Materialism

It is slightly awkward and entirely satirical that I find myself writing about this topic. Over the years, I’ve read many articles that talk about over indulged developed countries juxtaposed with developing countries that struggle to feed their population. At some point in time, I have come to peace with myself that as long as I’m not spending beyond my means then it would be okay.

Last week, I battled with my own materialism, in a very real physical way. I was tasked with packing our condo for a temporary move back to my parents. We lived in a 570 sq. ft. condo, and I was of the belief that we did not own that much “stuff”. But when I began packing, I realized that “not that much” was a lot!

Here is a photo for those that want to see the progress. (Not even at the half way point yet) Untitled The realization was much more epic as I packed boxes after boxes, and somewhere along the way, I threw out my back. When we finished packing and we had approximately 35 boxes. The complete breakdown is as follows:

    • 3 boxes of shoes;
    • 3 boxes of alcohol;
    • 15 boxes of clothes;
    • 6 boxes of books; and
    • 8 boxes of kitchen/ pantry items

I’m not sure when and how all this accumulated, but the visualization of this was a bit of a shock for me. Half the boxes were food related and the other half clothes, which I think is quite befitting of our life style. And this is the after photo of me being lost in all our stuff. Untitled After packing everything away, I packed a backpack of items that I treasure which includes:

  • My Gohonzon
  • 3 irreplaceable collectors items that I will save for another time to disclose
  • Laptop & Cell phone
  • Wallet

As I looked at the empty condo, with my backpack on, I felt light. I felt like all I ever need is in this backpack so why do I have so much stuff to begin with? There was an urge at that point in time to head to the airport, see what flights were leaving YYZ, and just take off. Resisting that urge was a test of will and you would not believe how hard it was.

I remember a quote from Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, The Doctrines of Three Thousand Realms:

We see that this fleshly form received in birth from our parents, this body bound by earthly desires, is none other than the Thus Come One who has existed always and is ever-abiding. This is what is called the attainment of Buddhahood in one’s present form, the realization that earthly desires are none other than enlightenment and that the sufferings of birth and death are none other than nirvana.

At this time when we gaze at the phenomenal world, we see that all things conform to the single principle of the Middle Way, and that the Buddha and living beings are one.

This passage reminds us that we are all humans, and because we are humans we have earthly desires.  But, at the same time, it is these desires that propel us forward in life and make us continue to strive for the next best thing. What is important is to not allow these desires to engulf and blind us, while on the other hand to not deprive ourselves of the pleasures of life.

It goes on to explain that, the realization that these earthly desires, as well as birth, aging, sickness and death are all cycles of life. True happiness comes from the principle of Middle Way where we are not swayed by the ups and downs in life, and that we develop strong inner strength and character.

So after 35 boxes, 1 crazy day of moving, and a sprained back I’ve learned to come to peace with my materialism again. I’ve forgiven myself a little, learned that if I were to lose it all one day I should always remember that I already have what I need.

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La Vinia

On Saturday night I was sweped away by an elaborate plan orchestrated by Ru and made possible by R.  I was taken to a surprise birthday dinner with a promise that the food will wow me.

We arrived at a small homey restaurant called La Vinia.  The waiters and waitresses were pleasant.  They were very helpful with the menu and gave some really good recommendations too.  Everything looked so delicious, I’m pretty sure we ended up ordering half the menu.

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Gambas al Ajillo: Sautéed Shrimp with Garlic and Olive Oil.  The shrimp was very fresh. It came out in a cast iron pan that was still sizzling hot.  The shrimp was perfectly done.  I would imagine it would be slight under cooked before it was served, and as the food is being served it continues to cook so that when it arrives on my plate, it was perfect.  Very tasty and fresh.  The garlic does not over power the fresh shrimp flavour.

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Sweetbread:  Sweetbreads or ris are  the thymus  (also called throat, gullet, or neck sweetbread) of the calf or lamb.  This was slightly gamey. The sauce was heaven.  It was creamy, with lots of spices, and a bit of carrots.  Perfect for dipping fresh bread with.

