Just Opened: we review Sushi Couture, Niwatei and Bar Salumi

Just Opened: we review Sushi Couture, Niwatei and Bar Salumi

A new sushi king on Bloor, carb-loading in Markham and Parkdale’s chicest snack spot

Sushi Couture
456 Bloor St. W., 416-538-8618

Ken Zhang has been a sushi star going on a decade now, thanks to his time at Japango across from city hall, where he served some of the hardest-to-find fish in town. Now on his own, his cut fish and rolls at Couture are still excellent. His couture roll—rice and avocado wrapped in nori, topped with salmon and a scallop slice and flash-toasted with a blowtorch—is given a boost with scallion and roe. (But don’t order the o‑toro, a.k.a. bluefin tuna—it’s severely threatened, the marine equivalent of eating baby panda.) Zhang’s hot dishes, however, sometimes miss the mark. The $70 oma­kase option here is just $10 less than Sushi Kaji’s basic oma­kase and doesn’t begin to approach the master’s orbit. A soup of buttery shell clams, for instance, should be beautiful given its ingredients of sake, butter, yuzu zest and soy, but there’s far too much soy, so it’s too salty for more than a few sips. Roast duck salad brings cold, chewy slices as pallid as Lloyd Robertson’s wattle over mesclun mix that has started to brown. The tempura aji is exceptional, chopped and mixed with scallions, folded into a shiso leaf and quickly fried: the taste is creamy and full, balanced out with the sharp onions, the soapy leaf and crunchy shell. Unlicensed. Mains $19–$26.

3160 Steeles Ave. E., Markham, 905-513-6492

Less than six months after opening in J‑Town, Markham’s Japanese shopping centre, this cheerful ramen spot has acquired a cult following. The young kitchen, staffed by a gang of cooks who barely look to be drinking age, turns out simple, classic noodle soup—hearty, comforting winter fare, even if it doesn’t quite merit all the on-line buzz. The tonkatsu shio brings a massive bowl of salty pork bone broth that’s properly white from emulsified fat, a heap of springy alkaline noodles (flown in, frozen, from Japan), a red-and-white-swirled slice of fish cake, seared chasu (pork butt), pickled ginger and half a soft-cooked egg. The soup could use more depth and half as much salt, and the demurely lean chasu will never draw ecstatic groans the way the great stuff can, but it’s fast, filling and less than $10 a bowl. Unlicensed. Closed Monday.

Bar Salumi
1704 Queen St. W., 416-588-0100

Michael Sangregorio and Fabio Bondi’s new satellite operation, a casual aperitif and salumi lounge just three doors up from their popular Local Kitchen and Wine Bar, is more of a stylish holding area for prospective Local diners than a destination of its own. But for Parkdalians looking for a glass of wine or a simple plate of cured meat, it has its charms. The vibe is very Queen West: esoteric decor (prosciuttos hanging from the ceiling); laid-back service; catchy, college chart–heavy playlist; and a microscopic menu. Bondi’s meats are good, though not entirely memorable: his dilled capicola is firm, smoky and veined with buttery white fat, but the sliced fennel sausage crumbles on the plate. The braised octopus is lovely; the nodini bread knots are crunchy and melba-toast dry. Closed Sunday and Monday. Small plates $4–$15.