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Sunday 4 March 2012

Tojo's Restaurant, Vancouver BC - tasty tuna tartare and shiso mint sushi nigiris!

Rating Service 8/10, Food 7/10
While on a trip to Vancouver to visit friends, heard lots of hype about Tojo's, so thought I'd stop by and give it a whirl. Would the focus be on traditional flavors, or fusion? - given that  the chef is supposedly the inventor of the California roll, I lay my money on the latter.  And with Tojo's pricing, its a wad of cash. With decor being what we'd expect from a sushi joint - bamboo accents, gold and dark woods, we give the menu a look, and go with an omakase meal - traditionally the chef crafts a unique meal to what he thinks the customer would like based on the freshest selections of the day.  At Tojo's, we were surprised that rather than preparing a unique meal for each patron - "omakase" is really the definition of Tojo's set menu, as my omakase is the same as everyone else's in the restaurant that night, and every other night.   Surprisingly, Chef Hidekazu Tojo (yes, the restaurant is named after himself) prepared some of the omakase meal, rather than letting others do all the work for him. Anyways, on to the food!

Tuna Tartare
First up on the omakase menu is diced bits of albacore and red tuna compacted into a cylindrical shape along with bits of crisp cucumber and soft yam. The tartare is dotted with freshly grated ginger, slivered green onions, all sitting in a tangy lemon and soy sauce based vinaigrette.  It was a nice refreshing combination of savory and sweet textures.  The vinaigrette was a bit overpowering and extraneous, as the tartare stood well on its own.  But we're off to a good start!

The next dish was my favorite of the night - its an alien blob, its a spaceship with purple suction cups, its... tender thin slices of West Coast Octopus covering a bed of tangy spicy wakame seaweed, pickled daikon, carrots and vermicelli salad.  The whole thing was drenched with a miso vinaigrette laced with plenty of sesame seeds and sesame oil, and garnished with slivered green onions and some edible flowers.  The presentation could have used a bit of work, but the wicked marinated wakame salad made up for its lack.

Halibut cheek
These succulent and firm bite sized cheeks were sautéed with a rich creamy soy garlic sauce, shiitake mushrooms and seasonal veges - yellow and orange bell peppers, sweet peas and a chiffonade of diakon. The sauce though tasty was a bit too rich and masked the fresh sweetness of the halibut. Surprisingly, the mushrooms were the star of this dish working well with the rich savoury sauce, rather than the halibut cheeks.

Suntan Tuna
A nice chunk of red tuna is tempura'ed, flash fried and served with tender mushrooms. A chiffonade of shiso mint sat atop of a tangy sour plum sauce crowned the maki. There was a good balance of creamy tuna, crunchy tempura and vege elements making for a refreshing yet rich bite. Okay, 2 bites.

the rolls
Spicy tuna roll
Run of the mill spicy tuna paste in a roll, but topped with a piece of tuna sashimi on top - was nice to get the sweetness of tuna as well as the spicy tuna paste, so you're not just eating chili sauce mixed with tuna.
Pacific Northwest Roll
Sweet West coast Dungeness crab and ripe avocado rolled up with sushi rice, seaweed, topped with raw scallop and golden flying fish roe. Not exceptional, but tasty none the less.
The Great Canadian Roll
A strip of smoked salmon on top of a roll filled with tender lobster and asparagus. The idea was good, though the smokey-saltiness from the salmon overpowered the delicate lobster, while the asparagus added in a punch of color and texture.
Golden Roll
Crabmeat, scallop, salmon and sweet shrimp rolled up in sushi rice and Tojo’s trademark silk-thin egg crepe, a dab of Japanese mayo and crunchy roe. Originally made for people that preferred not to eat seaweed, the egg crepe made for a vibrant, if a bit bland substitute.

Clockwise from left: spicy tuna roll, Pacific Northwest roll, Great Canadian roll, Golden roll, unagi nigiri, and red snapper nigiri

the nigiri
Unagi nigiri
Freshwater eel grilled and slathered with a sweet sauce - in this case, while I enjoy unagi, Tojo's didn't stand out from the crowd.
Red snapper nigiri
With the Japanese shiso mint giving a burst of freshness, it contrasted nicely against the cool smooth snapper. Winner!

And the same as above with the flash on

Black sesame panna cotta
Served with a crisp black and white sesame sugar chip, the panna cotta was a sweet (yet not cloyingly so), rich dark purple black sesame smoothness with a creamy custard on top. It was very similar to Chinese traditional black sesame desserts, though the sesame sugar chip made it a bit fancier. A nice rich way to finish off the meal.

Overall, while some of the menu items were creative, there were times creativity overshadowed or masked flavors rather than having the fish or seafood central to the dish shine. For the price tag, I expected more attention to presentation and no sloppy plating.  Tojo's definetely has its eyes on the fusion market, as it is a bit of a disappointment for those who enjoy traditional Japanese fare.  I may head back for the tuna tartare and the excellent shiso mint laced nigiris, but Chef Tojo needs to start focusing on the food rather than being blinded by the shiny awards he has on his walls, and don't reduce the omakase to a generic set meal.

Tojo's Restaurant
1133 West Broadway, Vancouver, BC V6H 1G1
Phone 604 872 8050
Hours Dinner from 5pm Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays
Tojo's on Urbanspoon


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