Skippa’s Dippa or No Dippa..My Amazing Race to the Most Exciting Game Since Howie Mandel Called the Bank

I’m a big game show fan and I’ve certainly fallen under the spell of many gimmicky ones over the years. In my early years, I learned how to count on the Price is Right and had many arguments with my mom about the reasons why Bob Barker shouldn’t be a father figure (and for the record mom…both my dogs are spayed or neutered). I have had dreams about destroying the Clock Game in 14 seconds ($891..892..893…894) or purposely giving up the trip to Aruba to watch the hiker slip off the edge in Cliffhanger.

My obsession didn’t stop there. I tolerated Regis Philbin on Who wants to be a Millionaire and actually wore a monochrome dress shirt and tie on at least one occasion. I longed to be a game show masochist at the expense of Anne Robinson on the Weakest Link. I even tolerated Howie Mandel’s scrubbed down stand up as he demanded that a bunch of women a third his age “open the case” on Deal or no Deal.

Since Skippa has opened, it’s been on my list but I rarely have the fortitude to haul my ass all the way up to Harbord Street. The irony is when I finally did make the trek, I severely underestimated the restaurant’s distance from the subway. For some reason I assumed it would be in the cluster of other restaurants between Spadina and Bathurst. In fact, I had no idea that Harbord stretched all the way to Ossington so I felt like I was on the Amazing Race as I darted an extra 2 km with the clock ticking in order to get there within some acceptable proximity of my reserved time.

When I made the online reservation I had the choice of communal seating (nope..I’m antisocial), the bar (would be cool but I was meeting a few others) or a comfortable booth a few steps up and away from the kitchen…bingo! When I finally arrived after my trek we were quickly greeted by a very pleasant member of the waitstaff who politely explained the restaurant’s concept. Choice one is the “Trust Skippa” which is a $130 opportunity to sample the entire menu. The option was a la carte but within that list was a $45 today’s sushi option which allows one to sample of piece of each of the evening’s featured fish. The three of us decided to go for the sushi flight and share most of the remaining dishes on the menu.

After ordering some warm sake ( one of the first examples of attention to detail was having ability to choose your own sake glass from all sorts of shapes and sizes), the meal started with an unorthodox bread service featuring a seaweed sourdough accompanied but house made butter which had been fermented for 6 months. Brilliant.

Seaweed Sourdough Bread

You will rarely near me say that pictures speak louder than words, especially given my notorious reputation as a shitty shutterbug. That said, I think these pics are half decent and that said, they don’t have to be great to emit the quality of the offerings.

The opener was a clever amberjack sashimi dish garnished with kumquat and fresh wasabi. Beautifully balanced.

Amberjack and Kumquat

Immediately after finishing, our place settings were cleaned off and reset in anticipation of the next dishes; local shitaake mushroom and daikon in a soy milk bath BC scallops served with in shell and complemented with sunchoke.

Next was a kinoko salad made with maitake mushroom and seasoned with miso and topped with watermelon radish. I found it a little on the salty side but the texture of the mushroom and the contrast of the radish made me a little less salty about it.

The quail dish was accompanied with seasonal persimmons and citrus which put together was a nice contrast to the seafood. It was intense and hearty yet delicate at the same time.

Quail with Persimmon

Once again the dishes were cleared in preparation for the sushi course. Fresh ginger and a beautiful soy sauce were laid on the table but were instructed that the chef would indicate whether it was needed. To dip or not to dip?..that was the question. We waiting in anticipation for direction as each dish was presented:

Retrospectively, there was a bit of a code to the dip or no dip question. The tuna sushi tended to be left alone as as the whitefish that were already seasoned with other sauces. The rest were fair game for a soy dunk. Regardless, all were stellar. Nonetheless, it was a fun game with an anticipation reminiscent of finding out if somebody blew it on Deal or no Deal.

