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Nov 10, 2013 12:11 PM

Toronto and fine SUSHI, is there such a thing or am I lost in translation....?

Please weigh in, whats your favourite sushi spot and what's so good about it? At best what I am getting is a sense of confusion cooking when it comes to sushi in Toronto and to be honest, Japanese cuisine in general.

No I do not want Kaiseki and no I do not want to be spooned over by a short little man in Etobicoke serving deep fried versions as Omakase.

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  1. Maybe you could tell us where you have eaten sushi in Toronto and why you feel confused.

    2 Replies
    1. re: foodyDudey

      I'm not the one who feels confused, its my opinion most of the sushi chefs here are. Hence a discussion.

      1. re: luxeat

        Well shutting down someone who wants to help is a great way! There are very few fine sushi places in Toronto or the gta. FD was trying to figure out where you have been to offer new suggestions. Just shutting down his answer is no way to get a discussion going!

    2. What is your definition of 'Fine' sushi?? Are you trying to compare Toronto's best with some of the best sushi houses in Japan, like the Sawada, Saito, Jiro or Mizutani??!! Or are you comparing with the lesser caliber ones like Yasuda or Gari of New York?

      In my book, fine sushi has to include at least the following criteria:

      The Shari (rice) should be a blend of several varieties such as Niigata, Ibaraki, Kishihikari...etc. Cooked on the firm side so that the grains are distinct, rest a few hours before serving

      Red rice vinegar used for the rice seasoning should preferably be home brewed, may be from Sake lees, to attain the right acidity and sweetness

      Wasabi should be from say, Umegashima in Izu Japan and not from British Columbia.

      Soya sauce, again, should be home brewed and seasoned accordingly. However, most 'fine 'sushi houses in Japan have chefs brushing appropriate amount of 'chef's own' seasoning onto the Neta before serving.

      Since sushi is a food in which the temperature is as important as the freshness of the ingredients. Correct temperature control should be adopted to different fish used, and the sushi rice should be kept at room temperature. Tuna, for example needs to wait until the fat floats to the surface; white-fleshed fish should not be 'too cold' whilst shiny silvery fish should be 'somewhat on the low side'. In the case of say Tokyo's Saito, Tuna is actually 'aged' for two weeks in a special ice room to improve the flavor!!

      Lastly, the chef should be able to achieve a 'harmonious balance' of Temperature, Shari, Wasabi, Neta, and soy sauce!!

      That said, NO outfit in town. IMHO, comes even close to achieving these standard!
      Fresh ingredients for Neta, due to the advent of airfreight, are relatively easy to obtain. Inatei, Zen, Michi, Kaji, Aoyama, Solo-Sushi-Ya, Katsura, Japango.... usually take delivery a few times a week. Products, especially fish, from as far as Tsujiki Market in Tokyo to Sea Breams and Diver Scallops off Boston or Uni from BC are readily available. Once in a while, chefs teamed up together to bid for Blue Fin Tuna, be it from Japan or Portugal and divide up the reward. Hence, relatively acceptable O-Toro can be had in places like Inatei.

      The rice portion ( Shari ) IMO is the weakest link. The majority offer rather sub-par 'mushy' products. Even our highly raved Sushi Kaji falls into this category. Best consistency Shari is a toss up amongst Zen, Katsura and Aoyama. However, to my knowledge, no chef bothers to 'blend' their rice. Lastly, to my surprise, the 'best seasoned' rice is from a Chinese run sushi-bar in the same plaza as Yang's in Richmond Hill!!

      Some form of temperature control and good soya sauce can be found at Kaji. Fresh wasabi used to be offered at Kaji too, but lately, a mixture of horseradish and the real McCoy mixed together, are being noticed! Yesterday, Michi offered complimentary fresh wasabi when Fresh Uni were ordered. Zen has the real thing but charges a whopping $7 a portion.

      In short, IMHO, no body in town offer a 'FINE' all en composing sushi product. Zen was regularly mentioned as being the best overall, whilst Inatei offers the most variety of fish and seafood products from Japan. Michi has recently kicked things up a notch by offering more variety and exotic products like Diver Scallops and Fresh Uni in the shell. Price-wise, Michi is still the most reasonable. Aoyama ventured beyond seafood and offered Wagyu beef as Neta for their sushi.

      Hope these will answer some of your questions?!!

      26 Replies
      1. re: Charles Yu

        thanks Charles,
        this is a good place to start our discussion from. Let me give it some thought

        1. re: Charles Yu

          The best sushi in TO (Zen, Michi, etc) is the best sushi we have in the province, and possibly the best Canadian sushi east of Burnaby. That meets my definition of fine sushi.

