MASA (15 Charles East, at Yonge, 416-920-3388) Complete dinners for $25 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Japanese beer. Average à la carte main $15/$10. Open for à la carte lunch Monday to Friday 11 am to 3 pm, $11.99 lunch buffet only Saturday, Sunday and holidays 11 am to 3 pm, $15.99 dinner buffet Monday to Thursday, $17.99 Friday to Sunday 4 to 10:30 pm. Licensed. Delivery. Access: barrier-free. Rating:NNN Rating: NNN
If you follow the route of Saturday's Dyke March and Sunday's Pride parade from their start at Bloor and Church and their procession south down Toronto's main drag, you'll notice hundreds of fast food joints along its periphery.
Most eateries on Yonge are dismal at best (the word on Fondue Village: Fondon't), but a few are worth frequenting no matter what the celebration. Add Masa, a just-launched sushi-torium on the first floor of the Comfort Hotel, to that short list.
Masochists may remember this massive 218-seat space as Shintori, a similarly themed all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant that specialized in what might have been the worst maki in town. And as if that weren't bad enough, Shintori's rudimentary sushi leftovers from the night before were served at lunch the next day deep-fried in oil long past its due date.
But Masa's Michael Jiang and David Liu have turned Louis Janetta's wise-guy supper club around, employing the crowd-pleasing concept that's made their Katsu (572 Danforth, at Carlaw, 416-466-3388) one of the most popular eateries on the Greek strip. Instead of Shintori's steam tables of sodden fish-stick tempura, Masa's meal deal is made to order: from a list, each table checks off as much food as often as it likes, guaranteeing that everything delivered is freshly prepared.
But don't get carried away. Read the fine print: 'To avoid food wastage, please do not order too many. Any unfinished food will be charged extra."
Four of us settle in for lunch. Designed by the same firm responsible for East! and the Spring Rolls chain, the room is remarkably elegant, and, because there are all of 20 customers in the house and no annoying Muzak, delightfully calm. A kimono-clad server brings mugs of green tea, and the parade of plates begins.
The teenager in our crew turns up her nose at crunchy salmon skin uramaki and another inside-out rice roll of cucumber and avocado tossed with sesame seeds and tobiko. She pooh-poohs hand-formed fatty striped salmon nigiri because it's, well, fish, too, but finds nothing wrong with faux crab and cucumber maki. We attempt to win her over, but no go.
Instead, she thumbs-up so-so miso soup and iceberg 'n' shredded carrot salad dressed in a syrupy vinaigrette. These do provide a contrast to Masa's crisp and grease-free tempura: cubes of silken tofu, great slices of sweet potato, bell pepper and Asian eggplant sided with a mirin-infused dip. We all agree that gingery breaded and deep-fried chicken wings karaage-style would be even more delish if they came sided with lemony tamago-no-moto mayonnaise.
As at Katsu, the real stars on the card are tenderized yet tasty strips of beef in sweet teriyaki sauce, and stir-fried teppanyaki chicken. A dish of superb Japanese fried rice flecked with tiny bits of scrambled egg, carrot, onion and sweet pepper particularly impresses - there's nary a frozen pea, corn kernel or green bean in sight.
Besides its weekend-only $11.95 lunch buffet and nightly dinner spread, Masa also offers an all-day à la carte lineup and Benihana-style teppanyaki tables complete with knife-throwing chefs. But why no noontime buffet Monday through Friday? Surely, the place'd be packed, seeing as the house is advertising a 15 per cent discount till the end of July.
"In this neighbourhood, most of our clientele come from offices and only have an hour for lunch," reasons Jiang. "If we had the buffet, we'd be so busy no one would get back to work on time."