SUSHI 930 (930 King West, at Strachan, 416-603-9992) Complete dinners for $20 per person (lunches $14), including all taxes, tip and a pop. Average main $10. Open Monday 5 to 10 pm, Tuesday to Friday noon to 10 pm, Saturday 4 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Access: two steps at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNNN
Even by hole-in-the-wall standards, Sushi 930 is Lilliputian. A storefront take-away near Liberty Village, this recent addition to the King West condo strip is no bigger than most bedrooms, its four seats at two small tables usually taken by regulars patiently waiting for their grub to go.
Not that anyone complains. When the payoff’s this good – arguably some of the freshest fish in town at prices a third of what they’d be most anywhere else – what’s another 15 minutes? Learning the drill, I figure I’ll save time by phoning in my order and picking it up half an hour later.
Make that 45, I’m told.
Showing up sharpish, I’m told my maki have yet to be rolled, so I grab the last seat in the minimally appointed house and a Japanese fashion magazine from a stack next to the cash and settle in for the duration. Over the next little while, several other customers arrive only to be told that they’ll have to place their orders now, then come back in 20 minutes or so, as they’re running a little behind.
They always seem to be running behind. But since the servers behind the counter are so sweet and owner/chef Tomo Kawamura (ex-Edo) so approachable (unlike most local sushi chefs, he’ll gladly engage the clientele), no one minds the delay, although the Billie Holiday disc stuck on endless repeat in the boom box soon grows tired. Memo à moi: burn them a Molly Johnson CD.
But what rewards lie ahead! The Sushi #8 combo ($16.95) not so coincidentally finds seven types of hand-formed nigiri over rice – blood-red toro tuna, beautifully marbled salmon, buttery yellowtail hamachi, a split and blowtorched scallop, pale albacore dressed with slivered scallion, scored squid with lumpfish caviar, soy-basted eel – plus an additional nori-wrapped gunkanzushi topped with explosive salmon roe and a six-pack of smaller tuna hosomaki.
Do yourself a favour and don’t automatically douse everything with salty soy sauce and sinus-clearing wasabi the way most North Americans so. These only clog the palate. If you want to experience the interplay of textures and flavours that the Japanese describe as mouthfeel, taste it straight for a change.
Take sea urchin nigiri ($4.50 for two), a delicate near-foie-gras mousse topped with a thin wedge of lime over pearlescent rice. Its exquisite subtlety disappears when overwhelmed by wasabi. If you want fireworks, get a vindaloo.
Sushi aficionados know not to order anything with the adjective “spicy” attached. That’s where seafood long past it’s sell-by date ends up, smothered in sickly-sweet salad dressing and spiked with so much hot sauce that you can’t tell it’s gone bad. Kawamura’s spicy tuna roll ($6) is an exception, an inside-out uramaki spiral of quality fish, crunchy cuke and peppery mayo.
Unless you’re dining in, shrimp ’n’ veggie tempura ($6.50) will likely be mush by the time you get it home.
Non-piscovores will appreciate 930’s Veggie Maki Set ($13.95), a vegan version of the Dragon Roll made with avocado and tempura green beans paired with a trio each of cucumber and sweet potato seaweed cylinders.
Those who don’t like it raw should stick to the house salmon teriyaki dinner ($13.50), a plastic bento box loaded with grilled fish, mushrooms and shrivelled long beans in syrupy sauce sided with rice. It also contains steamed edamame, Japanese pickle and hijiki threads as well as a halved gyoza and the fag end of a spring roll.
Finish with a bowl of smoky miso soup ($1.50), which, as every foodie knows, is often savoured last.