Monday, September 30, 2013

Pleasant Surprise

Not Oyshi Sushi. I didn't think to take a picture there. Credit: Nesnad

The great thing about eating at a chain restaurant is that you know exactly what you'll be getting. It should be the same in Toronto or Vancouver, identical in San Francisco and Singapore. That's a big part of the appeal. Consistency. Therein is the worst thing about them as well. There is no room for the highs or the lows.

Independent restaurants, then, are for thrillseekers. Highs unattainable at a chain and lows that would get a franchisee called on the carpet by the regional manager and everything in between. For those of us with a limited budget for dining out, every new independent is like a trip to a culinary casino.

Oyshi Sushi (10-12 Queens Quay W, Unit  107) turned out to be a winner. Located across the street from the Westin Harbour Castle, it is on a stretch of Queens Quay removed from other dining establishments. My wife and I had just returned from a trip to the Islands and had some time before our ride was due. I was reluctant to try this place. I'm not much impressed by sushi places. I lived in Japan for three years and sushi places in Toronto, at least the ones within my budget, rarely impress. The only other dining option nearby, however, was a sports bar, so we gave it a shot. Lucky us.

The place is tucked away in a walkway between two  condo towers and easy to miss. We received a friendly greeting when we entered the place to check it out. It's rather cute. There's a small sushi bar a few tables out in the open, then a number of booths. The booths are actually fully enclosed, reminiscent of the private rooms in upscale restaurants in Japan. There is a table and four chairs inside. It's a bit cramped, but it does lend it a very nice Japanese vibe. They provided us with a complimentary bowl of edamame when we sat down.

I approached the menu with some trepidation, though, deciding to order the tempura udon (thick noodles in broth with shrimp and vegetable tempura on the side). My wife got the unagi donburi (grilled eel on rice). We added a spicy California roll and a salmon skin roll. These rolls aren't really sushi, they're pretty hard to mess up, and they were cheap. Each of our entrees came with salad and my wife's also came with miso soup. The salad was fresh and crisp. The miso, however, was a big surprise. Unlike a lot of places, Oyshi is using real miso, not a powdered mix. This was the first sign that this place might be something out of the ordinary.

The surprises kept coming when the main courses arrived. The prices here are reasonable and it's a high-rent district, yet the portions are quite generous. I was not expecting such a large bowl of noodles or as much tempura. My wife received a good-sized portion of unagi and plenty of rice. When the rolls came, cut into pieces and served on a platter, I realized that we had ordered too much food. Fortunately, when we started eating, we found that the dishes were very good. The flavours seemed authentic and the dishes had been prepared with skill. My udon was firm and chewy, not soft and overcooked as I've sometimes had elsewhere. The tempura batter was just ever so slightly on the thick side but I'd certainly had worse in Japan and rarely had better in Toronto. The unagi was nicely seasoned and cooked just right. The rolls also impressed, being flavourful and showing care in preparation.

Service throughout the meal was attentive but not intrusive. The tea cups and water glasses were kept filled. In the end, we managed to finish everything. Barely. We left feeling quite full and having spent under forty dollars, including tax and tip. I was so impressed with the food that I want to go back and try the sushi, which is perhaps the greatest surprise of all.

Oyshi Sushi, 10-12 Queens Quay W, Unit 107, Toronto, Ontario, M5J 2R9 Tel: (416) 216-0709
The restaurant is accessible with washrooms on the same level. Nice, clean washrooms.
Monday-Saturday 11:30-23:00. Closed Sunday.

And Just Where Was I?

To answer the question that must have been burning in the mind of my reader, my prolonged absence was as the result of an illness in the family. My father took ill. I spent a lot of time with him and dealing with his affairs. Then he died. It's something very strange. I am of two minds about it. Having to watch someone you love sicken and deteriorate is very painful. I went through it with my mother and, more recently, my father. The comfort in it, however, is that you do get a chance to say things to each other. To make peace with things. As much as one can, anyway. I do take comfort in that. I think it's better than having someone taken suddenly. Still, play it safe and be good to those you love. Tell them nice things whenever you can.