Sushi Kaji: An omakase odyssey
Nearly every Toronto food enthusiast has heard about a little boîte on the Queensway called Sushi Kaji. We were there recently for the omakase meal ($120)—12 courses spanning several hours. Nabbing a spot at the bar, we were privy to the cooking theatre starring chefs Mitsuhiro Kaji and Takeshi Okada, and also got to slurp soba noodles with staffers from some of Toronto’s best restaurants. We found ourselves in the jubilant company of folks from the Thuet empire, Scaramouche and All the Best Fine Foods. Our bellies were treated to a parade of Japanese delights—presented in the photos after the jump—and we left with the happy impression that, despite the economy, many chefs still choose to eat out and support one another’s craft.
This gold-flecked course of the grand omakase meal features firm pieces of lobster and sweet shrimp touched with the mild heat of wasabi tobiko—briny flying fish roe that has been steeped in wasabi. The star of the dish, however, is a spoon of soft, buttery toro sandwiched between sliced scallions and the yolk of a raw quail’s egg.
While Kaji mans the sushi bar, the kitchen is Okada’s turf. His Zen-inspired courses include a square of homemade tofu with strips of velvety sea urchin and meaty shimeji mushrooms. He pairs the warm, mousse-like cake with a semi-set puddle of richly flavoured dashi broth (made from kelp and fish). Freshly shucked green peas add clean, grassy flavours and vivid colour.
This tender ball of sakura-flavoured rice with a white miso bean paste centre is the flavour equivalent of cherry blossom season in Kyoto. Hiding beneath a brined sakura leaf, the mochi-meets-Boston-cream-doughnut hits savoury and sweet notes, providing one of the few carb comforts in the meal.
Heftier dishes arrive mid-meal and continue to place focus on creatures from the sea. Two grilled snow crab legs are dense but springy, while softened rice and fine threads of crab float in a rich seafood consommé. A few unconventional sides complement the crab perfectly: firm grilled sea bream, a tumble of creamed seaweed, a stellar butternut squash croquette and thin slices of smoky grilled duck breast.
Tuna is tuna, but toro is in a class all its own. Blanketing thumb-size pieces of seasoned rice, this fat-rippled tuna belly fillet is drizzled with a warm soy sauce and a squiggle of mayonnaise before being quickly torched. When one of the chefs from Scaramouche laments to his date that he ate his before snapping a picture, chef Kaji sends out another two pieces for the photo op.
Dessert is rustic but refined. Of the two flavoured mousses that grace the table, it’s the green tea version that won our favour. Its cloud-like texture is juxtaposed with a crisp tuile cookie. A final course served with fresh berries and another mug of hot green tea finishes the meal as refreshingly as it began.