Given the quality the meal, there was no way I was declining dessert. I went with the oba, a simple yogurt based dessert flavored with meyer lemon, sorrel and pomegranate seed atop some crumble. The balance of tart, savory and sweet flavours was perfect but the contrasting textures and temperatures of the creamy yogurt, iced sorrel and crunchy base were even better. In fact, after finding some meyer lemons at Costco the next day, I’ve been searching the city (to no avail) for sorrel in an effort to recreate this dish at home…I may have to use mint or upland cress instead #firstworldproblems.

My Take

Skippa provided a spectacular dining experience and the “Dip or No Dip” game show was an added bonus. From the salads to the dessert, each dish was meticulously thought out and hinged on brilliant contrast in either temperature, texture or taste. The sushi was fresh and vibrant. The service was impeccable and the attention to detail was immaculate. Personally, I don’t think you need the whole $130 “Trust Skippa” menu..I was adequately satiated with the sushi flight and sharing the rest of the dishes with my table mates. Even then, compared to many other sushi joints, Skippa may be big bucks but I promise…no whammies.

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

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”?’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

Playing Hooky at Japango

When I’m at a week long conference, I take the opportunity to skip out for lunch.  I mean, the daily monotony of chafing dish chicken masked with corn and called Mexican or olives and called Greek gets a bit much.  The icing on the cake is when the next day’s soup looks surprisingly like what was on the buffet table the day before. So, when a colleague suggested we play hooky, I jumped on the opportunity to head out of the hotel for a quick bite.

I hadn’t been here for about 10 years.  The last time I went the team I was on had the whole restaurant booked (which isn’t hard to do since the place only holds 20 people or so). I remember my manager, who is one of the whitest people I have ever met (he was kindly referred to as a bag of milk at the beach once), telling us all to meet at “Jap ‘n Go” at 630 for dinner.  Since then, I haven’t had a chance to get back.  This time, we didn’t have a reservation but arrived before noon so we were able to get promptly squeezed into the corner.

The service was quick.  We ordered a mish-mash of sashimi and sushi rolls.  First to arrive was the typical bowl of miso soup.

Miso Soup
                                                                            Miso Soup

Next to arrive was the famous Japango roll ($13) and crunchy spicy tuna roll ($9).  The former signature roll is a California roll with torched salmon and scallop on top.  The fish was noticeably fresh and the mix of sweet and heat plus the slight char of the delicate scallop and fat of the salmon was a delightful mouthful.  The crunchy roll exuded the same freshness but the heat was a little lacking.

Japango Roll ($13) and Crunchy Spicy Tuna Roll ($9)
                                             Japango Roll ($13) and Crunchy Spicy Tuna Roll ($9)

The sashimi 2 platter ($25) arrived shortly after served with a bowl of rice.  It was a diverse mix of the standards including salmon and tuna and some pleasant surprises including some sort of seared whitefish (I’m not going to pretend I know but it had the taste and texture of halibut . Once again, the freshness was evident and the presentation was simple but impressive, although it was a little tight at the table.

Sashimi 2 $25
                                  Sashimi 2 $25

The final arrival was the dragon roll ($12) which is shrimp topped with eel and avocado. Once again, fresh was the word. The avocado was nicely ripened and the eel was umamic bliss.

Dragon Roll $12
                                Dragon Roll $12

My Take

Japango has all the makings of a great hooky destination.  You can sneak in between class, have a decent lunch and get back in less than 45 minutes.  While there, you are treated to fresh sushi with friendly and efficient service in small, modest quarters all at a price that I would deem “reasonable”.  When I mentioned “hooky” to my daughter, she shook her head and told me to “urban dictionary it fam”. I answered I use urbanspoon, not urban dictionary.  She rolled her eyes.  I guess in her eyes I’m as lame as someone who calls it “Jap ‘n Go”. At least we both like sushi.

Japango on Urbanspoon

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:Cabbagetown:Kingyo Izakaya

Kingyo is like a vacation hotspot I never seem to get to.  I see pictures of happy people eating pretty food without a care in the world plastered all over twitter.  At the same time, I’m cordially invited to the join the party and indulge in the daily specials with the fun employees.  I never seem to make it however. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m in town on business by myself and know I wouldn’t scratch the surface of the menu or I just didn’t want to head east all the way  to Cabbagetown.

