The Sushi Lunch Special Series – Shrimp Tempura & Spicy BBQ Butter Fish Rolls at Sakae Sushi on Mount Pleasant!

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It must be the week of new foodie districts on the blog!  Earlier in the week we paid our very first visit to Fresh on Crawford, yesterday and the day before we explored a tiny part of Ossington Ave. and Ossington Village with an amazing Cuabn lunch at Delux, and today, we’re doing sushi for lunch on Mount Pleasant Road!  Aside from my cupcake post on Lollicakes last Hallowe’en, I haven’t featured any yummies from the neighbourhood since.  There are some fabulous cafes, sweet shops, gourmet food purveyors, and classic Italian restaurants in the area and while you wouldn’t automatically associate sushi with Mount Pleasant, I have found a great spot, one with a terrific sushi roll lunch special and a classic appetizer at a great price: Sakae Sushi!

Located at 643A on Mount Pleasant Rd., Sakae Sushi is an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant that serves both lunch and dinner with a separate, non AYCE menu.  I actually found out about Sakae Sushi just by walking by and grabbing a take-out menu from the front entrance during a nice walk several months ago.  I pored over the menu, realized they had a fab sushi roll lunch special 7 days a week, and had an epiphany about something very important and useful.  I realized that with all the sushi take-out menus I had I could actually start price comparing and cross-referencing items from different sushi spots in the city.       

We know many of them serve some of the same types of rolls and similar dishes, but how many of us truly know where the best bargain is between them all?  I don’t think any of do because it’s virtually impossible to know the price points at every single sushi spot in town.  But I know my method would at least narrow things down a little bit.  And that’s how I came to the conclusion that, in addition to a great sushi roll lunch special, Sakae Sushi has one of the most reasonably priced classic appetizers around.  It may not be the most inexpensive, but it’s definitely one of them.  Which appetizer am I referring to?  Why, the classic shrimp tempura of course!

Shrimp tempura, one of the simplest and most beloved sushi appetizers around, is oddly enough, not as readily available as one might think.  Now obviously we’re not taking into account AYCE menus, we’re talking straight lunch, dinner, and a la carte menus.  I LOVE shrimp tempura like nobody’s business, but so many places serve it along with tempura vegetables and not on their own and I always wished that I could order the shrimp by itself without the vegetable component just because I prefer my vegetables non-tempurafied.

Once I started cross-referencing items between menus, I discovered that there were a handful of places that served the appetizer on it own.  YES!  Now, all I had to do was figure out which one offered the best deal.  Guess who came out on top?  Sakae Sushi, with 5 giant, crunchy, delicious shrimp tempura for $6.50!  Other places priced theirs for $8, some places didn’t offer as many pieces for the same price point, and so on.  Their shrimp tempura is fantastic.  They’re big, they’re perfectly fried (not greasy), and the shrimp is so soft and delicious.  They come with a dish of ponzu sauce, but in all honesty, the sauce isn’t even necessary because they taste fab on their own.

Sakae Sushi also offers a number of lunch specials including grilled meat bento boxes and my favourite, sushi roll combos!  One of the reasons why I like their sushi roll lunch special is because I get to mix and match and choose which rolls I want.  For $7.50, the lunch special includes a miso soup, a salad, and your choice of two kinds of sushi rolls from a list of 13 with 6 of each kind.  Sure, there are places that offer sushi roll lunch specials for $6.50 or $6.99, but like I said, the roll sets aren’t predetermined and the sizes of the rolls here are big and very reasonable.  As well, their sushi roll selection is great in my opinion because they offer vegetarian options, you aren’t limited to california rolls in every single combo (my biggest pet peeve), and there are some rolls you can’t really get anywhere else.

I chose a tofu and avocado roll and – wait for this – a SPICY BBQ BUTTER FISH ROLL!  I was SO excited to see this when I looked through their take-out menu in the beginning just because butter fish rolls aren’t something you find at many places and certainly not spicy BBQ varieties!  I was really happy with the size of the rolls (one roll makes a veeery decent mouthful) and my rolls were delicious.  The avocado was creamy, the tofu was savoury with a bit of sweet mixed in and the texture was wonderful as it resembled bean curd sheets. 

The spicy BBQ butter fish rolls were A-MAZING!  The butter fish wasn’t in its raw sashimi form but instead, grilled and incredibly flaky and meaty and delicious.  Exactly like a grilled salmon fillet, but butter fish.  The rolls were stuffed with flaky grilled fish, tempura bits, and sweet and savoury BBQ sauce in between it all.  It had a little bit of kick, but for those of you who have a low tolerance for heat, no worries, it’s not light-my-mouth-and-butt on fire spicy.  Lots of flavour and texture without the fire!  This is a top notch roll and definitely one of the more unique ones in the city when it comes to lunch special offerings.

