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Feb 7, 2009 01:43 PM

What is Toronto's best Sushi?

Not including Kajii. Does anyone have a particular sushi chef that stands out despite the restaurant?

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  1. That would pretty much be Seichii Kashiwabara at Zen, across the board.

    6 Replies
      1. re: tjr

        Thirded. Actually, I'm heading there in about 15 mins. :D

        1. re: wciu

          Fourth. Lucky you. I cancelled my 7:30 reservation :(

          1. re: hippotatomus

            Here's a 5th! My SO still teases me because I cried with joy when the first course arrived... it was so beautiful.

            1. re: shiro miso

              6th right here
              going friday the 13th
              let's hope the date doesn't bode badly for me!
              This will be omakase #2 at Zen for me :D

              1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                7th. And to add that his younger sous chef, Jacky, is excellent as well. Interesting read here ( about Seichii.

    1. Thanks for your responses. Any others?

      1 Reply
      1. re: howdydoody

        I'm not sure if anyone will come forth with anything other than Kaji followed by Zen, though I can imagine some saying John Lee at Omi (though I'd disagree).

      2. Aoyama stands out. especially with fresh, well-selected and nicely prepared fish in an old pizza parlor, in a nondescript location. The chef and his wife were turfed out of the Prince hotel after a change of hands.

        3 Replies
        1. re: jayt90

          I have to admit and it's heartbreaking but they've been a bit subpar lately.

          1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

            "Subpar" is a nice way of putting it.

        2. What does "despite the restaurant" mean?

          In any case, "best" is very subjective. If you want strictly defined and disciplined sushi, then yes Zen is your place. Each time I go to Zen as I have for many years it is essentially the same experience. If you're seeking creativity without any borders or limitations, then Omi is your place. Each time I go to Omi I get a selection of his past hits and his new creations. It gets better each time and is always surprising.

          While both are very worthy and serve great sushi, their similarities end there.

          2803 Eglinton Ave E, Toronto, ON M1J2E1, CA

          243 Carlton St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

          86 Replies
          1. re: Googs

            Yes, it's fairly subjective, though I assume we'll end up seeing most of the same places over and over again (I doubt Ichiban or its likes will show up, unless "best" means "best under $10"). I could see some people I know saying Hiro or something, though.

            Most of what Omi serves is not sushi. His sushi is not that good either (shari, generic selection, at times questionable freshness), though his sashimi is okay. Like you, when I go to Omi, I go get get certain dishes that I like. Some of these dishes are poorly executed, which is fine, because the strength of certain dishes will make me return if I'm in the mood and don't have to go very far. For sushi though? I'd pass. There are many places with better fish and rice. John Lee doesn't really strike me as an expert sushi chef in any regard, though maybe I've just never seen it.

            If one wants creative sushi and non-sushi dishes executed in an exceptional way, go to Kaji. I think that is probably one of the reasons why the OP was excluding Kaji from his question, either that or because he already knows that Kaji is tops and wants to know who is second on the list.

            1. re: tjr

              And yet you've been to Omi twice in January alone. You're as funny as Woody Allen.

              1. re: tjr

                Seichi Kashiwabara of Zen is a Japanese sushi master trained in Japan. John Lee on the other hand is a Korean who apprenticed here in North America. Agree with tjr, John Lee's sushi is not up to par when compare to other Japanese masters.

                1. re: Charles Yu

                  This is what I suspected was the real issue. Thank you for confirming it.

                  1. re: Googs

                    This is not the issue with me; I just don't think he's up to snuff. The restaurant isn't even serving proper shari. If he was a Norwegian from the Congo and made incredible sushi, then fine, but regardless of who he is, where he's from, or where he trained, his sushi isn't up to the same level.

                    Like I said, I go back for items I like. I just avoid the sushi and ask them not to give me the items I already know are bad. How is that funny? Or are you suggesting that I shouldn't give him my business because I have constructive criticism?

                    1. re: tjr

                      Some people do get insulted when you question their favourites. Different strokes for different folks...

                      I agree with you on Omi, but I'm an admitted traditionalist with things like sushi.

                      Omi has a place in Toronto, a rather large place even. He is good at what he does, which are fusion dishes. Alas, that doesn't float my boat.

                      My sleeper pick in Toronto is Jyo at Solo.

              2. re: Googs

                "despite the restaurant" means even if the venue stinks or the service is sub par the chef stands out...

                1. re: howdydoody

                  With that clarification, Hiro should be in the mix.

                  1. re: howdydoody

                    If the sushi venue stinks, the sushi chef won't be any good.

                    1. re: skylineR33

                      Haha, hopefully he wasn't referring to odour!