          1. re: prima

            Which places do you like in Burnaby/Vancouver? I haven't found better than Zen as yet.

            1. re: justxpete

              I'm just saying, given the high quality of the best seafood found in Vancouver, I think Vancouver is the only city that might trump TO in terms of fine Canadian sushi. I haven't tried any of the best sushi Vancouver offers.

              I'm not aware of any great sushi restaurants in Burnaby. I've only eaten pub food in Burnaby!

              1. re: prima

                I think Zen is pretty high up there. Not sure I'll find better in Van, but I'm trying. I will say that Minami is significantly better than JaBistro, though, by a fair margin.

                1. re: prima

                  Contrary to most believes, the majority of fine sushi places in North America actually shipped most of the more exotic fish and seafood product varietals from afar such as Japan and Europe. 'Local' fish, especially those suitable for use as Neta in sushi, are actually far and few from the Vancouver area.
                  However, Vancouver do offer better grade Mirugai, some spotted prawns when in season and West coast Uni and oysters. ( even with both West and East coasts options open, outfit like Yasuda in NYC actually have Japanese and Russian Uni shipped over! ) as well as fresh Wasabi roots.
                  Though known for their west coast wild sockeye and King Salmon, however aficionado prefer the Alaskan and especially Cooper river ones!
                  Live Black Cod, Sable Fish, Rock Garoupas...etc can easily be found in Vancouver. Unfortunately they are not too suitable as Neta ingredients.

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    Actually we have some great products on the East coast, never mind West Coast. The North Shore of Quebec is full of finishing communities that export almost exclusively to Japan.

                    Naturally not all is considered neta but its a great place to source what ever you can, even blue fin.

              2. re: prima

                Thanks for responding, what do you like about Zen and Michi? Is Michi related in anyway to Kaji?

              3. re: Charles Yu

                My definition of fine sushi is based on three elements. Yes the "beta" (ingredients) are key, but if the chef is missing the knowledge and talent then these ingredients are wasted. The environment is also important. Introducing and maintaining "umami" and balancing this with "shibui" has always impressed me and helped define what I refer to as 'fine' sushi.

                Its about the complete picture. That said Neta, 15 East and Ichimura are my haunts in NYC for the moment. But NYC really has no comparison to Tokyo.

                In Tokyo, I tend to frequent Araki when it was still open. That's too bad, it was really well done, I like the youthful Saito for lunch and Harutaka. Usukifugu Yamadaya is also intense.

                In TO I want to try Solo Sushi Ya. This one may be under the radar? Thanks for the recommendation.

                What do you like about Zen and Solo Sushi Ya?

                1. re: luxeat

                  IMHO, Zen offers the best composed Shari of all the authentic Japanese run sushi place in town. Nigiri size was close to optimal with proper Neta size draping over the Shari. They almost always have my favorite Mirugai and Cho or O Toro from Portuguese Tuna ( I know Blue Fin is endangered and should be avoided but..... I'm only indulging once or twice per month! ). Though at a whopping $7, however, they do offer real Wasabi grind from fresh roots. And Oh!! I love their Mandarin cake for dessert!

                  I like Solo Sushi Ya more for their cooked food and Sashimi than Sushi. Their Shari was a bit mushy for my liking!

                  Harutaka in Ginza!! Nice!! If one cannot get into S. Jiro, guess eating his apprentice offering is second best! At least there's no strict time limit!!

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    thanks again Charles.

                    I spoke with some fishermen from Nova Scotia this past summer and I came away with the impression that the Atlantic Bluefin was not listed as endangered. I will look into this. Its important we understand our fisheries.

                    I'm off to Zen and others to see what we have to offer...

                    What about Hiro Sushi? Anyone have any comments ?

                    1. re: luxeat

                      If you're going to Zen, ask for off-menu Omakase.

                      Also ask for fresh Wasabi (an extra $7pp typically)

                      1. re: justxpete

                        Thanks justxpete. I will.

                        One thing I find interesting is why they need to charge an extra for the Japanese wasabi? Why not just incorporate it into the cost and do us all a favour?

                        Is it the frugality of the diner or a chef that can't stand up to integrity?

                        1. re: luxeat

                          Re:charging for the Japanese wasabi

                          It's a business decision that makes good sense for a sushi restaurant in Scarborough or anywhere else in Toronto. I can see how one might be able absorb the fresh Japanese wasabi cost in Manhattan or Beverly Hills, but it isn't going to be a good business decision for most restaurants in Ontario.