Ever since Haru Zushi by Yonge & Davisville left my heart broken when they packed up, I haven’t been able to find another sushi spot that let me mix and match rolls the way their menu allowed me to do – until now.  Sakae Sushi is a lovely spot in a lovely neighbourhood and I’m going to be really happy going back for more.  Especially for that awesome shrimp tempura. 

*****

Sakae Sushi is located at 643A Mount Pleasant Rd. at the corner of Hillsdale Ave. East on the east side of Mount Pleasant, south of Eglinton Ave. East.  They are open 7 days a week for both lunch and dinner and offer AYCE for both.  They are open from 11:30am-10pm from Monday to Friday and from 12 noon-10pm on weekends.  They provide take-out and delivery, and you can view their official website HERE.

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Reminiscing Memories of Newfound Love, and Quail Eggs on Salmon Tower Rolls at Sushi Xtra on Queen West!

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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.

Yours truly...3 years ago!

Awww ❤ I love you too!

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!

With Sushi Rolls, Dumplings, Rice, and Noodles, the Sky’s the Limit! A Photo Spotlight on Sushi Sky

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As foodies, we go through a lot of different experiences, changes, and revelations throughout our lifetime.  We develop obsessions passions, aversions, allergies, and everything in between, all the while gaining knowledge and inspiration from every meal and bite we have and take.  With that train of thought in mind, I pose a question: have you ever been through the experience of enjoying a place okay during the first go-around, only to find that you end up loving it even more the second time?  That, suddenly, you feel like you’re able to appreciate things in a different capacity and see things through a different lens?  This was my experience with Sushi Sky and I feel like I’ve been completely reinspired.  So inspired, in fact, that I’m starting a new sushi subseries completely devoted to great lunch specials!  Oh, and so inspired that I’ve given my brother a new nickname because he helped in this newfound inspiration – details to follow in tomorrow’s write-up.  

With so many sushi bars and all-you-can-eats in Toronto and Markham, my sushi journey that began nearly 5 years ago has been nothing short of delicious and knowledge-enhancing!  However, it’s because of the sheer volume of choices that makes it just as difficult to weed out the amazingly fabulous from the great to the decent to the terrible.  When you find something that works, you come back to it over and over again and when you find something not-so-great, you chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.  The Sushi Shop may be the great sushi love of my life in the city with Ginza sitting comfortably in second, but I’ve found so many wonderful places that have so much great food to offer that I feel like I have favourite things from every place I’ve been to so far.  There are hidden gems just waiting to be discovered (and eaten!) at Sushi Sky and I can’t wait to tell you all about them in tomorrow’s write-up.  Here’s a photo sneak peek of tomorrow’s Sushi Sky post! 

*****

Sushi Sky is located at 478 Yonge Street in downtown Toroto, just north of College Street on the west side of Yonge.  They are open 7 days a week for both lunch and dinner from 11:30am-11pm Monday-Saturday and from 12pm noon-11pm on Sundays.

Smoked Salmon & Mango and Scallop With Crunchy Tempura – Rolls, Menu Changes, and the Red Tea Cups at Ginza!

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Back in February of last year, I wrote a little love letter professing my adoration for cream cheese, cheese cheese in sushi, and the gorgeous red tea cups at Ginza.  I also gushed about how their giant Moscow rolls with the cream cheese, three types of sashimi, and crunchy, savoury exteriors were like little blinking sushi beacons of love.  I also promised to try out more maki rolls and to report back.  It’s January 2012 and to say that I am fashionably late with my follow-up post is an understatement.  But I am here, like I promised, with more food photos and yummy sushi stories to share from Ginza!  I really love Ginza and feel the quality of their food is spot on (at the Yorkville location at least since I haven’t been to any of the other ones in the city) and I couldn’t have picked a better time to go back for another round of delicious sushi because they’ve recently revamped their menu!

If you haven’t been to Ginza for awhile (or at all) and if you’ve been relying on their online menu to tide you over until your next visit (or first visit), you’re in for a very pleasant surprise.  I don’t know when they made tweaks to their menu, but Ginza has made some fabulous changes and additions that I am so incredibly excited about!  Ginza is always one of the top four sushi places I consider every time I want to gorge on some (not including all-you-can-eat spots) but with their new menu items and changes, I’m not going to want to eat at any other sushi bar for a long time!

