Fancy, multi-course Japanese menus are having a moment in Toronto. Between buzzed-about openings such as Sushi Masaki Saito and Hana Yorkville and long-running favourites that have been pleasing our palates for years, Toronto can’t seem to get enough of Japan’s surprise-me styles of dining.
Let’s get our terminology straight first: You’ll usually see the words “omakase” and “kaiseki” used to describe these dining experiences.
Although the two concepts are different, they share some similar elements.
Omakase is short for “omakase shimasu,” a Japanese phrase meaning “I’ll leave it up to you,” and reflects a meal in which the chef selects each course for the diner. In a traditional omakase experience, the chef will observe the diner’s reaction to each course and use it to guide the subsequent choice of dishes.
Kaiseki, on the other hand, is a multi-course set menu. It, too, is often unpredictable, with the courses changing regularly (often daily) based on what ingredients are fresh and seasonal. In both experiences, the diner commits to a multi-course meal with minimal knowledge of what will arrive on each plate.
Look away, picky eaters, because you never know what the next bite will bring at these top Toronto omakase and kaiseki experiences.
The Newcomer: Hana Yorkville
Aburi Restaurants Canada, the restaurant group behind Miku Toronto and Tora, brings Kyoto’s elegant kyō-kaiseki style of dining to Yorkville. Helmed by executive chef Ryusuke Nakagawa, who has studied under two master kyō-kaiseki chefs, Aburi Hana’s multi-course set dinner menu focus on understated flavours and delicate presentation.
A nod to the restaurant group’s namesake, dishes featuring aburi, or flame-seared, techniques often make their way onto the menus.
Seating options include a traditional chef’s table area, where diners can watch Nakagawa and his team at work, or five intimate private dining rooms, where guests can control the lighting, temperature and music volume.
102 Yorkville Ave., 647-343-8887
The All-Star: Sushi Masaki Saito
Sushi Masaki Saito splashed onto the Toronto dining scene, boasting all the hallmarks of a must-try restaurant: a Michelin 2-star chef at the helm, reservations that take around two months to secure and lavish prix fixe menus priced at $680 per person. Chef Masaki Saito was awarded one Michelin star in 2016 at New York’s Sushi Ginza Onodera and a second star in 2018, before moving to Toronto to open this eponymous restaurant. All of the restaurant’s seafood is imported from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market and prepared edomae style.
88 Avenue Rd., 416-924-0888
The Overachiever: Shoushin
This polished uptown restaurant helmed by chef Jackie Lin takes a cue from Tokyo’s high-end sushi restaurants for its menu and ambiance. The fish featured on Shoushin’s menu is wild caught, with about 70 per cent sourced from Japan, and is prepared in the traditional edomae style (see Sushi Masaki Saito above). Diners have a choice of two omakase menus, the priciest of which includes wagyu and caviar dishes. The name Shoushin comes from a Chinese phrase meaning “to show one’s own ingenuity, crafted to perfection,” and this pursuit of perfection is evident in every element of the experience at the restaurant. Even the decor is rare, with the sushi bar crafted from a hinoki cypress tree, which is typically only used to construct shrines and temples in Japan.
3328 Yonge St., 416-488-9400
The OG: Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto
Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto offers a traditional kaiseki set menu, featuring dishes inspired by the seasons and ingredients imported from Japan. Located in the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, the restaurant is helmed by Masaki Hashimoto, who studied kaiseki cuisine for 10 years before moving to Canada and setting up this tiny, three-table restaurant. Both the six-course lunch and eight-course dinner menus are prepared entirely by Hashimoto himself. Dinner experiences are typically capped off by a tea ceremony in the space’s adjacent tatami room.
6 Garamond Ct., 416-444-7100
The Quick Draw: Tachi
Shoushin chef Jackie Lin offers Toronto a unique omakase experience at Tachi, Toronto’s first standing-only sushi restaurant. Tachi draws on Japan’s popular standup sushi bar concept. This tiny eight-seater restaurant (or, more accurately, eight-stander) is tucked behind a folding wooden door in Assembly Chef’s Hall, managing to feel completely removed from the hustle and bustle. Diners have a strict 30-minute time limit to enjoy the 11 nigiri and one hand roll that are presented to them. Compared to Toronto’s other multi-course Japanese options, the Tachi experience is a steal at $69.75 per person. (Just be sure to eat quickly!)
111 Richmond St. W.