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Pimientos del Piquill: Piquilo Peppers Stuffed with a Seafood Mouse and an Anisete cream.  The pepper was cooked until it was soft and tender. The seafood mousse was a light cream, with a bit of a salty seafood taste to it.  There was pieces of crab meat in it as well.  This was added to another personal favourite.

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Calamares a la Plancha:  Grilled Calamari with Chilli oil.  The calamari had a slightly charred flavour to it.  It has that crispy savory taste to it.  It was served with a generous drizzle of chili oil which gave the squid a very aromatic flavour.  It was grilled perfectly, not to raw so that it was slimy  but not too cooked either to make it take like rubber.

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Pulpo a la Gallega: Poached Octopus Marinated in Olive Oil and Pimentón. The octopus was so soft, and so flavourful.  We had to ask the waiter how it was prepared. The waiter said that the octopus was tenderized before being cooked by beating.  Then it was poached for in broth.  I’ve never tasted octopus so soft before.  The chewy elastic texture is completely gone.

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Jamón Ibérico: Spanish Ibérico Ham.  I could seriously eat this all day.  Ibérico is the Spanish’s version of prosciutto.  It was slightly salty, the a similar texture as prosciutto.  Excellent with wine and fresh bread. Writing about this post makes me want to go back from some more ibérico.

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Seafood: We also had this seafood dish which had scallop, mussles, shrimp served with a light tomato based sauce. The flavour was light, not over powering the seafood.  This dish compared to all the other ones was good, but not as outstanding.

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Fideuá: Spanish Catalonia Style Spaghetti Pasta with Shrimp, Calamari, Scallops, Monkfish.  This is a pasta version of paellas.  We ordered it because we though the concept was very unique.  The flavouring used such as safforn, and other spice is like the traditional paella, except it is made with pasta and not rice.  The pasta was thick, perfectly al dante to my taste.  First bite, and this reminded me of chinese noodles. Haha.. I know it sounds weird, but it’s good noodle, with a nice broth and seafood.  Very tasty, and I’m glad we tried it.

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Paella de Marisco: Spanish Saffron Rice with Shrimp, Calamari, Mussels, Scallops, Monkfish and Clams.  Paella, the chef’s pride.  The paella was traditionally made with fine safforn spice, infused with flavours of the seafood.  The rice was soft, but not overly cooked.  The flavour was fantastic, with lots of seafood flavour from the shrimp, mussels and calamari. This has got to be the best paella I’ve had since Barcelona. A+++

An assortment of desserts to finish off the night.

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Mango cheese cake

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Lemon Sorbet

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Raspberry Sorbet

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Chocolate Tartufo

Where: La Vinia
Location: Toronto, Ontario
What: Almost half the menu. Too many dishes to list. See above.
Verdict: Highly recommended. Would definitely go back.
La Vinia on Urbanspoon

Origin

After wine class on Tuesday, R and I was on the hunt for food.  We happened to be in the area and decided to give Origin a try.  The place was fairly busy for Tuesday late night.  The menu looked really interesting and it seems like I won’t be disappointed.

R decided to have the burger with Spanish fries. The burger was fairly tasty.  The burger bun was good, the bread was soft and went well with the meat.  The meat was a bit over cooked, and too dry.  I think it would have been better if the cheese was in the middle of the burger, so that when you bite into it it’s juicy and melts in your month.  Overall, this is just your average burger.

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Spanish fries.  We weren’t sure why this is called the Spanish fries.  It was essentially a poutine.  It had sausages, cheese, sour cream, tomato…etc. It had a bit of a spicy kick to it.  It was yummy, but nothing that wow-ed us.  I think we could’ve got something similar from Smoke’s.

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I decided on the sashimi tuna salad.  It was a bit spicy, sour and sweet with avocado, zucchini, seaweed, pepper, and rice cracker bits.  There was so much sauce in the salad, it overpowered EVERYTHING on the plate. I could not taste anything but the sauce. It was to a point where you can’t even tell you were eating tuna sashimi. It was VERY disappointing.

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Where: Origin
Location: Toronto, Ontario

What: Sashimi Tuna Salad, Spanish Fries, Burger
Verdict: Disappointing. Will not go back.