Most of the maki rolls and mains are still the same, but if you love dessert and love finding unique sweets to enjoy at different sushi bars, you are going to be head over heels for their new dessert menu!  They’ve added sesame ice cream, they now have FIVE flavours of tempura ice cream (I have date with the tempura mango), tempura cheesecake (well, now they’re just dangling a carrot in my face), and – get this – TROPICAL ICE CREAM IN A HOLLOWED PINEAPPLE AND COCONUT!  OH.MY.GOD.  The pineapple one I might not be able to eat because of my allergy, but the coconut?!  I will hug and kiss it because it will be that fabulous. 

I cannot wait to try this the next time I go and the only reason why I didn’t order it during this meal is because I was taken aback by their new menu and incredible dessert selection and had no intentions of budgeting a dessert into the mix.  So with an aching heart, I let it go this time.  But next time?  Oh, I’m going to stuff my face in it and enjoy it!

Aside from the revamped dessert menu, the other very noticable, positive change to the menu are the prices.  Yes, you read right, the prices.  They’ve been lowered!  I KNOW!  I can’t believe it either!  We deal with rising prices, every month it seems, for the most mundane things: transit, food, gas, housing, services, you name it.  I sigh every time I learn that my bus ride is going to cost more, that a loaf of bread just ain’t what it used to be, and that we’ll have to dig deeper into our pockets just to sit in our own house.  Knowing that prices for certain things are staying constant is a relief.  Learning that prices for particular things have lowered is a godsend!  Prices for numerous menu items have been dropped by $1-$2 and that makes a huge difference when you factor in taxes, tip, and/or ordering more than one dish.  I know for a fact that the rice dishes are $2 less, the sushi pizzas are $1 less, and the prices of many of the maki rolls have also been dropped by a $1.

You can see why I’ve fallen even more in love with Ginza and why I had to tell you all the great news!  Even though I couldn’t have possibly ordered and ate everything I wanted on the menu right then and there, I kept my promise and tried out some other maki rolls and they were splendid!  I had an order of the smoked salmon mango rolls (6 pcs) and the Fire Cracker Dream rolls (6 pcs) which were comprised of scallops, crunchy tempura bits, and spicy mayo sauce.

  

The smoked salmon and mango had such contrasting flavours with the savoury, cured saltiness of the smoked salmon and the sweet, fresh juiciness of the julienned mango mingling together.  I love mango and smoked salmon, but I didn’t know how they would work out in the same roll and I found that I really liked it.  The smoked salmon was sliced filet-style (2 slices in each roll) and you feel like you’re eating it with juicy salsa with the mango.  The sesame seeds the rolls are rolled in lends a crunchy nuttiness to it that is so delicious, so you get a little bit of everything in terms of flavour and texture.  It’s a savoury-sweet combination that works and you get the best of both flavours without either of them being lost or compromised.

After having amazing spicy scallop rolls from Tokyo Sushi at Bay and St. Joseph St., I became obsessed with finding other scrumptious scallop roll varieties and Ginza has a great one: the Fire Cracker Dream roll.  These rolls have huge chunks of scallop, crunchy tempura bits, green onions, and some spicy mayo sauce mixed into the crunchy tempura and green onions.  The spiciness is nothing to be afraid it; it’s not super hot.  You’ll get a yummy kick of heat, but nothing that will make you want to douse your mouth in milk or water.  Even though the spicy scallop rolls from Tokyo Sushi are still my ultimate favourite, the Fire Cracker Dreams are SO yummy.  The scallops chunks are fresh and meaty, I love the green onions in it, and the spicy mayo sauce mixed into the tempura tastes exactly like sweet chili sauce which I love to death.

Edamame beans are still complementary with your meal (I ate almost the entire bowl all on my own!) and with all the great additions and changes to the menu, I feel even more compelled to squeeze in more sushi meals here.  I absolutely can’t wait to show you all some of the new stuff and I promise you, it won’t take me a year to report back!

*****

Ginza is located at the following 4 locations:

  1. 7330 Yonge St. (at the intersection of Clark Ave. and Yonge St. in Thornhill)
  2. 652 Finch Ave. East (located between Leslie St. and Bayview Ave. in North York)
  3. 1255 Bay St. (north of Bloor St. W just off of Yorkville Ave.)
  4. 9960 Dufferin St. (right at the intersection of Major Mackenzie Dr. W. in Maple)  

Ginza also offers a 10% student discount at certain locations, so call ahead and ask if you want to take advantage.

The Fall Harvest Series – Pumpkin…in Sushi! Build Your Own Sushi Rolls at Avocado Sushi on Bay Street

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Here’s a little cocktail party trivia you may not know about me: I love reading take-out menus.  If places have them, I grab’ em.  I have so many that I bought a take-out menu organizer to keep them all neat and tidy.  I KNOW.  A take-out menu organizer!  The stationery fanatic in me was over the moon when I stumbled on it at the Sears outlet by the 404 and Don Mills last year (I find the strangest things in the most unlikely of places and it makes me giddy) and actually, now that I think about it, the organizer could use a bit of tidying up because I kind of added another small pile to the mix *whistles*.  It’s so much fun to go through a take-out menu (especially a sushi menu!) and circle all the items I would hypothetically want to stuff my face in.  Sometimes I even daydream about what I would eat during my next visit.  It’s like being an 8-year-old with a toy catalogue and circling everything you want for Christmas in bright red marker.  Only in my case, it’s food 😀

After passing by Avocado Sushi near Bay and Charles St. for the upteenth time, I finally stopped to snatch a take-out menu from the pile attached to the outdoor menu board.  Everything changed after I took that take-out menu.  My sushi world was flipped upside down and inside out as a I discovered what a ninny I was for not having eaten here sooner! 

I unfolded the menu brochure and found out that I COULD BUILD MY OWN SUSHI ROLLS AND CHOOSE ALL MY OWN FILLINGS AND INGREDIENTS!!!  I just had to shout that from the rooftop because my sushi dreams have come true because of this revelation!  Not only does Avocado Sushi boast a number of maki combos, bento boxes, appetizers, and individual sets of rolls, but they also offer something very, VERY special: the chance to build your own “salad sensation” bowl, or your very own custom-made set of of maki rolls!  Each set of build-your-own-maki comes with 10 rolls and sets start at $7.95.

As my eyes were roaming up and down the list of ingredients on the menu, I couldn’t believe how much choice there was!  Now I know what some of you might be thinking.  If the set of rolls start at $7.95 for the 10 pieces, the total price will end up sky-rocketing if you add the littlest thing, right?  Nope.  I was in conniptions when I realized just how much I could stuff in my sushi rolls and still have it for $7.95! 

You can choose up to 7 ingredients in the first list, which includes BOTH veggie and meat options, at no extra charge.  Think yams, shittake mushrooms, avocado, asparagus, crab meat, salmon sashimi, and grilled salmon amongst others, as well as other goodies such as tempura bits and tobiko.  Then, on top of all that, you get to choose a sauce for your sushi rolls from a list of 6 options.  The 2nd and 3rd lists are add-ons for $1, $2, and $3 where you’ll find yummies like smoked salmon, deep-friend shrimp, soft-shell crab, cheese, and others.  Given how much I adore building my own “specially” made meals (hello, Fresh and Freshii!), you can imagine how happy all of this made me!  I started circling menu items and building my own sushi roll set in my head over a week before I actually went to eat there! 

So, what makes this meal worthy of being in the Fall Harvest Series?  Avocado Sushi has Japanese PUMPKIN!  Well, specifically, kampyo which is a type of Japanese dried gourd which comes in strips.  This was the first time I had seen kampyo on a sushi menu, so there was no way I was passing up the chance to try it and subsequently, feature it on the blog in the Fall Harvest Series!  To fill my 10-piece sushi roll set, I chose kampyo, avocado, asparagus, shittake mushrooms, green onions, crunchy tempura bits, cream cheese (add-on for $1), and spicy mayo. 

Oh my gosh everyone, you need to come here and build your own rolls and eat them silly because they are so delicious.  The maki rolls are nice and big and really soft and I was SO happy with the combination that I chose because everything was savoury and fresh.  I had a little bit of everything going on: the crunch from the tempura bits and asparagus, the creaminess from the avocado and cream cheese, and the meshing of sweet and savoury happening with the kampyo and mushrooms.  The kampyo had a very subtle sweetness to it and the texture was exactly what I would expect from a gourd, squash, or pumpkin: very soft and a tiny bit stringy.  I knew you all wouldn’t be able to see the kampyo from the photos of the rolls untouched, go I lifted a piece of it out to show y’all!

The presentation was lovely (hell yes to the drizzling of spicy mayo!) and I would eat here again in a heartbeat.  I feel so lame for having not eaten here earlier (you know me and my sushi), but I was so happy with my food and the service that the wait was worth it.  I had fun taking photos (Ooo, red and green decor with a pair of wooden shutters and blossom branches!), the people who work here are so incredibly nice, and what makes the deal even sweeter is the student discount!  Show them student ID and you’ll receive a 10% discount off your bill.  

Avocado Sushi is located in the heart of downtown Toronto (it’s on Bay Street!  If that’s not downtown central, I don’t know what is!) and is easily accessible by public transit which works perfectly for me because I’m eating here again.  Nothing like build-your-own-sushi to get those creative and hunger juices going 😀

*****

Avocado Sushi is located at 1105 Bay Street just south of Charles Street (which is just south of Bloor St. West).  They are open 7 days a week from 11am-10pm.  Receive a 10% discount when you show your student ID!