I and a foodie colleague had a chance to sample both YASU and ZEN one week apart. Here’s my review and opinions.
Firstly YASU. This small, 14 seat, downtown restaurant (12 seats at the sushi bar) is solidly booked, with the pretension reservation staff asking for your credit card to guarantee the seating (which is unheard of elsewhere in Toronto). Given the above, one would expect the food to be “spectacular”. Sadly it was not.
Yasu serves an 18 item OMAKASE, with scoring as follows:
- BC scallops (6/10). Frankly a bit tasteless. This was an omen of things to come;
- BC Sockeye Salmon sushi (7)
- Nova Scotia Snow Crab sushi (6) – a bit watery and insipid. Probably previously frozen.
- Hamachi sushi (6) – I expected better from so a basic Japanese staple..
- Fluke sushi (5) – rather tasteless
- Monk Fish Liver (5) – again, tasteless
- Argentinean Shrimp sushi (6)
- Blue Fin Tuna sushi, 3 pieces – lean (6), medium (7), fatty (7.5)
- Salmon Roe mini hand roll – (4.5) – awkward shape and not overly tasty
- Japanese Red Snapper sushi(6.5)
- Japanese Amber Jack sushi (7)
- Japanese Smoked Bonito (8) - probably the best item we ate
- Norwegian Mackerel (8) – strong and flavourful, something which was sadly lacking in other items
- Sea Eel (7.5)
- Tamago (6.5)
- Dessert (2) – a mini scoop of ice cream, more an amuse bouche than a dessert. Disappointing, together with most of the rest of the meal.
- Service – very good – 3 chefs were present and each handled 4 people. However good service doesn’t make up for the overall lack of flavours.
- Portion size for the sushi was smaller than at Zen
Overall impression – not worth the “hype” or the long waiting list. While the serving ended strong (apart from dessert), overall there was a distinct lack of flavor in many of the items served. The head chef is responsible for the selection and freshness of the items. Looks like he didn’t even try some of the items before serving them, which is unacceptable. $80 per person.
Although we didn’t sit at the bar, we did have the same $95 OMAKASE as served there. Only difference was that the sushi wasn’t severed individually, but on a platter, which reduced freshness a bit by the time we got around to eating it.
ZEN server a 12 piece OMAKASE with 3 appetizers and dessert:
- The 1st appetizer was a cold shrimp aspic dish, with asparagus and mushrooms, severed with an asparagus flavored sauce. Excellent presentation and very tasty (8/10)
- The 2nd appetizer was a trio – 2 broths (bonito with tofu (7) and seaweed broth (7), plus a trio of pickled octopus (9), black cod (8) and grilled wagu beef( 8). Great presentation, great tastes!
- The 3rd appetizer was white steamed noodles in a cold bonito broth with a piece of tempura. Personally I didn’t like the taste of the cold bonito broth and gave it a (6). My colleague thought it was an (8).
- The sushi plate followed:
o Hamachi (8)
o Shrimp (8)
o Mackerel (7.5)
o BBQ eel (7)
o Horse mackerel (8)
o Medium Tuna (8)
o Fatty Tuna (8)
o Scallop (7) – I admit I am not a fan of raw scallop
o There were 4 other suchi pieces, for which I don’t have detailed notes, but overall (7.5)
o Tuna hand roll (8) – full size, not the “mini” Yasu one.
- Dessert was a trio of homemade soy ice cream (7) and a Japanese gelatin with arrow root powder (8.5), complimented by a serving of brown sugar reduction (8), which went equally well with either item.
- Service, even off the main bar area, was very attentive.
- Overall, it was a great experience, especially next to Yasu. For $15 more you get a better tasting OMAKASE, even though it’s 12 pieces+ 3 appetizers vs. 18 pieces.
Zen is highly recommended for the true foodie!!