasure, not pressure. Any place that would do that to their paying customers doesn't deserve loyalty.

                                                                1. re: Googs
                                                                  wciu RE: Googs Aug 19, 2008 10:50 AM

                                                                  Hey Googs. I didn't mean to make it seem like a high pressure situation, and it wasn't. I enjoy things like that and know the people at Zen well enough to feel very comfortable there. So it wasn't a problem at all, was more like a game between friends.

                                                                  1. re: wciu
                                                                    Asuran RE: wciu Aug 29, 2008 12:54 PM

                                                                    After lurking for quite some time and reading up on what others have experienced my fiancee went to Zen last night and fortunatley even though we didnt have reservations we were able to get seats at the sushi bar. I ordered the Omakase and was served by Jacky it was definately an experience eating at the bar and a very enjoyable meal. Jacky told me what each piece of sushi was as he served it. My fiancee doesnt eat raw fish so she had the dinner speacial and as other recommended the spider rolls definately will be going back!

                                                                    1. re: Asuran
                                                                      BokChoi RE: Asuran Aug 29, 2008 01:40 PM

                                                                      Glad to hear you enjoyed it. It has always been a go-to place for me in terms of sushi. Excellent service as well. Cannot go wrong with the fish and spider roll there.

                                                  2. Googs RE: red dragon Sep 28, 2008 11:34 AM

                                                    Just had another fantastic omakase dinner at Zen. While there I heard they're in the process of scouting new locations. Not a 2nd one, but rather a move. For those of you who deplore making the trek to Scarborough, you may now set your coordinates for Don Mills & Eglinton. Anyone who finds out more should definitely share!

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: Googs
                                                      BokChoi RE: Googs Sep 29, 2008 06:10 AM

                                                      This is very depressing news for those near the area. Thanks for the headsup Googs - I hope they relocate to as depressing a location in order to keep the prices as affordable as they have thus far. Any idea when they might be moving? I should head there soon before they pack up and escalate their prices!


                                                      1. re: BokChoi
                                                        T Long RE: BokChoi Sep 29, 2008 07:58 AM

                                                        Agree this is very bad news....the Don Mills & Eglinton area is not much more accessible and like BokChoi says the increased costs will be passed on the customer....oh well, good thing we still have Aoyama and Michi Cafe close by.

                                                      2. re: Googs
                                                        Full tummy RE: Googs Sep 29, 2008 08:38 PM

                                                        The last couple of times I was there, I learned they are looking at Leslie & Eglinton, where the construction on the old Inn on the Park site will make space for retail & restaurants.

                                                        1. re: Full tummy
                                                          Googs RE: Full tummy Oct 1, 2008 05:57 AM

                                                          Full tummy, This was 2 weekends ago. We had a rather extensive conversation about the corner. I know there's a very large facility slated for DM & Eg that's breaking ground very shortly. Perhaps they're scouting that general neighbourhood.

                                                          I'm sorry T Long & Bok Choi. They have a chance to double the # of clients they can serve. It just can't be done where they are now. I've never minded the locale. I work so close I can actually sneak in a lunch there when I'm feeling particularly decadent.

                                                      3. hippotatomus RE: red dragon Jan 17, 2009 01:49 PM

                                                        I just went yesterday and was very, very impressed. Just to forewarn though, my background in sushi eating has not been as expansive and exciting as other posters on the board. So this review is more for others like me that enjoy sushi once in a while (more so in the last couple months), and haven't had much experience at high end sushi places. Also, most of my experience has been eating the staple fish they serve at most sushi joints.

                                                        We booked reservations for 5:45pm, but because of traffic and it being our first time in the area, we didn't get there until 6:15pm. We thought we would take Danforth all the way up to Eglinton, but somewhere along the way accidentally wound up on Kingsway or Kingston Rd and passed it by a good few blocks. It definitely did live up to the dingy exterior impression others have mentioned. Not that I minded, but I thought I should throw it in to help others look out for the restaurant.

                                                        The entrance has a large "ZEN" in big block hot pink flourescent lights. On stepping in, it was half filled and not super busy. It was pretty quiet. Unlike others though, I didn't find the place too cozy - only the seats at the back. Otherwise I found the front of the restaurant a bit barren - it also reminds me of Aoyama. The rear of the restaurant , however, is completely another story and cozy indeed. They have two booths in the back, not sure what they are called but they are the type where you kind of have to climb in. My SO forgot to request for seats at the sushi bar when making reservations - so we couldn't sit in on the action that night :(. When we got into the restaurant all the tables had "Reserved" signs and there was one at each seat at the sushi bar. We sat at the normal tables, there were two tables of people sitting next to us. One table was a party of 6 consisting of a Japanese family - always a good sign - the other was another family of 6 I think with one elderly Japanese man sitting with the family.

