This might sound sentimental, but I have to ask: do you have a special food place that makes you smile every time you walk past it and/or every time you go into it because it reminds you of happy memories you shared with someone you love? It doesn’t even have to be with a significant other; it can be with your family, with a sibling, or with your best friend. I have many of these “happy” places strewn throughout the city and each one of them is attached to a very heartfelt experience and memory from my past. I’ve said this time and time again and I’ll say it once more here: food is love and food is ingrained into some of our most vivid memories, both good and bad.
Case in point: I’ll never forget the first meal out that I shared with my boyfriend before he was actually my boyfriend (sushi pizza) and I’ll also never forget the awful experience I had with caramel corn at the age of 6 which involved one too many trips to my grandma’s bathroom to throw up. But let’s not relive that. I’d much rather relive happy moments eating sushi, particularly at Sushi Xtra on Queen Street West just east of Spadina Ave. in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Nearly 3 years ago today (April 29, 2009, to be exact), I basked in the glow of newfound love. My boyfriend and I had just started dating about a month prior (our friends’ responses? “What took so long?!”, and “Why don’t you two just be together already? Wait, you are? Oh, well…carry on then!”) and we were out and about enjoying a nice spring day in the Queen West neighbourhood when we decided to grab some sushi for lunch at Sushi Xtra. We held hands, took photos, chomped on rolls and rice, and made memories that would last a lifetime. At least for me. I have no idea if he remembers these details. Boys are tricky like that. We’ve been out on countless sushi dates since but this one was special. Everyone knows that love evolves and love grows. If you’re lucky, you grow together and you handle that love with gentle care, giving it space and treating it with respect. But everyone also knows that those idyllic first few months are irreplacable and in a league of their own. The little details still resonate in me. Like how he was so cute when he drew a heart in the condensation on my water glass when I wasn’t looking. Sushi love, in more ways than one.
And I’ll keep coming back to this fab sushi spot not only for the happy memories, but also for the fantastically delicious sushi! Sushi Xtra definitely ranks VERY high on my sushi list and that’s saying a lot considering how many places I’ve been to over the years! It’s not an exceptionally large space, but this sushi spot packs a punch when it comes to their menu. While they do have a number of appetizers, sushi and sashimi combos, sushi and rice dishes, and bento boxes among other dishes, it’s their rolls (and to an extent, their appetizers) that totally do it for me.
If I remember to, I almost always take sushi bar take-out menus home with me so I can daydream and circle the items that sound the most foodgasmic – kind of like how we used to circle things in toy catalogues as children (if you still do it as an adult, that’s okay. I won’t tell.). When it came to Sushi Xtra’s menu, I couldn’t stop circling things. There were SO many items I wanted to try including their panfried scallops and panfried spinach appetizers (I’ve had their mussels and they are delicious); their salmon lover’s combo; and enough roll sets to fill me up like blimp.
Their prices are also very reasonable (I’ll update this shortly with some specifics) and they have a ridiculously amazing deal on the weekends (Saturday and Sunday) from 12pm-4pm: HALF PRICE SUSHI. I am not joking. These are their happy hours and let me tell you, just thinking about this makes me happy! So, word to the wise: take advantage of it and eat yourself silly with some friends and/or your partner. Or both. Then everyone will be happy.
What makes me happy: their special Salmon Tower rolls. With quail eggs. Sitting beautifully on top of chopped up spicy tempura and salmon nests. On top of sushi rolls. IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL! I can barely contain my excitement! I’ve been wanting to try this menu item for AGES and I finally have and oh my goodness, it is divine. Their Salmon Tower rolls (4 pcs. $7.99) are big maki rolls with avocado, cucumber, and crab meat, topped with an amazing spicy mixture of red fish roe, crunchy tempura bits, green onion, and finely chopped salmon sashimi, topped with a bright, beautiful, sunny yellow quail egg. It is, by far, one of the prettiest, most food orgasmic things I have ever had.
Everything meshes so well together. You have the rolls, which are great absorbers (it’s so much fun mixing everything up together and getting mouthfuls of it all) and the spicy mixture of crunchy tempura bits and salmon which is heaven enough on its own. When you combine it with the quail eggs though, it makes everything super moist and melt-in-your-mouth amazing. It’s exactly like poking an overeasy egg in the yolk and dipping bread or home fries in it. Only this is even better.
And quail eggs! Can you believe it? I’ve only ever seen quail eggs on The Food Network, used by Iron Chefs. To have something so incredibly unique is a gem because to my knowledge, no other sushi spot in the city uses quail eggs on or in their sushi. But do let me know if there are other sushi places that do because I would like to know about them! You learn a lot when you try new things. Prior to this, I had no idea quail eggs in Japanese cuisine and sushi weren’t uncommon. They’re very mild in taste and they remind me of sunnyside or overeasy egg yolks, only the consistency is less tacky and thick and each quail egg is about half the size of a chicken’s egg yolk. You get so many different textures in this sushi dish (smoothness from the egg, crunchiness from the tempura and salmon mix, and a mix of grainy, creamy, savoury, and juicy from the rolls which deliver cucumber, avocado, and crab meat wrapped in sushi rice and seaweed). Fabulous sushi dish on all fronts.
Sushi Xtra is located at 423 Queen Street West, just east of Spadina Ave. in downtown Toronto. They are open 7 days a week, from 12pm-11pm Sunday-Thursday, and from 12pm-midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. 12pm-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays are Sushi Xtra’s Happy Hours and ALL sushi is half price!