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Jan 15, 2012 09:08 AM

Solo Sushi Ya -- Suffering a Kates Effect?

Solo Sushi Ya is in Newmarket, an hour drive from where I live. After reading a good review on this board a couple of years ago, I have made the trip a few times, always ordering the $55 omakase. Everyone I've taken there has felt it was a great meal, and an exceptional value. But after dinner there last night, I'm not sure any more.

I had no idea before I arrived that the restaurant was the subject of a very positive Joanne Kates review in the Globe and Mail in December. But the restaurant is very small, and when you hear people at other tables say, when handed the menu, "She says to order the omakase", you start to wonder if you've stumbled into a cult meeting. Eventually, the restaurant filled up (30 seats), and every single diner ordered the omakase. At one table, a person wanted "no raw fish" in their omakase -- not a problem, says formerly opinionated Chef Gao.

On previous visits I always felt that the omakase was something special, a chance for the chef to show off a bit. Last night, I could see for myself that the omakase was an assembly line process. The sashimi course was on the small side, and the sushi course had only four pieces. All together they contained only tuna, salmon, a single shrimp, a single piece of snapper and a single piece of smoked eel. The cooked course was a piece of grilled mackerel with grilled burdock root and shaved onion. The rest of the meal consisted of three small appetizers, a good chawanmushi, and another custard with blueberry sauce for dessert.

The fish was good quality, but the whole experience was more like winterlicious than a special night out. I certainly got no "wow" for my money ($180 for 2 all in).

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  1. It's an old problem. Kates' camp followers are ADHD and troop off to the next, sometimes oversold, boite after a few weeks' commotion. Hopefully, the path will grass over a bit and the regulars will return. Her blessing certainly is a mixed one.

    1. "I could see for myself that the omakase was an assembly line process. "

      I don't see a problem here, and before I begin, my answer has nothing to do with Joanne Kates, and is more of a general answer than one that picks on this or any other restaurant.

      So, 30 people showed up and ordered the same item on the menu (omakase) and paid the same price for it. Now, if the chef did NOT serve every one of those 30 people the same items, somebody's going to be rightfully upset that he/she got ripped off. You wouldn't like it if you went to a steak house, order the same steak and sides as the guy at the next table, but when it's delivered, you notice that his is a larger piece of meat or he got a much larger serving of the side dish. Same here.

      Not to compare SSY with Zen as I've never been to SSY, but I suspect if 30 people ordered the omakase at Zen on the same night and paid the same price they'd get the same food. And nobody would ever accuse Seiichi of "assembly line service".

      10 Replies
      1. re: TexSquared

        My point is that the quality, quantity and presentation of the omakase at this restaurant has been diminished because of the rush of diners. My use of the phrase "assembly line" was intended to capture this idea. I'm not complaining that the 30 diners were served an identical meal, but that in my opinion the meal was noticeably inferior to what has been served over the past two years.

        1. re: jjmellon

          Sorry I misread you. I took your assembly line complaint to refer to the "cookie-cutter" look of everybody's meal. I agree, to serve a WInterlicious meal for an Omakase price, is not value.

          1. re: TexSquared

            Omakasa is not about value either so that's not really the point as I see it either.

        2. re: TexSquared

          When my wife and I ate at the Newmarket location on December 3 (same day as in Kates review since we happened to be very close and I had wanted tome sushi for awhile) we ordered the omakase as I wanted to see if it was as great as JK said. The owner Jyo was there, and he actually told me that not everyone would get the same items even if they ordered the omakase. I found it hard to understand why that would be the case but when glancing over at other diner's omakase as they arrived it was obvious that not everyone got the same items. I think he must determine if you are worthy of the good stuff, or something like that. We were also served a large amount of salmon. The quality of all the items was good, but it was really repetitive to see that salmon in almost every course. I'm mentioning this because it was mentioned that it was an assembly line. It may be an assembly line, but they have line A and line B, and we were getting the line B items.

          1. re: foodyDudey

            That's not a good policy....I expect a single assembly line! Same money should equal same food. If this happened to me, I would not return....(unless I got line A;))

            1. re: T Long

              That's basically how I felt, so am not in a rush to go back.

            2. re: foodyDudey

              Thanks for this. Sounds to me "Omakase" translates to "rip off the customer".

