Why Omai’s chirashizushi is one of Toronto’s most essential dishes
Toronto’s a city of many neighbourhoods and many nationalities, so finding that one oh-so-Toronto dish is an impossible task. We're asking some of the city’s top food folks about their favourite T.O. meals
Patois, Craig Wong’s restaurant on Dundas West, is about as far as you can get from an uptight Michelin-starred spot. Thumping bass, dim lights and novelty cocktails—served in flamingo floaties and sparkler-adorned pineapples—characterize this Jamaican-Chinese joint frequented by the likes of Usher and Raekwon.
Before opening Patois in 2014, Wong honed his cooking chops under Alain Ducasse. After three years of plating fancy fare, Wong decided fussy French food wasn’t for him. He decided that when he opened his own place, he would cook the food he grew up eating. His maternal grandmother was born in Guangzho, China but emigrated to Jamaica, where Wong’s parents were born. They later moved to Scarborough, where Wong was born and raised.
Wong has a bit of a country crush on Japan—he’s visited the island nation three times so far. He loves eating Japanese food, cooking with Japanese knives and drinking Japanese whisky. As a teen, Wong was introduced to sushi by then-girlfriend-now-wife, Ivy Lam, who worked at a sushi joint in Pacific Mall. There, he fell for the simplicity of chirashi, sushi’s uncomplicated cousin: seasoned rice topped with fish and other seafood.
3 Baldwin St., no phone, omairestaurant.ca
“A lot of sushi chefs are opposed to making chirashi because they feel it doesn’t represent their sushi and their craft,” says Wong. “But chirashi tastes great and I get to eat things in the order I want to.” Wong has a specific order in which he eats a bowl of chirashi: tuna first, then the more mild muscular fish (sea bream, snapper), followed by the fatty fish (salmon, escolar), before moving onto the uni and the shellfish, saving the tamago (egg) for last.
After Wong’s wife showed him an Instagram snap of Omai’s chirashi, he made a reservation for the very next day. Wong is a huge fan of uni (sea urchin) and Omai’s chirashi is loaded with the stuff. “It’s pretty baller,” says Wong, who later admits that he could easily eat an uni-only diet.
“Food that should be so simple is also the easiest to fuck up,” says Wong, who thinks Omai’s chirashi is one of the best in Toronto. “They do it right—they’re not looking to sell it short. Chirashi can be an easy way to use up the odds and ends of fish, but at Omai, they’re using prized items like uni and not being shy with it. They’re doing the chirashi justice.”
Chef-owner Edward Bang uses Calrose rice seasoned with red rice vinegar and mixed with sake cake (a byproduct of the sake-making process similar to whisky mash):
Omai is currently importing their sea urchin from Chile. Bang prefers the B.C. stuff but it isn’t in season right now:
The garnishes for the chirashi change depending on what’s in season. Right now, Bang is using snap peas, radishes and cucumbers. For a variety of textures, he also likes to add some soy-braised kanpyō (dried calabash gourd shavings) to the bowl:
The plate is garnished with smoked herring-mullet roe. The Spanish product is more buttery than tobiko:
Omai’s chirashi is always changing, depending on what fresh fish and seafood Bang can bring in. The bowl Wang gets on this particular day includes wild shrimp, uni, Hokkaido scallops and tamago ($32):
Here’s a closer look:
Just look how happy it makes him: