Tojo's - Detailed review with pics
Just got back from a trip to Vancouver and had the opportunity to try Tojo's. The review with pictures can be found at: http://licencetoeat.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/tojos/
The review without pics is below. Cheers.
1133 West Broadway, Vancouver, Canada
June 3rd 2013
As part of the U of S CAEP 2013 expedition, the staff docs took all the residents out for dinner at Tojo’s. One of the most highly praised Vancouver sushi restaurants, this was a generous and much appreciated gesture from the staff.
The six course omakase began with a bowl of mixed tuna and hamachi (yellowtail) marinated in a sauce of mirin (rice wine), wasabi, soy sauce, sesame seeds and green onions. The regular tuna texture was a little on the soft side, while the hamachi was much firmer and fresher. The sauce had great balance from the sweet mirin, salty soy and heat of the wasabi. Overall this dish was great but could have been even better if the regular tuna were omitted in favour of more hamachi or toro.
Next up was a tempura course consisting of piping hot shiitake mushroom and stuffed zucchini leaf tempura. The thick piece of shiitake mushroom was perfectly cooked and kept a nice level of chewiness. The zucchini leaf looked beautiful and was stuffed with chopped scallop, herring roe, raw carrot and yuzu. The crunchy carrot and pop of the herring roe was a great foil for the soft scallop, while the yuzu provided lingering acidity on the finish. However, this dish still could have used a bit more “pop”, something to elevate it to the next level. Overall I loved the originality, presentation and attention to detail of this dish, but it lacked the flavour explosion and depth of an excellent course.
Seared Sockeye salmon served on vegetables with Kyoto miso (light yellow) and freshwater eel sauces (dark brown) came next. The fish was cooked perfectly and combined well with the light Kyoto miso sauce. The eel sauce was richer and heavier, and helped balance the sweetness of the miso. Apparently Kyoto miso is sweeter and less salty than typical miso. The bed of snap peas, yellow peppers, enoki mushrooms and carrots were solid but unspectacular. Overall this dish was solid, but had the feel of something I could cook at home. If I couldn’t, Camille certainly could without much problem.
The 4th course picture is partially eaten, it started as 3 albacore tuna rolls, not just the one seen above. The albacore roll was tempura battered and deep fried briefly, topped with plum sauce, shiso and basil, and served on a mushroom, long bean mixture. This was my least favorite dish of the night. The deep frying had cooked too much of the tuna, while the plum sauce was a bit out of balance with its spice and acidity. Furthermore, the long beans were slimy and flavourless. Bland tuna, strange sauce and slimy long beans, not a good mix.
Left to right (top row): Spot prawn, hamachi (yellowtail), salmon + avocado roll
Left to right (bottom row): Herring roe roll, Spicy tuna roll, Scallop/tuna/salmon wrapped in egg crepe
The penultimate course was a 6-piece sushi course. Overall, they were all average/good, but nothing earth shattering in the group.
For dessert we had a sesame panna cotta with sesame crisp. For those of you who don’t cook with sesame oil, it is an extremely powerful ingredient; generally one or two drops will flavour an entire dish. This made for an interesting and tasty dish, great if you love sesame. As expected it was still one dimensional due to the power of sesame.
There were a pair of sakes to begin the meal, one cloudy, one clear. I tried the clear, Tojo’s Choice Dai Ginjo sake. Clean, with floral and stonefruit flavours, it was on the alcoholic side for a sake. A few at the table were not sake fans, so we ordered a 2009 Inama Vin Soave and a Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir. The Soave was clean with stonefruit, pear, great minerality and good acid. It was great with most courses of the omakase. The Pinot was a full bore, round, new world style with huge cherry-berry fruits and ample oak. As we say, a good chugging wine.
Despite the large group size (16), the service was attentive and informative, with our server informing each section of the table of the ingredients in each course as it was served. Water and wine refills were timely.
Overall, Tojo’s was a good, but unspectacular dinner. A similar experience can be had for much less in most cities, including Vancouver. There were a few dishes that had potential for “wow factor”, but they always missed the extra ingredient or texture to elevate them to the next level.
Tojo's is a tourist trap. The chef is snobby and does not realize that his 1970's Vancouver sushi skills just don't cut it anymore. Once you have great sushi in Japan, you will realize the level of garbage they serve us here.
When we visited Tojo's, it wasn't just the quality of the fish that was bad but the cut and that it seemed like it had been premade hours before.
honestly, IMO, the only way to dine at Tojo's is to go early, right when they open, go with one other and eat at the bar and tell tojo to keep it coming. period. jerkstore...it is worth every penny when you sit at the bar. if i was not over my food picture blogger days, i would post some photos of the best toro i have had outside of japan or some of the most creative japanese dishes i have had in this country. next to kaji in YYZ, this place is about as good as it gets, but honestly, i have never done a group dinner and only eaten the way i note above.
We went years ago (old location on Broadway between Willow and Heather) on a company event dinner of about 15 people. I liked most of what we had, but given the prices, the value proposition wasn't there for me at least (even if I can afford it).
IMHO Tojo's is one of those urban myths that it's a life-changing experience. As much respect I have for Tojo-san and his lifelong accomplishments and accolades, the restaurant itself's bloated reputation precedes the typical dining experience.
Thanks for the detailed review. I agree Tojo's food sometimes misses the mark, though I'm surprised to hear about the slimy beans. Ooops.
I like the space at Tojos. It's not like anything else in Vancouver. And I think the staff go out of the way to give great and thoughtful service.