You can have your Nobu. You can have your Morimoto (though I want a little piece of it since it is around the corner from our apartment and we go there every now and then). You can keep Sushi Yasuda – one of the best newcomers into the American sushi market in recent years. For me, the answer is Tojo’s. A friend told us about Tojo’s 4.5 years ago, and we stopped in on our trip to Vancouver. It was delicious then, and Tojo hasn’t let up on the effort – the offerings were still phenomenal last night. The restaurant is actually listed in the book 1000 Things to do before you die, which is a pretty glowing recommendation, but don’t take it from them – take it from me.
I sat at the counter, so the only menu I received was a cocktail and sake list. I made my selection then one of the three sushi chefs working (no Tojo – he’s in Japan this week) came over for a brief interview of my likes and dislikes before serving the Omakase. And then the real fun began. I went 10 rounds with them, and I think in the end all I can do is call it a win for both of us.
- Tuna in Tojo’s special sesame sauce – Deliciously soft and moist, with a slightly spicy sesame soy sauce and scallions.
- Crab Salad – West coast Dungeness crab meat with sliced apple and daikon radish and a spicy mustard sauce. Lots of flavor and the spice was just enough to give it some bite.
- Special of the night: Wild Sea Bream Carpaccio – This one came with a special dipping sauce, scallions and a chili paste of sorts to flavor it up.
- Steamed Canadian smoked sable and asparagus in a broth – A soup of sorts, this made me feel a bit like I was at brunch the day after a Bar Mitzvah or something like that because of the smoked fish flavor, but the meat was tender and moist and the broth is definitely something that I wouldn’t get at brunch. This was also the first course of the evening where I was instructed in how to actually eat what I was being served. The bowl came with a piece of paper on tip tied down, as well as some garnish. I thought the garnish was a herb I was supposed to eat, so I got corrected on that one pretty quickly.
- The “Golden Roll” – I watched them make a couple of these while I was eating my earlier courses, and I thought I knew what they were, but I’m very, very, very glad that they made another one for me to try. The Golden Roll has salmon, sea prawns, crab and scallops, rolled in rice and egg rather than seaweed. Absolutely phenomenal. The chef was very clear that this roll was only to have a very little bit of soy sauce, and he poured it for me rather than risking a chance of me using too much.
- Giant Clam Hand Roll – Not my favorite, and the low point of the evening, but really because I just don’t like the texture of the giant clam. It had a spicy sauce on top as well, and no soy sauce was allowed per the instructions. The interesting thing about the had rolls was that the chef basically just walked over and handed it to me rather than putting in on the plate; it was clear that it was just for eating, not for display. At this point I think I started to realize that I was in trouble. The chef asked me if I wanted to keep going. I guess this is where the official menu ran out and the ++ part of the fun came in to play.
- Blue Fin Tuna Pair – Thank god I continued on, because the next serving was blue fin. One piece each of nigri from the back and the belly. The chef actually made the pieces “double cuts” with two slivers of fish on each pad of rice, and I thanked him profusely for this (and he nodded appreciatively that I noticed the bonus). The o toro from the belly was buttery delicious and the cut from the back was meaty and rich, just like they’re supposed to be. Again strict instructions on soy sauce usage, though this time I ignored them and skipped it completely.
- Tempura in Cucumber – A first for me: sushi rolled in cucumber. Shrimp & yam tempura along with asparagus, avocado and pineapple, rolled up in a thinly sliced cucumber. Must eat with hands and no soy sauce. The flavor on this roll was interesting, as the pineapple added a distinct sweetness that balanced out the rest of the roll quite nicely.
- Lobster Hand Roll – By far the better of the two hand rolls. A large chunk of claw meat, plus some avocado, tempura flakes and spicy mayo sauce. The other thing about the hand rolls is that you can’t really put them down after you’ve started eating them, so basically you’re holding it for a couple minutes while you eat it. A little strange, but for these flavors well worth it.
- Rainbow Roll – I realized at this point in the evening that my “just one more” shtick was getting old (and that my wallet was getting lighter), so I made my first request of the chefs. Unagi. I don’t care how you prepare it – “Surprise me” – but make sure there is eel in the next round. Boy was I surprised. The Rainbow Roll was an eel and cucumber roll, wrapped in wild sockeye salmon, blue fin tuna and red snapper. Cut into three pieces, this roll was assigned to me for one bite with soy, one without, one I decide.
At this point I really wanted to call it a night, but they insisted on something sweet – “on the house.” I finally succumbed to an apple and sweet potato something, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some chopped mixed fruit. It was a good way to round out the evening. While I was eating my dessert the waitress and the chefs had an animated discussion over what I actually had so that she could make sure to charge me correctly. I think they freaked out a bit when I suggested that I could tell them exactly what I had since I wrote it all down, but I’ve gotten over it, especially as I relive the meal again now recounting it.
If you are ever in Vancouver and you like sushi, go to Tojo’s. If you love sushi, come up with some excuse to go to Vancouver, and then go to Tojo’s. It is worth the trip.
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