                                                        After looking at the menu again (I had already gone over the menu many times on the website), I decided to start with the Tsukimi Natto. My SO order the Kaki Furai (breaded fried lobsters). We both order the sushi omakase as it seemed to offer more variety from looking at the pictures.

                                                        After a while the appetizers arrived along with two bowls of miso soup. The natto was an interesting texture. There were cheeselike strands of gooeyness that clung to my spoon each time I lifted another biteful. I might've added too much soy sauce so it was a bit salty. It overall wasn't as unpleasant as I had expected but I won't be ordering it again. The server asked me several times before writing down the order if I was absolutely sure I wanted it. The breaded oyster arrived next and we were surprised to find around four to five pieces of fried oyster. I was only expecting to find one or maximum two initially. The breading was tasty and very crispy but light enough that the oyster was not lost.

                                                        I sat with my back facing the bar so I couldn't see anything being done but my SO could see them preparing our plates and was very excited each time they put up a new piece! When they arrived, we were presented with 12 pieces of assorted sushi. Hopefully we were lucky enough to get the anago sushi and it was indeed one of the highlights of the platter. After biting into it I immediately placed the other half to the side to save for last. As for the uni, it was the first time I have ever enjoyed uni. I've always disliked it but it may have been due to the poor quality at the restaurants I've previously tried it at. I didn't even know uni was supposed to be sweet! (is it?) The toro was superbly creamy, and left my lips deliciously oily. The other sushi was also good but these three were the most memorable. The ika had a very interesting texture but not much flavour - though chewing through the interesting gluey texture was satisfying enough. It was a really, really delicious plate of sushi - the best I've ever had.

                                                        After ingesting the first 3 pieces I started to slow it down so the experience would last longer. The hand roll didn't come until much later as they were starting to get busy. We almost thought that was the end and had asked for the bill! When it finally came it was definitely worth the wait, it was a hand roll stuffed with blue fin tuna belly and green onion. It was very refreshing and a nice end to the meal.

                                                        Except it wasn't the end... because the rolls were so good SO thought we would order two more rolls of our personal faves: salmon skin and spicy tuna. Unfortunately the two last rolls were not as stellar as the omakase. The rolls had way too much rice and the rice was a tad too mushy. The salmon skin had crunch all right but it was salty and didn't come with the sweet sauce I normally enjoy it with. The spicy tuna was alright and actually pretty spicy.

                                                        Overall, even with the last two rolls which were pretty subpar - the omakase made up for it infinitely. I will definitely be back for another round!

                                                        26 Replies
                                                        1. re: hippotatomus
                                                          hippotatomus RE: hippotatomus Jan 17, 2009 01:54 PM

                                                          Some more pics

                                                          1. re: hippotatomus
                                                            hippotatomus RE: hippotatomus Jan 17, 2009 01:55 PM


                                                            1. re: hippotatomus
                                                              Googs RE: hippotatomus Jan 17, 2009 02:40 PM

                                                              I have only one question and one request. What website? Please post it as I've never been able to find one. Thanks.

                                                              1. re: Googs
                                                                T Long RE: Googs Jan 17, 2009 03:35 PM


                                                                1. re: T Long
                                                                  Pigurd RE: T Long Jan 17, 2009 04:51 PM

                                                                  thanks! how did u find it? it never showed up on google for me...

                                                                  1. re: Pigurd
                                                                    T Long RE: Pigurd Jan 17, 2009 05:11 PM

                                                                    Mostly luck I think....Searching - Zen Restaurant Scarborough - will work....I think the key is including "Scarborough".

                                                                    1. re: T Long
                                                                      Googs RE: T Long Jan 18, 2009 06:00 AM

                                                                      Thanks T Long. I searched using Toronto, Eglinton, Scarborough, etc... nothing. Then I gave up. I'm thinking it might be a relatively new site. Doesn't matter. Thanks so much. The website food pics make me want to go right now. If only it weren't Sunday.

                                                              2. re: hippotatomus
                                                                hippotatomus RE: hippotatomus Jan 17, 2009 05:02 PM

                                                                woops sorry. kaki furai is fried breaded oysters - not lobster! :p

                                                                1. re: hippotatomus
                                                                  katana750 RE: hippotatomus Jan 17, 2009 05:35 PM

                                                                  The sweet sauce on the Salmon skin roll is usually Unagi tare. or Kabayaki sauce.Maybe you can request it in advance in the future for your enjoyment

                                                                  1. re: hippotatomus
                                                                    Pigurd RE: hippotatomus Mar 3, 2009 07:50 AM

                                                                    I had the pleasure of dining there last weekend, and found their sashimi to be the best in the city (more memorable than kaji even)... most of the sashmi just melted in my mouth, giving me the experience of being brought abroad a fishing boat in japan... my favourites were the japanese cuttlefish and wild hamachi... oooo it was just soooo buttery... considering that the fish here might not be as great as in japan, i think i would go to heaven if i ever tasted sashimi in japan...

