Crunchy, deep fried Chesapeake Bay blue soft shell crab with chili and shredded radish; butterflied tiger shrimp encrusted with sliced whole almonds and flash fried to golden crispness, and beef tataki, a kind of Japanese Carpaccio with tangy ponzu dipping sauce. These are just a few of the oh-so-good opening dishes of our Japanese meal.
In Japan, where they eat Japanese food three or more times a day, every day--except when they want an exotic experience like pizza or steak frites--dining ou
t is fun, easy-going and relatively affordable. I was reminded of just such a meal recently, when a few friends and I had dinner at EDO. Non-intimidating, casual and friendly surroundings are in keeping with the expectations of the clientele that frequent the better restaurants on Eglinton Avenue. And to keep these finicky patrons happy, you can be sure that the quality of the food served is tops.
The sushi bar is the focal point in this striking red, black and white restaurant. Still, I prefer a table at the railing, a few steps up on a kind of mezzanine, because it gives me the best view of the sushi chef. To watch him create delectable food sculptures and arrange them on a plate is way better than watching the Food Channel. And here, we get to eat the results.
Tonight we are a mix of Japanese food lovers and novices to the cuisine. By the end of the evening, we've all made a commitment to return often. We like it all, right from the opening gambit of hot rolled hand towels that refresh and warm our hands.
It's freezing outside, so we start with a carafe of warm sake. It tastes like mild sherry and goes down so smooth. The serving glass, in its unique sculptured holder, is itself a conversation piece. Each food offering comes on its own ceramic plate in a shape that depicts nature: a leaf, a fish, a flower. The Japanese were among the first to realize that before we even begin to eat with our mouths, we appreciate with our eyes. Japanese chefs know that an important part of the exercise of dining is to amuse, surprise and delight the patron.
O-Suimono soup for example is hot and crystal-clear and holds some appealing nubbins. Here is a piece of flounder cut like a fan, a slice of carrot shaped like a star and a smaller fan meticulously carved from green vegetable. Certainly this delicate broth is a cut above the usual Miso soup.
Of course, the menu lists a good selection of sashimi and sushi, makimono rolls with rice and seaweed and cone shaped handrolls. Some of this chefs specialties include a handroll of giant tiger shrimp, crunchy tempura bits, spicy sauce and avocado. A favorite with men is the Stampede. This combines slices of Angus beef with crunchy bits, spicy sauce, green onion and cucumber.
No sooner had we finished our soup, when we were presented with the crown jewels of Japanese cuisine - an elegant arrangement of sashimi. Not just a platter of raw fish, these carefully cut selections included big eye tuna, salmon and butterfish (aptly named) with salmon roe. No pickled ginger on this plate-the taste would kill the discreet flavor of the fish. Now we go from cool sashimi to a special creation of the chef, breast of chicken rolled around asparagus and flash deep-fried. It's served with a kind of spicy mayonnaise. But for me, there's character enough without this addition. Next, a crusty "bowl" made of taro, potato and sweet potato, filled to overflowing with Tilapia, a sweet white fish, wrapped around asparagus spears and cut into into bite size pieces. I can't get enough of this crisp potato bowl-it beats French fries hands down.
It's agreed. We've dined well and happily and see that our bottle of Alsatian wine, which suits the cuisine as well as Sake and Japanese beer, is empty. This calls for dessert. And though there are several choices of Western style desserts, we're happy with an array of fresh fruits, star fruit, orange, apple, melon, grapes and kiwi, presented in an artistic arrangement.
There is a comfort zone and warmth at Edo which eludes many other Japanese restaurants in the city. And heaven knows, we certainly enjoy comfort with our food.