Maiko Sushi – Mile End

This friday was Tamishka’s birthday and we celebrated by going out for sushi (because we were all craving it) and some drinks after. We were recommended by our good friend who hadn’t been to Maiko in a long time but remembered it to be up to par with good sushi places. We had all chatted about our endeavours in Japan and our love for sushi and that’s what kick-started our craving.

So a reservation was made for the 5 of us and we had some high expectations for this fairly pricey sushi restaurant. Their site showed an exquisite display of sushi and as we walked in the decor was quite good. It had a high end and modern flair to it with Japanese-theme and cultured accents. I thought it was nice. There were some Christmas decorations too which I actually enjoyed because I’m excited for the holidays.

I will say this outright. This restaurant is awful for sushi.

Three of us shared some dishes: two Chef Specials ($18 each), and a Sushi Chef Sleection (depending on the Chef’s mood) which was $60 meant for 2 people to share. I also ordered a Chawanmsuhi (which they decided to name Shawanmushi..) for myself.

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We’ll start with the Chawanmushi. It was quite delicious, and was scolding hot. The egg was very very smooth, fluffy, very flavourful and had a good amount of fish and scallops. It was topped off with a shiitake mushroom and a piece of broccoli (which was insanely hot). I quite enjoyed this and was probably the best thing I ate at this restaurant.

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Next we ordered the Scallops which were flambéd in alcohol and served with ponzu sauce, fennel, raspberries and blueberries. It was quite nice but I thought that the alcohol was a little overpowering and was difficult to taste the sweetness of the scallops. The presentation was definitely good.

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We also ordered the Seared Salmon marinated in ponzu sauce which was plated with an assortment of fruits, greens and avocado. It was enjoyable but I didn’t think that the 5 pieces of seared salmon was worth $18. The salmon was a little hard and seemed to have been sitting in that shape for a while. But at least the fruits were fresh.

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Last but not least was our chef selection sushi. This was the biggest disappointment ever. We were given california rolls, rolls with pickled vegetables and 6 pieces of sashimi. This was absolutely pathetic. The rolls were extremely messy, and they didn’t even take care to cut off the straggly ends. The rice was hard and cold, making all the rolls very unenjoyable. I cannot believe we paid $60 for this. I would definitely discourage anyone from coming here for sushi. Where I get takeout (sushi inbox) has much better quality of sushi than here and I only pay $12 dollars for 11 pieces.

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The service was very amateur and I felt that I was being served by a high schooler. He didn’t really care about us and was more focused on getting our orders down and then going to the back to play with his phone or something. One of my friend’s order was completely wrong only she was too hungry and nice to make him redo her order. We also get a random assortment of staff who come to tend to us which makes it extremely difficult to understand if we’re supposed to direct our requests (and complaints) to anyone or one specific person.

Service: 2.5/5
Food: 5/10 (only saved by their delicious chawanmushi)
Atmosphere: modern, up-scale, Japanese-themed accents
Price: $40-50
Maiko Sushi on Urbanspoon

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Sushi Inbox – Downtown Montreal

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So I’ve been to this  sushi joint ever since it opened last October. I have never sat down to eat there (I’m not including the time I sat with my friend while SHE ate), and have always taken out. They make it fresh for you if you order your own combinations. They also have premade boxes of sushi at a slightly lower price in the fridge. Honestly I don’t think it’s worth that one dollar or two to get a bunch of stuff I don’t like, and wasn’t made as fresh as possible. So I always opt to order what I actually want to eat. Lately I’ve been getting the crevette épicée roll and sake (salmon) maki. It tastes pretty good and is probably one of the better sushi that I can get easily, at a reasonable price. They used to have 10% student discount but that promotion is over. It’s a shame but I still like coming here after a long day of school when I don’t want to cook. Give it a try if you’re in the neighborhood and crave a little bit of sushi!

Food: 8.0/10
Price: $15-25

~ kehwon

 

(San Fran Trip) Minamoto Kitchoan – Financial District

Tfung’s friend had recommended us try this shop as she had a very good experience with the sweets, and she knew that I liked Japanese snacks. I have to be honest and say that the service fluctuated a lot. We came to this shop 3 times, and the first time we were here, the person was so rude and unhappy to be serving us. We were purchasing at least 5 items and she gave me this nasty attitude that I did not appreciate. However the other two times were ok and there was one person who was very nice, patient and polite.

