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Jul 7, 2011 09:57 PM

Zen Omakase, First time experience

It was delicious and I'm glad I went.

I really wish I knew what every fish was, but it was my first time and I really could not retain all of the names.

Nonetheless, here's my experience in an overview.

At first, driving up to the plaza, the outside seemed a LOT different from what I imagined. Even though I knew it was in a random strip mall. I had made reservations so I walked in and sat down at the bar. I took a look at the menu and already knew I was getting the omakase sushi, but decided to order a grilled black cod as an appetizer.

My friend and I were started off with edamame and a bowl of miso soup, which were both good, but obviously not the main attraction. The grilled black cod came and we ate that quickly. It was a good dish, soft and tender fish with crispy skin. The flavours worked well. However, I believe the version at guu's on church is better!

The omakase began afterwards and came piece by piece. The first chef that started it off for us told us what each fish was, but unfortunately we had not started to make conversation with him at the time and were talking amongst ourselves at first. A few dishes later, an older chef took over which we had a good conversation with. He asked us if it was our first time and explained each fish to us and answered some of our questions. He was very friendly and a pleasure to talk to. Throughout our meal, there was a guy and his friends beside us. He seemed quite familiar with the chef and asked if there's a good selection today. The chef said yes and also told them there was a blue fin tuna neck that was available. They got it as an appetizer as it was grilled, and at first I wasn't sure what it was! I asked the chef serving us and he let us know and asked if we'd like it too since it's not always available. We definitely wanted to try and it ended up coming at the end of our meal. The guy beside us was very knowledgeable with several stories and asked for yuzu for his sake which was quite interesting. I was wondering if he might be a CHer!

The omakase was very good. It started off with fish that werent too strong in taste, but had great texture. And progressively moved on to fish with stronger flavours. Some highlights of the meal were definitely the toro, uni, and blow torched sea bream. The cuttlefish had good texture and a lot of the fish I am unable to remember the name of. Hopefully in time I will learn. There was one piece that was a great mix of flavours. The fish with a piece of shisho leaf with minced ginger and japanese onions on top of the fish had great flavours that worked together - also a highlight.

The sushi rice was very well done. Loosely packed that it sometimes would be hard to keep together, but the texture was great. It had a hint of sweetness and was good overall.

I ended up ordering one more piece of uni after my meal, and then ate the grilled blue fin tuna neck.

Luckily the Thursday was not too busy!

I had a great time and delicious food. The staff is VERY friendly and I will definitely go back, though I still want to try some other omakase too!

I attached the pictures of my meal below, in order of which they came.

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  1. Glad you had a nice time!

    Zen is one of those rare Japanese restuarant that offers the 'more expensive' Mirugai ( Geoduck clams ). However, I did not see it in your array of photos. Wonder whether its a supply problem or they are trying to skim on customers that they do not recognise as regulars?!! Reason I made this comment is that I always get served the clams and I just saw Taro fish selling quite a few of those delicacies yesterday!!

    1. Having some difficulty seeing larger versions of the pictures when I click on each one at the moment but from what I can make out

      First row from left to right:

      1) ギンダラ 銀鱈 gindara - sablefish
      2) I'm guessing it's either ヒラメ 鮃 hirame - flounder (turbot) or カンパチ 間八 kanpachi - great amberjack (this one's my guess)
      3) must be your cuttlefish or ika, 烏賊
      4) I have no idea, but interesting how what looks to be green yuzu (or sudachi, a citrus fruit) zest is grated on the top side, half the fish
      5) アマエビ 甘蝦 ama-ebi - raw shrimp (looks more like a spot prawn type)

      2nd row from left
      1) looks like Japanese sea bream, tai, 鯛 or the generic upscale sounding madai, served with skin on which if treated right is delicious. Looks like some grated green yuzu or sudachi is applied
      2) No idea....hamachi belly? Also looks like escolar or snake mackeral, or sometimes called "super white tuna". I hope not...
      3) maguro, tuna, 鮪. If bluefin, クロマグロ 黒鮪 kuromaguro, but there's no way to tell from a picture alone.
      4) Aji アジ 鯵 - jack (horse) mackerel

      3rd row from left:
      1) シマアジ 縞鰺 shima-aji - striped jack (white trevally)
      2) uni, sea urchin 雲丹. Looks almost like Japanese uni from Hokkaido
      3) toro (tuna belly)
      4) looks like sea eel, or anago アナゴ 穴子

      Last row
      1) toro handroll, sometimes called negi-toro handroll (if it had thinily sliced scallions in it)
      2) deep fried shrimp head? Probably came with the raw prawn order.

      4 Replies
      1. re: K K

        The one that looks like sea eel is actually a blow torched sea bream. The uni I believe is from california. And the last picture is the grilled blue fin tuna neck.

        I believe most of your guesses are right though, as I recall the names. However, I'll need to work on this for next time!

        And Charles, hmm, it was my first time, so I'm not sure. But it sounds like something I'd definitely would like to try. Maybe it wasnt the freshest fish that day?

        1. re: K K

          Hello KK,

          From the small pic :

          - That piece with yuzu grated on only half side looks very funny ...
          - The raw shrimp looks like botan shrimp (spotted prawn)
          - I think you are right that it is a hamachi belly.
          - The sea urchin in this time of season probably is from Mexico or Chile (pretty low quality) ! Toronto restaurant will not get uni fright from Hokkaido :(

          1. re: skylineR33

            When I last visited TO area 8 years ago, family would tell me Japanese run Japanese restaurants were very hard to find in quality (and good affordable price). Glad to see there's something decent now, and not having to resort to JP/sushi places where the staff speak Cantonese to each other (or Mandarin). Only found out last night that Richmond Court and Dai Fai Wood in Golden Shopping Center shuttered (I remember going there a lot in the late 1990s).

