A Case of Deja Yuzu Involving Sake and Slot Machines

I was in the mood for sushi so I opened up my Zomato app in downtown Toronto. Not surprisingly, a 100 places popped up (including a place I think was called 100 sushi). I was quickly grouping them into a number of categories:

  1. Cheap, no frills places where a California roll runs you $4 and you’re lucky if you find anything fancier than a dynamite roll on the menu.
  2. All you can eat joints where quantity usually beats quality for at least $25.
  3. Omakase, where you hope the chef gives you all you can eat for a good chunk of change.
  4. Moderately priced destinations boasting nice decors, signature rolls and even some uni if it’s in season.
  5. Places were sushi is an afterthought among a number of other bite size delights such as izakaya.
  6. Super expensive (ie. access to expense account, trying to impressive your friends or hoping to get laid) locales.

Before becoming zomato, urbanspoon used to have an app which looked like a slot machine.  You’d identify an area, type of food and price range and voila…it would spit out an option.  It was a brainless and chancy endevour but I kind of miss it, especially considering it now required me to actually ponder my options.

I quickly omitted option one since I have an expense report and my son, whose sushi diet consists solely of California rolls, wasn’t with me.  I also omitted six because my expense account isn’t that big, I was alone and not looking to hook up. Two was off the table because it’s January and my Christmas girth was telling me all you can eat was not on option.  Three would take too long and when your primary objective is sushi five just doesn’t cut it.  This left option three which I further narrowed down to Yuzunohana, the relative longstanding Adelaide street favorite.

At first the service was steallar. It was a chilly and I was quickly offered some green tea as I was seated at the sushi counter.  As I peered over the menu, I was offered a spinach amuse  bouche which was quite fresh and delicate.  I decided on a few of the chef’s sashimi choices including King Salmon and an order of uni.  Both came quickly and were ridiculously fresh and beautifully presented.  I was reminded once again why uni is one of the most unique foods around.  It was silky and naughty.

I also went with my sushi standards; miso soup, gyoza and spicy tuna rolls along with their house specialty yuzu roll . The dumplings were some of the best I’ve had in Toronto. The miso was spot on as well.  The rolls were acceptable but average.  I was a bit disappointed about both the taste and appearance of the spicy rolls.  The yuzu rolls (which was topped with torched salmon and scallop) were nicely presented but were overly sweet for my liking.  With my tea long gone  and my dishes empty, I did need to wait a bit for the bill which seemed to correspond with the surge of online orders from  uber eats, foodie, hurrier and whatever other food delivery services that might exist.  The ground zero of assembly was right beside me and the paper bags were flying out the door as  I was ignored just a little bit.

My Take

As I was sitting there, I had a little deja yuzu.  I’m not sure how long Yuzu No Hana has been around, but I swear I went here with a buddy in the 90s. Throughout the night I felt like the Flash or another tv character who has frequent recollections of past events. I recall we were smashed and decided we were going to drop in for a quick sake. I remember being told that they weren’t a bar and that we needed to get food in order to have a drink.

Although I wasn’t overly thrilled by the sushi rolls the gyoza, sashimi and miso soup were excellent. All in all I enjoyed the experience and it met the aforementioned criteria for a mid-range sushi joint even without the help of the urbanspoon slot machine.

Yuzu No Hana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Attempting Piquant Progress after Last Year’s Spectacular State Bird Seance

I had the chance to get back to San Francisco in May for a wedding (yes I realize it’s July but other duties called) and one of my targets was the progress, the newish spin-off of the highly successful and quite enjoyable State Bird Provisions.  I went there last year and it was easily one of the best restaurants I went to in 2014.  The progress boasts a choose your own adventure 6 course family style meal for $65.  Keep in mind that the table needs to agree on six dishes which may prove to be a very daunting task depending on your table mates.  On this night I was meeting two people I had never met, so in essence it was a blind date minus the romance.  I had no idea what they liked to eat, what aversions they had and what their culinary hot buttons were.