                  2. re: Googs

                    When Zen was first mentioned on this board we went and were not impressed.
                    Possibly because the four of us had been to Sushi Kaji a few weeks before.
                    The place was filled, and mostly regulars.
                    We were basically ignored.
                    After reading the raves here, we decided to try it again.
                    Last night there were only two tables to serve the entire time we were there.
                    The young lady still suggested that we order the basic Sushi.
                    You know, she told us, Salmon, Tuna, etc.
                    This time we told her that we didn't come for the basics, and would like a better assortment.
                    The experience was very different.
                    Indeed the Sushi was excellent, and she didn't even blink when we added a Spider Roll, a true no no for purists.
                    (It was very well prepared by the way).
                    However, for anyone who is not an expert of Japanese Cuisine, I would suggest that they know in advance what to order , as I still didn't find them very helpful.

                    1. re: erly

                      The best way to experience Zen is to sit at the sushi bar. Seiichi and Jackie are both very helpful. With the wait staff, it depends on who you get, some are better than others.

                      If you don't know what to get, and are not seated at the sushi bar then:

                      1. Ask waitress what the kitchen specials are, theses are base on what they get in and are seasonal, some examples are Kanpachi Kama, Grilled Sardines, different types of fish head cooled with burdock, etc. The other night I had a kakiage with sakura ebi, which was really good.

                      2. For sushi, you can ask for Omakese, that's $45 a head, and you don't need to know what to get. :) This is probably the best deal in Toronto. Or, if you want to got for something cheaper, then order a Tokujyo Sushi and a Matsumae Sushi. Both are good. That would cost you about $25 a head for two.

                      3. Order Black Sesame Ice Cream for Desert... Yum!

                      But get a seat at the bar if you can, it's way more fun. :)

                      1. re: wciu

                        just as a heads up if you sit at the bar you are required to have the omakase. Vice versa, you are not allowed at the bar unless you are having omakase. At least this is what i was told when i made my last reservation.

                        Will try and report back on how my omakase goes tonight!

                        1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                          This must be a new rule as I've seen people order off the menu at the bar before. But it makes sense as well as bar space is usually most coveted and what's the point of sitting at the bar otherwise.

                          BTW wciu, the pie for dessert is also good. It's homemade by Seichii's wife.

                          1. re: syoung

                            Yeah, must be a new rule, or may be only on weekends... I almost always try to get the bar seats and don't always have omakase, but I usually go on weekends. It's better, more specials.

                            syoung, I agree the pie is definitely good too. Yum yum. :D

                          2. re: CoffeeAddict416

                            So as far as the seating goes at the bar, the gentleman seated beside me didn't have omakase but he ordered a crap load of food. I assume he's a regular and he conversed quite a bit with the chef. The two beside me had sashimi omakase and a sushi omakase but the sushi was served all at once at the bar. I think it was because they were splitting one order of the sushi omakase and one order of the sashimi. A family was seated at one end and I'm guessing they were regulars as well.

                            One interesting thing was Jackie (?) noted that we didn't bring a camera and sei-san said "thank you" to us. I think i remember reading before that some sushi chefs might not like photos being taken because the sushi isn't being eaten right away. At any rate I thought that was interesting.

                            I don't know if Sei-san ever has a night off but he looked pretty beat! I kinda felt sorry for him because he was looking pretty tired. He was getting hammered with sushi orders all night long!

                            Anyway on to the sushi. I wish i took notes of everything I had! I can't remember everything but I'll try and comment on what I do remember. One combo I wish I could remember was very interesting. There was one white somewhat chewy fish with no shiso and it was followed immediately by a chewier white fish with shiso. I recall specifically that they were both fish because I has asked if the chewier one was squid and he indicated that it was fish. Both were quite good although I think I liked the less chewy one with no shiso. If anyone can tell me what these were I'd appreciate it!

                            I had raw japanese mackerel that was PHENOMENAL. I had to order it after our omakase was done because it just boggled my mind. The mackerel-ness wasn't overpowering, the sweetness of meat closest to the skin was lovely and the texture was not too mushy as I've experienced before. I'm pretty sure it was raw mackerel and not marinated mackerel. We had a marinated silver-skinned hikari-mono (not mackerel) that was amazing as well. The sweetness of the marinade coming though quite nicely but delicately balanced against the taste of the fish.

                            BC Uni was on tap and it was quite good as well. Color was very good. Somewhere between a bright yellow/orange. It didn't beat my first eye-opening experience with Uni when I had it in Vancouver a few years ago but it was close.

                            There was a toro maki with scallions wrapped with what chef said was the best seaweed he could get his hands on. The seaweed was AMAZING. Best I've ever had hands down. The minced toro was just background to this seaweed. I need to get some of this stuff!

                            Kanpachi was very good last night as well. Other fish that I can recall was hirame (good), Ibodai I *THINK* (i swear he said "real butterfish"), Toro (bluefin, good), Geoduck (good), raw shrimp, and Tamago.

                            If there was any weakness in the menu I think it was the Tamago. It was more Quiche-y then i've had before and maybe it's supposed to be that way but I thikn I like the tamago i had at Bekkan recently better.

                            I think i understand about shari now. I thought I was getting pretty decent shari before but it was at Zen I understand what good shari is. It's all the flavours balanced quite nicely. The temperature was pretty much exactly the same as my tongue. The texture was the exact middle between hard and soft. It was what I called goldilocks rice. Just right.

                            Zen lived up to my previous memory of it and went past it. I think Bekkan was very close though but I see where the extra money goes when you go to Zen. I do not think though I would make the effort again to Zen unless it was a special occaision. With the cost of a car rental factored in and the fact I couldn't drink I think I would rather go to Bekkan just for convenience. But Zen is the best. My hats off to you Sei-san!

                            1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                              I'm glad you enjoyed your experience. Just a quick note before running out: what Zen served you and called "real butterfish" (イボダイ, or ibodai), is in fact a real butterfish (Japanese butterfish), and not related to the escolar and stuff that many other sushi places serve. :-)

                              1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                That's why sushi experience is always limited in Toronto. The sushi chef to patron ratio is like 1 to 20. Sushi has to be served all at once, so what is the different if I take 10 more second to take a pic since all sushi has to be made and presented all at once anyway ? Sushi chef too tired with hammered order..etc.

                                1. re: skylineR33

                                  the omakase at zen is presented one sushi at a time when you eat at the bar. From the time it's made to the time it goes in my mouth it was about 10 seconds tops.

                                  1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                    Not always, depends on the suituition. I have been many times and they do not present one at a time. Anyhow, Imagine a ratio of 1 sushi chef to 20 patron, it should be pretty easy to understand. It is impossible to get a smooth flow of the experience, if you know what I mean.

                                    1. re: skylineR33

                                      yes we didn't have our sushi back to back to back which was good and bad. I would have liked to have had a more steady progression. Jackie and Sei-san were preparing food for a full house that night going non stop. I'd really like to go back on a Wednesday night or something when the pace is less hectic in the restaurant.

                                      One thing I forgot to mention what that fresh wasabi was being used for the omakase and it was being grated up small amounts at a time on a metal grater (not sharkskin). I didn't remember the fresh wasabi being so tasty last time! For me the difference between fresh wasabi and wasabi in a tube was that the fresh wasabi had a sweet finish after the initial heat.

                                      1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                        Fresh wasabi are not used at Zen all the time too. I remember there are times where fresh wasabi are not used in my omakase and actually a mixture of it is used. There are also different grade of fresh wasabi. With the number of hours it takes for wasabi flown in from Japan, it is hard to preserve the taste.

                                        BTW, a good sushi chef should be able to progress the meal at the right pace with his/her observation towards the patrons.

                                        1. re: skylineR33

                                          This is news. To my knowledge, we've always been given fresh Wasabi at Zen.

                                          1. re: skylineR33

                                            The omakase at Zen isn't done in progressions. It's just either a sushi or sashimi plate if you're seated at a booth or table, or delivered at bit at a time at the sushi bar. $45 seems a bargain, and certainly is given the quality of the sushi, unless you're expecting the Kaji/Omi treatment.

                                            1. re: Googs

                                              fyi: I just went to Zen two nights ago and the omakase has been raised to $49.50

                                              1. re: hippotatomus

                                                Holy moley I was just there last week! Five more bucks and I'll be staying downtown.

                                                1. re: hippotatomus

                                                  I used to enjoy Zen, but the some staff members are not too helpful when I've asked them to suggest something more adventurous.
                                                  Also, the sushi chef, Jacky, has patronized us in the past before (i.e. once we made conversation with him and he was very nonchalant, the second time it was about taking photos. I've heard how sometimes they don't appreciate it, but when I did he remarked "oh, this is the first time you've acutally taken the photos without trying something first". So he was watching me eat the entire time (if it was to see if I enjoyed an item, why didn't he make conversation then) -- and with this remark.. how am I supposed to react to that? There's suddenly 'phototaking before eating' rules I'm not aware of?

                                                  1. re: sugarcube

                                                    sugarcube, you are right that sometimes their manner is offputting. I have found it difficult to negotiate extra orders after my omakase, at the bar. The two fellows aren't very chatty, and you almost have to know what you want in order to get it. Sometimes my dc and I have still been a little hungry after the omakase but we get dirty looks from the fellows if they think we are ordering too much extra - like they are skeptical about the need to order more... I would think they should be all too happy to make and sell more, though I appreciate not having things pushed on me...

                                                    It would be nice if they were just a little bit more friendly. I don't need a Kaji clone to make jokes and perform, rub fish oil on my arm (yes, this did happen to someone else when I ate at Kaji), or make daikon flowers for me (yes, one of the sushi chefs at Kaji did do this). Just answer my questions in a friendly way and let me eat how much I want...

                                                    1. re: Full tummy

                                                      i think the understanding is a little more is fine but an omakas is not an invitation to have al all you can eat buffet either. How much more were you trying to order?

                                                      I ordered two more orders of sushi and chef at zen was kind enough to oblige at no extra cost.

                                                      I also think their lack of english makes them more shy. I didn't feel that they were difficult to deal with or not friendly either. Shy and reserved is what I would use. The service there is very effusive. It's not elegant and super formal but it's also a sushi bar in a strip mall, not a 3-star place. The service is absolutely fine I think.

                                                      1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                                        Hi CoffeeAddict416

                                                        Of course, it's not an all you can eat buffet. Don't know where you got the idea that I thought that. At Zen, the omakase at the bar is served piece by piece, and it is very clear when it is over. I have eaten omakase at the bar about 10 times, and we have never received more or less according to our appetites. However, just because I am ordering omakase does not mean I cannot order anything else off the menu. I have ordered salads, grilled fish, etc., as I want. Everything except the sushi, sashimi, and rolls is done through the waitress who doesn't bat an eyelash at my orders. However, for anything to do with raw fish I must speak to the sushi chef and/or his assistant, directly, which makes sense. Whenever I have ordered extras, they have never been provided to me free of charge, and I would never expect that. A restaurant is entitled to set a price for its food, and I can choose to go there or not. I have never felt cheated by the omakase price at Zen.

                                                        Should I be prevented from ordering other items because I order the omakase? If I order other items, and am being charged for them, should the orders not be received in a friendly way, without scrutiny?

                                                        Shy and reserved. Definitely. I don't have a problem with this, but if your brow furrows when I ask to order a roll after my omakase, that's different.

                                                        You are right, Zen is a sushi restaurant in a strip mall, though they aspire to bigger things, which is why we Zen fans travel the distance to such a grotty location.

                                                        1. re: Full tummy

                                                          okay my bad it just sounded like you wanted more bang for your buck

                                                          i do find it strange that they don't want you to order more food after you're done your omakase. Is this a cultural faux pas or something? Anyone care to enlighen?

                                                          Or is this just a personal thing?

                                                          1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                                            I'm usually full by the end of the omakase, but there have been rare times where me or my friends have ordered extras for whatever reason. Usually a few extra pieces of this or that, etc., and they usually give them free. There were times where a friend has asked for something specific and been charged, but there was never any sort of brow furrowing (what type of roll did you order?)... I speak Japanese though.

                                                            1. re: tjr

                                                              By looking at Full tummy and sugarcube's post, it is quite obvious to me these are service issues with Zen more than anything else.

                                                              1. re: tjr

                                                                Allow me to clarify what I think you mean, tjr, before it causes trouble. The furrowed brow may indicate that chef doesn't understand English well enough to get the question being posed. It may not mean disapproval at all.

                                                                I've ordered an extra or two if there was something on the omakase platter that was outstanding enough for an encore.

                                                                1. re: Googs

                                                                  Close! Not suggesting that he doesn't understand English, but more that rolls can be different all over the place. If you ordered a "dancing crispy rainbow spider roll" or whatever, the chef probably had no clue what you were talking about.

                                                                  If you ordered a negi toro roll or something, then maybe he was frustrated, or tired, who knows, but yeah, that's bad service.

                                                                2. re: tjr

                                                                  Hi tjr!

                                                                  Well, I don't speak Japanese, and I've definitely never had anything free at Zen. Usually, I just say we'd like to order a roll, and what would they recommend. Or, I ask for something I've seen them making that looks good. And I definitely have experienced brow furrowing, albeit mild, but enough to make me second guess myself. Maybe I'm overly sensitive, haha. I just feel like my appetite is being judged... I would think it should be a compliment to them regarding how much I am enjoying their food...

                                                                  And, Googs, this has happened to me on two occasions, and I am quite sure it was because I was ordering more. One time, the assistant even asked me if I was sure and that maybe it was too big...

                                                                  1. re: Full tummy

                                                                    I don't think they were judging your appetite; perhaps they were just worried that you would feel overfull/sick afterwards? It seems like it may have been more out of concern than an insult, at least to me (having not been there at all or anything)!

                                                                    More money is more money, especially to a restaurant in recession. It would be surprising if a restaurant wanted to turn away your money!

                                                                    1. re: tjr

                                                                      You must have a teeny, tiny Full tummy.

                                                                      tjr, dancing crispy spider roll. That is too funny. Does that really exist? Man, I'm glad I'm not really a maki gal.

                                                    2. re: Googs

                                                      Sitting at the bar at Zen isn't that much different than how you'd get sushi in Japan, and there is a progression, but it's in the types of fish served (as they don't serve a whole bunch of cooked dishes in their omakase like Kaji and Omi). It also has one thing it shares with Kaji, but is sorely lacking at Omi: interaction. Sitting at a table at Zen isn't the same at all, though.

                                                      1. re: tjr

                                                        Depends on where you go in Japan, it can be a big difference. Not to say sushi at Zen is not good, actually it is great. But there are much more interaction and the progression is so much smoother when the ratio of sushi chef to patrons are 1 to 4 compared to 1 to 10 or more. There is just no such demand in Toronto. Say for a la carte at the bar, you order hirame, and then you order anago in the next round, you will have to wait when they get to your order, the progression is broken. Omakase at the bar is not always present individually as well.

                                                        1. re: tjr

                                                          I like sitting at a booth when there. Take shoes off, wash hands, begin. When plated well at Zen, you can follow the fish from one side of the dish to the other going from light to rich flavours. This wasn't the case last time I went. It was rather haphazard. Still good, but surprising that they missed this most vital step.

