Yuzu chef Bruce Bu’s omakase kicks off with a bento featuring a raw oyster shooter.
YUZU (236 Adelaide West, at Duncan, 416-205-9808) Complete omakase dinners for $85 per person (à la carte dinners $45/lunches $20), including all taxes, tip and a Japanese beer. Average main $15/$10. Open Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 10:30 pm, Saturday 5 to 11:30 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: nine steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Japango sushi chef Bruce Bu has a deserved rep among the piscatory cognoscenti, his tiny 20-seat izakaya tucked away behind City Hall on Elizabeth Street an after-work favourite of seafood aficionados.
That's why I'm absolutely gutted to find Bu's latest venture - Yuzu, in clubland - completely empty this frigid Friday afternoon.
While pleasant enough, the modern brick-lined room, more than three times the size of Japango, is no warmer than the Arctic chill outside. The muzak seeping from the sound system's just as bland. To paraphrase the dying Oscar Wilde: either that Michael Bublé CD goes or I do.
I stick around for some very perfunctory maki - California rolls wrapped in tuna and salmon ($12), Green River rolls ($10) with avocado and unagi barbecued eel that get their name from their dusting of green tea and not the Creedence Clearwater Revival tune - and a tasty chicken thigh teriyaki set meal ($9.99/$17 dinner) complete with assembly-line miso soup and regulation salad.
I'm thinking slightly more expensive Sushi on Bloor, minus the crowd.
I'm back a few days later for Bu's omakase ($60 with 24 hours' notice). Once again, Yuzu's no zoo. In fact, for the two hours it takes for my nine-course dinner to unfold, I'm the only paying customer in the joint. Oh, what you're all missing!
Photo By David Laurence
Yuzu's Bruce Bu does his thing at the sushi bar.
Bu's artful presentation is the equal of Kaiseki-Sakura's Daisuke Izutsu. The impressive non-stop parade of plates begins with a bento holding a raw PEI oyster "shooter" on the half-shell dressed with jellied ponzu, bright red tobiko and minced scallion. Beside it, I find meaty steamed monkfish marinated in yuzu, the tart grapefruit cousin from which the resto takes its name, as well as a spear of bamboo dolloped with sweet miso, fibrous burdock stuffed with barbecued eel and mashed potato, and a deconstructed crab leg garnished with mouth-poppin' salmon roe and peppery sansho leaf.
An assortment of sashimi on ice follows. Deftly filleted aji horse mackerel comes offset with deep-fried threads of leek, a blob of leaf-shaped wasabi and a blond rosette of house-made ginger. Thin slices of blowtorched Japanese snapper alternate with those of limelike sudachi over a pair of decoration-only chopsticks tossed with spicy beni tate sprouts. The course concludes with translucent hamachi yellowtail sided with edible chrysanthemum.
Next, a lidded lacquer bowl reveals a pair of quenelle-esque shrimp dumplings and baby asparagus aswirl in bonito broth, while plump pieces of anago sea eel, Japanese eggplant and king mushroom in tempura are crisp and relatively grease-free. And who can resist a potent yuzu saketini (included in the omakase) mixed by sake sommelier Hiroki Hara when it's festooned with frozen pomegranate seeds?
Bu's flounder's not the prettiest fish in the sea and has too many fiddly bones for me, and a DIY hotpot with shrimp, spinach and cute honshimeji mushrooms seems a lot of work for the payoff.
But entering the home stretch, I finish with a selection of expertly executed nigiri - Greek snapper topped with more beni tate, seared maguro tuna, sweet head-on shrimp in battleship-style nori, butterflied scallop with puréed daikon and flying fish roe, and salmon belly draped with caramelized pickled onion. And if you've still got room for dessert, there's buttery vanilla ice cream with brown sugar syrup and thick strawberry coulis. I feel a nap coming on....
Sure, Yuzu needs a little fine-tuning, starting with the CD player and the domestic beer lineup. Only Blue and Canadian? C'mon! But service is exceptional - Heidi Kim, take a bow - and the welcome warm, not the usual cold shoulder you get in most GTA Japanese restaurants.