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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sushi Couture :: Omakase, Om'amazing

Omakase!

After reading about amazing omakase (translation: "it's up to you" in Japanese) at Sushi Kaji, I was really disappointed to learn that it costs upwards of $80. As someone who dines on $3.99 Empanadas, $8.95 noodles, and $7 bowls of Korean soup this was definitely out of reach. So when I heard about a new Japanese joint in the Annex offering affordable omakase with high quality ingredients, I was definitely excited!

I first saved up for the $39 omakase, but when I heard of a $60 version available upon request I decided to go all out. On my way to dinner, I trotted over to Queen St. and returned my new Keds. That's right. I traded shoes for food. I'd rather save up for Bensimons anyways and I don't care how cliche my Converse are, I'll rock 'em until then.

I'd say it was a good trade.

Sushi Couture
Verdict: Go!! Very fresh fish - great value for amazing quality.
Meal: Lunch/Dinner
Price: $39 & $60 omakase
As they don't have a website yet, I uploaded the menu after the review [Click for menu]


I was pretty excited about my first omakase experience. I was cheerfully told over the phone that Chef Ken okay'ed the $60 request - his happy mood was infectious, even over the phone!

Kedless and hungry, I made my way to the Annex and noticed a list of fresh arrivals in the window. I couldn't wait to see what we would get.

I was happily greeted and seated in the newly renovated dining area. It wasn't busy and I was told to feel free to roam. No need! From my vantage point I enjoyed my brown rice tea while watching dishes being prepped.


I was delighted when I saw a dish being blow torched. It's too bad I didn't snap a picture because it was pretty neat! You will just have to go see it for yourself :)

A jovial greeting from  Chef Ken was a pleasant start to our meal. He introduced himself and said he had a 8-course meal in store. So excited!

Lovely decor & brown rice tea

Course 1: Sake Shooters
Uni (Sea Urchin) with a ponzu-sherry sauce, Raw quail egg, Ikura (salmon eggs), & Green onions in a mixed sauce made from sake and (I think) niri.
"All in one shot" - Chef Ken
We took a good look at this shot before downing it as instructed. It was a tasty and unique blend of flavours. The oyster imparted a strong taste, the urchin was smooth and sweet, and each little ball of roe that popped in my mouth gave a burst of flavour. The yolk added a nice consistency and we both agreed that we would do this again.
Course 2: Manila Clams
Fresh Asari (Manila clams), sake-steamed served in a flavourful broth

Next up were tasty Manila Clams which were very fresh and flavourful. My friend commented that the sake-flavour of the broth was quite noticeable and I found myself spooning it up long after the clams disappeared.

The clams were perfectly cooked - not at all rubbery and they had a very clean flavour. Yum.

Course 3: Sea bream, mussels, shitake, grouper


Chef Ken arrived with the next plate and explained each item. I was really impressed with this, and I really liked hearing a bit about each item as it helped me appreciate each one.

It came with a bowl of tentsuyu (tempura dipping sauce) and I appreciated his careful plating.

Working from left to right...

Shiso leaves & Sea Bream
Neatly sliced in half, sea bream paste sandwiched between 2 shiso* leaves was first sampled. Battered with tempura and deep fried, this was a nice start. I was pleased with the leaf-tempura batter-sea bream ratio. Just enough to enjoy all the flavours.

*Shiso leaves are also known as perilla leaves, or deul-gae in Korean. I use them when I cook pork bone soup. You can also use them as pork belly wraps. Yumm...belly.


Broiled Mussels with Butter Sauce
The mussels were broiled in a butter-seaweed sauce, and arrived on a bed of sea salt (hidden from view in the pictures). The butter sauce was tangy and flavourful, but didn't overwhelm the fresh taste of the mussel. I'm not sure where the mussels were from, but the texture and the flavour got my approval. Mmm..buttery.


Shitake Mushrooms
I really liked the sweet flavour and texture of the shitake mushrooms. Marinated with soyu, they had a good, firm bite to them and were very enjoyable. I would love to try to recreate this at home and add it to my banchan repertoire - this would be a very tasty side dish with dinners!

Cucumber Cup

A fresh, crispy slice of organic cucumber arrived. The seeds were scraped away and the "cup" was filled with hata (Boston grouper) and olives mixed with a bit of olive oil. My friend is not a fan of olives so this wasn't her favourite, however she did note that the cucumber had a different taste than the typical supermarket cucumber.

I enjoyed the combination of flavours, and it was a nice, clean finish to the course.


Course 4: Sashimi
Love the plating

Next, we were served sashimi that brought back waves of memories from Japan. My excitement grew as Chef Ken explained each item. The presentation of our plates were slightly different.