              1. re: TexSquared

                I don't speak Japanese so can't be sure if it means "sucker" or "ripoff" but I was really surprised to have him stand at my table and tell me this. I felt like he must "size people up" to see what he can pass off on them. We did enjoy our meal, but felt there was too much salmon, and wondered what the courses that some others got when they had ordered the same omakase also. I left with a strange feeling - like he could have done better and I somehow got ripped. If he hadn't done that, I would have returned by now. And the meal was nowhere near as good as what JK's review made it sound. But 's been like that often when I try a place she has written about.

                1. re: TexSquared

                  Omakase mean you trust the chef to decide

                  1. re: dcArtisan

                    If I'm trusting him to give me the best he's got, then what I get on a given night should be the same as what everybody else who orders omakase gets that same night. Unless I arrived late and he ran out of certain ingredients. That's the issue here. This chef admitted he'll rip some people off because he can. And that rubs people the wrong way.

            3. I went a few weeks ago to the downtown location on a Friday, Jyo was there (usually is on Friday). I didn't have the full blown omakase which is $65 downtown, just had the sushi one for $35 or $38 (I think?).

              Quality was as good as in the past, and Jyo is as talkative as always. He's an interesting guy, I quite enjoy the conversation, even when he doesn't understand what I'm saying, haha.

              My friend went on the weekend to Newmarket and said it was as bangin as ever. Although we've been going since early 2000's, so he does recognize us. Oh the days of $38 full blown omakase in Newmarket, it was such a steal back then.

              He is good at remembering customers, good trait to have as a restaurateur.

              1. i went a few months ago for the omakase in newmarket and was quite disappointed. selection of sashimi was very common and quality wasnt too high.. also, most of the dishes featured salmon (chawanmushi with overcooked salmon bits, a very salty salmon "crab cake"...) seemed like the omakase was more of a way of using up the leftover salmon bits off the salmon skeleton than a meal of the best/most fresh items the chef had...

                11 Replies
                1. re: Pigurd

                  That's fine to fault a restaurant for overcooked food and such but to knock them for maximizing ingredient usage? That's every restaurant's job, to squeeze every ounce out of food costs.

                  Using leftover bits of flesh scrapped off the skin is common to every sushi restaurant, where do you think spicy tuna/salmon rolls come from?

                  1. re: aser

                    my biggest problem was that it wasnt tasty and that salmon was in almost every course, though my impression was that an omakase at a japanese resturant would be that you receive higher quality items than a la cart, or what is most fresh that day, rather than be part of a resturant's merchandising night. if it tasted good, i wouldnt have minded the scraps, but it wasnt so i complain about it...

                    1. re: Pigurd

                      Omakase just means chef's choice plain and simple. If the chef chooses to serve salmon in every dish well I guess he's just really feeling salmon that night.

                      Would calling it a salmon tasting make people feel better? It's like what Splendido does with Truffles.

                      1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                        it would make me feel better...

                        anyways, i was also suprised by the lack of selection of fish at solo.. from the a la cart menu it only listed fishes that are usually found at sushi buffet resturants, and i was surprised i received nothing different on the set menu..

                        1. re: Pigurd


                          I still haven't tried the food there. Think maybe I will head over to the downtown location this week. See what the deal is.

                          1. re: Pigurd

                            i've been twice to the downtown location (never the uptown) and was sorely disappointed. fish was mushy and selection was incredibly poor. waste of my time and money.

                            1. re: pinstripeprincess

                              Unfortunately it's a two tier restaurant, when Jyo is there, and when he isn't. I only go when he is. Uptown is better as he's there the bulk of the time.

                              Shouldn't be that way, but it is.

                              1. re: aser

                                Yes, everyone please stop going. I want it to myself.

                          2. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                            You are too kind. Serving the same salmon on more than 3 courses is lazy. For $65 if you get more than 8 pieces the fish will be cheap varieties or inferior quality.

                              1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                That made me laugh

                                I will try to behave :)

                    2. We had dinner at Sushi-Ya a few weeks ago and it was delicious. Service was a bit spotty (my water was never refilled) but the sashimi, yakitori and rolls we had were oustanding. The best in the GTA I have tried.