Don't you just want to wither and die every time a restaurant hostess tells you that you can't sit there because that table is "reserved". And adding insult to injured ego, how many times has that table gone empty because said parties inevitably don't show. Then there's the issue of inhuman seating times: on a recent night at the new Blowfish on Bay, four couldn't be accommodated at 6pm, but yeah, they could do four at 5:30 or 9. Yet by 7, many tables remain unoccupied.
With a successful seven-
year history on King, one would think Blowfish wouldn't have to resort to such transparent tactics to generate buzz; can't they figure out a better way to make patrons feel more welcome? Then again, who can blame them? This second location, 3,500 square feet designed by Johnson Chou, took six months to build. Without a quick buzz they could soon go bust. Boo hoo.
But that's highly unlikely. Remember, Blowfish was one of the first Japanese joints to take the sushi dining experience beyond the bento box - chandeliers and all. Stylish in every way. But what else would we expect from the Blowfish team of Joseph Siahou, exec chef G.Q. Pan and Zark Fatah. Maybe a menu of steeply-priced sushi fusion that veers a bit more off course from what the King location offers.
Thankfully award-winning mixologist Nishan Nepulangoda's memorable cocktails, Bombay Nash ($14) and Scotch Live ($16), help take the edge off the fact that we will never know the rarefied privilege of sitting in the gold booth because it's probably always "reserved." Unlike the dÃ©cor, however, the food seems devoid of excitement for all the effort and impressive architectural skills devoted to dishes like a rainbow flame ($16), a red hot curry salmon ($13) and a wagyu tataki ($18). All will have you salivating like a certain YouTube dog as you read out the ingredients, but there is no synergy of flavours here, instead they flatline. One would think that combining hot smoked Atlantic salmon, mango, cucumber, lettuce, pine nuts, tobiko, sesame seed, Japanese 7-spice and a curry drizzle would send your taste buds into orbit. Instead it all blends together in a bland sticky, yet delicate, mess. So much is going on that only one thing stands out. Sushi on Bloor has more outstanding maki than this.
It seems pointless to use wagyu beef when its quiet creaminess is cancelled out by such a confusion of elements. A chicken karage ($13) equally puzzles by pairing lightly battered chicken breast with a mango and strawberry kewpie (Japanese mayo).
But there is a standout. A tuna taco ($18) is a brilliant reimagining of the fast food favourite, its greaseless deep fried wonton enveloping a heap of chunky diced tuna. But by the time the hot mains arrive, we return to a meal mostly filled with sighs of discontent. Bland tofu "steaks" ($12) would bore even a macrobiotic Buddhist monk with hypertension; the steamed spinach tucked beneath is, believe it or not, more enticing. A curry capon ($22) sounds encouraging, but the breading and accompanying sauce is so salt-ridden, it's left abandoned on the plate as is its side, a pile of lemon candied walnuts and almonds, which, too, reads better on paper. Tastelessness also mars a coconut potato mash, but some spicy ribs ($18) are both flavourful and fleshy, even if priced at the heady price of $6 per not including taxes and gratuities.
In my wildest imaginings would I have ever believed that a salad would be the MVP of sushi fusion. But by all means, run to Blowfish on Bay for the Goji berry greens salad ($12), a lightly drizzled peppery dressing coats a huge mound of mixed greens, pea pods, tofu, lotus and delicate tempura gobo root. This is one healthy meal that even Dr. Oz would endorse; munching one of these down daily will have you living to a ripe old age.
And don't mistake the Chinese eggplant ($8) for dessert, although it's so cloyingly sweet you might instead opt for a whiskey cake ($9) with a ballsy hit of booze and a few cinnamon donuts ($6) filled with delightful yuzu cream.
Nice room, nice menu, accommodating servers. So have we overblown the problems that are creating culinary cracks at Blowfish? No because they are capable of far better. A salad should not be the highlight of a menu with such a talented team at the helm. We should be blown away at Blowfish.
P.S. The Ontario Spring Water Sake Company, North America's first sake brewery, has opened in the Distillery District.