                                                          What I look for in omakase progressions is multiple different dishes that vary in textures, temperatures, and strength of flavours leading up to a main event ending. I'm not looking for just sushi.

                                                          As for interaction, I prefer to do so with my tablemates rather than the chef. I have no need for anything other than be within viewing range of the action. In all the years I went to Omi Church St I never once sat at the bar. John Lee was always cordial enough to make the rounds and explain or just say hello much as he does now at Carlton St. It's A personal preference difference. I work in an industry where there are enough false/forced friendships. I prefer to keep it real.

                                                          1. re: Googs

                                                            I don't see the relationship as being a "friendship" as more of a relationship you'd cultivate with a butcher or fishmonger. If you go to the same guy over and over again he's going to know your tastes.

                                                            I think that's the kind of interaction that's being referenced here. When I try sushi the chef often asks me what I like, if i prefer something over someting else, what I've tried etc etc.

                                                            1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                                              That you CoffeeAddict. I see what you're saying. It just always looks overly cozy at Zen's bar with people constantly asking personal questions about the man, not just about the wares. It seems improper to me. Let them have their own private lives. I feel the same way about celebrities. Their public self is all I need to know.

                                                              Our desires are communicated at Omi, just not at a bar. John Lee always asks about tastes before he tries something new on us. He's never let us down.

                                                              I should also say that in my job I make more than enough decisions in a day. I prefer the sit back and let someone else drive approach of omakase. If I didn't trust the chef to deliver the goods, I would go a la carte.

                                                              1. re: Googs

                                                                I get what you're saying about people who try and get too friendly. There was a couple seated next to me during my last trip there and the lady was pestering Jackie with questions. I think she finally got the clue that he wasn't there to chit chat but to prepare sushi on an extremely busy night.

                                                                As an aside I think Jackie and Sei-san were non-plussed about how she liked to chew with her mouth open. :) Sorry if you're reading this lady but it had to be said!

                                                                1. re: Googs

                                                                  Googs, for us, it's even a bit more than what CoffeeAddict says and almost, but not quite, to the point of what that song says from the old TV show Cheers... "where everyone knows your name"... That's the kind of relationship that we've established at several places in Toronto.

                                                                  When you say John Lee always asks about your tastes, one can inquire why he needs to ask? If you've developed a relationship, they pretty well know what you like. It's also them advising you the Uni (or whatever) is only OK today so don't bother trying, but this other thing not on the menu is fantastic today, I know you'll love it... and so on.

                                                                  Yes, there is bantering and but this builds the relationship and trust is developed both ways as they get to know your tastes, likes and dislikes. And, at a sushi restaurant, the building of such trust is best done at the bar rather than at a table or private booth. And if it develops into a kind of friendship, in these times, you can't have enough friends. My 2 cents.

                                                                  1. re: syoung

                                                                    I agree, and even if you aren't a regular, sitting at the bar can be a wonderful experience: not to talk to anyone regarding their life or what they did last weekend, but to ask questions about the "wares" or the industry. Showing that you are knowledgeable and appreciative goes a long way in my experience, especially on your first time visiting a place.

                                                                    Omakase shouldn't be about you "driving" the meal other than your likes/dislikes/allergies/etc. It should be about the chef "driving" the meal, though you are free to ask talk and ask questions, etc. Not only to the chef, but to other people at the bar. If that's not your cup of tea, okay, but for me, that is one of the most interesting parts of eating sushi. You don't always get the opportunity to talk to chefs, especially not the "executive chef" or the person whose name is on the sign. Maybe not so much in Toronto, but if you're eating at a highly-rated sushi restaurant in Japan, I couldn't imagine not watching the chef, not asking questions, not engaging in banter (assuming you can speak Japanese, or have a chef who speaks some English). If it's busy for them, they won't appreciate you annoying them, but if they're passionate, they'll surely want to talk about their craft, and will likely be happy that you appreciate their food and are interested in what they are doing.

                                                                    It's not stressful decision making, it's supposed to be fun and informative for you.

                                                                    1. re: tjr

                                                                      As I said, it's a personal preference thing. I have no need for it so I don't do it. Amongst my favourite things about omakase is just sitting there and letting the experience happen to me. No decisions, no questions, no demonstrations of my knowledge, just relaxing. You'd really have to know what I do for a living to understand. If I have to show the chef I know what he's doing and what he's doing it with, well, consider me stressed and somewhat peeved. While I appreciate the "passionate artist" aspect I get enough of that every day. For you fun, for me just another day.

                                                                      syoung, Johnny knows my tastes and that of my husband's well, but is polite enough to ask us about new things. We trust him implicitly. He doesn't take liberties with that trust. A perfect relationship.

                                                                      1. re: Googs

                                                                        You don't have to do anything. No one would force you to talk to anyone, or know anything to eat in a restaurant. The experience changes if you do know, though, just as it would anywhere else. I'm glad my job doesn't make me lose the enjoyment of things, I suppose!

