As you all know, I am from Canada and a few times a year I come home for a few weeks to visit friends and family. Usually my visit to Canada consists of me being whisked off to Brantford straight from the airport, where I spent a blissful week in my childhood home stuffing my face with my mom’s homemade noodle soup. My recent visit up North a few weeks ago was a little different because this time we came back for our good friends Ahmed and Jihan’s wedding (Yay, SUPER happy for them!) and we stayed in Toronto for 3 days. The longer stay in the city was the perfect opportunity to try all the food Toronto has to offer. Here are highlights of the food we ate:
Omakase – Let me start off by explaining my obsession with omakase (chef’s choice). After trying the sushi at Sushi Dai, a small restaurant in the middle of the bustling Tsukiji fish market on my trip to Tokyo, my life changed (at least when it comes to eating raw fish). Their omakase consisted of 9 pieces of freshly caught fish, finely cut, placed on top of warm rice, and lightly marinated with soy. Everything was so fresh that the surf clam was still wriggling around. The food was so amazing, it was even worth the pain of waiting 4 hours in line for it at the crack of dawn.
When I came back to New York, I was dying to recreate the experience, and searched for a restaurant that served omakase around the city. Most places I found were expensive, charging about $100 for 8-10 pieces compared to the 40 dollar price tag we paid in Tokyo. What was worst, was that the quality of sushi was not even good. Is it too much to ask for a great omakase that doesn’t break the bank? Just when I was starting to despair, I heard about Yasu Sushi in Toronto.
Even though Yasu is new to the Toronto restaurant scene, it has quickly risen to be a contender for one of the best sushi places in town. Yasu is a small minimalistic restaurant with 12 seats surrounding the sushi bar, they only accept reservations and will not take walk-ins. Their omakase menu which consists of 17 pieces of sushi, a hand-roll, and dessert is a great deal for $80. The fish served at Yasu is imported from all over the world and varies from day-to-day depending on seasonality and availability. Because of their popularity, my sister had to book a month in advance to ensure that we had seats on a Saturday night.
Sitting at the bar is like having front row seats at the theater where we got to watch the chef perform his deftly orchestrated routine. Chef Tsuyoshi is playful as he expertly works the knife slicing the fish into perfectly proportioned pieces. Each piece of nigiri is made in a practiced movement with one hand gracefully forming a ball of sushi rice, that is then placed on top of the ingredient and pressed down in continuous motion to ensure the fish sticks on to the rice. Once done, each piece is lightly brushed with soy to enhanced the unami flavor and lovingly put in front of each diner. That night we tried many exotic fish ranging from scorpion fish to sea bream to amberjack, but my absolute favorite was the torched fluke fin. We left at the end of the night sated, but eager to come back.
Kensington Market – It was a cool morning, and a good time to walk around Kensington market. This vibrant, multicultural neighborhood is filled with restaurants, cafes, unique one-off boutiques, and outdoor markets. The eclectic store fronts have a hipster vibe that’s reminiscent of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. For lunch, we went to the popular Seven Lives taqueria. The line was out the door and inside was standing room only. We were told that the line was actually short compared to the pandemonium on other weekends.
We ordered the fried baja, blackened mahi mahi, daily fish special, and a ceviche for 2 people to share. The perfect sized fresh flour tortilla was filled to the rim with fish and topped off with pickled cabbage and guacamole that struck a nice balance. If so inclined, you can also add the pico de gallo on top, but be warned, their hot sauce really will burn off your taste buds. The cooked to order, nicely marinated fish taco did not disappoint. Each taco was about 5 dollars and the ceviche was 7 dollars, so overall, great lunch for two that cost around 25 dollars.
Dim Sum – Usually when my whole family gets together on the weekend, we will go for dim sum – the brunch equivalent for Asians. This time, Jenn and Darrin took us to Pearl Harbourfront, a modern upscale Chinese restaurant in Queens Quay Terminal with a great view of the lake. With minimal wait, our family of seven was seated on the lower level by the window with a direct view of the harbor.
It was a late lunch and we were all starving by the time we sat down. We tried to flag down the dim sum trolley making its way around the restaurant slowly to no avail. Finally, we gave in and just ordered the dim sum directly from the menu. This was not a bad way to go because the orders come out hot and fresh from the kitchen. The dim sum offering is standard, the ingredients are slightly better quality, and the food is not as greasy and filled with MSG as what you would find in Chinatown. Like every other time when our family gets together, we over-ordered and ended up quite stuffed at the end. It was a decent meal but not particularly exceptional or memorable.
Meat Pie – We were wandering the downtown Toronto streets late at night for Nuit Blanche, feeling cold and hungry. Luckily, there were a lot of food trucks conveniently parked nearby tempting the late night diners. The one that caught our eye was Kanga, an export from Down Under, bringing Aussie meat pies to their brothers up North. When it’s cold outside, a piping hot meat pie really hits the spot. The meat fillings were rich and moist, encased in a flaky buttery pastry. For vegetarians, their zucchini pie also got rave reviews.
The Toronto food scene is diverse and reflects the cultural mosaic of the city. Even though I miss my mom’s homemade food (Jenn did whip up a delicious bowl of hand-made wonton soup on the last day), I am glad we got a chance to stay in the city longer and try a few of the restaurants. In Toronto there are always new restaurants popping up, changing the culinary landscape of the city. I can’t wait to come back again and continue to add to this ‘Eating in Toronto’ series. Comment and let us know if there are any local favorites that you would recommend for future trips.