diferent by edo (257 Adelaide West, at Duncan, 416-977-8744) Deep in the heart of Clubland, this serene minimalist space offers stylish kaiseki Japonica with Western twists. The fusiony food, artistic and assured, is sabotaged when this Zen-like oasis of tranquility is turned into disco hell by the nightclub upstairs weekends after 9 pm. Complete dinners for $60 ($30 at lunch) per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of sake. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, and for dinner Monday to Wednesday 4:30 to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 4:30 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday. Licensed. Access: seven steps at door, six to washrooms. Rating:NNN Rating: NNN
take the successful formula of uptown and upscale Edo and translate it downtown to Clubland as both an early-evening theatre-district eatery and late-night minimalist chic hipster haunt. Import noted Vancouver sushi chef Shinichuro Aoyama (Tojo's, Misaki) and his fusionesque seasonal kaiseki menu. Rake in the bucks. When restaurateur Barry Chaim decided to overhaul a former sports bar and replace it with a calm, all-white Zen-like space accented with glowing translucent panels and the occasional rock, he couldn't have known the tenant immediately above was a bass-booming disco and that the room turns into a sub-woofer every Friday and Saturday night. Staff tell me it literally vibrates.
But here we are at Diferent (the typo's intentional) on a positively serene Tuesday afternoon for a relaxing lunch. To muted jazz, we've commandeered a corner metallic-moiré-topped table in the shadow of pussy willows. An order of steamed edamame ($4.50) in the pod lashed with large chunks of sea salt, and a complimentary bowl of baby shrimp mixed with nori and black sesame seeds arrive first, followed by the Tuna TLT ($12) -- seared sushi-grade tuna, lettuce and tomato on thick sourdough slathered with wasabi mayo and sided with cute Japanese puffed crackers.
Expectations are not high for Diferent's $8.95 bento lunch special. But the superb noontime nosh includes rich miso soup, mesclun loosely wrapped in rice paper and squiggled with ginger vinaigrette, a panko-coated skewered shrimp and scallop, okra and asparagus tempura and sliced chicken teriyaki roll over al dente grilled asparagus. It's remarkable in quality and creativity. The joint's clearly giving the food away at this price.
Impressed, I return suited and booted in me best clobber for an early-mid-week solo dinner. While an after-work crowd at Diferent's stainless steel sushi bar knock back raw oyster shooters ($9.75 for three) and grow rowdier by the minute, I bliss out, the rain making patterns on the window above me. I begin with ambrosial edamame cream soup ($6.95), a pale miso purée garnished with woodsy shaved black truffle and a deep-fried tofu crouton the size of a postage stamp. I slowly savour every sip.
I continue with spicy vegetarian maki ($5.50 for six) -- slivered scallion, English cuke and deep-fried tempura "Tem-Bits" -- dunked into Edo's Thai-like Dynamite sauce of sugary vinegar detonated with minced bird chilies. Unexpected fire also magnifies Kagoshima maki ($11.95), blood-red raw toro, pearlescent short-grain rice wrapped in rice paper and diced jalapeño. Both it and a deep-fried ahi spring roll ($12.95) of yellowtail tuna, shiso leaf and briny black olive tapenade come plated with an East-West balsamic tamari reduction and a splash of chili oil.
Those who consider the experience of Japanese dining to be cheap California rolls and vegetarian tempura can frequent the likes of Sushi on Bloor. But anyone who digs the experimental Japonica of Tempo and Airport will adore Diferent by Edo. But not on Friday or Saturday after dark.SUSHI INN (120 Cumberland, at Bellair, 416-923-9992) The Lee Garden of sushi restaurants: lineups at the door, a near-dozen fever-pitch fish flingers in the kitchen, loud clientele, rushed service and very average grub. Complete meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am to 11:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to midnight. Licensed. Delivery. Access: seven steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NN
like diferent by edo, sushi inn works a formula. It's so profitable that this Yorkville sushi-teria spills over into a less hectic space downstairs. Business is brisk, customers aggressively securing tables and food. Think Sunday night at Lee Garden on Spadina.With a few exceptions, Sushi Inn's lineup is nearly identical to any other nori-wrapped-rice factory's on any block in town: recently fresh fish paired with a lot of rice. Obviously, we're not talking Hiro, Kaji or Hashimoto here. But, if you've a yen for Japanese and only have 45 minutes for lunch or you just want to grab something quick before a flick, Sushi Inn fits the bill.
Service is friendly and quick. An army of slicers 'n' dicers prepare dinner combos like Premium Sushi ($16.95), which begins with watery miso soup and some shredded iceberg lettuce in bottled-tasting dressing and finishes with single pieces of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, red snapper, shrimp, octopus, "crab" and barbecued freshwater eel over rice nigiri-style. Clumsily crafted California rolls and tuna maki conclude this so-so meal deal.
Vegetarian udon ($6.95) finds thick noodles in boring broth flecked with random shiitake 'shrooms, while seaweed salad ($4.95) consists of a mess of slippery 'weed and iceberg in house miso-Ranch dressing. Normally I'm a big fan of Nasu Dengaku ($3.50) -- broiled Asian eggplant -- but Sushi Inn's miso topping tastes oddly of peanut butter. And enoki beef roll ($6.95) -- thin steak wrapped maki-style around delicate strands of barely cooked Japanese mushroom -- is easier on the eye than the tongue. But flaky grilled black Alaskan cod (Gindara, $6.95) with sour soy dip makes an interesting starter.
The namesake Sushi Inn Roll ($7.95), is the best of the lot, eight inside-out rice uramaki stuffed with oily eel, buttery avocado and crunchy salmon skin, all tossed with bright red tobiko flying fish email@example.comFRESH DISH
Constantly on the prowl for the exotic and esoteric, our Venetia is a dedicated and fearless foodie. She turned the NOW office on to an amazing Korean wasabi-flavoured seaweed snack that tastes like sushi minus the carbs. Each sealed package contains a silica pack and 15 or so tissue-thin business card-sized sheets of roasted nori that dissolve on the tongue to release a slow-building wallop of sinus-clearing horseradish.
There's no English on the dollar-priced packets, but the folks who sell it at both King's Café (192 Augusta, at Baldwin, 416-591-1340) and Essence of Life (50 Kensington, at St. Andrew, 416-506-0345) call it toasted laver. Tell them Venetia sent you.
Over at Airport (492 College, at Palmerston, 416-921-3047), chef Timothy Ng has created a pungent dessert that is sure to be either loved or loathed: blue Stilton cheese ice cream dripping with an intense port reduction, plated with slices of crunchy Asian pear ($6). But where's the maraschino cherry? SD