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Ja Bistro

Modern Sushi in the Entertainment District

There’s a subtle negotiation that sometimes occurs when you’re making plans with other couples. Sure, it’s usually about the company, but if you don’t share the same food tastes or there are dietary restrictions, and you’re trying to make everyone happy,  it can be difficult to find the “right” restaurant to go to. We recently went out with another couple consisting of a “pescatarian” wife and a husband who eats kosher -so, in summary, no meat, dairy or shellfish.

They’re fun social people so I wanted a funky place with a cool vibe. We settled on Ja Bistro at 222 Richmond Street West. Operated by the same owners as the ever-popular Guu Izakaya, this place offers a very modern, yet minimalist, take on sushi. The room, bright and narrow, is austere in design, but nonetheless comfortable. The staff are friendly and welcoming (although more subdued than the giddy shouting that occurs at Guu). It has a distinctly New York feel.

We start with drinks which are “Toronto reasonable” in price and Ochamame ($6) a tea infused edamame (steamed soybeans) while we peruse the menu. My wife, Naomi, ordered the Shiso Smash from the specialty drink menu -essentially a Bourbon Sour mudded with a shiso leaf. The only glitch of the evening -  it comes well after the rest of our drinks. The mistake is rectified by our apologetic server who takes it off the bill.

Then the delicious food begins to come. Some start with the Miso soup ($5 a bowl) which has been infused with lobster, fragrant and salty. Others have the Ebi Nanban ($14) battered and fried tiger shrimp (crisp, crunchy but not oily) served with a housemade tartar sauce. And we all share the Jalipimo ($6) deep fried mashed potato balls spiked with jalapeno peppers and served with a tianmianjian dipping sauce -spicy in its own right.

Ja Bistro’s specialty is Sushi Aburi, blow-torched sushi. We order three different kinds to share: Ebi Oshizushi ($14) cooked and pressed tiger shrimp over rice, finished with mayonnaise and lightly torched; Salmon Oshizushi ($16) raw pressed Atlantic salmon over rice, finished with thinly sliced jalapeno peppers and torched; and the Saba Oshizushi ($15) cured and pressed mackerel over rice, also torched. 

Our kosher friend couldn’t have the shrimp dishes, but he was not left out. He ordered some classic Sushi Nama, ($27) for a plate of seven different cuts of sushi Nigiri, which interestingly included housemade Monkfish liver pate - all fresh and delicious. After a second order of Ebi Oshizushi (just because we felt like it) we all shared some Kama Hamachi ($14) grilled yellowtail collar, perfectly tender and delicate but, warned the menu, it required twenty-five minutes to prepare.

We were too full for dessert but not for green tea ($4). As the evening wrapped up,  it occurred to me that the Toronto restaurant scene is truly diverse enough to make interesting and exciting food even for those with dietary restrictions. For more information please visit www.jabistro.com