We were in Toronto for the weekend a couple of weeks ago. For those who don’t know, Toronto is a great food town only 4 or 5 hours drive from Pittsburgh. In particular, we have found Chinese and Japanese food in Toronto that is as good or better than anything I’ve had in North America. One of these most excellent establishments is Hiro Sushi. I have never personally had better sushi than at Hiro Sushi.
To give you an idea what Hiro is like, I’ll run down the events of our last dinner there. The place is a relatively compact space on King St. East in downtown Toronto. There are maybe a dozen tables and another eight or ten seats at the bar. Hiro-san and one or two assistants handle all the sushi for the place, and Hiro also runs out to the kitchen for the odd dish. We sit down at the bar and tell Hiro-san to just give us whatever is good. We will get an assortment of sushi, sashimi, hand rolls, and other rolls over the course of the night.
Soon after we sit down, Hiro pulls a small whole fish out of the cooler where he stores the fish at the bar. He cuts the fish 2 or 3 times with his enormous knife and quickly pulls two fillets off of the skeleton. This takes about ten seconds. He then makes two small cuts and pulls the skin off the fillets with two pulls. The skeleton is still in one piece. He bends it up and puts it in a large bowl with a skewer stuck through it to keep it vertical. Then the fillets are chopped into a small dice and mixed with fresh ginger, scallion and oil. This mixture is added to the bowl along with a soy sauce based dressing and slices of many other kinds of fish. Presto. Sashimi salad.
What gives you an indication that you are in a different kind of spot is the speed and fludiity with which Hiro-san slices the fish and makes the sushi pieces. Sushi is always the perfect size, with the perfect amount of rice formed into a perfect elongated ball. The rice is never pasty. The soy sauce is never stale. And, the sushi always has little touches on it (extra ginger here, a tiny bit of scallion there) that bring out the taste of the fish without hiding it under in a wad of wasabi or a river of soy. It’s simply perfect.
Hiro gives us each two pieces of white tuna. This tastes like normal tuna sushi, but has a richer, fattier texture like toro.
Then he makes dishes for the house and the other patrons on the bar. The guy sitting next to us is the son of the owner of The Indian Rice Factory, a place that we’ve been meaning to go. He gets some special dishes over the course of the night.
Hiro is busy, and one of his assistants makes us California rolls. These are the only real disappointment of the evening. But, what can you do. What you notice about the assistant is that he never makes sushi, only rolls and hand rolls and other dishes. You also notice that he is not nearly as good with the knife as Hiro. It takes him almost a minute to fillet the whole same whole fish for the salad, and he can’t keep the skeleton in one piece.
It turns out the whole fish that Hiro-san has been slicing are Spanish Mackerel. We each get two pieces off one of the fillets. They are topped with a bit of ginger and scallion. Sublime.
Next, squid. Tender but not chewy.
Next, two kinds of shrimp. One cooked and one sweet raw shrimp. Unlike most places, the cooked shrimp is actually decent.
Hiro-san pulls out an enormous side of tuna that has been marinated or roasted or something. It turns out that this is a huge piece of Bonito. He makes the Indian Rice factory guy a bonito salad in a black ceramic bowl that is the size of my head. Indian Rice factory guy grins.
Next, two kinds of tuna. Marinated toro (which is belly meat) and also marinated plain tuna. This is the best tuna I have ever had.
Now the assistant makes us each a spicy scallop hand roll. It is sweet and spicy at the same time. Yum.
While we munch the hand rolls, the waitress whispers something in Hiro-san’s ear about a special order. He gets a pained look and starts pulling out pieces of fish to slice. Soon, he has slices of every sort of fish and roe in his case along with pickles and the cooked egg. He stuff all of this into a rice roll that turns into a log. He starts taking slices off of this log and puts two on a plate and then hands them out to the folks at the bar. It’s like a freaky mutated futo-maki, but with everything imaginable in it. It’s great. Mostly it tastes like roe and pickles.
Karen asks for fluke. Hiro has not given us any tonight, even though we’ve had it here before. It turns out not to be so great. Which is why he didn’t give it to us.
Hiro runs out into the kitchen and brings back a small pot. He turns to the Indian Rice Factory guy and says, “Look, I have made curry”. He ladles out a brown curry dish from the pot. Apparently it was some sort of seafood stew. Indian Rice factory guy grins.
Next, eel sushi. This is pretty standard stuff, but as usual, he does it better.
We also ask for toro, and we get some. It is good toro.
Hiro does another everything roll. He slices it up and there is a huge end piece left over. He hands it to the Indian Rice Factory guy.
Next, we get little sushi pieces covered with a vegetable that is similar to asparagus spears or chinese broccoli or something. It’s been marinated and has a very fresh spring-like flavor.
Karen is now full. I ask for salmon. I get a smoked salmon and a fresh salmon. It’s like the best lox you’ve ever had, except sweeter and more tender, and each piece on top of one of those perfect little nuggets of rice. Incredible.
I’ve probably missed some things that actually came by our plates. But I think this is a pretty good summary.
We were there for two and a half hours. We walked out stuffed. Hiro-san charged us a relatively paltry amount of $45US each.
If you don’t want to get in your car and drive there right now, you are just a fool.