Sushi Kaji (Toronto) – Top 10 North America
Sushi Kaji happened to be 2 blocks down from my friend’s house. We met my other friend who told me to expect 2nd-tier sushi w/ cooked dishes that could compete w/ the Urasawa’s of the world. What we got was sushi whose fish was Yasuda quality (but not the rice) and cooked dishes that were a notch below Urasawa. There were moments of the sublime, but generally, each dish had a small problem. That sounds harsh, but this is a serious Japanese restaurant that I would put on the Yasuda level (maybe a small notch below); it’s no Urasawa/Kuruma/Sawa/Masa, but it could easily place itself on the top 10 in North America.
The space is nice & serene – typical Japanese fare but very tastefully finished. The dishes looked nice – I wish I had remembered the camera because my writing below does not give any justice to the beauty of the dishes.
1. Fried Shrimp w/ Mountain Potato & a Teryika-like sauce
The shrimp was cooked well but the sauce was powerful, a bit too sweet, and cloying. Good.
2. Squash Soup
Balanced but spicy upfront w/ enough thickness to make it satisfying. Very Good.
3. Ham in Cucumber, Chicken & Mushrooms, & Fish Wrapped in Egg
3 small dishes in one, each good in conception but marred by slightly inferior ingredients. Ok.
4. Tomato Tempura, Pork Ball, & Potato Tempura
Arranged in a tower, the tempuras were quite delicate and second only to Masa. The pork ball was about as good as it sounds – a bit too bland considering its accompaniments. Good.
5. Sashimi of Toro, Spanish Mackerel, Sea Breem, Sea Trout, & Calamari
The toro texture & color were very good but the taste suffered from a ‘wateriness’; it lacked the richness of the best examples. Mind you, that’s better than 95% of the places out there. The other fish were good to very good, none of them screaming “we’re the best” but, again, better than 95% of the places out there. Good.
6. Uni w/ Mountain Potato
The uni was creamy but suspicions are always raised when the chef puts too much soy on the dish. It was good but it probably shouldn’t have been served. The chef (the one cooking) later confirmed this wasn’t their best uni. Good.
7. Matsutake Soup
The meat in the soup (shrimp, white fish, & chicken) was overcooked but the broth itself was full of flavor and persistence. The lime provided a solid acid backbone. Good.
8. Sea Breem w/ Matsutaki & Turnip Puree
The fish was overcooked and the puree was a pile of blandness. This was one of the worst dishes of the evening. Not Good.
9. Roasted Pine Mushroom w/ Fried Noodle & Fried Shrimp
The presentation was exquisite – the mushrooms were cooked in paper, the noodles resembled delicate weave, and the shrimp was stuffed inside a jalepeno – again, 3 dishes in one. The shrimp was overcooked, the mushrooms good but not great, and the noodles were absolutely addictive. Good.
Some random pieces of calamari steamed w/ varying degrees of success. Good.
11. Eel nigiri
I’m not a big eel fan but this seemed to be ok. Ok.
12. Fish in Soup
This was the least appetizing as the fish resembled something floating in Lake Ontario. The broth was balanced but it left some gelatin on your lips. Not my thing. Ok.
13. Toro 1 nigiri
Seared nigiri whose charred flavor lingered in your mouth for awhile. Very Good.
14. Toro 2 nigiri
Same piece we had earlier, great for most places. Good.
15. Crab wrapped in Leaf
A different type of roll where the meat & rice were stuffed in a leaf. Sweet, better rice than the nigiri, not a bad dish. Good.
16. Abalone nigiri
Nice piece of abalone mated w/ rice. Good.
17. Scallop nigiri
Caramelized scallop, cooked right with a nice spice. Very Good.
Same as before, a nice clean fish. Good.
19. Green Tea Creme Burlee
The texture was a bit too mushy but the deep earth flavor penetrated the dish. Good.
Overall, this would not compete w/ the American heavyweights on raw or cooked dishes. However, it was a perfectly good meal ($120 canadian) that delivered superb value. The chef admits he doesn’t have the clientelle to support a challenge to the title. For the money and the area, this is a great meal made w/ very good ingredients that certainly has opportunities to impress and shine.
If you’re in Toronto, and you crave fish or Japanese, Kaji is definitely the place to go.