A small crowd has gathered on Front Street, their eyes glued to a trio of television monitors. Hockey game? Nude news? No. It's Takesushi head sushi chef, Susuma Wada, doing a sushi video.
Takesushi is now under new management by the owners of Nami and it has a whole new personality. Looking around the dramatic black and blue restaurant, with its latticed privacy walls between tables and a grove of bamboo in the centre, it's obvious that Japanese food is making an impact on people from all wa
lks of life. Besides groups of Japanese business men and women, there are the suits and ties from surrounding office towers; the young Asian cast from Iron Road,) the Chinese/English opera running at the Elgin Theatre); and people like us who are intrigued by an occasional foray into exotic culinary adventure.
We have a choice: the sushi bar for a bird's eye view of the skill of twenty-year veteran sushi chef Susumo-san, or a table to be waited on by smiling, kimono clad hostess, Sumi. A table it is. First, a hot towel to freshen our hands, then steaming green tea.
I am cheered by the intriguing cocktail menu: over a dozen Japanese cocktails with names like Sake Shadow and Wagamama, and almost as many brands of hot and cold Sake, from Japan and California, with selections of cloudy unpasteurized Namazake; Gingo-Shu and Daiginjo-shu made from highly polished rice and fermented in very cold temperatures; Honjozo-shu sake with an added kick of brewers alcohol and Junmai-shu, a pure rice sake.
I'll try Hirezake, hot sake served in a glass, afloat with the fin of the deadly Fugu (blowfish). Sumi lights the sake with an electric torch and lets it flame for a moment before she covers the glass with a wooden lid. Terrified to come near any part of Fugu while in Japan--in Toronto, I am fearless. At first sip, it tastes like the mellow, light, sherry favoured by my Aunt Millie, but then there is an interesting finish.
The strength here is the fine sushi menu and the traditional classics like tempura and teriyaki. But tonight, we say, "Omakase," we leave it up to you. Now, Susuma-san and head kitchen chef, Tsuji Yoshihisa can humbly show some of the skills they learned at that famous cooking school in Osaka.
First we admire, appreciate, then devour. Delicate pinwheels of crunchy deep fried potato, dusted with crushed seaweed and capped with salmon roe come in a very fancy carved cucumber basket set in an ice filled black bowl. Next, a covered bowl of fish broth, with a surprisingly creamy green texture that comes from green soy bean, is centred with steamed white radish, carved into a bowl, filled with shrimp and garlanded with a spray of enoki mushrooms.
A hallmark of Japanese food is presentation. On a gorgeous platter covered with finely milled golden eggyolk is a spectacular array: cooked jumbo shrimp wrapped with cucumber and tied with the stems of Japanese basil; barbecued king crab on its shell; sliced breast of gingery chicken garnished with lemon zest and seaweed; asparagus coated in sesame seeds; sliced duck breast with miso paste; and a nod to Spring, salmon fashioned into a cherry blossom. Pity those who are wary of tasting the unknown, they don't know what they're missing.
We can see Susuma-san work adeptly with both hands: white fluke on a gold lacquer saucer held aloft on a cucumber base in a dark lacquer box; red tuna with a sticky sauce of precious mountain yam. (Each meter long yam is carefully dug out of the mountain side by hand so as not to break it.) A large blue green bowl holds sliced, sweet Orange clam; toro tuna and scallop, a choice of sauces and extravagant garnishes.
"Excuse me, I am going to commit a rudeness," says Sumi in Japanese, as she serves and removes. The main course is flamboyant: a tiny, iron stove holds a parchment bowl filled with yellowtail, salmon, scallops, oyster, enoki, shiitaki mushrooms, shrimp and tofu in a fish broth. The broth boils, the flame is extinguished and we remove the morsels with a small wire strainer. I love the Japanese sprinkle of chili pepper, sesame, seaweed and dried orange peel.
Too much food. Neither eye nor stomach can absorb more. Still there is the last tray of intricate mosaic sushi, tuna sashimi scraped from the bone, flying fish roe and more. "I'll take it home," says my pal, "sushi made at 10:00 p.m. can last until midnight."