Sushi Couture: Chef Ken, you’re my hero

I have been frequenting the sushi shop across the street from me ever since I moved to Toronto, Japango.  I had heard rumors that the sushi quality had gone downhill once the head sushi chef, Ken, had left however I didn’t really notice a decline in quality or service.  A couple months ago, I heard that chef Ken decided to open up another place in the Annex called Sushi Couture.  Like all new places that open, I usually like to wait a couple months before trying it out so that they have a chance to get the kinks out, both in service and in the food.  So, after a week of helping my sister move out of my place where she has been squatting for the past three months while trying to find a job, we decided to give Sushi Couture a try. (Since my sister is probably going to read this, congrats on finding a job and it was nice living in a clean condo for three months… now I’m going to have to hire a maid to maintain this lifestyle).

Upon entering the restaurant, I saw chef Ken behind the sushi counter and another familiar face, the manager and main server from Japango.  I was immediately greeted and asked if I still frequented Japango and how I had heard about this new place.  I didn’t think I went for sushi that often but he seemed to remember me.  He mentioned that Chef Ken had asked him to join him at his new restaurant so he made the switch.  This already seemed like a big plus for me because this guy is one of the most attentive servers I had ever met.  We sat down and decided to order the five course chef’s dinner (omakase) and a few other al a carte items.  The dinner came with miso soup and tea as well.  I think it was supposed to come with a salad too but given how much food we ended up eating, it was probably for the best.

The miso soup was good.  Not too salty but still very full of flavor. I find most places are either too salty or bland.  Here, it’s balanced quite well.  Next my sister ordered some spicy tuna rolls.  After having lived in Vancouver for five years, my sister judges the quality of a sushi place by their spicy tuna rolls.  There is a place called Alpha that she used to frequent that serves up a pretty awesome spicy tuna roll.

The order came with six but we dove right in before I could get a picture.  The fish was fresh and the spicy tuna sauce was good. Not as spicy as I would have liked but still ok.  My sister thought they were pretty standard, better than most sushi places but no where near the one’s she got at Alpha.  I thought the ratio of rice to fish (the infamous RF ratio as my friend refers to it) is excellent.  Next we ordered a couple pieces of butterfish and bluefin tuna which was on special that day.

The butterfish on the left was melt in your mouth delicious!  The garnish had an nice crispy crunch  and mixed with the soft buttery-ness of the fish was excellent.  Now I’ve had some pretty negative experiences with bluefin tuna, mainly being very disappointed for how much it costs, but seeing as it was the same price as the other al a carte sushi pieces I thought I would give it another try (it’s normally $15 for two pieces but it was $7.50 this particular night).  It was good.  Smooth texture but heavy and meatier than the butterfish. I liked the presentation of the fish straddling the rice.  Again, like the rolls, good RF ratio.  We also had an order of the gyoza which said it was a beef and vegetable dumpling.

It was as if the dish came right out of the fryer because it was wicked hot!  The outside was crunchy the the inside was hot, juicy and flavorful.  My sister is convinced that it was pork instead of beef.  Really with the low quality utility meat that everyone uses in these types of dumplings, it doesn’t really matter to me.  As long as it tastes good, which these did, I’m happy.  Now, the first course for the chef’s dinner was an oyster with melted cheese and a small little eggplant cake on the side.

The oyster was excellent.  I realized some time ago that cheese doesn’t go well on everything but it went really well with the oyster.  The mix of garnishes, the warm torched taste of the cheese and cooked oyster all melded together to create a burst of interesting flavors in my mouth.  The battered and fried eggplant cake on the side was a delight.  My sister thought that this flavorful side may have been better than the oyster.  The next dish was a tuna, avocado and (quail?) egg mixture.

First off, points for presentation!  This little cake looked really cool.  We were told to mix it all together in the bowl so we could taste all the flavors together.  “Very Californian” was my sister’s response.  I agreed. It had the light, refreshing and healthy taste to it that most people associate with California… well and every time I go to a restaurant and they label something as Californian there is always avocado in it.  The server had suggested adding a dash of soy sauce to it to bring out the flavor.  I didn’t but in hindsight, the saltiness of the soy would have brought out more of the fresh tuna flavor since the avocado was slightly overpowering.  Overall, I really liked this dish.  Next was the sashimi course: sea bream from Greese and a Japanese sea bass I believe (seared).

The fish was very fresh and had excellent flavors and textures.  My sister was a little shocked trying the sea bass.  The texture is very unusual for sushi in that it’s different than your run of the mill tuna and salmon.  Slimy probably isn’t the best word to describe it..maybe moist with bounce is the best way to put it.  She liked the flavor but had trouble getting over the texture.  I really liked it so I was happy to take the extra pieces off her plate.  The sushi course came out next, sea bream, tuna, sea bass and eel with avocado.

This is one of those dishes where it develops as you eat it.  The sea bream on the left is simpler with a smooth texture and light taste.  The tuna next to it has a similar texture, maybe a little heavier and has more flavor.  The sea bass has even more flavor and a very different texture and lastly the eel had so much going on with it that it took me a while to absorb all the flavors.  The mixture of the avocado, the various garnishes and the torched eel made for a very complex piece of sushi.  I loved it!  My sister said the sea bream was her favorite, maybe the tuna.  I agreed that the tuna was really good but said I really liked the eel.  Lookins at the dish as a whole though, inspiring.  Now since we both ordered the dinner, the next course was a roll for each of us.  They were nice enough to bring out two different types of rolls, two of which we probably would have ordered anyways had we not gone with the omakase.  The first was a basic dynamite roll with tempura shrimp (they took the tails off before hand) and salmon roe.

My sister commented earlier in the night as we were seeing other people being served rolls how meticulous the rolls look.  It nice to see them put the effort it.  It’s really the little things that can make something as simple as a dynamite roll look amazing.  As for taste, it was good.  The tempura shrimp wasn’t greasy or overpowering.  The salmon roe was fresh.  The rest was pretty standard but overall we were quite satisfied.  The next roll was a some sort of butter salmon maki thing.  I think it was a butter sauce with lightly torched salmon with veggies and shrimp on the inside.

I’ve had some tasty rolls in my life but this definitely ranks up there.  The sauce was very rich and full of flavor.  The salmon was perfect, the veggies were fresh… everything just worked well together here.  I would go back just for this roll. To finish things off we had green tea ice cream and a tempura battered and fried banana.

I used to think green tea ice cream was a luxury dessert I could only get when visiting my family in Hawaii but now it seems they serve it everywhere.  It’s great for me since I don’t have a very big sweet tooth.  Creamy green tea ice cream really hits the dessert spot for me.  The fired banana is just good.  Warm soft gooey goodness.

I had heard mixed reviews about sushi couture before going into the place but came out thinking, that was a great meal.  The service was friendly however the timing of the dishes is a little slow.  As for the food itself, I find that the freshness of the fish is pretty standard across most decent sushi places in town.  What differentiates them is the little things like the RF ratio, presentation and how creative they can get with the fish they have.  This is where Chef Ken stands out.  He puts together some interesting and inspired dishes that evolve as you eat them.  The progression of tastes and textures along with the unusual combinations of ingredients makes for an exciting eating experience.  I feel like I can get well executed sushi at a lot of places in the city, but very few can offer an experience like this.

~ by jlowjlow on November 14, 2010.

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