Inside Tora, a luxe “laneway” sushi spot

Miku's new sister restaurant at Yorkdale rolls out conveyor-belt table service


Tora (3401 Dufferin, at Yorkdale, aburitora.com) is the second restaurant in Toronto by Aburi Restaurants, the Vancouver-based Japanese restaurant firm behind Miku.

Since landing in Toronto in 2015, Miku has become a favourite of the downtown crowd for its creative, fanciful take on high-end Japanese. When news broke last year that the company would be expanding to Yorkdale, anticipation was high.

But until the restaurant launched in mid-January, the company kept one of the most interesting tidbits about Tora close to its chest: In addition to stellar quality sushi, Tora offers a classed-up take on automated, touch-screen-powered sushi restaurants.

DSC_0198.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

Tora’s menu, accessible via screens at each table, features 120 dishes, from the Aburi’s signature pressed, blow-torched aburi oshi nigiri to luxurious “edoprime” nigiri, rolls, hot and cold dishes and even desserts. 

Once you order, a white, double-decker “laneway” running along each row of tables rolls your order right to your seat. (The à la carte system is in contrast to typical conveyor belt sushi, where you pull random dishes off the rotating belt and pay based on how many you take.)

DSC_0226.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

Kazuya Matsuoka, Aburi’s corporate executive chef, says the touch-screen concept is popular around Japan and in some North American markets like California. (Recently, Toronto has also toyed with similar gimmicks at spots like Hana Sushi and North York’s Robo Sushi.) 

“Often what I see is, they’ve cheapened out and the quality is really lacking,” Matsuoka says. “I wanted to bring this concept to the Canadian market but still maintain the quality of service, quality of atmosphere and quality of food. That’s our challenge.”

DSC_0186.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

Even without the belt whizzing miniature plates of nigiri past your table, Tora would be a noteworthy dining experience. 

The twin pillars of the menu are ultra-fresh fish (much of it imported directly from Japan) and the sushi rice seasoned with red sake vinegar for a richer flavour. “The sushi rice has to be perfect. When you go get a hamburger, the important part is the bun,” Matsuoka says. (Pro tip: If you pick up your piece of sushi and it isn’t falling apart within 10 seconds, that rice ain’t cooked properly.)

To get the full Tora experience, delve into the “edoprime” section, which features some of the restaurant’s top-flight fish (including Japanese flounder, saba and mackerel, golden-eye sea bream, and a trio of lean, medium-fatty and fatty tuna) paired with house-made sauces and perched on that red-tinged rice (called “akazu shari” in Japanese).

DSC_0097.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

As for the signature melt-in-your-mouth aburi sushi that gives the chain its name: The salmon oshi, topped with a single jalapeno slice, has been carried over from Miku, flanked by new arrivals like a scallop oshi that’s got a shiso leaf sandwiched in the middle for an herbal punch.

In place of Miku’s elaborate entrées and custom ceramic plates, there are tasty takes on izakaya snacks like nanban fried chicken served with tartar sauce and tuna tataki plates.

Everything is noticeably fresh – something the conveyor system helps ensure. The touch-screen system compiles ordering data, so the Tora team can easily analyze how much of a given item they’re likely to sell. “That way, we can keep it fresh – and we can see the trends of what people like,” Matsuoka says. And their Japanese seafood supplier actually designed a new method of keeping fish at a regulated temperature for the journey from Japan.

“There’s such good technology that helps you keep the quality up,” Masuoka says. “I think other restaurants need to start adapting more.”

Here’s a closer look at the menu:

DSC_0103.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

The edoprime tuna nigiri sampler ($19) includes pieces of lean, medium-fatty and fatty tuna over akazu shari rice.

DSC_0153.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

From the nigiri menu: Sockeye salmon nigiri ($4.95). The nigiri menu also offers Atlantic salmon.

DSC_0131.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

From the edoprime menu: Suzuki (sea bass) nigiri ($7.95).

DSC_0077.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

Salmon aburi oshi ($4.50) is a holdover from Miku’s sushi menu it’s pressed, blowtorched and served with a jalapeno slice.

DSC_0079.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

Also from the aburi oshi menu: A scallop version ($4.95) stacked with a shiso leaf.

DSC_0146.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

Deep-fried nanban chicken with tartar sauce ($7.95).

DSC_0107.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

Tuna tataki with salad and sesame seeds ($9.50).

food@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

Leave your opinion for the editor...We read everything!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *