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Chowfind: Oscar Japanese Cuisine

ML and I just got back from Oscar Japanese Cuisine (4704 Yonge St.). They opened a couple of days ago, and we had decided we wanted to check it out when we saw the takeout menu which wasn't the standard dime-a-dozen one.

The food was terrific and very nicely presented. Of particular interest are the "Cold Plate" and "Hot Plate" items. The "Yellowtail special" is yellowtail served with jalapeno, garlic ponzu dressing, onion sprouts and chives. Terrific flavours but still respectful of the yellowtail. We also ordered the "Albacore special" which contained a beautiful piece of tuna wrapped in nori and served with a very nice maple tamari sauce.

From the hot plate section they didn't have the "Sea urchin roe tempura" available so we went with the "Rock Shrimp". This was probably my favourite item - the shrimp had an extremely light batter - just enough to give it an extra crunch, and was served with a ginger/garlic mayo. We also shared Saba BBQ - perfectly grilled mackerel served with seasalt, black pepper and lemon, and topped with deep fried scallion strips. A large plate of complementary edamame was also provided.

Finally, from the maki section we had a Butterfish+ginger+mango maki roll and the house roll. Both were very fresh and good. ML particularly liked the former. I enjoyed both but felt the cold and hot plate section were better. For dessert we were given a complementary dessert which was noteworthy: mochi azuki (red bean) ice cream.

The chef came by and we talked briefly. There was a bit of a language barrier but both he and our server were friendly. And our server was very diligent in re-filling water and tea.

Factor in their opening special with %10 off and the grand total for two including tax but not tip was $38.

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  1. Most interesting!
    Is the owner and/or chef Japanese or is the place another Korean/Chinese imitation? Any idea about the quality of their nigiri sushi?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Charles Yu

      Pretty sure I heard Mandarin being spoken. Personally, I don't think that should deter anyone. Most of the Chinese/Korean places have very similar menus - this place doesn't.

      Sorry Charles - we didn't sample any nigiri but next time we go I'll try some and report.

    2. interesting, just noticed this place the other day. to be honest I didn't think it'd be a place i'd ever consider checking out, but your review definitely makes me re-consider...thanks!

      1 Reply
      1. re: s0memale

        Admittedly the strip mall isn't the prettiest, the sign isn't the greatest and the window is tinted so you can't see much from outside. It's clean and modern inside though, as they must have renovated the place.

      2. I was just at this place with some friends from the Serial Diners of Toronto. It was the best sushi that I've ever had in Toronto and may be amongst the best that I've ever had in my life: and I'm including the places that I've been to in Tokyo in that assessment. Other sushi-fanatic members of our group, with many decades of sushi experience between us, agree with that assessment. You can easily find places with prices 4 times as high as this place with half the quality and quantity.
        It's clearly a startup as there's zero atmosphere and the furniture and fixtures are clearly from the last set of restaurants in this location. It's slightly understaffed as the lone waitress had to struggle mightily to keep up with our party of 10; a feat that she did manage without any delays in service but only just! Hopefull, as word spreads they'll be able to afford better quarters and the full range of flunkies.
        In reply to another reviewer's question: I think that the actual chef is definitely Japanese but some of the other staff may not be.

        19 Replies
        1. re: Nadreck

          This is interesting when I hear people say sushi in Toronto is better than Japan ! Have you been to sushi place in Tsukiji market or Ginza of Tokyo ? Do you mean the sushi is better than those places ? What is your favourite Japanese restaurant in Toronto and Japan ?

          What kind of fish, sushi and Japanese rice do they serve in Oscar that make it so stand out from the rest ? I would like to find out more. In the original post, fish like albacore, butterfish are lower end fish rarely used in any traditional or high end sushi restaurant especially Japan and mango maki sounds very North America.

          1. re: skylineR33

            I concur with SkylineR33's comment totally! Also, for a 'good' Japanese sushi restaurant not to have Uni?! How good can it be?!
            When I ate at Jiro in Tokyo and Yasuda in NYC, they offer me sea urchins from three different sources! Russia, Alaska and Hokkaido!

            1. re: Charles Yu

              I have to concur with skylineR33 and Charles Yu, but will go further: I flat out don't believe that a Toronto sushi joint can beat Tsukiji. But I am interested in your answers to their questions.

              1. re: bluedog

                I'll risk trying it at some point soon, but I'm not expecting much to be honest.

              2. re: Charles Yu

                Yes, but how does their YellowTail compare?

              3. re: skylineR33

                Whoah! I posted this mainly to make sure that Oscar wouldn't disappear from the map due to their crappy strip-mall location and non-existent interNet presence and then forgot about it. A friend of mine just pointed out that my post just generated this huge thread so here I am back with a bulk post to respond to a lot of this.

                Yes, in theory, just on the basis of freshness alone, there should be no way that anyplace in Toronto should be comparable to Tokyo restaurants. The stuff in the Tsukiji market was wriggling around in the sea a few hours ago. The stuff in Toronto has to have been flown in from somewhere at least a day ago. So I have no idea how Oscar does this: new stasis chambers? Secret sauce?

                The comments about selection are interesting. It made me realise that, even in Japan, I tended to order the stuff that I was familiar with from North America where I started out eating sushi. So I wouldn't say I'm knowledgeable across the whole range of possible sushi products. Butterifsh is my favourite and I'm basing a lot of what I said on that. Of course, if as skylineR33 says, butterfish is considered low-end in Japan then maybe they don't spend a lot of care on it but chefs in Canada do because it's what they can get?

                I agree totally with Ben Reiner that a startup in North York cannot afford to have every possible kind of sushi on the menu because a lot of it would just go to waste. When I said the sushi was "amongst the best" I've ever had I was using the term "sushi" to refer to the pieces of fish that I was putting in my mouth there at Oscar and comparing them to identically named menu items elsewhere. The fact that other places have bigger menus wasn't a part of the comparison. The absence of menu items present elsewhere can have no effect on the quality of the items that *are* there.

                I note that there seems to be a lot of exaggeration of what I said. I guess people like to set up Straw Men that they can then dramatically rebut what wasn't said. Read the original post and calm down people. I said that Oscar was "amongst the best" that I had had and that that set of "Best Sushi" places included places in Tokyo. Nowhere did I use or imply the word "better". I said that you could "easily" find places that would gouge you for sushi of comparatively poor quality and you can: Truck Stop Sushi exists everywhere on Earth - including Tokyo. This is not, especially since no locus of crappy sushi is implied, a statement about the general state of sushi anywhere: just a statement that there's a high standard deviation in quality. (Tourist trap sushi place on Yonge Street run by Cantonese guys anyone?)

                Magically, half-way down the thread we see rebuttals of statements that "Toronto Sushi is better that Tokyo Sushi" and that for a comparable meal in Tokyo you'd "likely" pay 4 times as much for 1/2 the quality. Statements straight from the rebutters imaginations, not my post.

                Actual reply to skylineR33: Yes, I've been to Tsukiji and Ginza sushi places. I'm in the sub $100/meal range so I'm not talking about the really high-end places in Ginza or Kyoto. The Ginza places I went to were mainly top O'the Department Store places and I didn't really like them all that much. Along the outside (south?) wall of Tsukiji is a row of restaurants and restaurant supply places. The first restaurant that you come to coming in from the Dori, just past the alley behind the outer row of places and just past a styrofoam container store, is my favourite sushi place. Leaving aside the imponderables of exchange rates, I'd say that its value/$ (value/yen if you will) ratio was a fair bit higher than even Oscar's. (After all, this guy just has to nip around the corner to get the raw materials before it's stopped wriggling.)

                I also had a fantastic sushi meal at the sushi lunch counter in the Tokyo JR train station. When I went back for the next several days though, it was just good, not great. Maybe someone got sick and his Master Chef dad was filling in the first day? But the ingredients were worse as well...

                Late night Roppongi sushi sucks. Cripes, is this where outlaw sushi chefs go to practise their evil arts?