Hamachi (Yellow Tail)




First on my plate was hamachi with a shiso leaf for presentation. Our cuts weren't exactly the same, hence the difference in colour - but they're both yellow tail. Fresh fresh fresh.
Kurodai (Sea Bream from Greece)


Flown in from Greece!
Two pieces of sea bream flown from Greece sat on top of sprouts, a perilla leaf, and an edible flower (for presentation - not eating!). Blowtorched, it had a nice charred flavour with the fish. Just enough to taste, but not to the point where our mouths were filled with a burnt flavour.

Uni and Ikura


A second round of sea urchin and roe, except inside a lime-bowl instead of a shooter. No complaints about the repeat appearances, because this is honestly the freshest and tastiest uni that I've had since the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. It was nice and sweet on its own, and we enjoyed the bits that mingled the lime. Points for fun presentation and wonderful taste.


Butterfish
Melt-in-Your-Mouth Richness
This was my favourite cut of the plate -it was decadent and delicious, with a very light touch of searing on the side. I savoured the flavour of each piece. The texture and the taste were so great that this will be a definite repeat. It was topped with crispy slivers of fried green onion.

So. Good.

Also worth noting are the soy sauce & wasabi:

The soy sauce was sweet and infused with Bonito (fish) essence. Along with pickled white ginger, we were provided with 2 different types of wasabi - the typical powdered paste as well as root wasabi. Chef Ken explained that root wasabi is very hard to grow, and is therefore quite expensive. The powdered version was created due to the increasing popularity of sushi. While it's not made entirely of root, as it's mixed with other items, there's just enough to taste the flavour without breaking the bank. Thanks for the lesson, Chef Ken!

Paste wasabi, Root wasabi, Pickled white ginger
 
Course 5: Hamachi Kama (Yellowtail Collar)


Soyu-Infused Fish
Someone identified this for me! Mystery solved, yay! It is called Hamachi Kama, which is "Yellowtail Collar" in English. Thank you!
Anyways, Chef Ken explained that this traditional dish is cooked in soyu for 2 hours to make it soft and very flavourful. It was complimented with a mushroom cap, also cooked in soyu, and two pieces of carrot. The fins made for wonderful presentation (not edible!) and he traced along his jaw line when explaining what part of the fish this came from.



Course 6: Nigiri
Heaven!


Hamachi

A very generous cut on sushi rice - so glad that I savoured this by eating it sl-o-o-w-ly. I'm not sure why, but I found it much more delicious in nigiri form. This and the butterfish are must-repeats.



"Now this is a fish sandwich!" -N
BC Albacore Tuna

Crispy onion on top of decadence

The soft texture of the tuna belly just made it melt.

Madai (Sea Bream from Japan)
Next in line was Madai, Japanese sea bream. Like the sea bream from Greece, it was also torched.
Tempura Unagi


Torched unagi (eel) in tempura batter and avocado on top of a strip of seaweed was the last item on the plate. The unagi was sweet and not drowning in sauce, an issue at some other sushi places. It was lightly glazed, so the flavour of the eel was still there with the sauce. Yum.


Course 7: Sushi Couture Roll


You will either love it or hate it. While sushi "purists" might find this too heavy - it was flavourful and filling. Topped with salmon and tangy mayonnaise, the roll was nicely firm with crab and cucumber inside. Chef Ken explained that it was topped with maki sauce, broiled, then torched again. He called it batayaki - which means butter fried, and he smiled when he said "sushi barbecue"!

Course 8: Dessert
Green Tea Cheesecake
Nice and Light Cheesecake
Japanese cheesecake was a yummy finish to our meal. What was even more surprising was when Chef Ken explained that it was flown in from Japan. Made by a French pastry chef, it was light and creamy. He also added that once in awhile, they order different cakes from Japan so I guess this will change on a regular basis!

The freshness and quality of the meal was outstanding, as was the service. I was very happy with my first omakase experience, and after looking at the menu I will definitely return for lunch. My friend said that this was better than her experience at Sushi Kaji at a far lower price so I am very pleased with my decision! Both Chef Ken and his wife are doing a wonderful job, and I suspect that Sushi Couture will soon explode with popularity especially once their website is up and running. With Kenzo and Guu also on their way, the Annex is quickly improving its offerings to hungry foodies and students alike :-)


Sushi Couture
Verdict: Go!! Very fresh fish - great value for amazing quality.
Meal: Lunch/Dinner
Price: $39 & $60 omakase



Menu:
Click to enlarge

Just some fun pictures form my travels...

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo:


Sushi Couture on Urbanspoon

25 comments:

Chris (tinytines.com) said...

Dude, thanks for the plug! I'd love it if you rocked Bensimons as well. <3 <3

But food definitely comes first. I'm glad you traded in your Keds, because this is an amazing review and I'm glad you got to experience such freshness.

Shawn said...

great pics, erin!
i'm putting this place on my list of 'to-eats'.
btw, i'm planning to do omakase at Japango (elizabeth and dundas) one of these days. will let you know how that goes.

Erin said...