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I liked how the store was setup, with the display as non-perishable gummy models of what the sweets look like. They have a back store-room where they store everything, since a lot of them need to be refridgerated. They receive their shipments from Japan every day, since some of the sweets expire in about 3 days since day of purchase.

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I bought the Green Tea Puff at the recommendation of Bernice :). She and I have quite similar tastes and all the recommendations she’s given me so far has lived up to her hype about it. This was the same. It looks like a macaron but the texture is more like a more elastic sponge cake, with the crust being slightly crumbly/crunchy. The butter cream filling was absolutely amazing, unlike most green tea flavours I’ve had. This was a true maccha taste, leaving that bitter aftertaste in your mouth. Since we went to the Japanese Tea Garden and experienced some real maccha tea, I thought this was very representative of high quality maccha. If you don’t like green tea, this is definitely not for you.

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We also ordered the Ayashirabe, which is a cake with white bean paste as filling. It was a little sweeter than I would have liked. It was also very filling and gives you that slightly nauseated feeling. I didn’t think this was a good purchase, but I guess it was a good try to rule out which sweets were good and which were bad.

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Finally we got the green tea mochi with white chocolate filling. I honestly had high hopes for this due to my love for authentic Japanese-made green tea products. However the white chocolate filling in this really turned me off. I hate white chocolate, and am a dark chocolate girl (as is tfung). But I gave this a try since I did love the maccha. The filling and the green tea didn’t go well together in my opinion and just tasted awkward, unbalanced and like someone just tried to mash two unwilling flavours together.

Overall I thought this sweet shop was nice to visit, but not a lot of their products were good. They had very interesting sweets, but it was almost like they tried to hard to be fresh and innovative. I’m a very traditional girl, loving authentic food. This might be why I wasn’t so impressed with most of their sweets (at least the ones I tried).

Service: 3/5
Food: 7.0/10
Atmosphere: proper, clean, Japanese-style
Price: $10-30

(San Fran Trip) Japanese Tea Garden – Golden Gate Park

Wanting to relive the Japan trip we made last summer, I had signed me and tfung up for the Japaense Tea Garden Tea Ceremony for the Friday morning. They only have openings on Wednesday and Friday mornings, so I had called in ahead of time to make a reservation. We made the reservation for 10:30 as it is free admissions into the Japanese garden until 10am every day. So we first came to enjoy some of the beautiful scenery the garden had to offer.

I honestly love Japanese gardens. They just give this sense of tranquility that I can never achieve in any other setting. It gives me a sense of comfort, that things will be alright. It’s just a great feeling, and I wish I had a Japanese garden easily accessible to me in Toronto.

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After enjoying the beautiful scenery, we went over to the center of the garden, which is where the snack shop is located. This was also the location of the tea ceremony.

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We could see the kimono-clad lady setting up for the tea ceremony, and after I snapped a few pictures, we decided to order some snacks while we’re waiting. After all, we hadn’t had any food that morning yet.

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We ordered the dorayaki and the green tea cheesecake. The dorayaki is kind of like two pancakes together with redbean paste filling. It is a sweet that was made famous (at least in my chidlhood) by the cartoon (or anime as it is referred to in Japan), Doraemon. The robot cat who was the star of the cartoon absolutely loved dorayaki. I thought it was pretty good but not really anything to note. It taste like the good quality ones I could buy in Toronto, at its freshest state. Other than that I hadn’t thought it was spectacular. I did however quite enjoy the greentea cheesecake. There was just enough greentea flavour, but still had the cheesecake taste. It was a good balance of the two. Every bite with the whipped cream was better than the next. My only complaint is that it was too small to share between the two of us.