There is a time, however, when you have to ignore the temptation to choose another destination and just book the trip. So I picked up the phone and made a reservation for a friend and I.   I announced my intention on twitter and received a resounding Yay! in return. All was set. I even  pondered taking an Advil in anticipation of a noise level similar that of Guu or other Izakayas across town.

I haven’t walked much past Jarvis for a while.  In fact, I think the last time I strolled down Parliament was when I used to carry groceries back from No Frills while living at Bloor and Jarvis in 1997. I’m not sure much has changed since then…except Kingyo of course. Upon arrival, we swung open the door and entered the oasis, a Japanese eatery carved out of an old brick building.   It was buzzing but not overly loud with the main noise coming from a large birthday party.  We were offered a choice of a table or the sushi counter facing the kitchen.  We chose the latter and our choice was sung out in glee by the waitstaff. A pleasant woman arrived quickly and produced a business card, introducing herself as Akiho.  I guess you could call her our travel agent for the evening.

Here are a couple of things to note about Izakayas:

1.  The menus are enormous.  There’s tofu, seafood, pork, beef, chicken, shellfish,  spicy, salty, sour, rice, noodles, raw, cooked or raw and cooked. It’s like trying to choose between puffin watching, bike riding or a wine tour.

2.  In many cases, you have to trust the waitstaff.  That said, there will probably be one thing you get that you didn’t order.  Call it fate…just smile, nod and eat it. It’s sort of like a foreign  tour guide…you don’t always understand what they say, but in the end it’s usually an enjoyable experience.

3.  Don’t be alarmed by excessive happiness or singing.  You are not on Just for Laughs, in a broadway musical or expected to join a flash mob to Styx’s Mr. Roboto. It’s part of the experience…like salsa dancing on the deck of a cruise ship.

So, after examining the menu like we were studying for an SAT, the ordering began…

I love yuzu and a good gin and tonic.  The three together were an automatic choice for a starting cocktail.  It was presented without bells and whistles like umbrellas or lotus flowers.  I sucked it back pretty quick, a testament  to a good drink. Not a bad price either.

Kingyo Gin and Tonic $8
Kingyo Gin and Tonic $8

The first dish was tako wasabi, It was served beautifully on a stone plate with seaweed paper and a wooden well that Tinkerbell makes wishes in.  If you don’t like wasabi, don’t order this.  I’m not sure if the request for half cooked and half raw octopus was heard because it seemed all  raw but it didn’t matter.  It was a delicious dish.

Tako Wasabi $4.20
Tako Wasabi $4.20

I can’t turn down pickles…or pickels as it was spelled on the menu.  Regardless, the pickles were presented nicely. A cute trio of onion, daikon radish and squash were presented in three distinct ways. Although each may not appeal to everybody, it was like a buffet in which at least one would appease any palate.

Tsukemono Pickels Assortment $6.80
Tsukemono Pickels Assortment $6.80

Since there were only two of us, the 3 kind assortment of sashimi made the most sense.  I have seen the phenomenal presentation of the sashimi on other food reviews, so I was looking forward to a little visual magic.  The plain, white bowl was a bit disappointing (it was like seeing a great hotel on their website only to find the real room a little drab).  Maybe it was because I cheaped out and only ordered the three kind as apposed to 5 or 7.  Although pricy, the sashimi, was delicious. a mix of delicacies stretching the pacific from BC to Hawaii to Japan.

Sashimi- 3 Kind Assortment 25.00
Sashimi- 3 Kind Assortment

Next was the red tuna & black tiger prawn avocado tartar.  It tasted exactly how it sounded.  The sweet house sauce was a great touch, adding an unorthodox dimension to a normally rich and buttery dish.  There was a substantial amount of tartar for the 4 garlic crisps..maybe a few rice crackers or other mediums of transfer would have been a practical touch.

