Kasa Moto: The Golden Globes of Izakaya

I went to Kasa Moto a few months back and I’ve been struggling a bit with a concept to go along with it.  I’ve pretty much exhausted the Real Housewives so I was in a state of pop culture writer’s block.  Magically, it came to me while I was watching the 2016 Golden Globes because it is a perfect  example of something that is synonymous with hype and phoniness of Yorkville. I’m not a Hollywood zealot but I do love the dynamic and psychology around celebrities.  I’m not talking TMZ; instead I’m referring to the pathological perception that exists in the world of the famous.  I’m no Ricky Gervais, but there are a number of observations I made during the globes that correlate nicely with Avenue and Bloor.

10 “Yorkville Personas” that I saw at the 2016 Golden Globes

  1. The I Can’t Believe it Although I Already Know it Girl- Why the hell does Kate Winslet act surprised when she wins anything?  That ridiculous look on her face is the same look that a trophy wife gets when she recieves a gift she “wasn’t expecting” at a Yorkville soiree.  I think what Kate really wanted to do is strut over to Helen Mirren, look her in the eye, slam down the statue and say “Who’s the Queen now, bitch!?” which in all likelihood would have also solicited an answer from Jennifer Jason Leigh.
  2. Thinks He’s Deeply Philosophical but is Actually Quite  Shallow Guy–  WTF was Tom Hanks talking about when presenting the Cecil B. DeMille award? Even Denzel was looking at him perplexed as hell.  Yes Tom, we know you were incredible in Philadelphia 20 freaking years ago.  It was listening to that dude at the dinner table who name drops and talks to hear his own voice.  Guys like this are usually the only reason I wouldn’t order dessert because it’s sweet to just get away.
  3. The Old Patriarch we Respect Because he still comes to the party Guy– The standing ovation for Sylvester Stallone was almost pathetic.  If you want to honour the guy, give him the Cecil B. DeMille award.  Otherwise, don’t treat him like the guy at the table you need to congratulate because he’s done absolutely nothing  for longer than anybody else.  You want a reason why he hasn’t won a golden globe since 1977? I’ll give you 12; Cobra, Over the Top, Tango and Cash,  Stop! Or My Mom will Shoot, Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, Judge Dread, Spy Kids 3D: Game Over and the Expendables One, Two and Three.
  4.  Funny Drunk Guy- Both Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell remind me of the the guys who need a prop to be funny.  What was with the 2016 new year’s glasses.  In the case of the Yorkville funny guy, the prop is usually booze but could also include you tube clips, memes his wing man (see below).
  5.  I’m Better Than you Because I’m not Funny Drunk Guy-Toby McGuire was the guy who missed the “try to be funny” memo or read it and didn’t give a shit. His stunning performance as…umm…spider-man…must allow him to portray  himself as the serious actor and elevate himself above the other Hollywood asshats by presenting with a demenor that makes a eulogy exciting. Look for serious guy to overdress, repeat looks of disapproval and check his phone repeatedly for stock prices even though the market closed hours before.
  6. I Used to be Freaking Crazy but now I’m Normal so now Respect Me Girl-  First, Lady Gaga already has the Kate Winslet “I can’t believe I won” look down to a science.  Then she throws Leo an elbow and proceeds to spew an acceptance speech that makes less sense than her  Rah rah ah-ah-ah! Ro mah ro-mah-mah, Gaga ooh-la-la! Want your bad romance lyrics. In Yorkville terms, she’d be the one who went to rehab, was released and then thought she was better than everybody else because of the experience.
  7. Wing Man- Much like funny drunk guy, the wing man is the life of the party and does his best to take care of his buddies, even if he looks like a jackass in the process. For example, Jonah Hill, along with the bear on his head, was a great wing man for Channing Tatum’s hair which looked like an animal just as wild or just an unfortunate attempt at a comb over.
  8. What do People See in This Guy? Guy- Most Yorkville dinners usually have a guy who people look at and say why? Whether it’s the dude with a table of beauties or the loud, obnoxious guy with a group of friends, it’s a real head scratcher.  I usually fill out a Golden Globe ballot for shits and giggles. Usually I haven’t see 90% of the nominated movies or shows which is an advantage because I can’t introduce my own bias. However,  I started watching Mr. Robot a few months back. I quite enjoyed it with the exception of Christian Slater.  As the title character, his acting is an painful as ever (remember “The Forgotten”?..it’s hard to forget) so there was no way I was scratching his name on my ballot.  I would have rather him nominated for his role as composite Santa Claus in Robot Chicken.  What’s worse is that he won while the creepy kid who actually makes the show lost (albeit it was to Jon Hamm).  It just makes me mad, man.
  9. BFF Girls– The Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer thing was the best example of this. In a way, Schumer is Lawrence’s DUFF (sorry I saw the  bad movie with the same name recently). In this case, DUFF means Designated Undervalued Funny Friend.  Sure, Schumer got a  golden globe nod but it pales in comparison to Lawrence who beat her and has already fetched an Oscar, a previous Golden Globe and numerous teen, people’s choice and MTV awards.  Looking around any Yorkville venue, you can see a classic example of this BFF/DUFF dynamic at a number of tables, especially the loud ones.
  10. Lives As Her Character Girl- I’m sure most people have no idea who Taraji P. Henson is and many would guess she has something to do with the Muppets.  Most people know the name “Cookie” from Empire however.  I found the fact that her acceptance speech was delivered as Cookie as opposed to Taraji quite reminiscent of the Yorkville patron who mimics the role of whatever famous actress, designer or other mogul the band wagon is hauling around at the time.

Bonus: Ben Mulroney’s post Golden Globe commentary was ridiculous.  Maybe bragging about the fact that J Lo actually stopped to talk to him makes him feel a little better about being the less popular of the two silver spoon fed sons of a former Canadian Prime Minister.

Kasa Moto sounds more like a Victor Hugo character than a fancy Yorkville destination but I’m sure many of the area’s regulars were thrilled that it brought a face lift to the namesake street after Remy’s had become so passe. This renovation  has resulted in a big, bustling and oddly laid out dining room that in some cases gives you a surprising amount of privacy in the midst of a few hundred other people, especially if you are seated on the bottom level. Although it is generally Japanese, it is less sushi (although there is a small selection) and more izakaya without the need to remove shoes or deal with happy people and an artificially  loud environment.  The menu is divided into numerous sections including hot, cold, robata, large plates and ends with the sushi/sashimi platters and maki rolls.

While perusing the menu,  I ordered  the Origami in Flight, a bourbon based cocktail finished with chartreuse and citrus.  It was respectable cocktail at a relatively acceptable price of $14.  This was followed with a carafe of one of the many sake choices available from the bar.

Origami in Flight $14

We started with some edamame $7 which was served with nanami  and hoisin sauce on the side. The hoisin sauce itself was delicious and the extra heat was a  brilliant  spin on this traditional staple.

Edamame with Hoisin $7

From the cold menu we agreed on the hamachi ponzu ($18).  The crispy carrot seemed a little odd but added a nice contrast to the fish. The quality of the hamachi itself was good and it was seasoned nicely.

Hamachi Ponzu $18

From the hot side, the kinoko salad ($13) was really only a salad because it was in a bowl. Otherwise, it was more a spin on a  mushroom tempura than anything.

Kinoko Salad $13

Robata is one of many words which describe Japanese barbeque.  The literal definition is slow-cooking using  charcoal.  From this menu, we ordered shrimp ($16) and pork belly ($12). I’m not sure if the shrimp is still on the menu but it was bland and overpriced.  The pork belly on the other hand, was nicely rendered and melted in my mouth.  It was nicely complimented with a ume glaze which added a great sweet flavour and caramelization to the dish.