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The tea ceremony was an amazing experience for me. We learned the proper procedures of the tea ceremony, as well as how to properly receive and drink our maccha tea.  You receive the bowl with your right hand hugging the side of the bowl so that the fingers point away from you, and the tips of your left hand’s fingers supporting the bottom edge of the bowl. You set it into the palm of your left hand, and then rotate the bowl three times clockwise. Then you drink from it, usually 3 sips to finish all of the tea in the bowl and you make a kind of slurping sound at the last sip. This slurp when done right is a sign of respect and appreciation for the beautiful tea that was brewed for you by the tea maker. There are also many other rules and procedures but this was the most important part.

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To balance the bitter taste of the maccha tea, we were served some sweets. They were the famous japanese mochi and some japanese crackers as well. The Tea was absolutely delicious in my opinion. It was so creamy and rich, with just enough bitterness to it that doesn’t overwhelm you. The mochi was of good texture, not too chewy but not too mushy, and the filling wasn’t too sweet either. The crackers were also slightly sweet and had a very slight burnt flavour to it.

I loved the whole experience so much, and I hope tfung did too. I’m more into the Japanese traditional stuff, like when we got to wear yukatas at the onsen in Tokyo. If you have any interest in Japanese traditions, I do recommend you check this place out. If not for the tea ceremony, for the garden and some of their snacks is good too!

Japanese Tea Garden Tea House on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

Big in Japan Bar – Plateau Mont-Royal

So I had been hearing a lot about this bar lately from my local friends. They had been saying that this place was really cool, and was super hard to find. They were right about everything, and more.

So we get here around 10pm, and push through this kind of sketchy red door.

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Big In Japan Bar’s Mystery Entrance

So we walk in, through this narrow corridor (which is actually where people end up waiting in line). The walls were lined with this taupy-greyish thick fabric. And at the end of the corridor was the entrance to the bar which was not yet visible to me, as it was covered by this fabric.

We walk in and my eyes probably lit up like Harry Potter’s when he saw the Great Hall in the Hogwarts Castle.

The bar was very oddly shaped, with the waiters and waitresses being able to walk through to each customer (an ingenious design in my opinion). There were swivel chairs that could be expertly placed if you wanted more intimate positions. Some people were just standing. We were able to get a spot with two swivel chairs, which we pushed together so that the three of us could sit on them.

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Big in Japan Bar; 4175 St Laurent; Coin Rachel; 438-380-5658

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I ordered the Yuzu Chu-Hi, which was part of their Japanese menu. This was a 355mL bottle for $9. It’s got an interesting taste which I think is because this is a malt-based drink. There were two flavours available: yuzu and grapefruit. It was hard for me to decide because I love both, but I figured yuzu flavoured products were much harder to find in Montreal so I settled for that.

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Americano

My friend got the Americano, which contains campari and vermouth. It was really quite delicious even though it was a little strong for me. The flavour was sweet enough but not too overdone so that it makes you want to gag after a few sips. It was garnished with a slice of orange.

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Jamaican Mule

My last friend ordered the Jamaican Mule, containing rum, ginger and some syrups. I thought this was surprisingly delicious. When she had first ordered it I had imagined it to be a dark and thicker drink. But it was actually very refreshing and the ginger was not overpowering at all. All of the drinks came with the cute little Japan-themed tooth pick. I thought it added such a cute but subtle flare to it.

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On top of the main portion of the bar, where we were situated, there were these bottles hanging there. My friend explained that these were unfinished bottles of patrons when they order the expensive sake. They are allowed to sign or write a message on it, and then are placed there for others to see. I thought that was a great way to add a more personal relationship with the patrons.

You can either open a tab or pay as you go. If you open the tab you get this cute little card that kind of resembles a hotel card, with a number on it. At the end you can pay separately if you’d like by card. I thought this was a system that worked very well with what patrons often need.

In terms of the ambiance, I absolutely 1000000% loved it. It’s perfect for me. I love way it was decorated. Simple, modern yet with very subtle accents. The candles obviously gave a romantic touch, and I did see a lot of couples there. But it’s not so obviously “romantic” that friends can’t enjoy the atmosphere. It wasn’t TOO loud, but definitely wasn’t a super quiet environment. I loved that you don’t get secluded booths so that it’s more lively and you could probably meet some interesting people there. The owner comes around later in the night to pour your drinks and make conversation with you which was something I really appreciated. This place is definitely not good for a big party though. The reason being that you have to sit or stand along the bar and it’d be very difficult to chat with your friend who was standing 9 people down…. I’d say if you have a party of 3 or 4 would be perfect.