Red tuna & Black tiger prawn avocado tartar $10.80
Red tuna & Black tiger prawn avocado tartar $10.80

When it came to the meat,  I was intrigued by the stone grilled beef tongue because it required me to cook it myself.  Served with lemon, a hot sauce and and a savory oil, it requires you to slap some raw tongue on a hot stone and listen to the sizzle. The whole cooking process took less than 30 seconds (see below for my simple three step instructional).  It was fun and delicious and each of the condiments added a contrasting sensory dimension to the salty meat.

Stone Grilled Beef Tongue $10.20
Stone Grilled Beef Tongue $10.20- Step 1

Stone Grilled Beef Tongue- Part 2
Stone Grilled Beef Tongue- Part 2

Stone Grilled Beef Tongue- Done!
Stone Grilled Beef Tongue- Part 3

For those who like sizzle but not a little tongue, the stone bowl seafood sea urchin don is a smart choice. served with an array of seafood including prawn, squid, scallop and salmon roe.  After presenting the attractive dish, the waitress mixed it for us as it sizzled against the bowl. The suggestion was to let it sit for a while so the rice could caramelize a bit.  In the end, it’s a decent dish with a variety of texture and tastes, although with the ingredients, I expected a bit more of a pop.

Stone Bowl Seafood Sea Urchin Don $13.80
Stone Bowl Seafood Sea Urchin Don $13.80

Stone Bowl Seafood Sea Urchin Don- Mixed
Stone Bowl Seafood Sea Urchin Don- Mixed

By this time I needed another drink so I ordered the signature gold fish cocktail. I enjoyed it…refreshing with a bit of a kick.  As with the yuzu gin and tonic, I do appreciate $8 cocktails in this world of the numerous double digit offerings by other establishments.

Goldfish Cocktail $8
Goldfish Cocktail $8

The last dish was the Spicy Chopped Tuna Mango Roll.  It’s inevitable that I order a spicy tuna roll every time I visit a place that offers sushi.  Based on the rest of the menu, I wasn’t surprised to see that these rolls had a twist.  The spice was moderate and tuna was roughly chopped to protect it’s delicate texture and taste, The tobiko was a appropriate, salty touch.   The mango was fresh, bright and sweet but a bit overwhelming against the rest of the roll.

Spicy Chopped Tuna Mango Roll $9.80
Spicy Chopped Tuna Mango Roll $9.80

Japanese restaurants and good dessert can rarely be mentioned  in the same sentence. but not all offer “famous” almond tofu.  Touched with a cap of jasmine syrup and a belt of  tart berry sauce, it had a silky texture and great flavour balance. The key was digging down to the bottom to experience all the complementing flavours in one bite.

2 Color Almond Tofu $5.80
2 Color Almond Tofu $5.80

The final touch was a couple of frozen grapes hidden among yellow flowers in a tiny vase.  Perhaps picked by Tinkerbell or Pollyanna, they were a final reminder of the attention to detail and artistic flare that Kingyo prides themselves on.

Thank you grapes
Thank you grapes

My Take

The izakaya movement has hit Toronto, leading to a plethora of interpretations.  Some have taken the boisterous, karaoke route and others have chosen to go down the route of creating dishes that look straight from travel brochures.  Kingyo opted for the latter and attempted to create an oasis in an otherwise rustic and some would argue rundown and eccentric part of Toronto. Akiho brought us on a tour of wishing wells, hot rocks and bright flowers (although she did disappear for a bit).    In a world of all you can eat sushi menus similar to  all inclusive vacations, Kingyo offers a unique experience filled with good times, fun scenery and good food with enough variety to please meat eaters, pescatarians, vegans and the gluten intolerant alike. Plus, if you’re lucky, you may get serenaded by the wait/kitchen staff or actually spot a fairy hiding behind a mushroom or casting magic wishes in a tiny wooden well.

Kingyo Izakaya on Urbanspoon


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.

Tojo's Sablefish
Tojo’s Sablefish


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.

Sashimi Platter
Sashimi Platter

Sushi Platter
Sushi Platter


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.

Tempura Vegetables
Tempura Vegetables

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.

My Take

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 often can you say you spoke to a man who cooked for Martha Stewart AND invented the California roll.

Mulling Moment- Please Comment!


Tojo's on Urbanspoon