By Julian Geneen
When I heard about the opening of a new omakase-focused Japanese restaurant in Toronto, my ears immediately perked up. Those who know me are painfully aware of my passion (often justifiably considered snobbery) about the cuisine and sushi in particular. My curiosity grew even further when I found out that the restaurant was a singular vision from executive chef Daisuke Izutsu. Like my other passion, film, a unique vision or auteur style, can have a seriously volatile effect on the end product.
The location of the restaurant is strange, as this strip of Mount Pleasant is a revolving door for anything that isn't a "neighbourhood" establishment. This should have been a red flag, but it didn't cause me enough alarm to cross it off without trying it. Yukashi's wood-focused aesthetic and layout borrows from many places of its ilk. There are eight seats at the chef's counter, where you watch him cook the entire meal in front of you. Additionally, there are 10 or so wood tables in the back — I'm still wrapping my head around their purpose.
The menu is divided into omakase and a la carte. In the omakase portion, there is the $75 four-course option and the market priced nine-course option ($150 when I visited). I opted for the four-course option with an additional order of the daily sashimi, while several people ordered the nine-course option. I was excited as the ingredients in front of me looked fresh and inviting and chef Izutsu is knowledgeable and passionate about what he is serving. Knowledge and passion, however, do not make up for a lack of logistical understanding.
When everyone in your dining party orders a different progression and quantity of courses it’s a crippling mistake. I didn't understand how the chef was going to juggle cooking a wide array of dishes for diners all seated at the same time while also pulling double duty as the waiter. It was impossible for the chef to pace the meal and I had only eaten a persimmon by 9:45pm (we were seated at 8:30pm).
The food is quite good in spurts, and the menu is something different from the norm and quite refreshing. The mission statement is to fuse Japanese cuisine and ingredients with local products and inspiration. This comes through in the beautiful harvest plate, our main course of the meal, which features a very well-cooked Japanese miso black cod alongside Canadian harvest vegetables.
The presentation of my à la carte sashimi plate was quite stunning, but the fish didn’t live up to its the $40 price tag. Three varieties included Toro (fatty tuna), Madai (red sea bream) and Hamachi (yellowtail). While the quality was impressive, it barely stacked up to other sushi in the city. Shunoko, Jugemu and Zen charge less for the same quality and would consider this selection a standard offering. The focus of the restaurant should veer more towards traditional Japanese cooking as ingredients like the dashi broth in both the tofu mushroom dish and the rice offering was exceptional. The rice was particularly notable due to the use of a rare form of seaweed that provided umami with the rice, dashi and salmon roe. Izutsu knows how to cook when it comes to Japanese ingredients.
My meal left me with a bitter taste in my mouth despite the best efforts of the chef. An auteur filmmaker or brilliant chef shouldn’t refuse the input of those around him.
Our evening there was a disaster due to the pacing and the confusion of all the dishes being ordered at the table. If this restaurant offered only one menu and perhaps few diners it could be successful. Combining omakase and a la carte menus may appeal to the masses but Yukashi should focus on one thing. While some of the food was quite good, Yukashi needs a serious overhaul of its strategy.
Food rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
Service rating: 0.5 stars out of 4
Dinner and drinks for two: $300