I loved this bar so much, it has become my favourite bar at the moment. Just everything about it made me so at peace and happy. The fact that it has a slight Japanese theme to it didn’t hurt either. I highly recommend coming here for a chill night if you just wanna chat with your friends!

Service: 3.5/5
Drinks: 8.0/10
Atmosphere: dark, down-key, relaxed, sophistocated, modern, simple
Price: $10-15 per drink

Big in Japan on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

Santouka – Downtown Toronto

Finally, a ramen post!

Combined, me and tfung have tried many ramen places. Some were utter disappointments, and some just didn’t quite satisfy all of our wants. After our trip to Japan last year, we’ve just been spoiled in terms of our Ramen taste-buds. It is so difficult for us to find a ramen joint we enjoy after that memorable ramen stand near Tsukiji Market. I feel almost as if that feeling and that flavour can never be found again…

But, we did happen to find one we do enjoy in Toronto even if it doesn’t match up to the ones in Japan. We both agreed that out of all the ramen places, this was our favourite in terms of having the best score combined for the noodle, broth and meat. Some places the broth was excellent but the noodle was not done to our liking, or the meat was done so carelessly.

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I ordered the Miso Cha-shu Ramen. It was actually on this day that I discovered I actually don’t like Miso broth. However putting that aside, everything was really good, and there was definitely enough noodle to fill us up.

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Tfung got the Toroniku Shio Ramen, which is something that they can run out of and depends on “first come first serve” basis. Toroniku means the pig’s jowl, and was absolutely delicious. It was tender, but still had texture. The flavour of meat was not masked by any marinating, yet still was flavourful. Shio means salt, and this type of broth is actually one of the older ones.

Since we were seated at the bar, it was a little loud and not very intimate. However I love sitting at the bar at ramen joints because it reminds me of Japan. The waitresses that night seemed a little overwhelmed and were a little hard to get a hold of. However they were very nice and I didn’t have any problems with my order.

Again, I highly recommend checking this place out. If time permits, going at lunch time would be best to avoid waiting in line. We arrived at 6pm and had to wait a full hour. This was back in December 2012 though, so I’m not sure whether the lines are that bad still. Either way, it would be advisable to avoid peak hours.

Another thing I love about this place is that it’s pretty much right next to Eaton Center. I had visited Santouka again this summer after shopping at Eatons with my cousin. We just walked right over and had some ramen. It is just so easy and convenient.

Service: 4/5
Food: 8.9/10
Atmosphere: simple, wood, modern Japanese
Price: $12-20

 

Santouka Ramen on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

Shiso Tree Cafe – Japantown

I always love going to Japantown (located on Woodbine, just East of Woodbine). I love their pan (bread) and looking at the cakes. I love the general atmosphere and I’ve never had a bad experience there. There’s always something that reminds me of good times, including the time that I bought two big pieces of sashimi (Salmon and Hamachi) for sushi party at my house, at which we ended up butchering the beautiful sashimi because I did not have a proper knife.

Nonetheless, this time my mom and my cousin finally tried the Shiso Tree Cafe. I’ve seen this name pop up in a lot of my friends’ facebook checkins and I finally went and tried it.

We all just ordered pastas,

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My cousin got the Shoyu Mushroom Pasta. Shoyu in japanese means soy sauce, so I’m guessing this was made with some soy sauce. I didn’t taste much of it but it had a sweet taste to it. Being a mushroom lover (haha) I loved this dish. But the sweetness of it did throw me off at first.

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My mom ordered the Shrimp Okonomiyaki . Okonomiyaki is actually a pancake dish in Japan, and it’s famous for the very unique sauce that is used. I used to love okonomiyaki-flavoured chips (and still do) by Calbee, so I’m a huge fan of this sauce. The shrimp was of good quality and had the perfect texture. However, they had put some cheese in the dish. It didn’t match the Asian flavours at all and being someone who generally doesn’t like cheese unless it works really with the dish, I felt that it had ruined this for me.

