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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Review:Toronto:Entertainment District:JaBistro

Sushi is one of the more polar cuisines in Toronto.  One can opt for one of the hundreds of cheapish hole in the wall places which line the streets or Toronto or splurge on a handful of the more luxurious and expensive spots which are becoming more prevelant especially within the highly competitive downtown scene.

JaBistro has a mysterious store front highlighted by blackened windows and a picture of “An-Chan the footballfish” greeting you at the door. I wasn’t surprised to open it and find a pristine and well decorated sushi bar…brightly lit and accented with modern wooden panels. As expected, there is bar seating and a slew of tables lined up along the long but narrow confines.  A little less expected was the hostess, who was warm and friendly and had a strong resemblance to Gwen Stefani. We were seated along the wall and  quickly greeted by our waiter who startled me a bit as he appeared out of nowhere about an inch from my face.  He provided a very nice explanation of the types of sake available which ranged from junmai to junmai ginjo to junmai daijingo (which reflect the degree the rice is polished resulting in different flavors and cleanliness).  Since I was just finishing a conversation about scotch, the ryozeki yamahai ($36 for 10 oz), described as having a smoky flavour seemed the most appropriate.

I was told in advance to go for the tasting menu.  With 24 hrs notice, they will set you up with some of the best sashimi and sushi they have to offer and were more than happy to accomodate the garlic and onion restriction of my guest. Four courses are offered for $77 which left me thinking this better be hella good.

Course one was an array of sashimi.  Tuna cuts such as belly, roe,  Japanese octopus, sweet shrimp, urchin and sea bream graced the plate.  The sashimi was of excellent quality and variety and the presentation was extraordinary. Both a traditional and housemade soy sauce was offered, the latter a sweet escape from the traditional tang and saltiness of regular sauces.

First Course- Sashimi
First Course- Sashimi

Course one and a half was a lobster miso soup, complete with a large claw.  The addition of a hunk of lobster meat is never a bad thing so it was rather delicious.  The broth itself was delicate like spiderwebs, lacking the intense saltiness characteristic and fermented taste of the more generic soups served at other places.  That said, some might argue that underneath it all the broth lacked the expected intensity resulting in something more bland than complex.

Lobster Miso Soup
Lobster Miso Soup

Course two was a fried hamachi cheek coupled with strips of tender angus beef.  The cheek was an adventure, offering everything from crispy skin (although a bit crispier would have been better)  to tender meat nestled between the jawbone.   The beef was yummy, cooked to a perfect medium rare and seasoned nicely. The fact the two were served together was rather appealing as the contrasting tastes and textures made for an enjoyable course.

Course 2- Hamachi Cheek  and Angus Beef
Course 2- Hamachi Cheek and Angus Beef

My interm review was  “So far, so pleased”. The third course was a quintet of regular and blowtorched sushi  including the one of the signature JaBistrolls.   Personally, I would have enjoyed a few more rolls instead of the sushi but that said, like the sashimi, it was fresh and delicious.

Thrid Course- Sushi Platter
Third Course- Sushi Platter

The fourth course was dessert. .  My one criticism of Japanese cuisine is the lacklustre desserts, so  I was quite excited to experience the pastry chef’s daily choice, hoping for more than a couple of frozen grapes or an orange slice. A duo of vanilla ice cream (complete with corn flakes) and a panna cotta type dessert were offered, both odd choices for an early winter night. Sigh.  Neither was memorable.  In fact, my colleague did not even finish the panna cotta, citing an off taste she wasn’t fond of.

Course 4- Dessert
Course 4- Dessert

My Take

JaBistro entered the higher end sushi market a year ago to no doubt throw come competition at the likes of Blowfish and Ki.  It has had a chance to settle down and become competitive.  It offers a bright, clean and non-pretentious envioronment (although I had to chuckle when the guy beside me asked for soy sauce for one of the dishes and the waiter tried to politely tell him the dish was good the way it was).  The sashimi  and sushi was fresh and the variety was exciting.  The hamachi cheek/angus beef combination was ingenous.  Don’t speak of the dessert however. The service was prompt and courteous and the meal flowed well.  The biggest question is whether the whole experience was worth the $77. When you add the 10 oz sake and a couple of $4 green teas, it’s a hefty bill.  For that price, I’m hope at least Gwen would at least show up with the Harajuku girls.