Origin Restaurant on Urbanspoon

2:1

Ru and I were out again on a hunt for yummies around downtown Toronto.  After an hour of battling traffic, we finally made it downtown to our first destination: Ematei.  With 88% rating on Urbanspoon, I had high hopes for this place.  Around 8pm, the restaurant was packed.  We waited for a bit and was finally seated.

Short of dying of hunger, we quickly ordered.  Up first was the Tacowasa.  This is raw squid with a touch of salt and wasabi.  Tasted like how it was suppose to taste.

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Ru had ordered the ramen and unfortunately I didn’t get to take a photo before she started eating. The broth was very rich and had this veggie taste in it.  I also tasted a hint of butter, I’m not sure if there was actual butter in the broth or it was something else.  The noodle was a bit more al dente than we liked.  You could taste that the noodle was from a package and in fact we it tasted a bit like plastic.  The pork was over cooked and not fatty enough to make it soft and juice.  Overall verdict, not worth it.

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Then we ordered a grilled black cod.  The fish tasted very sweet and it was very smooth.  Normally I would say fish does have that sweet fresh taste to it, but this sweetness is way too sweet.  It almost felt like it was marinated in a sugary sauce.  It tasted yummy, but I question if it was from the sugar.

We were still hungry, but decided that it was really time to go as food was not that great.

Where: Ematei
Location: Toronto, Ontario

What: Tacosawa, Ramen, Black Cod
Verdict: Overrated.  Will not be back.

Ematei Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Unsatisfied, we decided that we should hit up a restaurant with higher rating.  Richmond Station was on our list for a while and since neither of us have been we decided to head over.  At around 10pm, the dining room was packed.  We tried to get a table for sit down but was told that it would be a 20 min wait.  We decided to hang out at the standing bar and have a drink.  One look at the wine list and it was unimpressive.  The selection was so small, that I probably had a bigger selection of wine at home.

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Upon the waitress’ recommendation we went with the 2011 Roussanne.  The wine was too dry without food.  It had average balance with hints of lemon, honeysuckle and floral.  Not really my glass of wine.

After being sick of waiting, we decided to order an appetizer to see how the food is here and if it was worth continuing to wait.  We debated between the smoked trout rillettes and the corn and scallop pakoras.  I love scallops but I find that it is rarely done right, so I always stay away from it.  But since Richmond Station received a lot of raves and praises on Urbanspoon, I decided to give it a shot.

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And here it is.  The sauce is spiced yogurt.  One bite into it and I could taste zucchini, a bit of chilli, coriander, chutney and corn.  But where’s the scallop?  I don’t think I need to go on to say how disappointed I was with the pankoras.  The scallop was in small tiny pieces, over cooked, and all the other ingredients over powered the taste.  Fail.  We were so disappointed, we got the bill and left.

Where: Richmond Station
Location: Toronto, Ontario

What: Corn and Scallop Pakoras
Verdict: Overrated.  Will not be back.
Richmond Station on Urbanspoon

At this point, Ru and I were thinking what is going on?  What a horrible night and such epic fail.  We thought that we should hit up one more place to round the night out.  No more disappointments.  We waved down a taxi and headed to Darwin.  We were missing the wine there and was craving the avocado shrimp.  Ru and I were here a few weeks ago for the first time and was really impressed.  We know they recently launched a bar menu on pilot and thought we’d give that a go.

When we arrived the place was still lively.  We took up our favourite table by the french windows.  Perfect for a beautiful night.

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We ordered the avocado shrimp, and was as impressed as the first time we had it.  Very delicious.  We also wanted to give the shrimp taco a try.  The taste we very fresh and unique.  I’m not sure if shrimp taco is always with deep fried shrimp, it tasted good but it might taste better if it was grilled instead.  Healthier, in my opinion.

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At the compliment of the owner, we got a nice treat.  Yucca fries.  It was my first time having yucca fries and it has this starchy, crispy texture.  It went well with the sauce which was a bit spicy and creamy.  I think this would go very well with beer.

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Then we had ratoutille wrapped in phyllo pastry, which was also a compliment of the owner.  At this point we were super full already, but thought we’d give it a taste too.  It tasted like a samosa. The concept is very unique.

