Le Cafe Michi (1802 Pharmacy, at Sheppard East, 416-490-9688) Complete lunches for $50 per person, including all taxes, tip and a sake. Average main $35 omakase. Open Tuesday to Saturday 11:30 am to 9:30 pm, Sunday 11:30 am to 8 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, but cramped space. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Kaji-san is not the name of an emerging republic in the Central Urals, but the respectful handle given local sushi-meister Mitsuhiro Kaji by his legion of devoted followers.
Rightly revered for his eponymous Japanese eatery on the Queensway, Kaji-san has just launched a second resto, Le Café Michi, in a Scarborough plaza, of all places. Understandably, Toronto foodies - all three of us - are in a frenzy to check it out first.
Actually, Le Café Michi's been around for seven years, operating as a dessert 'n' karaoke joint. Last October, Kaji-san became a partner, and the small back room was turned into an extremely intimate sushi bar that seats 10 tops. You don't expect to see this calibre of chef whipping up California rolls ($6.50).
His goal is to open several suburban outposts of his pricey west-side boîte, with the same high-quality fish but in casual digs and with a significantly less expensive menu. An omakase meal at Sushi Kaji easily runs to three figures, but here in suburbia it goes for about a third as much. And it's sensational.
I'm in luck today, as Kaji-san is in the house. Since the launch, he's been doing double duty between the two restos - lunch at Michi, dinner downtown - but now only appears at his Scarborough outpost a couple of times a week. The rest of the time he leaves his able apprentice, one Mr. Lin, at the helm.
Since I'm alone, I'm tagging along with a group of regulars who know the drill and tell the polo-shirted Kaji-san they're in for $35 each. Sounds like a plan to me. First up, we're served a tiny mound of exquisite rice, each grain separate and perfectly prepared, lightly doused with mirin and topped with melt-in-the-mouth subtly nutty sea urchin. A final toss of berry-sized salmon roe explodes on the tongue with startling sweetness. I could eat this by the bucket.
Instead, we're on to a sizable sampling of nigiri, 14 pieces in all, including butterflied and briefly seared scallops, buttery yellowtail and terrific scored ika, coupled with shiso leaf, that's so tender it's hard to believe it started life as a lowly squid, nary a slab of frozen salmon in sight. Unlike almost every sushi-teria in town where customers incorrectly drown their maki in swimming pools of soy and wasabi, all of Kaji-san's creations come dressed the way he sees fit, some sinus-searing, others unexpectedly naked. It's a Zen thing.
Next, impossibly rich slices of kampachi - baby yellowtail - repose on a bed of spinach, drizzled with walnut oil and minced garlic. Simply superb.
Sadly, in less than an hour I've gone from omakase to uncle and must bring the parade of plates to its close. Besides, I have a downtown-bound bus to catch.