Tojo’s often comes to mind first when one considers fine Japanese cuisine in Vancouver. Not your hole-in-the-wall sushi joint, Tojo’s focuses on high end sushi at high end prices. Some hardcore sushi traditionalists call it overrated while others have appointed it the gold standard of Japanese cuisine. On a recent trip, I went with a large (and rather excited) group to indulge on the famed omakase tasting menu. The premise of this menu is to offer the freshest ingredients to be served hot and cold in 5 or more courses, preferably with copious amounts of sake and/or Sapporo, starting at $80.
The sablefish was by far the best course served throughout the evening. A generous portion of this naturally sweet and buttery fish was perfectly cooked and balanced with a slightly tart and salty glaze which graced the entire tongue to wonderful flavours . The bed of slivered, well seasoned vegetables added both texture and colour to complete this well-rounded mid-omakase dish.
Both the sashimi and sushi platters were “cute”; the former garnished with a fish head, wasabi purses and very Canadian maple leaves. The latter had a number of delicate rolls presented nicely beside a cooked lobster shell. The sashimi was fresh and expertly cut so there wasn’t a lot to complain about. The variety of sushi was innovative and impressive, highlighted by generous amounts of fresh fish topping most of the options. Despite the server raving about the signature golden roll (see far right of sushi platter), I found it the weakest of the offerings despite the fact I’m a huge fan of eggs in any way, shape, form and species.
The tempura vegetables were very average and didn’t add a lot to the overall experience. Perhaps the hype around the omakaze experience heightened my expectations beyond a greasy, battered sweet potato I could make at home.
One of the important aspects of a tasting menu is the need to keep it flowing. Long gaps between courses can disrupt the flow of a good meal and there were some disruptions during the rather long service which was a bit aggravating considering the restaurant was at about 50% to capacity.
Every big city has a shortlist of “must see” eateries that every tourist and foodie alike flock to in search of the ultimate dining experience. Tojo’s fits the bill..but the bill may not fit you. It was an expensive and lengthy venture into a rich history of West Coast cuisine highlighted by fresh, local fare including hearty sushi rolls and delicious Canadian sablefish prepared by the iconic Hidekazu Tojo. I was hoping he would come and chat a little, especially since the restaurant was not to capacity and we probably dropped over $1200 on the final bill. Anybody who knows or reads me knows how much I relish speaking to “celebrity chefs” and to be honest, I was hoping for a brief discussion instead of listening to him sing a strange karaoke version of “Happy Birthday” to a small group a few tables down. Maybe I’m overreacting a bit but come on..how often can you say you spoke to a man who cooked for Martha Stewart AND invented the California roll.
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