Thanks Shawn! Just to let you know, Chef Ken used to be the chef at Japango, which is why it was so popular. I'm not saying that your experience won't be fantastic, from what I understand, Sushi Couture's owner is what put Japango on the map!

Chris, I can't wait for Bensimons! I want dark navy blue ones...they sell them on Queen West!

Jamilv said...

The courses look amazing, it would be nice to find a flavor similar to what I tasted in Japan. I will definitely have to take a shot and check this place out.
Did you have to call in advance to reserve and have them prepare the ingredients and all?

Erin said...

Hi Jamilv,
It was the closest since my trip to Japan - especially the Uni!
You do not have to call in advance for the $39 omakase, but they'd definitely appreciate it. If you get the $60, you must call because it's not advertised so it's not a regular item on the menu/always available. If you go, let me know how it goes :D

exploded daniel said...

Sushi couture has changed my whole view of the bloor strip. While it seemed offensive to have such a saturation point of the dozen-plus mediocre fast food sushi joints, it seems like there's an evolutionary progression of quality happening. Did they finally have their liquor license? I hope someone makes them a classy website immediately.

Erin said...

No liquor licence yet, but they're working on it according to Chef Ken's wife. I hope they get it soon - before Guu moves in for their sake*. I am hoping that this will also encourage a revival of good K-town joints.

*bad pun intended

Erin said...

Oh, also - they're looking for someone to design their website. I forgot to mention that yesterday. I hope someone makes them a classy website too! They deserve attention!

Cat said...

this looks cool. I think I am visiting your blog to torture myself on leaving downtown but life is not always about the food [this is a total lie]. I have yet another place to try on a trip into the city.
We have done Kaji and it was a fun and memorable night. We decided to go all out and do the largest which was too much food. Definitely needed sweat pants in the car to change into. I enjoyed it and would go back for the middle level but will try to hit Sushi Couture before then.

Erin said...

I heard the same about Kaji - too much food!
Others have told me that Kaji has better cooked food, but the value for the freshness and quality is much better at Couture. I don't know from personal experience though. For $39 you can get a great 5-course meal, or for $60 you can get something like I did. Probably preferable over $120 for a meal that's too big for comfort...!
I hope you try it soon :D

P.S. Yes, that was a total lie ;)

Kristy said...

Hi Erin, I found your blog through your review on yelp.ca and I'm glad I did! This is such an extensive review and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't drooling over these photos!

Question for you: I'm thinking of taking my boyfriend there for his birthday dinner and order the $60 Omakase. Is that the price for 2 persons?

Thanks very much :D

www.monochromachic.com

Erin said...

Nope, it's $60 per person for which you need to call ahead. There is also a $39 option, which is a bit more budget friendly!

Anonymous said...

Awesome blog! I'll be back. RS

Anonymous said...

Excellent, detailed and informed review and absolutely great pictures! I live in the Annex and have been meaning to try Sushi Couture but waited until the new restaurant hits its stride - looks like my wait is over!!! :)

Thanks!

Erin said...

Thanks!!! I hope everyone enjoys it :)

Cat said...

yum. Finally went last night as we were just around the corner and hungry at 5pm. The madai with the slightly torched top was wonderful.
The only downside of our visit is that we did not stuff ourselves full so we did not end 2010 in a food coma.
Will definitely go back for the omakase in 2011.

Karen Ling said...

i luv your blog...so many mouthwatering pix...i definitely want to try the tasting menu here...you make it sound so yummy

Sam said...

Wow looks so delicious, excellent photos. When I get to Toronto again I've got to try this place.

Karen Ling said...

i luv your blog...so many mouthwatering pix...i definitely want to try the tasting menu here...you make it sound so yummy

Cat said...

yum. Finally went last night as we were just around the corner and hungry at 5pm. The madai with the slightly torched top was wonderful.
The only downside of our visit is that we did not stuff ourselves full so we did not end 2010 in a food coma.
Will definitely go back for the omakase in 2011.

Erin said...

Hi Jamilv,
It was the closest since my trip to Japan - especially the Uni!
You do not have to call in advance for the $39 omakase, but they'd definitely appreciate it. If you get the $60, you must call because it's not advertised so it's not a regular item on the menu/always available. If you go, let me know how it goes :D

Erin said...

Thanks Shawn! Just to let you know, Chef Ken used to be the chef at Japango, which is why it was so popular. I'm not saying that your experience won't be fantastic, from what I understand, Sushi Couture's owner is what put Japango on the map!

Chris, I can't wait for Bensimons! I want dark navy blue ones...they sell them on Queen West!

Chris (tinytines.com) said...

Dude, thanks for the plug! I'd love it if you rocked Bensimons as well. <3 <3

But food definitely comes first. I'm glad you traded in your Keds, because this is an amazing review and I'm glad you got to experience such freshness.

CamMi Pham said...

This looks amazing :) now i am so so hungry need to try it sometime soon

Erin said...

let me know how it goes!! :)

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