                          Zen is located in a relatively low rent neighbourhood, with perishable, high cost ingredients, so they have to watch their bottom line if they want to turn a profit. It helps the restaurant manage their costs and supply. I appreciate restaurants that are not incorporating all the bells and whistles. They're helping their customers out by giving them a choice, when Japanese wasabi might not be a big deal for all their customers who are there mostly for the fish.

                          That $7 plus tax and tip ($10-$12) is equal to an hourly wage for a lot of people in Toronto, including many in the restaurant industry. Maybe that optional wasabi is a sign that the Chef has a lot of integrity.

                          1. re: prima

                            Although I can sympathize with your thought on this, ultimately I think its not helping the cause.

                            The restauranteur sets the business model and hence the target group. A good chef needs to be an ambassador, especially when it comes to sushi. To segregate your menu based on what he thinks a customer can and can not afford means he did not do his due diligence very well.

                            Keep it as simple as you can, Don't complicate it.

                            1. re: luxeat

                              If a restaurateur is setting up shop in Scarborough or Etobicoke, he's watching his bottom line very carefully, and probably has figured out that some customers will go elsewhere if he charges more for the sushi than his competition because he is offering everyone fresh Japanese wasabi. He probably knows most of his customer base well, and probably isn't going to cater to the 1 percent who want Japanese wasabi absorbed into the prices.

                              I don't have a problem paying a premium for fresh-squeezed OJ at other restaurants. I see Japanese wasabi as the same sort of premium.

                              If the restaurateur was to keep it simple, he might not bother offering the fresh Japanese wasabi at all.

                              1. re: prima

                                Thats the problem I think, sushi for the masses? maybe not. I did mention 'fine' sushi.

                                Anyway its interesting to get your point of view. Thanks.

                                1. re: luxeat

                                  No problem.
                                  At least you've got a consensus for the handful of restaurants most sushi-loving GTA Chowhounds consider to be the finest Canadian sushi-for-the-masses, for the masses who go out of their way to the 'burbs for sushi that's better than most sushi-for-the-masses.

                                  1. re: prima

                                    Perhaps its time to do something in town thats right for all price points yet really sets the standard for the rest to think about.

                                    1. re: luxeat

                                      You doing market research to open a sushi place?

                                      1. re: pourboi

                                        no but thats not a bad idea......

                          2. re: luxeat

                            Folks, we removed some posts from here. It's fine to disagree with people, but please remember to try to be friendly while you do it and keep the focus on the issue and not on other hounds.


                          3. re: justxpete

                            Just going to pip-in here and ask if this is still served as a "set" with a set price, or more of "until you've had enough"?

                            edit: I meant that as a reply to justxpete in regards to off-menu at Zen

                            1. re: bernardtkchan

                              I think a combination of both... but the 'set' varies each time I go. Then, when I'm done, the chef will ask if I'd like anything else, or if I've had enough. Sometimes I ask for more, sometimes not, sometimes they charge me a little more if I ask for something extra, but sometimes they don't. A little inconsistent, but I always have a good experience, so I don't mind at all. I always feel that I've had great value for the money I pay.

                              1. re: justxpete

                                whats your average cost for the off menu Omakase ?

                    2. nice avator luxeat. when were you last in kyoto? i never get over how amazing that roof is painted... ;-)

                      japango and jabistro and Solo Sushi Bekkan and Solo Sushi bekkan are very good and so is solo ya . only problem, ALL are TOO EXPENSIVE.

                      i just have to admit that i get better stuff much cheaper in the YVR suburbs than in YYZ....sadly.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: limitedtimeoffer

                        Do you mean they are too expensive relative to value or affordability? What would you deem acceptable for a round of sushi?

                        Yes the roof was amazing and I can't wait to go back.

                      2. i havent had good sushi in toronto. That being said, i'm sure that if i spent a ton of money, it's possible.
                        That reality is fairly typical for much of toronto's good restos. i'm glad it's changing.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: chocohead

                          I have tried the sushi spots mentioned in this thread, and there is not one that meets the criteria of 'very good' sushi.

                          The idea of using fake wasabi or even BC wasabi is basically saying, your really not worth the effort.

                          If you can't get the wasabi right how can I trust you on the fish?

                          Again flying fish in means nothing to me if its not the better quality.

                          In short, it seems that the restauranteurs are committing to a sub quality standard because they feel we will be tolerant of it and they are charging a relative premium to what they are serving us.

                          Toronto deserves better than this.

                          1. re: luxeat

                            Have you also noticed that Toronto is not near any ocean?

                            1. re: MissBingBing

                              Most, if not all sushi that you eat has been frozen at some point, whether in Vancouver or Toronto.

