On an electric Friday night spent surrounded by girlfriends and celebrations, I realize that finding good food is just like dating: you have to get out there, entertain a few hits and even more misses, but hopefully, you end up with what you've always wanted. Of course, on your search for "the one", first-date impressions are always important. Yuzu Sushi and Sake Bar on 236 Adelaide St W. strikes a note between local izakaya and downtown cool; with its exposed brick walls, and sleek, glossy whit
e interior. Co-owners Chef Bruce Bu (Japango) and Paul Kim gutted the former Café Havana space to create a location designed to house authentic Japanese food. The place is grounded by the wood finishings and a black-clad waitstaff deliver orders with an air of anticipation.
Keeping with the restaurant's moniker, "yuzu", which is a grapefruit-like fruit, is used quite extensively on the menu. Looking to begin with a pre-dinner drink, we rely on Yuzu Sushi's friendly sake sommelier, Hara Hiroki, to introduces us to the cocktails. Some of the standouts include the Yuzu Moni ($11) and the Yuzu Sangria ($7.95). The former is a lychee, grapefruit, yuzu jam, and sake martini where the sweet and citrus is balanced out by the sharpness of the sake. The Yuzu Sangria, on the other hand, has an unexpected twist with the addition of cinnamon, making it more reminiscent of a cozy Christmas Eve than a day in Mexico.
For a different taste profile, the Baika ($11) and the Asian Shiso Mojito ($7.95) are less sweet, and rare finds in the Toronto drink scene. The fuller flavour of the Baika comes from the composition of Campari and umeshu, which is a strong plum liqueur. The Mojito substitutes the light fennel aroma of Shiso (aka - Perilla leaf) in place of mint in their alluring non-traditional version of the classic summertime drink. Though I prefer sweet over bitter, these cocktails are a great way to experience Japanese flavours in a new way.
So far so good-no need for an "emergency" exit yet. The appetizers of Agedashi Tofu ($5), Soft Shell Crab ($12) and the Yuzu Salad ($9) are the next test. The agedashi tofu arrives, still slightly crisp, sitting in a fragrant shoyu-dashi broth. The familiar sweet and salty, is the cornerstone of my nostalgia for Japanese cooking. The soft shell crab, however, just isn't crispy enough, although its obvious freshness are a pleasant surprise. In the Yuzu Salad, the deep, jewel-tone red tuna gleams against chrysanthemum petals, tiny cubes of cream cheese and greens. The soft, fresh tuna alone is enough to feel like Yuzu Sushi might be something special.
Things start to heat up when the sushi rolls arrive. They always have the potential to be deal breaker for any devout sushi lover. Good sushi rice is an oft-overlooked component; it should be warm, slightly sweet, and you should be able to distinguish individual grains-the rice shouldn't be fused together in an unsatisfying lump. None of Yuzu's offerings disappoint, however the Crunch Spicy Salmon ($8) and the Yuzu Maki ($15) are particularly memorable. Be forewarned: the chili oil and mayo mixture hidden inside the spicy salmon roll may leave you "burning" for more.
The Yuzu Maki arrives quite spectacularly, it is nestled in a rectangular foil boat, and the white plate that rests underneath it is lit aflame. The orange flames lick the sides of the foil, while the roll remains undisturbed, if not slightly warmed. It is awesome sight. Topped with crunchy, bright red tobiko, clean-tasting torched salmon and scallops, rich avocado, andÃ¢â‚¬Â¦gold flakes. Sushi bling may be a girl's new best friend, but at the end of the day, good flavour will still steal her heart. Yuzu Maki, you had me at combustion.
Though we've been plied with good drink and great food thus far, there is still room to impress. Bring on a restaurant's true colours: sashimi and nigiri sushi. Not all the sashimi laid out on our Sashimi Deluxe Dinner ($33) boat is immediately identifiable-salmon is not a grossly overused filler here. Tentative chopsticks pick up cool pieces of fish. Mouths open, agape in wonder, over the freshness. It makes me hate every single one-night stand I've had with the city's sub-par Japanese all-you-can-eat joints. The sashimi selection includes pieces of albacore tuna and butterfish (both slightly torched), scallops, sweet shrimp, and hamachi. The albacore tuna and butterfish are unbelievably soft and buttery, but has a subtle gravitas, because of the torched surface. It's almost unreal, and we can't believe our luck. The hamachi is firm and meaty and provides textural contrast, while the glistening scallop is clean and sweet. Not to be outdone, the Sushi Deluxe Dinner's ($29) nigiri also boasts butterfish, albacore, and hamachi ensembles, among others. The slight twist here is that atop some pieces, there are tiny bits of fried garlic and garlic oil. It's an incredible combination; a perfect pairing. The crisp garlic adds a crystalline bite to the soft rice and fish, letting the sensation linger just a touch longer.
At this point, the sommelier, Hiroki, offers the table a sake sampler. The trio of sakes are either light in taste, fragrant, or heavy. The first is Okunomatsu Kinmon, which is served cold, and is light and slightly sweet. The second is Nanbu Bijin Junmai Ginjo, also served cold, but this sake can knock you out. According to Hiroki, wine lovers will enjoy this particular sake because it is slightly "heavier" than others. Part of the kanji characters in the sake's name is "Bijin", which means "beautiful." Apparently it is said that drinking sake will keep you beautiful, so kampai to more sake-filled nights like this one. Finally, Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai is served hot, and has a fuller finish than the Okunomatsu Kinmon. Hiroki also suggests that we consider using sake as a palate cleanser in between bites of oilier fish, which will enhance their flavour.
It is quite a charming end to a supremely satisfying night, where the standard for Japanese food in Toronto has been raised. Yuzu Sushi & Sake Bar could be "the one" for me.