                                                                        But, yes, we have two different ideas of what the experience should be (and what sushi should be), which is not uncommon :-)

                                                                        1. re: tjr

                                                                          That's why I said there is a limitation of sushi experience one can get in Toronto ... the atmosphere, setting are really not quite the same here and there, although similar thing can be found in Toronto. That's understandable with the demand here and there, culture...etc which can really be a big topic.

                                                                          1. re: skylineR33

                                                                            As I said above, I agree, and understand exactly what you're talking about.

                                                                            1. re: tjr

                                                                              Yup, we share the same point of view on this one :)

                                                                        2. re: Googs

                                                                          my suggestion to googs is to pass on Solo/Bekkan, or at least sit far away from Jyo. He likes to talk, a lot. He is very passionate about his craft.

                                                                          Personally, I like the interaction. There're also the visual clues an itamae can pick up if you're sitting at the bar. You don't have to talk, they can tell whether you enjoyed a piece by your facial expressions/body language. Whether they should pack the rice tighter or looser depending on your eating style, etc, etc....

                                                                          1. re: aser

                                                                            Have you ever had an itamae pay that kind of attention to you as far as packing the rice tighter or looser depending on your eating style or paying attention to the size of your jawline in Toronto? Has anyone for that matter?

                                                                            1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                                              No. And we've even tested at Kaji, with no luck (though Kaji will pack the rice depending on whether he sees you using chopsticks or your fingers, but aside from that other visual clues didn't factor in). It's a bit disappointing, but then again, it's Toronto. Most patrons wouldn't even be able to tell, let alone know that this is done at all. I asked Kaji once, and he just laughed without answering the question (though this tends to be his personality).

                                                                              Do you know anywhere that does this, Notorious?

                                                                              1. re: tjr

                                                                                Not here.

                                                                                It's funny that Kaji laughed at that. I think he would take more of that thing into account if people knew what he was doing and appreciated it.

                                                                                Speaking of Kaji, I think a lot of people tend to have the idea that "he's the best - for Toronto standards" but I think that a lot of the time he caters to his patrons which doesn't show his true potential. I'd like to see what he could do with a more educated clientele, more money, and fresher ingredients.

                                                                                1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                                                  That's true -- unfortunately, I've been there more than anywhere else, and it's close, so he's the chef I feel comfortable visiting. He knows me, what I like, etc. I think if his answer was, "Well, people in Toronto wouldn't notice anyways," it would degrade the experience for me, at least, being someone who lives in Toronto.

                                                                                  I'm well-versed in Japanese cuisine, and the state of Japanese in Toronto is a bit depressing for me. I'm proficient at home, except for sushi (but this is more that we can't get the same quality fish, or even rice, that we'd get in Japan; we usually do stuff with vegetables, homemade pickles, etc. shari is okay, given the rice we can get without importing or bringing it back). I've tried more recently, trying new places, trying to find interesting things (I've been to Omi quite a bit recently, but realized I only liked the Koreany-fusion dishes, and that the sushi was pretty weak).

                                                                                  I'm not sure how Kaji would compare to many of the chefs in Tokyo, or Japan in general. I'd imagine that he's become a little too Westernized. After eating at Masa in NYC, I couldn't ever imagine eating at somewhere like Masa in Japan. Sure, the sushi was good, but it wasn't as good as the best I've had in Japan, and price-wise, it wasn't even nearly worth it.

                                                                                  Maybe I should find a mentor, order ingredients from Japan, and make sushi at home for chowhounders? Haha...

                                                                                  1. re: tjr

                                                                                    Yeah, it won't be too late, I will wait for you for 10 years.

                                                                                    1. re: skylineR33

                                                                                      You might have to wait a bit longer for me to get my fugu certifications though!

                                                                                    2. re: tjr

                                                                                      Yeah, the state of japanese in Toronto kind of depresses me. However, to put it into perspective, at least we don't live in Ottawa or Montreal. Yikes. Japanese home cooking is great. Ive actually been into making Japanese style Italian food lately. I know, pretty random.

                                                                                      Haven't tried Omi yet, but I'll reserve my judgement till I dine there.

                                                                                      I'd imagine if put in Japan Kaji would be a competent all around chef. I'm sure he'd cater his dishes to whomever his demographic was. His dishes have become Westernized only because he's in the west, it's not like he can't switch it up.

                                                                                      Yeah, Masa. Don't get me started. Urusawa is the place to go in my opinion. Or even the Morimoto Omakase. Worth every penny.

                                                                                      If you make sushi out of your house, I'm there. That would be the shit. I'll eat farmed Fugu, no certification necessary. Just learn how to cut it, haha.

                                                                                      1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                                                        On my most recent visit to Kaji around Christmas, I was actually more impressed w/ the cooked dishes. Especially the basics like the broths in their cooked dishes, great dashi. No doubt his sous chef Takeshi Okada plays a strong role in that.

                                                                                        Maybe that's why Ematei is still so good at the cooked dishes, since both him and Kaji were once head chefs there. Instilling a good foundation for the place.

                                                                                        Not to get sidetracked but I did notice a white dude (NO not Scott Woods) helping Kaji-san out this last time. He was slicing fish w/ a yanagi and plating, obviously Kaji trusts him. Finally he even spoke Japanese and offered translation for dishes. He even made sure to communicate my gf's gluten sensitivity to everybody in the kitchen.

                                                                                        1. re: aser

                                                                                          Yeah, the cooked dishes at Kaji are excellent too. Ematei has always been good to me (and yes, it seems like most of the better Japanese chefs in the city have headed it or worked there). I haven't seen the white guy there, but I haven't been in a bit. It would be interesting to find out who he is/where he trained/what his aspirations are.

                                                                                          Notorious: I'd likely buy the pre-prepped fugu for my first few times. Did anyone see the Bob Blumer "Glutton for Punishment" episode where he had to learn how to prep fugu in a week, then eat it? I'm sure there was a lot of TV drama involved, but that isn't something you'd want to encourage people to do!

                                                                                          I am very interested in Omi, if only for the Korean dishes. Lee's Korean-Japanese fusion food is pretty good, and much better than the sort of bottom dollar AYCE Korean restaurants or student-oriented Korean that tends to dominate the GTA. The sushi, though, is pretty mediocre. I have a few Korean friends whose moms are willing to grace me with Korean food every once in a while, which satiates my cravings...

                                                                                          Maybe I should see if Ryugin will take me on for a couple days apprenticeship in a month or so :-)

                                                                                          1. re: tjr

                                                                                            Well here's a pic of him I took......

                                                                                            As you can see by the plate of precut neta, they had a few large tables they were trying to bang out at that time. I can hear the sushi aficianadoes grumbling now, haha.

                                                                                            1. re: aser

                                                                                              if i'm not mistaken, the chef you're talking about has been with kaji for over a year (had gone to japan last year around this time) and at one point worked at thuet (he had a very candid conversation with biana). i can't recall his name though i think it was something reasonably typical like ryan or james. i think we talked about vietnamese food for part of the evening and he was very demure. i can't recall if he was working with neta at the time though i feel like he was.... kaji was in a bit of a state by the time of our meal that it seemed he took over at the bar.

                                                                                              is okada the sauce man? the sauces were actually the star of the show at my kaji meal and it is he i would blindly follow him anywhere.

                                                                                              1. re: aser

                                                                                                His name is Jay, can't remember his last name. He uesed to work at Thuet.

                                                                                                1. re: katana750

                                                                                                  Thanks for putting a name to a face. He was new to me as I hadn't been back since pre-reno. I really appreciated his help in communicating the gluten-free issue w/ my gf. Coffeeaddict understands where I'm coming from, it can quickly turn a pleasant evening into.....

                                                                                                  Okada to my understanding is the one executing the cooked dishes in the back. He is also the one w/ the fancy knife skills, carving flowers, garnishes, cucumber cups, etc.....

                                                                                                  1. re: aser

                                                                                                    Okada's knife skills reminds me of this guy, one word, AWESOME!


                                                                                              2. re: tjr

                                                                                                Haven't seen that episode but I'll track it down. Sounds entertaining.

                                                                                                I'll try the Korean inspired dishes at Omi for sure.

                                                                                                I think Ryugin is pretty good about taking people on to stage in general, I wouldn't be surprised if they let you in the kitchen. My girlfriend was thinking about doing it but then she came to the conclusion that it would be pointless to leave a kitchen to go on holiday to work in a kitchen.

                                                                                                (I on the other hand was hoping that she would master the candy apple there so she could make it for me at home)

                                                                                                1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                                                                  Ryugin has taken a few friends on for a few weeks, definitely good about taking people for short "apprenticeships." They learned a lot as well. Mostly did prep, but the stuff they saw absolutely changed their world in terms of cuisine in general. Even a day might be an interesting experience at the least! The apple is amazing, but you would need the tools to do it!

                                                                                                  Okada is a skilled chef; and his French-Japanese fusion is something fairly unique in Toronto. If he were to open a restaurant tomorrow, I would be there, and likely be a regular.

                                                                                                  And yes, all Japanese restaurants are limited. Somewhere like Kaji, Hashimoto, or Zen is pulling down great ingredients compared to many of the others (think of the stuff the Ichiban chain is serving), but even theirs can't compete with the stuff they have in Japan. If Toronto accepted not only higher standards but a better experience overall, it might be possible. Unfortunately, there are so few people looking for this that it doesn't even matter... This isn't just for Japanese food though: many western-food restaurateurs appeal to the Toronto mentality of bland and unoriginal. Just think of the street food situation, or hot dogs alone! A disturbing trend...