After being disappointing by 2 restaurants we were finally happy with our food and hung around Darwin for a while.

Where: Darwin
Location: Toronto, Ontario

What: Avocado Shrimp, Shrimp Taco, Samosa, Yucca Fries
Verdict: Great food and wine.

Darwin Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon

Marcello’s

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to officially announce that a new Friday night tradition has formed. A perfect Friday nights includes: Ru, Me, Wine, Cheese, Meat and Seafood. This week we took the celebrations to Marcello’s in Vaughn. We got there around 7pm and the place was packed! We had to wait 1/2 hour to be seated, but the waiters were nice and I can see that they were doing their best to get people seated as soon as possible.

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The wine list wasn’t long nor impressive.  We picked a random Riesling from the list and went with it.  It was odd that they had the option of ordering a litre of wine?  Well, I’ve never ordered a litre of wine at a restaurant before, so that’s exactly what I did.  I ordered the litre.  I’ve been here before, and was thoroughly impressed by their grilled calamari. Olive oil, with a bit of pesto sauce and balsamic dressing.

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We also ordered a platter of antipasto to share.  Grilled veggies, olives, meat, cheese over a bed of greens.  Perfect for sharing over wine.

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Overall, we had a fantastic night.  Good food, okay wine, great company.

Where: Marcello’s Pizzeria
Location: Vaughn, Ontario

What: Anitpasto, Grilled Calamari
Verdict: The Grilled calamari never dissapoints.  Will be back to try to pasta next time.

Marcello's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Darwin

After an exhausting long day of recruiting events at UofT, Ru and I decided head to little Italy to unwind.  We went back to our faithful Yelp and Urbanspoon reviews.  Darwin caught our attention.  It’s a new french bistro with high ratings.  We thought we would give it a go.

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We walked in and found a nice seat right at the front of the windows so we could people watch.  The atmosphere is nice, love the lighting.. very romantic.. which was perfect for the occasion anyways.

We were greeted by a really nice waitress.  What made her superb was, just as I sat down, she informed us that the wine for tonight was a 2010 Sussreserve Riesling VQA from Angels Gate for $6 a glass.  I have never heard of Angels Gate before.  She said it’s a vineyard in Ontario and that Darwin usually don’t like to stock wine that is available at the LCBO.  So you won’t be able to find this one at the LCBO.  Another bonus!  I love trying out new wines.  She grabbed us the bottle and gave us some for tasting.  Without hesitation, we both ordered a glass to start.  More about the wine later…

After a few sips, we dove right into the menu.  Short and sweet there were 6 appetizer and 7 mains to choose from.  Even Ru, who is normally indecisive was able to decide quickly.

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I started with the avocado shrimp cocktail.   It had mangoes and coriander.  The avocado and mango combination was really new and interesting.  The flavour together tasted new and curious.  There was a bit of pepper in the avocado which gave it a bit of a kick.  The shrimp was perfectly grilled.  Lightly charred, crispy on the outside, but still juicy on the inside.  Hands down to perfectly cooked shrimp.  There was a bit of lime juice on the shrimp which brings out the freshness.  Overall, excellent dish.  I was impressed.

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Ru ordered the calamari on Ratatouille.  The waitress came back and said that it was no longer available. The chef offered to prepare an octopus on hummus dish instead -Ru gladly accepted.  The octopus was perfectly grilled too.  Lightly charred on the outside which made it taste crispy, but the inside was really juicy and fresh.  The hummus had a bit of turmeric in it which gave it the spicy flavour.  The night was already looking very good with 2 appetizer that impressed.

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For the main I had the roast salmon on tabouli.  There was eggplant, bell pepper, tomato caviar, pine nuts in the tabouli.  The salmon tasted fresh, but to my standard it was slightly overcooked which made it a bit too dry.  The homemade tzatsiki sauce was excellent, you could taste the fresh cream.  I never had tabouli before.  It tasted like couscous.  It was pan fried so it tasted a bit crunchy and went well with the pine nut, egg plant and bell pepper.

