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Jan 15, 2010 01:06 PM

ISO Great Sushi and Sashimi, Omakase Style

I want to go out for an evening of omakase sushi and sashimi. I'm happy to order a simple miso soup and green salad a la carte, if need be, but I'd like the rest of my experience to be exclusively sushi and sashimi (meaning no cooked dishes from the kitchen and no new-fangled deep-fried rolls with wacky sauces drizzled over the pieces). What places should I visit? I'm thinking Zen, for starters, but should I reconsider my bias against dreary hole-in-the-wall Hiro? What about some of the other places around the GTA? Who has top-notch fish? I can reserve Kaji and Hashimoto for other deep pocket special occasions when I'm feeling like cooked dishes, but for a night of just sushi and sashimi, where will I have the best experience? I won't state a price, but I'd be interested to know what omakase prices are at the various restaurants that get suggested. Depending on quality and quantity, I'd be willing to spend anywhere from $35-100+ per person. I have no problem shelling out a bit extra knowing I'll be getting an opportunity to try some really special fresh delicacies.

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  1. definitely Zen, It sounds exactly what you're looking for, and in the price range too :) fresh fish, simplicity.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bobby Wham

      I second Zen, nobody really compares to them if you're looking for sushi and sashimi. Even though Kaji is not really Edo-Mae sushi I still prefer Zen over Kaji. I also think that Sei San has great knife skills.

      1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

        third Zen, nothing else mentioned here compares, with the possible exception of Inatei, to which I have not been.

    2. If you're in the north, Cafe Michi is a good option. Their omakase is all sushi/sashimi, their fish is top-notch, and as an added bonus they have very good soy sauce and real wasabi. If I remember correctly it's around 50 per person. The place is small so reservations are a good idea.

      3 Replies
      1. re: graydyn

        I've heard that Michi is the most economical out of the bunch. But what can I expect from the $50? I also know that there's cake at the end of the meal....

        1. re: jennjen18

          You get some nice appetizers, a sushi platter, and some cooked dishes. I am not sure what the quantity is and I think it may vary. I have had really nice snow crab Korokke and one time they even did a huge broiled Hamachi collar for us.

          You do get a choice of dessert at the end of the meal and the last time I was there the owner said that her specialty is a fresh fruit English Trifle. It was definitely the best dessert I have had there bar none. The owner said she has to throw them out because the fruit loses its freshness after a day which is crazy to me because they are so good and I can't figure out why they don't sell out. It's a new item so I guess people don't really know about it yet.

          1. re: jennjen18

            I found the Sushi course in Michi's Omakase just not up to par, compared to Zen

        2. my hands down favourite for sushi/sashimi right now is mikado on laird. while zen was nice and better than the grand majority in this city, there was something a bit too sterile about the food and i found the flavours to be underwhelming.

          mikado doesn't have fish cut exactly the same for every single piece (which i don't think is necessary) and it doesn't have perfect rice (as far as i can tell no one really does here) but overall it's still significantly better than what i've had in this city and very reminiscent of my better sushi experiences in japan. they serve you real red snapper (and it is very very good) and have an excellent list of fish (anago, mirugai, etc). they have an omakase that i believe is $65, but i don't tend to go for it because i know what i like and order a la carte... which runs me less than an omakase and leaves me stuffed.

          1. Currently Inatei in Richmond Hill offers the largest and most varied selection of fish and seafood in the GTA!!

            16 Replies
            1. re: Charles Yu

              Funny how I've driven by Mikado year after year and never thought it looked inviting from the street. It seemed an odd location for a Japanese restaurant, but then again, Zen's location is pretty odd. As much as I'd like to go to Zen, it's the location that turns me off. I'll definitely consider Mikado, though I'd be interested to hear your a la carte choices, Pinstripeprincess. I've never ordered omakase before, mostly because I'm a bit of a control freak. I have definite likes and dislikes. I was just hoping that an omakase meal would turn me on to some new fish. Not being a clam lover, I'm always afraid I'll offend the sushi chef if try to I discreetly hand off my mirugai, akagai or hokkigai to my co-diner.

              I peeked at a few photos online from one diner's experience at Inatei and the fish looks spectacular. Can you elaborate on your experience(s) there, Charles?

