We were escorted by the maitre d’ to the sushi bar as soon as we walked in for our 7pm reservations at Tojo’s in Vancouver, Canada. While I was trying to hoist myself up on the tall bar seat, I immediately recognized Chef Tojo because Anthony Bourdain sat and ate at the same sushi bar for one of his No Reservations episodes. The chef fucker that I am, I was thrilled that Chef Tojo will be the one preparing our food for the night.
We didn’t have any concrete plans for our weekend stay in Vancouver, but I made sure that we had a spot at Tojo’s bar for our last night in Canada. When Chef inquired where we came from and we said New York, he asked us if we knew “Mistah Boh-dain.” That man drinks and smokes too much, he said, while pretending to chug and smoke with his hands. When Chef Tojo smiles, his eyes get smaller, and you can’t help but love the cheery old Japanese man in him.
I promise you that everything you taste here, you’ve never had before. It was a big challenge and we were up for it–armed with an empty stomach and a credit card to swallow the equal exchange rate between the American and Canadian dollars.
We started off with the albacore tuna with puréed Japanese yam and micro greens. I’ve had the yam before at Sobaya off St. Marks back in the city and really love that consistency which reminds me of the okra goo. It was an excellent start: the tuna was tender yet buttery. There was a subtle trace of ponzu sauce that was just enough to make you want more.
Just the day before, we were at the Granville Island public market where we salivated over morels that were priced significantly less than in New York. (I suppose everything is.) I would have smuggled them across the border if I had the balls to, but I don’t, so the morels stuffed with scallops on a bed of dandelion greens and sprouts just had to do.
Crunchy and toasty, I felt sad that I can’t afford to buy morels in the United States to try and replicate this dish at home.
The next dish put a smile on my face: octopus salad with one of the tentacles’ suction cups and a small edible flower to perhaps sweeten the initial reaction that most people have upon seeing an alien-looking part in their food. Right under the slivers of octopus were julienned daikon and cucumber. I’ve never had octopus sliced this way before; its thinness gave it a slithery texture and I had to slurp each piece down before it had a chance to escape my mouth.
The next dish was a nice surprise because we definitely never had it before. You know when you eat at a restaurant and you’re offered one dish that makes you think, “This is it!”? That’s how I felt about this one. It had Chef Tojo’s signature all over it. Wrapped in paper, our bowl had a sablefish inside cooked in a broth I can’t even begin to explain. When we unwrapped our bowls, a faint smoke escaped and you just had to close your eyes to catch a whiff of the sophisticated smell. It was one of those dishes that looked simple, and yet tasted so elegantly that you know a lot of thought was put into it.
Deconstructed, the smokiness of the fish remained and even through the skin, the broth tasted pure and clean. The burdock root and asparagus held the dish together with their crunchiness. I could have ended here and shaken Chef’s hands, but alas five more awaited us.
The geoduck was referred to as the giant clam. I suppose only a few of us would like to eat anything pronounced “gooey”. It was a typical Japanese roll with mayo and I hardly tasted the clam because of it.
It seemed that our dishes got more simpler as we progressed. The tamago, or egg, roll with herring roe was nothing new.
Probably my least favorite was the crab meat with avocado and pineapple roll. I just thought I’ve graduated from rolls with fruit.
The inside-out broiled salmon skin roll was very delicious, but how about more of the stuff I haven’t tasted before?
But we finally reached our limit, so I just asked for something with uni to end our meal. Ask and you shall receive at Tojo’s–I received a roll with uni inside. Nothing less, nothing more.
For dessert, we picked the pineapple ginger sorbet with a black sesame seed cracker. I like pineapple as much as the next guy, but I don’t know what it is about me that can’t deal with too much sweetness in her life. You are what you eat?
All in all, Tojo’s has its good dishes but very few that elicited a reaction like the sablefish did. It’s like we got the promised VIP performance, but halfway through, we got the same show that everyone else did. Would I go back? Absolutely. Tojo’s is still one of the best places to get sushi in Vancouver, Canada.
Tojo’s is on 1133 West Broadway, Vancouver BC V6H 1G1. Call 604/872.8050 and reserve a spot at the sushi bar. Be prepared to spend New York City prices, only converted to a stronger Canadian dollar.
Tojo’s photos and Vancouver, Canada photos on Flickr