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I myself got the Shio Clam Vongole. Shio means “salt” in terms of ramen adn that’s kind of what I took it as in this. There were some basil leaves in the dish and the clams were quite good. It was a little oilier than I would have liked but I did like the taste. I have to say that the mushroom pasta was my favourite though!

I really do love Japantown, even more so after visiting Japan. I love the way that Japanese people have the discipline and will power to excel in everything they do. Each individual isn’t a Jack of all trades, but whatever they specialize in, they will perfect it. They are so efficient and have so much respect for the jobs even if they don’t like it. This is something that I think we all need to learn from.

Anyway, the service was quite good, the waitress knew exactly what we wanted and didn’t need much explanation. I hate the places where I have to explain myself to them. I’m not a patient person and at a restaurant is where I want to relax and enjoy. If I have to over-exert myself just to get the waitress to understand it usually turns me off. And this place did a perfect job of that!

Service: 4.5/5
Food: 8.3/10
Atmosphere: Modern Japanese, with little wooden booths
Price: $15-20

Shiso Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

Inatei – Richmond Hill

Inatei is located at 9021 Leslie st. I first heard about it about 2-3 years ago when my parents heard that the owner of the restaurant they frequent, had opened up a second restaurant: a japanese one. They had tried it and recommended it to me. Today I went with my friends to this place I like to go to when I feel like treating myself.

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I love the decor of this restaurant because it really does capture a Japanese feel to it. With its dark stone constructed wall contrasted with the light coloured wood to partition the booths, finished with the oriental flower fabric, the atmosphere is instantly created. As a very full-package oriented person, I do believe that decor makes and breaks a restaurant. If my eyes and my tastebuds don’t completely agree, then there is just something off. Not to say a restaurant has to be beautifully decorated, but it has to match and fit. This place definitely does that for me.

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We ordered the sushi and sashimi moriawase which a selection of sashimi, nigiri and maki. I love this place because they don’t focus on the common types of fish we tend to see. They had this yellow roe fish (which is actually the golden herring menhaden), saba (mackerel) topped with green onion and ginger, scallops, among the more common types. Everything was very fresh and the quantities were enough that we can really savour the fish. We also ordered a spider roll which had an amazing flavour, which at first almost tastes like okonamiyaki (a flavour I cannot get enough of). I usually am not a fan of soft shell crab but this roll really sucked me in.

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We also had an order of uni nigiri. But they had run out of regular Vancouver uni, so they threw in a Hokkaido Uni (which was more than double the price) in for us instead. The uni more to the bottom of the picture is the Hokkaido one. My friend and I split these two and we definitely could taste a difference. The Vancouver one had more of a fishy taste, and was more “watery”. Whereas the Hokkaido had less fishy taste, but a bitter aftertaste that lingered for quite a while. It also was very very creamy and smooth. I’m not a huge lover of uni but have been enjoying it since my trip to Japan. So I definitely thought their Hokkaido uni was really quite good.

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For dessert we ordered my beloved tofu cheesecake. Inatei was the first time I had tofu cake and although I was very very hesitant at first, I fell in love with it at first bite. It is more like a hard pudding consistency, with tofu taste and graham cracker base. Eaten with the chocolate drizzle, whipped cream and the sliced almond on top, it is so amazing. I also love that this is quite a generous portion of cake (compared to places like Guu, where the slice of yuzu cheesecake was the size of my middle and ring fingers combined….).

Another generous gesture was seen by the owner as he threw in 3 lychee panna cottas for us. It was really more of a lychee pudding, with a piece of lychee at the bottom. Very light in texture and flavour, but I don’t think I would’ve paid for this.

We were served with speed and friendliness by the owner. I loved the whole experience and although I’ve come several times already, I continue to recommend this restaurant to my friends and family. Perhaps it was that I asked if they had tofu cheesecake in stock when we first sat down, or perhaps it was because I spoke cantonese to the owner. Either way, I believe that if you seem to really want to eat their food, they will treat you as treasured customers. Afterall, this restaurant wasn’t opened purely to make money.

Service: 4.5/5
Food: 8.7/10
Atmosphere: Excellent
Price: $20-30

Inatei on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon