SADO SUSHI (1116 Eglinton West, at Old Park, 416-783-8111) Complete dinners for $75 per person (lunches $50), including all taxes, tip and a sake. Average main $20/$12. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, for dinner Monday to Thursday 5 to 10:30 pm, Friday 5 to 11 pm, Saturday and Sunday 4 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Blame it on the california roll. Traditionalists may balk, but sushi has moved beyond minimalist raw fish 'n' rice into a truly global fusion fare. Who says it's wrong to put Philadelphia cream cheese on futomaki?
Six years ago, Crazy Sushi on Bloor - now renamed Rolu (see review, page 38) - was the first to introduce the concept locally. But a far better interpreter of the foodie fad launched quietly last summer in north Toronto with little fanfare. Until NOW, of course.
You'd expect to find an upscale cantina that caters to culinary adventurers on a hipper avenue like College or King, not staid old Eglinton.
Despite the spot's rather drab exterior, Sado (Sibling to Montreal's Maiko and Atami) could be the thing to hit the nabe since TV pawnbroker Russell Oliver started offering cash for your jewellery.
Once inside, find a smart supper-club setting, all plush banquettes, linen-covered tables and pin-spot lighting. Formally attired servers are welcoming and well informed, steering first-timers through a bilingual card, of which there are two, the first a familiar lineup featuring the likes of chicken katsu ($16) and shrimp tempura ($19), the second - and the only reason to be here - a separate sheet titled Chef's Specialties.
From the former, we order sunonomo ($8), a pleasant starter of cold konnyaku noodles topped with raw scallops and cucumber. A trio of broiled BC oysters au gratin ($10) gets coated not with melted cheese, but with sweet miso thickened with sea urchin. The house inside-out uramaki comes spiralled with smoked salmon, shrimp, avocado and pickle (!), while the Quebec version (both $7) adds raw green pepper to the equation. You were expecting poutine?
None of this prepares us for owner and chef Sonny Nguyen's so-called specialties, a series of spectacularly plated dishes that not only dazzle the eye but astonish the tongue. Listed on the menu minus prices (almost everything's 15 bucks), they also make a serious dent in the wallet.
While the rest of the house appears to be tucking into pedestrian inclusive meal deals like assorted maki with miso soup ($16), we start with the Geisha, a large foot-square white platter stacked with barely seared tuna, shrimp tempura and avocado wrapped in pliable green bean-curd sheet.
A puddle of dark, syrupy ponzu tossed with black and white toasted sesame seeds and drizzled with creamy chili miso is a gorgeous counterpoint.
We have to pull over the table next to ours to make room for the Black Dragon, another gigantic plate holding four inch-thick slices of deep-fried hosomaki loaded with cooked salmon and red snapper, raw scallion, grated carrot and beet. Sauced with both smooth ginger miso and pale green wasabi cream, they're further deliciously dressed with a heap of crisply fried leek.
Trout sashimi - the menu does advise that "fish may vary" - turns out to be eight generous fillets of fatty raw Atlantic salmon garnished with skinny vermicelli-like threads of deep-fried sweet potato in a pool of citrusy yuzu.
A conga line of wafer-thin taro chips forms the basis of the Star Fish, tempura-battered cylinders of seaweed stuffed with slightly cooked salmon, scallops and earthy enoki mushroom. A cluster of taro chips replicates flower petals in the Orchid, deep-fried panko-dusted mushrooms served on a bed of organic mesclun layered with salmon tartare and sided with a barely grilled loin of tuna tataki in a splash of tangy ponzu blended with Montreal steak spice.
The Volcano finds a quartet of grease-free deep-fried yam crackers piled with shredded surimi mixed with spicy mayo, tossed with tobiko caviar, drizzled with teriyaki sauce and squiggled with a zigzag of wasabi cream.
Similarly, Sado's Sunlight sees chewy miniature rice cakes piled high with buttery tuna tartare in Kewpie mayo streaked with blue-veined Cambozola cheese, the lot misted with a spritz of ginger vinaigrette.
A salad of sorts, Secret Garden arrives on a bed of greens loaded with diced shrimp, octopus, jellyfish linguine and strips of pickled oshinko cabbage. A study in contrasts, it also comes sprinkled with fiery nanami togarashi chili powder and garnished with slender slices of tart Granny Smith apple.
As our final plate makes its way from the resto's rear sushi bar to our table in Sado's front window, we hear audible gasps of "What the fuck is that?" as heads swivel to get a good look at Sado's grilled lobster roll, a relative bargain at $13. Presented with its hollowed-out tail plated upright, these outrageous uramaki come lavished with tasty crustacean, offset by bitter radicchio and sweet chili miso.
And if that doesn't get the attention of your fellow diners, finish with Chef's Delight ($8), deep-fried crepes served standing on end, stuffed with vanilla ice cream and drenched with maple and chocolate syrups, and watch jaws collectively drop.
Yes, much of this is beyond the reach of most fish aficionados. But after one dinner at sensational Sado, you'll find it difficult to go back to sushi on Bloor again.