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Ru ordered the braised pork belly on madras rice.  The braised  pork belly and perfectly cooked.  It was lightly seared to a point where it was a bit crunchy on the outside, which sealed the juiciness on the inside.  I am not a pork fan, Ru described the cut of the pork belly as perfect.  Something along the lines of the perfect balance of layers of fat and meat.  The sauce tasted a bit sweet with a hint of raspberry and lime.  More impressive than the pork belly was actually the mushroom.  The mushroom was delicious.  I love mushrooms and this was by far the best I’ve had.

Mid way through the main, we ordered another glass of the  2010 Sussreserve Riesling VQA.  The Riesling was on the sweet side.  It was very fruity but not overbearing and sticky to your mouth.  Because of the hints of pineapple and nectarine taste, it went really well with the seafood in our appetizer and my main.  I’ve never heard of Angels Gate before, but it’s definitely caught my attention now.

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We were already really satisfied by the end of our main.  The waitress came by and pick up our dishes and returned with 2 palate cleansers.  It was something… something… with a hint of lime.  Pleasantly surprised we took a sip.  Silence.. and finally Ru was like.. there’s liquor in here.  How awesome!  The waitress decided that after having 2 glasses of wine each, we needed a shot of liquor to get us through dessert.  Service like that deserves an A+!

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Up for dessert was creme burlee for me.  The falvour and everything tasted like how a creme brulee should be, but the texture was different.  The texture was very fluffy and airy, it was light.  Perfect after such a heavy meal.

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Ru opted for the parfait.  Homemade whipped cream and sour cream with fruit bottom.  Delicious and a perfect way to end a good meal.

After such an awesome meal and a few drinks we got very chatty with the waitress.  She told us that this restaurant is new and the chef is super creative.  We told her that we would be very interested in coming back and just having the chef cook and surprise us.  She was so excited and said that the chef would love that idea.  She also invited us to an event that they will be having a few weeks from now on a Friday night.  They are going to launch their bar menu and told us to come have a few drinks and try out all the bar food.  Overall we were beyond happy with the food, the drinks, the service, and best of all it didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  The appetizer, main and dessert was price fixe of $25 per person and the wine was $6 per glass-we really scored!

Where: Darwin
Location: Downtown Toronto, Ontario

What: Avocado Shrimp Cocktail, Octopus on Hummus, Braised Pork Belly, Roasted Salmon, Creme Burlee, Fruit Parfait
Verdict: A newly discovered gem.  Highly recommend and will definitely go back.

Darwin Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon

Yuzu no Hana

Restaurant hopping continued…

柚の花 (Yuzu no Hana) located in the financial district in Toronto has been one of the up and coming Japanese sushi bars getting a lot of raves.  It has been on my hit list for a while now.

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First impression is that there were a lot of people here.  It was around 9:40pm when we arrived, and this place was packed.  We waited 20mins for our table and was finally seated.  We chose to sit at the sushi bar so we can watch the chefs make our food and see all the dishes that pass through.

We studied the menu for a while, decided to get the omakase for $80 to share.  When we ordered the waiter told us that omakase requires reservation 1 day in advance.  It was noted on the menu, but we tried anyways.  So we were back to the drawing board as to what we should order.  We wanted to try something different, and something new.

Japanese lesson on the side: Omakase (お任せ) means “I’ll leave it to you” in Japanese.  In the case of ordering at a restaurant, it means I will leave it to the chef to order for me.  If you were in Japan, you can go to any sushi restaurant and say “omakase” and the chef will bring you the best selection of sashimi and sushi available.

It was a tough menu to go through as there were so many things that looked so curious.  We ordered beer first and mulled over the menu.IMG_4672
Asahi Black: My default go to beer, because it’s my favourite.  It’s a dark lager.  It’s super easy to drink being smooth and a bit creamy.

Kirin Ichiban: Ru’s random choice.  Light lager.  Apparently known for it’s crispy light taste which the brewery claims would be best paired with sushi.

After a few big gulps of beer, we were finally ready to order.

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First up is this appetizer.  Spicy Sashimi Salad.  I was actually debating between the Tataki salad and this one.  Tataki salad had seared tuna, organic greens finished off with a black vinegar dressing.  I asked our waiter and she highly recommended the spicy sashimi salad.  The spciy sashimi salad consist of sashimi grade fish, arare, mizuna, mixed green with spicy sauce.  Let’s break this dish down.