                Favourite Japanese restaurant in Japan is the teeny, tiny Yakitori-ya bar in Nikko just past the Shin-kyo bridge. Best Yakitori I've ever tasted (what *is* that secret sauce?) and I also got that opinion out of four Japanese friends of mine once I recommended it to them! Wacky decor (business card wallpaper and signed chopsticks) and the sweet little old lady proprietor push it past places with possibly better (non Yakitori) food. Hope it's still there. I was there circa 1999.
                Second place goes to some non-sushi seafood place in Aizu-wakamatsu whose exact cuisine type and location I couldn't tell you to save my life.

                Most of my favourite places in Toronto have either gone down hill or are just gone. I used to like Fune downtown but I don't go downtown much anymore and its standards were starting to wobble even back then. The place in the basement of the strip mall just north of Yonge and Eglinton on the west side is gone now. The place across from the Broadview subway station used to be a favourite but I haven't been there in ages and an evil twin sushi place seems to have opened beside it. I was impressed by the Korean place next to the Gardenview variety store on Queen West the last time I was there but need a return visit of equal quality before pushing it into my "best in Toronto" category. Believe it or not, when the Serial Diners were going through the "I"s one of the Ichiban places stood out head and shoulders above the others. Mostly on the strength of the rice and Nori!? Bwahhh! I can't remember which one it is now! There's also another place out on the north side of the Danforth out past Coxwell whose name I'd have to check in the Diner's chronicles. (DId I mention that I suck at remembering names?) I put Ematei and that place out by the airport (Ginko in the Doubletree?) on my favourite list.

                My vote for worst sushi in Toronto (separate thread?) is just off the west side of Yonge near Welsley where the old Toronto Press club used to be.

                Anyway, back to Oscar. The Serial Diners are not, in fact, at "O" but at "J". This was an out-of-sequence outing for the birthday of the Diner who lives in the basement of that strip mall. We won't be at "Z" for "Zen" for another 15 years! I think that you could put warp gates leading to some sidestreet in Tokyo across the front of Oscar and he'd do OK on take-out- probably better than he's doing now and he could experiment with a bigger menu. Would he be in any "10 Best" list at his price point there? Probably only those of someone, who like me, who's been to about 30 <$50 places and 6 <$100 places there. Keep in mind that I'm a Butterfish fanatic. Certainly not a list from a native sushi fan of Tokyo. He's had decades to sort through the thousands of places there. And his tastes would be different from a North American's too. It's like the situation where Col. Sanders in Taiwan is totally different than here since Chinese don't like the authentic recipe. There's a place called Century 20 which seems to have stolen the authentic recipe only to not do so well since people there don't like that stuff. Yet a Taiwanese is perfectly entitled to say that the Hsin-chu Col. Sanders is the best!

                Here in Toronto I can't think of any place where I'd rather spend $20 (or $80 at the rip-off places) for sushi except maybe Ematei (but then I mainly get their non-sushi stuff). The comparisons to the high-end places here (and especially in New York City, which I didn't mention) are ludicrous. Yah, if you want to go to a place that has a bar instead of a beer-fridge and 50 kinds of sushi instead of only 15 then you'll probably like going there better. But some of your items won't be much, if any, better than here. Butterfish, once again, springs to mind. What do you get for $20 at Yasuda? Miso soup and a bowl of rice? ;-)

                Hmmm, lets do a blind taste test from the respective takeouts. I recall the infamous incident where no one (certainly none of the people putting up "quality" Japanese import trade barriers) could tell the difference between BC and Japanese seaweed.

                1. re: Nadreck

                  Ok, it is your pick and it is your experience, but I really think it is a pity when one thinks sushi of Toronto is of any level comparable to Japan, "I think" it either mean they have not actually try what Japan can offer or they can't really tell what a good or bad sushi.

                  It just that I would say any Tsukiji sushi places are better than any of the sushi places in Toronto by many miles for comparable prices. It does not mean all sushi places of Japan are good, but it is hard to find bad one, even the conveying belt sushi is of good quality in Japan I think. It is very hard to find any sushi place in Japan who serve Butter Fish, next time try something other like butter fish and salmon in Japan, what's the point of having these things in Japan ? There are some places serve them to please foreigner's palate. There is a reason why Japanese do not serve those fishes. It is like people who like Chop Suey should not really try it when they visit HK.

                  For $20, you don't really have many choices for good sushi in Toronto, but for example you can have a sushi combo at Aoyama which include a uni and a toro, but I found it going down in quality the last few time I tried it. You can also have a nice sushi combo at Zen, or a nice good value Chirashi at Japango. I found the raw food offering at Ematei is not good, I mainly go there for cooked food.

                  1. re: Nadreck

                    Enjoyed reading your post....you should contribute more frequently. Any comments on the non sushi cooked items at Oscar....I'm a fan of sushi but my spouse is not unfortunately. Cheers.

                    1. re: Nadreck

                      why would you be a butterfish fanatic? The side effects of eating more an a few ounces don't seem worth taking a risk with it.

                      1. re: Nadreck

                        A post like this does less to bolster your knowledge of sushi restos domestic and foreign than it does the opposite: even the best sushi in Toronto pales in comparison to Y2000 sushi places in department stores, and most of the better sushi restaurants in Toronto are no better than conveyor belt sushi in Japan.

                        Yes, there is bad sushi in Japan, but comparing a sushi restaurant to "truck stop sushi" (and the price point) is ridiculous; for the price and type of eatery, one can have remarkably better sushi in Japan than they can at Oscar. The odds of walking into a sushi restaurant in Tokyo and having bad food is much, much lower than it is in Toronto.

                        I grew up in Japan, lived most of my life there, and return several times a year. Sushi is one of my favourite foods. When speaking of logical fallacies, was your original post not entirely based on appeal to authority? The fact that you claim to be a "butterfish fanatic", but can't differentiate between real butterfish and escolar (what Oscar, and many low-end Japanese eateries, is serving) is disheartening. The reason this fish is not served in Japan, as below, is because escolar is banned. Oscar's shari was not top notch either, something a sushi joint should take pride in perfecting. Ematei's sushi is also nothing to hand wave about, as theirs is generally considered (in my opinion, and in the opinion of other Japanese expats, and the board in general) to be mediocre.

                        Whether or not you claim Oscar's to be the best, or among the best, is unimportant. What you have done is overhyped the food and set an unreal expectation for people who might visit the restaurant. I don't think Oscar's is the best in Toronto, not even in the top 5. I also don't think Oscar's would be anywhere on the map in Tokyo in terms of value or quality. I was skeptical of your original post, as were people like skylineR33 and Charles_Yu. If you want your review to set an unreal expectation for Oscar's, fine, but you're doing a disservice to the restaurant.

                        I would say that Oscar's is not amongst the best I've had in Toronto, but that the value is good. I would also say that it is better than low-end restaurants like Ichiban, but it doesn't compare to places like Zen. If you're expecting among the best in Tokyo, or even the best in Toronto, you will be disappointed and likely never return.

                        1. re: Nadreck

                          Nadreck, I think you'd be naive not expect to be challenged when you give such a superlative review of a restaurant that advertises specials at food court prices (sample menu can be found at http://ads.yorkbbs.ca/oscar/) and then saying it's among the best sushi you've ever had in Toronto or Tokyo.

                          I don't doubt that you love the food there but a better descriptive might be that it's a good QPR restaurant for those who are looking for decent sushi but with a limited budget. I'll give it a try if I'm in the area but my expectation is the food will be in the league with many of the low-mid priced Japanese/Korean sushi places in town.

                          1. re: syoung

                            All pricing aside there is still plenty of reason to not compare Oscar to a Tokyo restaurant. Escolar is banned in Japan, and for good reason. Anybody who serves escolar clearly hates their customers. I would literally rather have somebody spit in my food.
                            Also, fake crab. Even cheap conveyor belt Sushi joints in Japan serve real crab.

                      2. re: Nadreck

                        I don't think it's physically possible to have better sushi in Toronto than in Japan at any level so I must say that I am intrigued by this restaurant and your assessment of it.

                        1. re: Nadreck

                          I think we've been about 4 times in total and stand by my original post. I don't agree with a number of the points Nadreck made but suffice it to say it's a really good place that offers tremendous value.

                          Some of the comparisons to name restos elsewhere are a bit laughable - I think we average paying about $40 for two, leaving well sated and very satisfied.

                          1. re: Ben Reiner

                            Hey, give him a break — the serial diners are only up to O.

                            1. re: Ben Reiner

                              My comments and examples were directed more towards 'selection of choices' rather than 'cost'. Nadreck opened the door by saying Oscar's food is comparable to if not better than Tokyo in terms of quality and quantity. I only follow that up by saying, if fine Tokyo and/or NYC establishments can offer at least three choices of a 'main ingredient'- Uni, how come a supposedly 'comparable' Toronto restaurant doesn't even have it?! Its like going to a good hamburger joint and being told they do not have cheese to add to your special order burger. I was told by Toshi San of Cafe Michi that they usually stock up at least 10 packs of uni just for the weekend! If Japanese ones aren't available, they'll go with west coast ones.

                              I would also like to follow up on skylineR33's comment about the use of butterfish. Based on my experience, this 'inferior' species of fish is only served by lower grade and AYCE sushi restaurants like the Ichiban chain etc. A more refined Japanese establishment such as Kaji, Zen, Michi, Aoyama and Solo-Sushi Ya will not touch it!.

                              1. re: Charles Yu

                                None of the restaurants you mention are comparable. If you're looking for something like what those offer for 1/5 the price, you won't get it. Really would not recommend anyone going there if that's what they're expecting. With all due respect to Nadreck he's posted once - I won't defend his position as I've already stated. Clearly there's some hyperbole in his writing.

                                As far as uni is concerned, you have to consider that the area where the restaurant is, is not exactly a food haven. If I were a first-time restauranteur I might worry about stocking with the most expensive and varied selection of stuff, only to see a disparate number of people walk in who only ordinarily order California or cucumber rolls.

                                I think the cheese analogy is a bit of a stretch - I wouldn't order Uni at any average sushi resto in Toronto, only at ones I trust.

                                1. re: Ben Reiner

                                  So saying that he and another who he suggests to be a sushi connoisseur, with decades of sushi experience consider it to be better than sushi restaurants in Tokyo? Not only that, but saying for a comparable meal in Tokyo you'd likely be paying four times the amount for half the quality and quantity? That doesn't sound like hyperbole, it sounds made up.

                                  In Tokyo you can definitely get sushi that is likely better than what you can get anywhere in Toronto for like 2000 yen or less. Most cheap 回転寿司 places are better than most of the places in Toronto, and might even be cheaper than the awful AYCE restaurants!

                                  Sure, there's bad sushi everywhere, even in Japan, but if you did any planning whatsoever, or even just chanced it (especially somewhere like Tsukiji), or just went to a busy restaurant, there's not really much of a chance that you'd be getting better sushi for anywhere near the same price, assuming better sushi in Toronto was even possible (which it isn't).

                                  I love Kaji (and I'm pretty sure the general consensus is that he produces the best sushi in Toronto), but to be honest, you can get better sushi for under $20 in Tokyo.

                                  I'll save my opinion on Oscar for after I visit, but I honestly don't see there being much of a comparison in value or quality to sushi in Japan.

                                  1. re: Ben Reiner

                                    I think we are all questioning more on the quality of Oscar because even with non-expensive ingradients, great sushi can be created. But from your post or Nadreck's (actually he/she does not give any example why the sushi there is so good at Oscar), eventhough it sounds good, but really the way it is prepared or the formation are very ordinary and I guess it is really hard to relate it to be the best sushi place in either Toronto or Tokyo. When Oscar is mentioned as having better sushi than those in Tokyo by Nadreck and his/her sushi fanatic friend, it is normal for a person to start comparing it to some top sushi destinations of the world.

                                    With $20, it can be done with the Sushi DX combo at Aoyama of Toronto which include a piece of uni and toro, and I am sure it can be done even cheaper and better in Tokyo.

                            2. Rather than argue the merits of Toronto sushi versus Tokyo sushi, it would be helpful if someone else actually went to Oscar Japanese Cuisine, and reported back.

                              5 Replies
                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                  I'm planning on going either tonight or tomorrow night (as indicated above).

                                2. re: jayt90

                                  I concur. Don't know when I will get to that part of town myself. But I would be very interested to hear second....third fourth opinions.

                                  1. re: jayt90

                                    I recently went there for a friend's birthday and was very impressed. As stated by others, the decor is blah, and the strip mall in which it is housed is not inviting. However, the food absolutely made up for it. Each dish we ordered (and shared around to sample different things) was fresh, and flavourful. The wasabi blew out my sinuses (I love it that way!) and the ginger snapped!

                                    I didn't know I'd be writing this review at the time or I would have taken specific notes about what we ordered. Sorry. However, I will be ordering a big platter of mixed sushi for my New Year's party and will report back afterwards.

                                    Note: it is very easy to get to this place - the Poyntz exit of the Sheppard subway station on the Yonge line (ie 20 min from downtown) - if you drive, it is harder to see because of the large sign of the restaurant next to it, and it is very close to the 401 on/off ramps. There is parking in the strip mall.


                                    1. re: schmecht

                                      This reminds me; we tried it about a month ago, but it isn't a place of interest. Sushi has more variety than the generic Ichiban, but mostly in the sauce combinations used, not the fish; fish is the same you'd expect anywhere else (the salmon wasn't very appetizing though), shari is underseasoned and the wrong texture (overcooked/stale rice).

                                      You could do worse for sushi, I suppose, but somewhere like Zen is quite a bit better. Chef confirmed butterfish as escolar. Definitely not better than sushi in Japan, not even close to the best sushi in Toronto.

                                  2. While I wouldn't mind trying Oscar, I'm thankful for this thread in it's mentioning of all the best places in Toronto in a nice compact thread. :)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Wil

                                      This thread seems to have the attention of many authorities of Japanese cuisine. I am looking for recommendations of places for non- sushi cooking. Please.

                                      Would someone like to start a thread on herring?

                                    2. I just heard from a local, the place is closed up. Both signs are gone.

                                      End of Oscar sushi thread. :-(

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: schmecht

                                        Maybe a new Tokyo vs. Toronto sushi thread should be started. ;)

                                        1. re: schmecht

                                          Maybe he moved to New York, after hearing that Susur moved there. :-)

                                          1. re: schmecht

                                            I think this is unfortunate.....reading the comments of people that actually patronized the place, the consensus seemed to be that it offered at the least good valued Japanese food and was a welcome addition to the area. I had it on my to try list. Calls to their listed phone went unanswered (mailbox full).

                                            1. re: T Long

                                              What did you want to try there, the escarole?

                                              There are other Japanese restaurants not too far from there that are quite good. One is Sapporo which is on Yonge just a block or two south of Finch.
                                              It's a great place to go for the lunch specials.

                                              Sapporo Restaurant
                                              5469 Yonge Street, North York, ON M2N 5S1
                                              (416) 229-6191

                                              1. re: foodyDudey

                                                I've been to Sapporo about 3 times in last year or so....I enjoyed my suppers there. But like you say, its nearer to Finch. When I'm in the Yonge and Sheppard area, I've gone to one of the places on Spring Garden....I was hoping for something better than those in that general area. The actual reviews of the place were interesting....

                                                1. re: T Long

                                                  I've only been there for dinner a few times, as I live downtown. I've often had lunch there. As I mentioned, you should try that if you gat a chance. The quality is very good, and many of the specials are around $8 to $10. They have much better food than any sushi place on Danforth Ave. I wish all of those would close.

                                          2. Well, this thread has certainly taken on a life of its own and while Oscar has seen its demise as someone reported a couple of days ago, Yama Sushi has taken its place. Just passed by on the opposite side of the street, so I don't know anything about it yet, or how it compares to Masa in NYC or Kyubei in Tokyo ;)