                                                                                                  1. re: tjr

                                                                                                    Yeah, I'm sure working in that kitchen is mind blowing. I'd like to try Kikunoi as well. Never been. I've been obsessed with finding the best neighbourhood/locals only/don't promote us on the internet type joints as opposed to michelin starred restaurants. (I still hit a few of those though;)

                                                                                                    It's true about Kaji/Zen/Hashimoto's ingredients as opposed to other restaurants. That's the downfall of being landlocked. Especially when it comes to something like Akagai which basically has to be eaten within ten minutes of it's removal from its shell. Hard to do when they're DOA. However, if it takes me paying $200-$300 a head for them to do it, I'm in. $120 bucks is still a pretty insane deal at Kaji though for what you're getting.

                                                                                                    Yeah, the street vending scene here is bad news bears. Where's my Ramen stand goddamnit.

                                                                                                    1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                                                                      Ramen would be one of the perfect street foods once Toronto opens it up a bit more (and I have longed for this at well), but I am imagining it won't be like the ramen you would expect/want, and more like the ramen stands in Mexico City that warm up cup noodle for you :-(

                                                                                                      We have to take what we get here, but I think we're lucky to have places like Kaji, Zen and Hashimoto (and even a lot of the places that aren't really top or destination, like Omi or Kumai), because there are definitely a lot of cities where the best Japanese would be an AYCE sushi place or the buffet at Mandarin! Plus we have restaurants like Ematei, where most other cities have nothing past a food court Teriyaki Experience.

                                                                                                      1. re: tjr

                                                                                                        Yeah, cup can only hope for the best.

                                                                                              3. re: aser

                                                                                                Yeah, Takeshi Okada is a very good chef in his own right.

                                                                                                Indeed Ematei is in good hands but that has more to do with Kaji San's longtime cook Chun San who stayed after Kaji left along with Jun San and some of the servers.

                                                                                              4. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                                                                In this case, I think Cafe Michi, Aoyama, Zen ... will be different if there are more money and fresher ingredients, not only Kaji. The limitations apply to all.

                                                                                                1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                                                                  Notorious, if you're thinking of making Japanese style Italian food then you should definitely try Omi. Some dishes in the omakase are Italian influenced Japanese food. They're simple yet thoughtful preparations and make one pause to enjoy.

                                                                                                  You'll also find Italian ingredients suffer the same fate as Japanese. You'll not get the quality you would were you in Italy. I have never had raw shrimp as sweet and tender anywhere as what I've had in Venice.

                                                                                                  aser I assure you no chef has ever had to wonder whether or not I'm enjoying my food. I get all "When Harry Met Sally".

                                                                                                  1. re: Googs

                                                                                                    What dishes at Omi are comparable to Japanese-style Italian food (other than carpaccio-style sashimi plates)? I've never had anything there that was similar to something I'd have in Japan.

                                                                                                    I'm not thinking of authentic Italian food (and there's quite a few really excellent Italian restaurants in Tokyo, and even some of the cheaper prix fixe places are very, very good); when I think of Japanese-style Italian, I think of things like spaghetti with uni sauce (I wish somewhere in Toronto had this dish). Pastas topped with things like a gobo-cream sauce, wakegi and tendon, or something like hotaru-ika gratin, etc.

                                                                                                    1. re: tjr

                                                                                                      Is the spaghetti with uni sauce like the one Ripert did on no reservations recently? I think it was strained uni sauce with caviar on top. I am DYING to try this dish! Makes me wanna go get some uni this weekend just to try it.

                                                                                                      It'll be like the mother of all creamy good seafood pasta sauces.

                                                                                                      1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                                                                                        I don't know; I didn't see the show. It's not necessarily a super-expensive dish though, more of a comfort food for me!

                                                                                                        1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                                                                                          Do it. In fact make it the Mother's Mother of all creamy good seafood pasta sauces and crack a raw egg on top.

                                                                                                      2. re: Googs

                                                                                                        Yeah, I'm making more along the lines of what tjr is suggesting. Stuff like Carbonara with Salmon Roe. I'd like to try out Omi's italian influenced dishes. Although, I kinda get tired of the whole white fish carpaccio thing. I think that's every Japanese chef's go to "Italian style" dish. Sea Bream carpaccio with ponzu and some sort of sprout or edible flower.

                                                                                            2. re: aser

                                                                                              Talk a lot? How about leaving us alone while we eat!! He's creepy! And he ripped us off by charging us $40.00 more for the sashimi plate priced at $25.00. His price - $65.00. So long....

                                                                                              1. re: ghighi

                                                                                                Well. that is theft, or value added after a misunderstanding. Was there more sashimi, or better quality than the menu entry?

                                                                                                1. re: ghighi

                                                                                                  $65 is the price of the omakase. $25 is the price of the sashimi dinner. I've never witnessed Johnny lingering over tables longer than it takes to say hello, howya doin, or explain what's on the plate.

                                                                2. re: wciu

                                                                  What I forgot to add in my solo sushi bekkan report was that Jyo-san's wife wrote down my name and what i had that date and my preferences when I ordered an omakase there. I thought that was very cool! I will go there again for my next omakase since it's also friendlier on the wallet than Zen :D

                                                                  I'm a broke sushi lover =(

                                                            2. To further this topic -

                                                              Any suggestions for mid-town great sushi places that are not too far east or west from yonge would be appreciated!