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Here’s how much it actually costs to make the mackerel sunomono at Sakai Bar

By Corey Mintz| Photography by Corey Mintz
Here's how much it actually costs to make the mackerel sunomono at Sakai Bar

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In just over a year, Sakai Bar has established itself as a standout of Toronto’s Japanese dining scene. It’s a snug showroom for owner Stuart Sakai’s ornately composed dishes—brimming with flavour but never showy, and subdued in their use of salt, sugar or fat. The $12 mackerel sunomono perfectly captures the essence of the restaurant’s Japanese country house cuisine: a cucumber salad underpinned by heirloom tomato dashi and slices of pickled mackerel. “We want to make good food,” Sakai says, “and sometimes good food isn’t cost effective.”

Ingredients: $3.42. Brined, dry-aged Atlantic blue mackerel ($1) accounts for less than a third of the total ingredient cost. The biggest line item ($1.25) is the tomato dashi, an essential stock made with quality katsuobushi (dried and smoked skipjack), kombu (dried kelp) and low-yield tomato water, extracted from heirloom Sakura tomatoes ($0.25). “Dashi is the foundation of Japanese cuisine,” owner Stuart Sakai says. The cucumber adds another $0.25, the seaweed another $0.30, and garden-grown shiso and seasonings another $0.10 each.

Labour: $5.22. One of Sakai’s frustrations with Japanese restaurants in Toronto is the prevalence of students employed on travel visas, which leads to higher-than-usual turnover, and limits the development of cooking talent. It forces Sakai to invest more time hiring and training new staff on the finer points of Japanese cuisine and sake—a source of lost time and revenue.

Overhead: $2.37. Tableware, all from Japan, is either antique, family heirloom or vintage. The glassware is all vintage, too—and regularly stolen. Menus are made of handmade Japanese paper. Napkins and other linens need to be washed every week. Expensive scented candles for the bathrooms and floral arrangements all add up. “When you want to make a place special, it costs more.”

Profit: $0.99: “If you’re making a lot of money on food it’s because you have a system in place and you’ve taken the soul out of it,” Sakai says. “It’s like a mathematical equation. And if you’re spending all that time on the math, then something else might be missing.”

Sakai Bar, 1576 Dundas St. W., instagram.com/sakaibarto

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