Japanese lesson on the side: Arare (あられ) is small pieces of Japanese rice cracker with soy sauce flavour. Mizuna (水菜) is actually the greens on the side, also known as California peppergrass.

First bite, all I could taste was the spicy sauce.  In Ru’s exact words, “The salad is over sauced which kills the freshness and overwhelms the texture of the sashimi”.  With this much sauce, you can’t even tell if the fish was sashimi grade or not.  The mizuna tasted a bit like arugula, but less spicy.  I think I would have actually enjoyed the dish if someone in the kitchen didn’t decide to go all cowboy with the sauce.  I also noted that there was no arare in the dish, instead there was pine nuts.  Which is odd because pine nuts was not listed on the menu for this dish.  Overall, the spicy sashimi salad was disappointing.

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I ordered an Oyster Shooter.  As I was going through the menu, this totally intrigued me.  The shooter has fresh oyster, quail egg, tobiko, yuzu ponzu, uni, and green onion.  I should note off the bat that there was no uni in my shooter.  If there was, I didn’t see it or taste it.  The combination of oyster and quail egg was definitely new for me.  I actually did enjoy this shooter but would have preferred if it was a bit more chilled -as oysters should always be.

The problem was the chefs were pumping out dishes at a reasonable pace, but the food would be sitting at the sushi bar waiting for the waitress to deliver it.  Because we were sitting at the sushi bar, I actually watched the chef make my shooter, and it was actually sitting at the counter for a good 10 mins before the waitress noticed it and served it to me.  Ru and I noticed that there were many dishes that sat on the counter waiting for it to be served.  Either they need a better system to organize and serve food more quickly or they need more waiters, or both.  We saw lobster rolls sitting beside us for a good 20 mins.  I wouldn’t want to eat cold lobster tempura rolls.

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Yuzu Roll.  We actually saw this when we were waiting for our table and thought it was so super awesome looking that we must order it.  The wow factor, as you can see here, is that the roll is in flames.  How cool is that?  Presentation deserves a 80%.

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Tasting notes: There’s salmon, tobiko, spicy mayo on top with tobiko, tempura shrimp, avocado and cucumber inside.  First of all, the flame that looked really awesome has nothing to do with the taste.  It doesn’t heat the roll, it doesn’t flambe it -it’s just for show.  Ru and I took our first bite, chewed chewed chewed.. then turned and looked at each other and said the exact same thing.  Taste so average.  I’m not sure if it was the flame or the fact that the roll is named after the restaurant (yuzu roll), we expected this to taste unique and different.  The combination of ingredients used tasted really average.  On top of all that, there was too much cucumber in the roll which made the roll really crispy and crunchy for no reason.  There’s nothing yuzu about this roll.  Here are 2 recommendations:

  1. Take out the cucumber and replace it with some sort of sashimi that is slightly buttery.  Less mayo.  And do the daring, actually add yuzu in it. Why not?
  2. Rename it to Green Dragon Roll.

Give those recommendations a go and I’ll consider trying it again.  Last but not least, we finished off with a 15 piece sashimi platter.

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The sashimi came with miso soup and rice.  I opted for the miso soup, and Ru took over the rice.  So we took our pick and tasted the first piece.  I was shocked.  The soy sauce was horribly salty.  I noticed it right away, and asked Ru to try it out.  She said it tastes like the chinese soy sauce you use for cooking.  This is outrageous.  The taste of the soy sauce completely covers the taste of the sashimi.  We couldn’t understand why a restaurant like this would not have the proper sashimi soy sauce.  Never have I ever been to a Japanese restaurant that served sashimi with this kind of soy sauce.  Although the sashimi was fresh, the soy sauce ruined the taste.  We were very disappointed.

Where: Yuzu no Hana
Location: Downtown Toronto, Ontario

What: Spicy sashimi salad, Oyster Shooter, Yuzu Roll, Sashimi
Verdict: Will not be going back.

YUZU-NO-HANA Sushi and Sake Bar on Urbanspoon