                              And, I've not found better sushi than Zen in Vancouver. And I've been trying.

                              1. re: justxpete

                                most is not all but your correct, it takes effort to select a quality product and arrange for its transport, whether its nitrogen packed, blast frozen or packed in ice trays.

                                The issue I have with "fresh" fish from Vancouver is that its still not the same quality as that from Japan, blast chilled or not.

                              2. re: MissBingBing

                                Your cynicism is well noted however that has nothing to do with it really. You could fly product in from the South of Japan, from Tokyo, from Nova Scotia, from the North Shore of Quebec from Vancouver ( if you really need to), Boston, etc. Then there are some local mongers that can also source.

                                This adds cost but its manageable if you know what your doing.

                                I'm just tired of all the tiresome excuses. Your either going to do it 120% or not. I think Toronto is worth it.

                              3. re: luxeat

                                Once in a while, Japanese Wasabi roots ( sometimes, even from Izu! ) can be found in J-Town or Taro. Super expensive though!! However, their availability are inconsistent ( one possible reason why restaurants don't use them ).

                                Better sushi chefs in town can of course go out of their way in offering this delicacy in their feast albeit charging a hefty premium. However, how many patrons knowledgeable enough to appreciate this gesture not to mention willing to pay this premium are questionable! Don't forget, in the minds of a lot of inexperienced sushi lovers, they associate great sushi with 'fresh fish' ( which happens to be odorless and tasteless! ). How many really appreciate and associate great sushi with great Shari?! Not to mention the right wasabi, house brewed soya sauce and correct temperature....etc?!
                                That said, for some of those 'in-experienced and/or ignorant' customers, they might easily take it the wrong way by thinking they are being ripped off for having to pay for real wasabi. ( same with Chinese tea in good Chinese restaurants. No charge for regular stuff but one would need to pay extra for the good stuff! )
                                True or false, in this age of the internet and bloggers, restaurant businesses can easily be jeopardize by patrons posting wrong information on the net after their meals! May be these 'small, authentic' Japanese sushi places simply do not want to take such a risk?!

                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                  Getting wasabi root from Japan is very hard. Its technically illegal to bring them out of Japan but its not impossible.

                                  Once you get them here you need to keep them alive and fresh which is another issue, but again its not impossible.

                                  Its all about experience and the ability to do what it takes to be the best. Giving the best does not mean gouging your patrons.

                                  We all understand this is not Tokyo.

                                  Next, never never decide that your target patrons are not worth the extra effort. Wasabi root is just one part. There are many more factors in Japanese cuisine.

                                  inexperienced customers can never become experienced if we don't make the effort, and ultimately that is one of the goals of a good restauranteur.

                                  in the end, all these newly experienced diners will not jeopardize the businesses by posting "wrong information", if anything the restaurants will be rewarded for taking the risk.

                                2. re: luxeat

                                  Your opinion about the sushi available in Toronto is noted. I for one would be interested in your sharing of a critical assessment of the Toronto establishments that you have now tried. Do any stand out from the others? Is it possible to rank them?

                                  1. re: T Long

                                    Yes I think its time we were brutally honest with this category. I will share my assessment with you on this post in the week to come.

                                    I don't believe in ranking unless you have a distinct set of criteria that are established before hand, to base your opinions on. For me, I think its best if we just note the stand outs and the ones that just don't work but be specific why.

                              4. Just bringing up this discussion again...and wondering what your sushi standouts are?

                                I think you are absolutely right - there is a lot of confusion in Japanese cuisine in Toronto. Arguably, some people think it's a good thing, depending on the type of food one likes. There are few, if any, purist sushi places in the GTA. Places like Zen and Kaji tend to have a stronger focus on tradition and fish quality. While I have enjoyed my meals there, for me there is too much activation energy required to get myself there (living downtown) and they do not offer a complete dining experience. Not that I need to have beautiful decor or impeccable service to enjoy my meal, but you go there for the food alone and so you have to be in the frame of mind.

                                As for the cooking confusion, it would be fantastic to have more purist Japanese restaurants in Toronto so that we have that option to chose from. It seems innovation is the trend and everyone likes the variety of options they have. Many restaurants cook for the masses or trend chasers, so the nuanced flavours of a particularly good catch or perfect shari is completely lost. For many, it might just be a piece of raw fish on a mound of rice, and where's the sauce? Hence the proliferation of so many Japanese restaurants that serve all sorts of "special rolls". Admittedly, some are truly and objectively tasty, if you can get past the idea of what Japanese food is supposed to be like. Downtown, I've had some great meals at Yuzu, JaBistro, Guu and Kingyo (perhaps call them "Japanese-style food")