              1. re: 1sweetpea

                i'm in a similar boat, at this point i pretty much know what i like and what i don't like unless i haven't had it before. with an omakase though, you reserve the right to tell them what you definitely won't eat and if they care at all about your experience they should ask you beforehand. it's absolutely fair for you to want a meal without clams, that's certainly something that should be easily accomodated with sushi.

                i often require a slight "fill-up" before we start as sometimes i find sushi meals feel like you're trying to feed a bottomless pit. we'll get a couple of handrolls (the combinations are up to you, prices start at 3.50) such as unagi and avocado, california roll (he uses real surimi which i like sometimes), and always hamachi negi. the a la carte for sushi options are pretty much as you see on the website but written on a wipe board and with a few country specifications. this doesn't change at all from what i can tell (and it really doesn't change at most places). only when he runs out or didn't find what he wanted for that days service is something not available. i should ask him about seasonality, would love fresh softshell crab and some iwashi. i earnestly don't know if you'll encounter something new here, but you might get a different prep style that you find you'll enjoy. i do not like saba (the marinated kind) but he does his in house and it maintains a little rawness and was last paired with shiso and a thin strip of lightly pickled squash... very good. he sprinkled a little of this yuzu pepper salt on fluke and it really elevated an ok fluke. the last piece of anago i had was brushed with some heavy yuzu ponzu... nice compliment. at worst you can fall back on his excellent red snapper (it is the stuff dreams are made of), spanish mackeral (sometimes fights red snapper for the top spot) and hiramasa (though i wish he would offer kanpachi as it is my preference of the yellowtails)... these are probably the most unique options he offers regularly. i'm not big on his uni but i'm uber picky and seem to like whatever cali feeds theirs (his is from vancity).

                i hope that helps... it's one man running the show behind the sushi bar and so he's often quite busy. there isn't as much room for interaction but he's not ignoring you!

                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  PSP, do you know if Mikado does a true omakase of multiple courses, or is it like Zen where you're presented with a single "chef's plate"?

                  BTW everyone who left out that fact about Zen, hang your head. That's a big and decisive detail. Certainly if the OP is going to a la carte order, Zen's an excellent choice. Omakase it ain't.

                  1sweetpea, if you're trying to find a more convenient location with exactly what you're looking for, try Omi on Carlton at Parliament. The normal omakase isn't strictly sushi and sashimi. You can arrange for a special dinne by making one simple phone call and arranging it in advance. Be sure to give your per person budget and there it is. Done. Omi is even capable of doing a fully sustainable sushi omakase with a week's notice.

                  243 Carlton St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                  1. re: Googs

                    That's good to know, Googs, though I could definitely be swayed by an Omi omakase meal that incorporates Korean-themed cooked dishes. I think you've mentioned that it's a rare treat at Omi. Omi is by far the most convenient for me when I am in town for a weekend.

                    1. re: 1sweetpea

                      My one experience with omakase at Omi was that the non-sushi/sashimi dishes were the standouts. I think my favorite dish was actually a plate of salads. We tried to explain that we wanted as much raw as possible, and still received several courses of tempura-d rolls and such, so calling ahead might be necessary if you want to avoid those things entirely.

                    2. re: Googs

                      If you sit at the bar at Zen, you'll be presented nigiri one by one. I've not been charged for asking for extra pieces after my omakase has finished. I would highly recommend omakase there as long as you make a reservation for the bar.

                      The price is now at $49.50.

                      1. re: Googs

                        i've never done the omakase at mikado and haven't seen anyone receive it, so i can't say for sure.

                        but when i order a whole long list of nigiri it comes in several courses with a good balance of light, sweet, rich, etc each time.

                        totally forgot to mention that about zen, good catch. it does change the type of experience you get. not everyone can sit at the bar!

                      2. re: pinstripeprincess

                        I'm also not big on uni, PP, but all of other items you've mentioned sound fab. I do like mackerel and would be very keen to enjoy some that leans more to the raw side of things, vs. the marinated version.

                        Unsurprisingly, I'm amassing a pretty good looking list of places to try. Ultimately, I'll pick a winner from the bunch for my first foray into omakase sushi and sashimi, but my wallet will no doubt be lighter when I decide that I want to try ALL of the suggestions put forth thus far!

                        1. re: 1sweetpea

                          forgot to mention that their toro is divine.... it's the only place i've been to in the city where there are so many strands of fat it almost looks white.

                          best of luck! i think that there are only marginal differences between the top few and so atmosphere and location become the major sway factors. as mentioned by another person below, mikado is much easier for me to get to than zen and that may affect my love for them just a touch.

                        2. re: pinstripeprincess

                          just a quick update that the rice is a bit inconsistent at mikado. it was a bit chewy and dry this time around.... but i cannot deny how good his toro is and the fluke was a great surprise.

                          1. re: pinstripeprincess

                            I think this is going to be the weekend I have my omakase indulgence. I might be on my own and am hoping to walk in somewhere. Is this realistic? Do I need a reservation for one on a Saturday evening? I might be in the downtown area, so I'm toying with Yuzu on Adelaide, or else I could drive up to Mikado. I'm going to leave Omi for another time, since I only want sushi and sashimi (no cooked dishes other than miso soup). Any advice for a walk-in? I can make a reservation if absolutely necessary, but I'm holding out a candle of hope that I can round up a friend to join me.

                            243 Carlton St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                            1. re: 1sweetpea

                              I ate at Mikado 2 weeks ago and they had two kinds of toro available. Both were excellent. They offer parking behind the building.

                              1. re: sloweater

                                there are only 6 spots though and so it doesn't take much time to fill up and i have to say that not getting a spot is a pain enough.. backing out down the alley adds extra annoyance. you should be able to park on the street or where ever the people who are ga-ga over the fish and chips place parks. otherwise, mikado has never been full for me and it's easy to walk in. the back tatami area is busier than the front with the bar and regular tables.

                                never saw an issue at yuzu when i was there but that was several months ago. i believe they also have an upstairs and the bar isn't typically busy since the majority of diners arrived in groups of 4 and up.

                              2. re: 1sweetpea

                                1sweetpea, you can omakase at Omi on strictly sushi and sashimi. Hubby and I have done it many times. It's best to give a couple of days notice if you wish to go that route. We've done it on an impromptu basis, but we spend so much money there I think they were just being polite by not asking for notice.

                                243 Carlton St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                                1. re: Googs

                                  Thanks, Googs. I just might do that, since Omi is quite close to where I stay when I visit Toronto.

                                  243 Carlton St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                            2. re: pinstripeprincess

                              A friend and I decided to try omakase at Mikado this past Tuesday after reading comments in this thread. Since they were closed on Monday, I called at noon on Tuesday to book a reservation. They had no problem with doing omakase for us and I was quoted about $50 per person after inquiring about the availability of soft-shell crab. We arrived around 19:30 and, after reading about the cramped alley, decided to park (for free) on the east side of Laird and crossed the busy lanes of traffic to the restaurant.

                              We were seated in the back tatami room and discussed the meal with our server. I was looking forward to soft-shell crab and we agreed that they would prepare it by simply deep-frying it. I also wanted anago (saltwater eel) which they obliged, and I requested no amaebi (not a fan) nor a green salad. The server informed us that the meal would begin with a series of appetizers. We also decided to get both sashimi and sushi, which, as we would find out later, probably accounted for a much higher bill than anticipated.

                              I'm not going to describe every dish in excruciating detail, nor am I going to compare it with what I think is "best", but will offer comments when I think something was noteworthy. Here were the courses:

                              * wakame salad with cold pickled salmon -- this was a bit like gefilte (!)
                              * deep fried soft-shell crab -- the chef had purchased it live that morning. The crab was incredibly juicy and sweet. We were hoping to get one each, but we had to share one crustacean.
                              * miso soup -- lacking in both salt and umami
                              * red snapper neck braised with gobo
                              * nasu miso -- basically, eggplant chunks with a sweet miso glaze, almost like candy. I loved this item.
                              * ika (giant squid leg) tempura -- very tender pieces
                              * chawan mushi
                              * sashimi -- yellowtail, salmon, abalone, otoro, hirame (possibly one or two more I can't recall). Abalone was thin, chewy slices, perhaps dried abalone that had been braised, didn't like this. Hirame was served rolled up with yuzu-pepper sauce in the centre.
                              * sushi -- fatty tuna, Spanish mackerel, scallop, salmon, uni, tuna and green onion maki, yellowtail, King crab with special sauce, anago. The scallop and King crab were sweet and tender. Fish to rice ratio was generous, but the rice tasted a little dried out to me. They ran out of uni (!) so we only got one portion of it, but was quite fresh.
                              * black sesame ice cream and mini creme caramel -- Intense, sesame oil flavour in the ice cream, really enjoyed this.

                              Total price was $90 each, plus tax and tip. We were initially shocked by the discrepancy compared to my initial expectation, but afterwards, felt it was a fair price for ten dishes, considering the items that we got. Service was fine, and we got explanations of everything we asked about. The room is traditional Japanese, light Miles Davis in the background.

                              114 Laird Dr, Toronto, ON M4G3V3, CA

                        3. My hubby and I have been on a sushi quest lately so in the past 2-3 months we've hit Mikado (several times), Zen (even more often), Aoyama, Cafe Michi, Solo Sushi Bekkan and even have gone to Taro's fish. Our consensus is that Zen is the most consistent of all of them and on good days, their sushi can be transcendental. We had the omakase sushi and every single piece was just lovely. Mikado come a very close second but I'm an uni lover and I've had a few not so great pieces from Mikado. Same thing from Aoyama and Michi. Mikado certainly puts small twists, like a piece of shiso under the hirame, which I love. Zen has the best amaebi, if that's something you like. Zen is very much a purist place and if you want flawless fish, I think Zen is the place to go. I also think that Zen has the best shari of all and the knife skills at Zen are the best. Very precisely cut, beautiful pieces of the freshest seafood.

                          That said, we go to Mikado quite a bit too because it's closer. So for us, it's Zen as our first choice with Mikado a close second. All the other places don't come close.

                          Oh, I'm also a tempura fan, and even then, Zen's and Mikado's tempura stand head and shoulders above the rest. Zen's had better selection, batter and sauce but Mikado's shrimp are huge and so, so fresh.