The kamameshi ($18) is a rice dish mixed table side. In hindsight, it was probably the wrong dish to order since the flavours were very similar to the kinoka salad.  Regardless, I wouldn’t have been a fan even if I didn’t have the precursor.  It was a greasy bowl of overpriced mushroom rice.

Kamameshi $18

Another favorite at many Japanese drop-ins  is the hot stone as a table side cooking vessel. Normally, an advantage of this cooking style is the ability to use less expensive meats such as tongue since you can use really thin cuts.  In Yorkville style, however,  Kasa Moto glamourizes it with either a 4oz Amercian Waygu cut for $24 or 5oz of Japanese Waygu for $80. We opted for the cheaper of the two which was served with a house made ponzu and steak sauce.

I couldn’t leave without trying the sushi, so I reverted to my standard choice of spicy tuna rolls.  They were average at best and overpriced at $12.

Spicy Tuna Rolls $12

My Take

Izakaya restaurants are the rage in Toronto but have typically opened as boisterous and inexpensive destinations.  Kasa Moto is like the golden globes of these trendy eateries.  It smartly glamourizes the experience in Yorkville fashion by offering a classy decor, professional service and upgraded ingredients at a premium price.  (eg. Waygu beef instead of a cheaper cut for the hot stone).  In many cases the food was prepared nicely.  The pork belly was rendered and seasoned with brilliance and the simple twist on the edamame was divine.  On the flip side the shrimp was bland and the kamameshi was mushy and oily. Most of the menu was rather overpriced but this is to be expected in the heart of Yorkville.

In addition, if you go there is a good chance you will see one of many of the aforementioned Yorkville personalities in full action.  The BFF girls are almost a guarantee and I had the privilege of being within earshot of  “thinks he’s deeply philosophical but actually shallow guy” whose ridiculous banter was lapped up by”lives as her character girl”.

In the end, it was a decent dining experience but if you want true izakaya there are cheaper choices in the GTA that will give you food just as good. That said, a visit to Kasa Moto  will give you countless opportunities to witness the best of Yorkville personalities even if you if you only end up being  a seat filler.

Kasa Moto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Irony of Happy Hour at Lee

I’ve met a few celebrity chefs in my travels.   I ran into Lynn Crawford at a food truck festival, met Mark McEwan at a Second Harvest event and snapped a picture of Guy Fieri through the glass at Lakeview diner.  I’m not very bold in these endeavors.  I usually only approach if they are available and usually if somebody else has already asked for a picture before me.  This might explain my reluctance to Susur Lee.  First of all, he scares the hell out of me.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile  and I still remember the way he ripped apart chef Eric Wood during an episode of Chopped Canada.

I was in Toronto at staying in the King and Portland area so I decided to stroll the neighbourhood in order to grab a bite.  I was thinking Portland Variety, the new menu at Valdez or maybe a sausage at Wvrst.  The last thing on my mind was Lee but as I walked down the sidewalk I looked up and sitting on the patio of his own restaurant was Susur himself.  He was dressed in a burgundy blazer with the same stoic look I have always seen on TV.  He seemed engrossed in a business meeting with members of his staff so the last thing I wanted to do was interrupt. Instead I texted a few food geeks I knew  informing them of my discovery.  I attempted to snap a picture but  with my already horrendous camera skills it didn’t go well.

I was still undecided about where to dine until I saw a small sandwich board advertising happy hour at Lee which offered $10 cocktails and a small 1/2 price bar menu.  Sounded good to me.   I walked in and had a seat at the decent size bar.  A friendly bartender was waiting and quickly handed me a food and drink menu.   The drink menu offered 6 cocktails which had an array of spirits as a base.  I started with a burnt orange manhattan (knob hill bourbon, vermouth, grand marnier, cointreau, orange cream citrate).  It had a classic taste with a little twist. The bartender even flamed  the orange peel for extra effect. Although Knob Creek is not my favorite bourbon, it was still a great cocktail, especially for $10.

