SAKAWAYA (867 Danforth, at Jones, 416-778-6894) Billing itself as a bistro will probably annoy francophones, but this comfortable neighbourhood Japanese eatery offers much more than the usual sushi, sashimi 'n' tempura noshes found elsewhere. Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of sake. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 pm to 1 am, Sunday 5 to 10:30 pm. Closed Monday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
eat is the aptly named and ultra-hip Tokyo bilingual food magazine that features articles like a dissertation on macaroni and the meaning of life. Seriously!Its two editors were in town to check out Toronto's unknown-to-them dining scene. NOW photographer Susan King and I were their hosts, celebrating our 30-page profile of Toronto that's available in their current issue and on their Web site, www.i-eatsite.com.
Although we trekked up and down Queen, College, Spadina and Bloor, we never made it out to the Danforth during their short visit.
Too bad, because I can't help but think cozy Sakawaya, the year-old self-described "Japanese bistro" just east of the Souvlaki Strip, would be Eat's kind of place.
Sure, there's the sort of inexpensive stuff on the menu that's made Sushi on Bloor and its imitators so popular: sushi pizza ($7.50), California roll ($4.50) and vegetarian tempura sided with grilled veggies ($10.95). But dig deeper and you'll find a lineup of tapas-style zensai appetizers as well as skewered and grilled-over-charcoal kushiyaki -- bite-sized bar snacks of meat, fish and veg -- that easily combine to make a unique shared meal.
The Literary Device and I arrive early on a Tuesday night and snare a table next to Sakawaya's floor-to-ceiling glass facade. Though there are only 30 seats -- with another 10 at the sushi bar -- the restaurant's glassed-in entryway has room for almost as many customers as its interior.
Things start automatically with a bowl of miso soup, a delicious dashi thick with kelp and cubed tofu that's so good the Device orders a second bowl immediately ($1.50).
Studying the menu, we zero in on Tako Kimuchi ($3), a Korean-inspired ap' of fiery red kimchee layered with thinly sliced octopus and strewn with red pepper threads. Not only does this delish dish exemplify the textural contrasts key to Japanese cuisine -- here, chewy seafood versus slow-fire crunchy cabbage -- but it's also served on beautiful handmade ceramic plates.
We continue with curry croquettes ($3.50), a pair of deep-fried potato hockey pucks mildly laced with curry and carrot, and tasty Shime Saba ($6), a marinated mackerel fillet dolloped with yellow wasabi that recalls pickled herring. But Harumaki ($3.90), Japanese-style diagonally cut, deep-fried spring rolls stuffed with unidentified minced fish, mushroom and cellophane noodles, fail to impress.
Think of kushiyaki as miniature yakitori, quickly seared skewers sauced with sweet soy, mirin and sea salt. True foodies will want to check out the likes of silky-smooth chicken livers or delectable (no, really!) gizzards ($1.50 each).
Hotate scallops ($3) come wrapped in bacon and virtually melt in the mouth, while skewered quail eggs ($1.80 for four) suggest a battle on the palate between the slickness of egg white and the buttery pastiness of barely cooked yolk. A spear of ginkgo nuts ($2) is, well, nutty and slightly bittersweet.
We split Gomuko Hiyashi ($9), extremely slurpable cold al dente udon noodles in a fragrant broth piled with grilled chicken, seaweed ribbons and first-rate tempura shrimp. Shame that its tempura eggplant isn't less bitter.
We're about to ask for the check when we realize the corn-on-the-cob kushiyaki ($1.50) we'd ordered earlier hasn't shown up. Before we can ask, it appears. Who serves corn for dessert? But one bite of these super-sugary caramelized kernels brushed with a light teriyaki glaze and we realize this is the perfect finish to a most unusual meal.