Sushi Bong (5 Northtown Way, at Yonge, 416-227-0022) Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a green tea. Average main $9. Open Monday to Saturday noon to 11 pm, and Sunday 3 to 11 pm. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Of the hundreds of raw fish'n'rice restos in town, Sushi Bong must have the oddest handle of the bunch. Named for Korean owner/chef Tony Bong and not the popular recreational device, this infinitesimal eatery can be found in the heart of Mel Lastman's soulless North York on the first floor of a high-rise condo development that was once the Nortown Plaza of my youth.
Whoever said you can never go home - was it Tom Wolfe or the Shangri-las? - was right. It's not there any more.
Despite its anonymous facade, Sushi Bong has a great deal of atmosphere.
Paper lanterns hang over a single table for four, and a few seats face the bar where Bong and his partner slice 'n' dice while singing along to the K-pop playing on a boom box.
We start with tempura, not the usual cheap deep-fried assortment of seafood and veggies found along Bloor's student strip, but 10 good-sized butterflied shrimp, each measuring nearly 5 inches from tip to tale, in an exceptionally light and relatively grease-free fritter batter.
Zarusoba (both $8.80) finds firm bundles of slippery buckwheat noodles in deliciously sweet cold miso broth dressed with slivered scallion, seaweed thread, minced white daikon and fiery dollops of a "secret" wasabi mix Bong squeezes through the fluted tip of a pastry bag.
Wakame salad ($3.50) impresses as well, here a fluorescent green tangle of gingerly pickled nori threads that recall Korean condiments.
Though its selection of fish isn't as extensive as Hiro's, Bong's sashimi ($10) is remarkably fresh, 18 pieces in all of marbled salmon, ruby red tuna, pink shrimp, clams and snapper, served on a bed of grated white radish.
The Sushi Bong's Special ($8.80) consists of three hand-formed salmon nigiri, six sesame-dusted rings of California roll and five veggie maki, while the Moon River Maki ($6.80) - avocado, crab, cucumber and salmon, laced with Kewpie Japanese mayo - would have Henry Mancini crooning if he hadn't popped his clogs.
Throughout our recent pit stop, a steady stream of customers file through, picking up takeout orders of barbecued freshwater eel on donburi rice and Hae Dup Bap (both $8.80), the latter described by Bong on his menu as "raw fish and fresh vegetables on the steamed rice."
Is he aware of what Sushi Bong means in English?
"I didn't know when I first opened two years ago," says the modest sushi chef. "But I do now."