            I had frozen Canadian sea urchin before at a sushi restaurant in Northern California, the lobes were way too big and muscular from the freeze and dethaw treatment.

            Actually there is sea urchin from Maine/East Coast USA. Maybe easier to get that than Hokkaido in Toronto if that's allowed to be imported? Any sea urchin available off eastern coast of Canada? I know there are sea urchins off Alaska coast, but it's nowhere near as good as Santa Barbara.

            That torched sea bream looks overtorched...that's why it on the thumbnail it looks like sea eel. Now if this guy does kelp wrapped white fish, it would be great instead of torching it.

            If that's hamachi belly, it looks like the farmed variety for sure. It still looks like super white tuna/escolar/snake mackeral to me.

            1. re: K K

              There is sea urchin from east coast of Canada, Nova Scotia. But most of those are green sea urchin type which is smaller in size.

              Santa Barbara uni, it is extremely hard to find in Toronto. All the good ones go to NYC ?!

              Actually, I have seen some uni from Hokkaido in Toronto, but they are mostly not fresh or very low quality, pretty sad. Some are horribly bad, like those labelled as Hokkaido Uni at J-Town.

              You are right that the hamachi belly is probably farmed, I have had wild hamachi Buri at Zen from Noto of Japan before, it is $8 a piece !

        2. Did the chef offer you fresh grated wasabi root? The last time I was there, I remember refusing the wasabi, thinking it was the radiation-green powder type, but it turned out to be the real stuff. Thankfully, he convinced me to take it.

          8 Replies
          1. re: dachopstix

            He told us later that the fresh wasabi was available for $5 more.

            We regretted not finiding out earlier!

            1. re: .alias

              Oh wow, a $5 surcharge! Well, seeing as prices for everything is going, and wasabi root is technically an import (coming from either BC, California, China, or Japan), I guess that makes sense. If you do order it next time, I would ask, just for curiosity's sake, where it's coming from.

              In the end though, I'm sure you enjoyed the meal, and that's all that matters!

              1. re: dachopstix

                This is what I do not understand, they charge $50 for omakase but use faked wasabi to damage the taste of the sushi. I think this is not quite acceptable to be named as the best sushi restaurant in Toronto area.

                1. re: skylineR33

                  I think this pricing scheme just reflects Kashiwabara's perception of the market he caters to. is it an accurate or fair perception? I dont know, but he is probably in a better position to tell. if you order a la carte though it will automatically come with fresh wasabi, which is strange a litle

                  1. re: shekamoo

                    On the other hand, it should be considered that not everyone's palate will take a liking to fresh wasabi - if one has been eating sushi/sashimi with the powdered type wasabi, that's all they'll know and expect.

                    1. re: dachopstix

                      That' true, I do see people like to mix wasabi powder into the soy sauce to become a thick dark greenish solution for the sushi. But all people I know of much prefer real wasabi (of good quality) once they have a chance introduced to it. If restaurant themselves do not care or they think their customer do not know or care about the "quality" of the sushi, that's another story, and we are talking about the most respectable sushi establishment in Toronto area.

                      1. re: skylineR33

                        Things good be worst, there could be no wasabi upgrade option, imagine that.

                        I'm grateful we have Zen, in a town like Toronto.

                        alias - I could've swore I told you about the $5 wasabi upgrade in your previous thread.

                        1. re: aser

                          Well yeah, I am grateful to have Zen but it is a pity this is the best a big city like Toronto can offer, for what I think is pretty basic a good piece of traditional sushi to have. Now I imagine if they put fake wasabi on my piece of otoro sushi asking me if I want to eat it with a premium price, I would rather say "No Thanks".

          2. bumping an old thread. went for the omakase for a pre-valentine's dinner. have been dying to try this place out since i joined CH back in 2007.

            service - top notch. grab a seat at the sushi counter and watch the chef's knife work. it was like watching art. chef (we had the younger guy) was VERY attentive and paced the meal accordingly. he would make small talk here and there, also advising us how to eat which type of fish (don't use soy sauce for this within 30 sec etc).

            food. amazing. very similar selection to the pics posted by the OP. best bite of the night had to be the japanese king fish . was told it was a "special". almost had a smokiness to if it had been smoked lightly on the outside. i found the tuna handroll (no pics..was told to eat immediately by chef) at the end very tasty as well. had to be the crispiest nori i've ever had. not soggy or damp.

            meal came with complimentary hot towel, miso soup, and edamame to start
            1) tuna maki (not incl with omakase)
            2) fluke
            3) not sure what this was...
            4) squid - soft not chewy...almost creamy texture and taste
            5) amberjack
            6) crab (not the fake stuff)
            7) tuna
            8) otoro
            9) shrimp
            10) mackerel - had a gelatinous sheet placed on top
            11) japanese king fish
            12) scallop
            13) sea urchin
            14) eel
            15) tuna hand roll (no pics)

            desserts weren't included but the mandarin orange pie was delicious. looks pretty dull but it was very light and fluffy.

            overall fantastic meal and understand all the good reviews about this place finally!

            4 Replies
            1. re: blitz

              That pie... One of the most memorable things about dinner at Zen!

              1. re: blitz

                No Mirugai?! Never once did they leave that out?!

                1. re: Charles Yu

                  I haven't had it two recent visits... That said, I didn't ask if they had it...

                  On the other hand, my last visit a couple of weeks ago, they had Kuruma Ebi in from Japan and that was definitely a (expensive) treat!

                2. re: blitz

                  Nope, that's just Kingfish for you. One of my all time favourites for it's complexity and general sexiness.