Burnt Orange Manhattan $10
Burnt Orange Manhattan $10

The half price bar snack menu consisted of 5 items so I went all in and ordered them all.  The first to arrive was the edamame hummus dip ($4) served with sesame crisps, taro root chips and pomegranate.  The silky texture was heavenly and the normal earthiness of a chickpea hummus was replaced with a fresher flavour. The punchy pomegranate seeds and taro chips were great compliments.

Edamame Hummus Dip $4
Edamame Hummus Dip $4

At this point, a buddy of mine joined me.  Shortly after, the spicy tuna tartare and black pepper tuna tataki ($6), spicy jerk chicken ($6) and cheese burger spring roll ($7) arrived.   The tartare and tataki were served on a rice cake and topped with red pepper relish.  The tuna was prepared perfectly but was blunted by the overwhelming rice cake.  The flavours were there, just disproportionate.  The cheeseburger spring egg roll was a brilliant concept, especially with the lettuce wrap and pickled vegetable.  Once again, like the tuna, the main protein was lost among the numerous other things on the plate.  The spice jerk chicken served with the tamarind glaze and chili sauce was phenomenal and easily the best dish of the night.  Moist chicken and a very crisp and aggressive seasoned coating was perfect as a stand alone but the sauces enhanced the flavour even further. It was so good we ordered another one.

Tuna Tartare Tataki $6, Jerk Chicken $6, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls $7
Tuna Tartare Tataki $6, Jerk Chicken $6, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls $7

The last dish on the bar menu was the fois gras and chicken liver pate. Served with ice syrup, ginger mango and ciabatta for $7.  It also had some housemade blueberry compote.  Although pate is rarely my preferred choice on a menu, this worked on all levels. The texture of the pate complimented with the contrasting sweet and  gingery condiments were delightful to the palate.  Ironically, I didn’t eat all the pate but the the rest of the plate didn’t stand a chance.

Fois Gras and Chicken Liver Pate $7
Fois Gras and Chicken Liver Pate $7

For a second cocktail, I ordered a Mayan Solstice, a tequila and gin based drink with chili infused lime juice, cucumber and green apple (with a little chartreuse).  This was fresh and delightful but the heat from the  chili was adequately present with every sip.  It was a great cocktail.

Mayan Solstice $10
Mayan Solstice $10

Whether it was a few cocktails or an general enjoyment of the food and atmosphere, I saw a couple across bar order Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style Slaw.  I felt that the guy from “The Source” commercial who sees his creepy neighbour dancing, looks at the speaker and says “I want that”.  This $22 salad is one of the most recognized dishes at Lee.  It’s an architectural feat, constructed with 19 ingredients.  After a detailed description. the waitress skillfully destroyed  it into something that could fit in one’s mouth.  As much as it was eye candy, it was alliterative mouth candy as well; sweet, salty, sour, spice, savory and sublime.

Susur's Signature Singaporean-style slaw $22
Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style slaw $22

My Take

I stumbled across happy hour at Lee by chance.  It started with a chance sighting of Susur itself and lead to an enjoyable meal. Although it is not your typical cinq a sept joint, the staff are welcoming and treat you as well as somebody who might be dropping a few hundreds bucks for dinner. The cocktails were above average and a great value at $10.  The bar food was a nice representation of Susur’s intense and diverse flavour profiles although I found the tuna and spring rolls  a bit  disproportionate. I’d order two jerk chicken right off the bat just to save yourself a wait. If you like pate,  Susar’s is a must.   The hummus was excellent as well.

The King and Portland area has become the epicentre for the snack food movement in Toronto and Lee has jumped on board (at least between 5 and 7 anyway). The result is a successful menu which offers a sample of Susur’s bold flavours.   Both the cocktails and food are a great value but be warned, you may be tempted to indulge in things like the signature slaw or other dishes which cross your path. In the end, although Susur didn’t look overly happy during his own happy hour, I sure did.

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