It turns out these two were rather laid back and choosing the menu was really not that difficult. One was rather naive to the nuances of the foodie code (ie. ramps are another word for cool onions) while the other was driven by a value proposition which made her gravitate to ordering the perceived most expensive dishes on the menu.  I had no issues with this at all. So, after a deliberation much faster than the OJ jury, we chose our six dishes  and waited with anticipation. While waiting, I noticed the decor and buzz was less chaotic than its sister restaurant.  The service was more traditional meaning there wasn’t an army of cooks and chefs offering you a bite at every turn. It still had a high hipster factor, driven by both the staff and the patrons sitting at the bar and  around the tables.

The first offering with a complimentary amuse bouche which featured seven snacks including zucchini blossoms, sauced-up radishes, broad beans, fried mussels, a twist on chips and dips, spicy citrus and some jerky in the middle.  It was a pleasant start and opinions as to what was the best was all over the board,  Personally, I enjoyed the jerky and the citrus.

Amuse Bouche
Amuse Bouche

One of my choices was the salad of wild king salmon with basil-marinated zucchini.  The main reason was my vivid memory of a king salmon dish I had from State Bird the year before.  At this point it was evident that the menu description only offered a fraction of the secrets each dish held.  There were salty, crunchy and creamy tastes and textures immersed in the aforementioned listed stars of the dish.

Salmon
salad of wild king salmon with basil-marinated zucchini

Next were the razor clams on the plancha with kimchi piccata.  Other than sounding like a Jimmy Buffet tune, it was served with the very foodie friendly watermelon radish.  The star of the plate was a little less than spectacular but in the end the dish was pretty good.

Razor Clams
razor clams on the plancha with kimchi piccata

Third was a treasure chest of fermented sausage, trout quenelles and sweet onion-rice dumpling in a creamy pork broth.  I loved the absolute confusion of this dish. They pretty much took every food fetish I have and threw it into a bowl.  I’ll eat anything fermented, any sausage, any dumpling and any broth…especially if it is poured in front of me.  I’ll admit I was a little perplexed but it was like a buffet in a bowl in a blissful foodie dream.

Next was more sausage and seafood; this time lamb merguez (I conceded this dish given my distaste of lamb) with yellow eye beans, octopus and crispy squid.  As expected, it wasn’t my favorite dish. Despite the crispiness of the squid, it wasn’t as texturally balanced as the other dishes.  The octopus was just ok.

Lamb and Octopus
lamb merguez with yellow eye beans, octopus and crispy squid

I was probably most excited about the maitake, tofu and bok choy stir fry with smoked black cod ponzu. I love mushrooms, smoked food  and black cod and my bliss was amplified when it was presented covered in one of my favorite morsels…sweet peas. I was a little disappointed since the cod ironically lost that beautiful texture through the smoking process.  It was a little too salty as well.

Black Cod
maitake, tofu and bok choy stir fry with smoked black cod ponzu

The final dish (we decided against dessert) was the aromatic spiced squab with salted chili paste.  Once again, the dish presented with a bit of a surprise when it was evident it was meant to be eaten like a cross between a lettuce wrap and a tequila shot. It only came with two legs (complete with the claws) for three people but there wasn’t  a huge fight over who got them.  The quail itself was cooked nicely and they were fun to assemble but the overall flavour was pretty average.

progress quail
aromatic spiced squab with salted chili paste.

My Take

There is always a danger when it come to a spin-off or sequel , especially when the first effort is so good. The list of sophomore flops is endless; take Three’s a Crowd, Flo and Joanie loves Chachi for example. In the case of State Bird Provisions, there were high expectations when it came to its neighbour and sister restaurant, the Progress. Some of the dishes lived up to the State Bird name while others missed the mark.  The progress’ offering of the salad of king salmon and the treasure chest were amazing whereas the lamb/octopus and the cod, although good, missed the high bar set by its predecessor. So, the Progress is in no way the X-Files’ ridiculous spin-off  the Lone Gunman.  Instead, I see it more as Breaking Bad’s slightly more than mediocre Better Call Saul.

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