                                                                    1. re: Pigurd
                                                                      restauranteer RE: Pigurd Mar 3, 2010 06:02 AM

                                                                      I second Pigurd's response. Went there for Valentine's day this year and the sushi & sashimi was excellent. The Toro was probably the best I've ever had.

                                                                      2803 Eglinton Ave E, Toronto, ON M1J2E1, CA

                                                                      1. re: restauranteer
                                                                        childofthestorm RE: restauranteer Mar 3, 2010 06:29 AM

                                                                        Agreed, I had some toro there that beat anything I've tried in NY, Vancouver, LA, and Japan (although I couldn't afford the real high-end spots there).

                                                                        The shari kicks ass too, and I was told it is a particular point of pride for them.

                                                                        1. re: childofthestorm
                                                                          ctl98 RE: childofthestorm Mar 3, 2010 02:15 PM

                                                                          DH and I have decided that Zen is definitely our favorite sushi spot. We still have to go to Kaji but for traditional sushi, Zen it is. And this is after we've tried Michi, Aoyama, Mikado, Inatei, Hiro, Solo Sushi, Japango, Ematei, Taro and countless others.

                                                                          1. re: ctl98
                                                                            aliangwb RE: ctl98 Mar 3, 2010 06:14 PM

                                                                            I tried Inatei for lunch a week ago, and I ordered the lunch sushi and sashimi combo and was underwhelming a bit. The rice on the nigri and the california roll is approaching dry, and the fish is OK not super fresh as it is on the soft side. Zen still have the best sushi lunch that I have so far.

                                                                            1. re: aliangwb
                                                                              skylineR33 RE: aliangwb Mar 3, 2010 07:12 PM

                                                                              Yes, I also found the quality of the sushi in the set (such as the lunch combo, deluxe set ...) at Inatei has been going down recently. However, their sushi and sashimi from the omakase are still very good, they are not the usual authentic nigiri sushi though. Also their a la carte are very nice such as the Botan Shrimp sashimi (they fried the head afterward) and the whole fresh uni (in shell) in which it is served with seaweed and rice on the side to wrap with the uni.

                                                                              At Zen, I find their sushi quality much better when ordering omakase at the bar.

                                                                              1. re: skylineR33
                                                                                ctl98 RE: skylineR33 Mar 3, 2010 07:31 PM

                                                                                That fried shrimp head is amazing! They had no fresh uni when I went but the botan ebi made up for it!

                                                                          2. re: childofthestorm
                                                                            Charles Yu RE: childofthestorm Mar 3, 2010 08:10 PM

                                                                            Zen might be the best Toronto has to offer. But IMO, it's still no where near some of New York's best like Sushi Yasuda or Sushi of Gari or Vancouver's Tojo. As to Japan, establishments in Tokyo like Jiro, Mitzutani, Saito or Sawada will beat Zen hands down even on an off day!

                                                                            Apart from the skill of the sushi chefs, the major deciding factor is product availability and supply & demand. Here in Toronto, restaurant like Zen uses inferior blue fin tuna from Tunisia or Portugal, whilst in NYC or Tokyo, demand by the consumers allow restaurants to use the much higher grade and highly priced Pacific or Northern Atlantic blue fin. Yasuda actually offers 'O-Toro' tasting from blue fins caught in Northern Pacific, western Atlantic ( Nova Scotia/Boston ), Offshore Japan as well as New Zealand water! In Tokyo's Jiro or Saito, a piece of truly amazing, fatty, melt-in-the-mouth O-Toro nigiri sushi from a priced catch Pacific Blue fin will set you back at least US$25! Based on that, one can imagine how 'great' the Zen toro is?!

                                                                            As for the rice used in the shari, top sushi restaurants in Japan picked their rice like wine connoisseur picking fine wine made from single vineyard grapes. Rice vinegar used is also top notched , even home brewed to create the right acidity and sweetness. Temperature of the rice is also kept at the optimum 'body temperature'
                                                                            Lastly, the wasabi roots are fresh from the Japanese countryside, NOT the over-the-hill British Columbia clone.

                                                                            All the above combined to create a genuinely 'great' Japanese sushi which I don't think Zen can match! So, IMO I do not think one should compare Zen with some of Japan's best! Period!!