JaBistro on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Baldwin Village:Yakitori Bar

A fedora and a pink cardigan.  That’s how owner Sang Kim is depicted on the website and that’s exactly how he appears in person as he stands behind the bar as music fills the air at the boisterous Yakitori bar in Baldwin village. I half expected to see a karaoke machine and wouldn’t have  surprised if Mr. Kim himself were first up with  a stunning rendition of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start the Fire” or “Mr. Roboto” by Styx .

Yakitori is a fusion of the izakaya and pop-up restaurant concepts taking Toronto by storm.  The drink menu includes 10 or so types of sake, some of which are also offered in a number of cocktails. I opted for a jubilee (sake/gin/muddled berries).  It’s nice to see a well conceived and tasty drink for less than $8 which can rival cocktails up to twice the price in other places.   There are a few beer on tap and some wine choices as well.

Jubilee Cocktail ($7.96)
Jubilee Cocktail ($7.96)

As for the food, the menu is presented in the format of a  Bad Boy furniture ad.  Daily specials and notifications of kimchi battles are plastered throughout the one pager.  As for content, the mainstays are bbq meats typical of the yakitori concept with a few korean infusions including bibimbap,  kimchi and mundoo.

Must

I skirted over the fact that the cheeseburger came with soup and salad and was pleasantly surprised to see a bowl of pumpkin carrot soup arrive.  It was presented at “perfect soup temperature”*. Despite the main ingredients, the soup was not over sweet, was seasoned beautifully and managed to keep the integrity of the fresh ingredients through both texture and taste.

*- Perfect soup temperature is defined as not mouth-burning yet hot enough to endure the time it takes to consume the last bite.

Pumpkin soup (served with cheeseburger)
Pumpkin soup (served with cheeseburger)

The  kimchi flight (see picture below) features 3 generations of kimchi (1 day, 2 weeks and 3 months old)  appeared to be a bit of a gimmick until you tried it.  Like a grandfather, father and son, each had similarities yet definite differences in taste.  The elder kimchi’s flavour  was smoky and full.  The middle offering had a modest bite but was still juicy and ripe.  The youngin’  was fresh and crispy yet still intense.  Despite the small quantities, the taste intensity made it next to impossible to finish all three even despite  my attempt to scatter it among my other dishes.

Maybe

In a city where burger shops seem to outnumber Starbucks, this mainstay needs something to stand out. Yakatori’s attempt is bulgogi (Korean beef)  served on a fresh roll and topped with a bit of caramelized kimchi and the more traditional, as far as burger’s go,  lettuce, tomato and cheese.   It wouldn’t rank among the best burgers in Toronto but it’s a solid sandwich.  The accompanying salad was pleasant although the dressing was a little flat.  A little more acid might have helped.

Kimchi Flight ($3.95) and Bulgogi Cheeseburger ($9.95)
Kimchi Flight ($3.95) and Bulgogi Cheeseburger ($9.95)

The BBQ eel off the grill was a nice few bites. It was moist and covered with a sweet sauce that nicely complemented the powerful taste of the eel.  I found it a little pricy at $6.25 but for a solo diner the quantity was sufficient.   Throw this in front of a group however, and the next thing you know singing battles to Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” may settle who gets the last piece.

BBQ Eel ($6.25)
BBQ Eel ($6.25)

My Take

 I like the vibe of Yakitori bar.  It maintains the ethnic flare of Baldwin village but not at the expense of drab and downtrodden decor.  It is fresh and clean and the food is fun. Although I went at down time, I imagine the night crowd can bring some energy without the need for half-naked wasabi fights or singing line cooks.   There is a variety of snacks that will appeal to most palates. There’s even some decent choices for vegetarians and gluten free eaters.  Cheapish cocktails, choices for the peckish and starving alike and kimchi older than Psy’s shelf life makes Yakatori a place with staying power….which may be more than I can say about a pink cardigan. Gun Bae, Mr. Kim!

Yakitori Bar and Seoul Food Co. on Urbanspoon