SUSHI & TEA (643A Mount Pleasant, at Hillsdale, 416-482-3650) All-you-can-eat $19.99 per person on weekdays, $21.99 weekends. Open Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 10 pm. Closed Sunday. Licensed. Access: washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
We're told by the polite man who answers the phone at Sushi & Tea to make a reservation if we want a seat on a Wednesday night, so we do.
It all makes sense when we see how tiny it is. With its bamboo booths and attentive servers, the resto exudes a charm amplified by beautiful Japanese dishes, replacing the ubiquitous plastic knockoffs found in other sushi joints.
We opt for the all-you-can-eat, which includes a good portion of items from the regular menu. To start, we order one of each app. Most notable are the billowy pillows of dashi tofu fried until crisp on the outside, with a silken interior; the light and airy tempura veggies and shrimp; and a refreshing wakame salad with tender slices of octopus and imitation crab soaked in sweet ginger vinaigrette.
More mundane are chicken karage, miniscule balls of battered, fried bird (whose flavour is lost to the spongy breading) and ho-hum beef gyoza.
The tempura California roll sounds good in theory but hits the mouth like a puff of deep-fried blandness, but everything else that follows the apps works well.
Each slice of perfectly cooked chicken teriyaki breast meat arrives shimmering with natural juices. Next come the maki and sashimi. Spicy tuna and salmon maki, both with tempura bits and a kick, are delish. As is the veggie version, called sakura, which is bigger, full of avocado and shaped like a teardrop.
The spider maki is okay. As often happens, the soft-shelled crab fails to hold its own in the roll's mélange of ingredients. Visually attractive and über-tasty is the dragon, with its black (eel) and green (avocado) scales.
Generally, the sushi rice is firm, the rolls hold together and the sashimi or at least the white tuna, surf clam, salmon and octopus we try are delightfully fresh.
The resto needs to work on its watery wasabi, though. And the soy sauce is exceptionally strong. If you're a habitual Kikkoman user, the thick black liquid served here is an overbearing surprise. But, hey, in Japan they don't saturate their sushi with it anyway.
Maybe at Sushi & Tea they're trying to make a point.