                                                                            1. re: Charles Yu
                                                                              Notorious P.I.G. RE: Charles Yu Mar 3, 2010 11:04 PM

                                                                              I understand what you're saying here but to tell you the truth, the Sushi at Zen is not that far off from places like Yasuda in NY. Most of the places in NY, I've had subpar experiences at as of late and to be totally honest I'd rather spend $50 at Zen than $120 at Yasuda (Or more at Kuruma/Masa) and put the extra money I save towards eating sushi in Nippon.

                                                                              Obviously you're just not going to get Tuna that's as fresh as a top ten sushi spot in Japan but I do know that occasionally the Sushi Ya in Toronto band together to purchase a higher quality piece of O-Toro from Tsukiji. If that's the case than it's likely that it will be of comparable quality to top places in NY and even cheaper sushi ya in Japan.

                                                                              Speaking from experience the best piece of O-Toro (outside of japan) I have had was at Kaji. It was a rarity and an extra piece in addition to the usual scallop/sea trout/seared toro nigiri he usually serves. Not before and not since have I had a piece as good as that one in North America including Hawaii.

                                                                              Who knows, miracles can happen.

                                                                              1. re: Notorious P.I.G.
                                                                                Googs RE: Notorious P.I.G. Mar 4, 2010 04:38 AM

                                                                                So what? We live in Toronto. Is the added cost of airfare considered a bargain for a good sushi dinner?

                                                                                1. re: Googs
                                                                                  Notorious P.I.G. RE: Googs Mar 4, 2010 07:47 AM

                                                                                  Depends on how much you like sushi.

                                                                                  1. re: Googs
                                                                                    tjr RE: Googs Mar 10, 2010 07:59 AM

                                                                                    I've had some great pieces of sushi from Zen and Kaji, comparable to some of the things I've had at midrange sushiya in Japan. Unfortunately, the whole meal isn't going to be at the same level, but it's not a big deal because it's in Toronto.

                                                                                    I would, though, rather fly to Japan and go to a top restaurant than waste money having another disappointing experience at Masa. When visiting some friends recently, I had a pretty poor meal at Yasuda. I feel like Yasuda is like playing sushi roulette; I've had a few good meals, an okay meal, and a few that were middling, and, for the price, unacceptable.

                                                                                    Just like most types of food that are only decently done in Toronto, you have to travel to get the best. I'd probably pay for a flight to Montreal than ever attempt to eat a Parisian smoked meat sandwich and poutine though.

                                                                                  2. re: Notorious P.I.G.
                                                                                    skylineR33 RE: Notorious P.I.G. Mar 4, 2010 05:20 AM

                                                                                    With my experience in Zen, the chance of getting a good piece of otoro is 50-50. It is sometimes good and sometimes not very good. Even if sushi ya in Toronto band together to purchase a higher quality of tuna from Tsukiji, it is rare to get a better cut compared to many sushi spot of Japan, not just top 10, as there are thousands there. I think this is pretty obvious.

                                                                                    Toronto is too far away from Japan to get any fresh Japanese ingradient compared to whether you are going to have sushi/kaiseki in other cities in Asia or Japan itself.

                                                                                    1. re: skylineR33
                                                                                      childofthestorm RE: skylineR33 Mar 4, 2010 05:25 AM

                                                                                      Hello, I pointed out I couldn't afford to eat at Japan's best sushi places when I was there? Sometimes you guys crack me up.

                                                                                      1. re: childofthestorm
                                                                                        Charles Yu RE: childofthestorm Mar 4, 2010 05:36 AM

                                                                                        Oops! My fault! Sorry!! Misread your post! Thought you were trying to compare Zen with comparable establishments in Japan.

                                                                                        1. re: childofthestorm
                                                                                          skylineR33 RE: childofthestorm Mar 4, 2010 05:36 AM

                                                                                          I think the point is to have great sushi in Japan does not need to spend a fortune. It is obviously cheaper than Toronto with the same level of sushi.

                                                                                        2. re: skylineR33
                                                                                          Notorious P.I.G. RE: skylineR33 Mar 4, 2010 07:56 AM

                                                                                          Definitely agree with you. I think my one time at Kaji was sort of a freak occurrence. However, it can happen if you consider that many Japanese Sushi Ya get frozen Italian Tuna (in winter) or Tuna from Spain (in summer) and if Kaji's was from say the Japanese coast, fresh, and flown over in a refrigerated case that may just put it into a league competitive with a decent sushi ya in Japan. Not saying that that's exactly what happened in my case but that could explain the high quality in comparison to a japanese sushi bar.

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