This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
Toronto is filled with Japanese restaurants that offer cheap and affordable meals, like all-you-can-eat sushi or ramen. But, if you were looking for something a bit fancier, then you'll notice that omakase experiences are getting more popular in the 6ix.
Sushi Yūgen has two distinct experiences: one with an 8-seat intimate dining experience where Chef Kyohei Igarashi makes all the dishes in front of you and a 12-seat main sushi counter with lunch and dinner offers with a smaller but cheaper menu.
I went ti my first Japanese omakase experience and can never have cheap shrimp tempura rolls again 🍣#torontofood #torontorestaurants #newtorontorestaurants #japaneserestaurants #omakase #omakasesushi #omakasetoronto
Chef Kyohei Igarashi has worked at an omakase counter at a Michelin-starred restaurant overseas and brought his talents, flavours and sushi to the heart of Toronto.
I had the privilege of trying Chef Kyohei Igarashi's food at Sushi Yūgen during the soft opening and also went to the restaurant's grand opening, where dinner was prepared by Michelin Chef Hiroyuki Sato, who was flown into the city for a few days from Tokyo.
Chef Hiroyuki Sato making handrolls.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
The Michelin chef went to one of the world's famous fish markets, The Tsukiji Outer Market in Japan, before landing in Toronto to handpick the fish and bring them to Sushi Yūgen for us to enjoy. And as wild as that sounds, it was so worth it.
I visited an AYCE sushi restaurant a few days after these experiences and I don't think it'll ever be the same again, but I'm not mad about it. Let me tell you why.
Sushi Yūgen in Toronto.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
Sushi Yūgen is a little restaurant tucked away on York Street. The new Toronto restaurant has limited seating, simplistic decor and no menu.
Omakase is a meal that consists of dishes selected and served by the chef. At Toronto's newest spot, the experiences are broken down into time slots.
Sushi Yūgen in Toronto.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
The Chef's Corner is two hours and costs $265 per person with 15 to 17 courses served, including appetizers, sushi, soup and dessert.
Meanwhile, for $80 during lunchtime, you can enjoy a 45-minute meal at the main counter, which is perfect for those working in the Bay Street area and looking for a quick and delicious meal.
If you've got a little more time and money, you can take a seat at the main counter for 1-hour seating slots during dinner time, which costs $98 and will include more dishes than the lunch special.
But what should you expect from an Omakase experience?
People eat with their hands
Here's how to hold sushi with your hands.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
For starters, typically, people eat sushi with their hands. Yes, one hand, three fingers, one bite.
So don't be a noob and use the chopsticks — those are mainly used for appetizers.
The idea is to use your thumb, index and middle fingers to hold each sushi bite from both sides and the top, just as indicated in the picture above.
Each piece of sushi is perfectly made to make sure not to spill and I was told if I broke it, it could be seen as disrespectful to the chef.
But don't worry about feeling fishy. At Sushi Yūgen, customers are given a wet towel to clean their fingers after every dish.
Also, the food is served from the chef's hand onto your plates, which isn't something you see in Toronto, but it was definitely something I appreciated because it showed authenticity.
Eat right away
Sushi.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
Unlike what the West teaches you about etiquette and waiting for everyone to get their food before eating, at a Japanese omakase restaurant, you are encouraged to eat the sushi immediately.
I was told it's because the longer it sits, the less fresh all the tastes will be, which includes the wasabi to sauce, rice and fish combinations.
Don't ask for extra soy sauce
Chef making sushi.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
There is an art to the amount of soy sauce included in every bite. In fact, don't ask for extra wasabi, either.
If you were seen dipping your nigiri into a bed of soy sauce, then you're ruining what the chef spent all their years creating — the perfect combination.
Chef Sato and Chef Igarashi had two completely different tastes when serving sushi. And they both shared it is because of their individual secret recipes. So, just don't mess with that.
Expect to eat everything
Fish at the japanese restaurant.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
I can sometimes be a picky eater if it's something seriously out of my comfort zone, but I always push through and am surprised by the end of it.
The idea of omakase experiences was always nerve-wracking because they involved me having no control over what to order, but for the first time in my life, I loved it.
On that note, when you go to an omakase restaurant, expect to eat everything on your plate. It's part of the culture and experience.
I had different kinds of tuna for the first time in my life and it was delicious.
I even ate Shirako, which looks like white brains but is basically caviar from male fish, also known as fish sperm, and it was one of my favourite items on the menu. Oh, sea urchin is also exquisite because the flavours are so different from anything I've ever had.
The most notable thing from this entire experience is that the fish didn't taste or smell fishy, which is not what you'd get from an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant in Toronto.
The amount of different dishes I ate at the two omakase experiences varied and were a lot. So, listing them all doesn't make much sense, but I will tell you about some dishes that impressed me.
Tuna handroll.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
I had a tuna handroll, also called Tossaki. It was the first dish prepared by Chef Hiroyuki Sato during the grand opening of the restaurant, and it instantly caught my attention.
First, the handroll wasn't in the shape of a cone, instead, it was served in a tube. The seafood, which was brought from Japan, wasn't flaky, nor did it taste fishy. But, what impressed me the most was that sauce didn't fall all over me with every bite like any other handroll would've.
Sushi.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
I didn't know there were so many different kinds of tuna sushi. When I eat at my local AYCE sushi restaurant, a tuna roll is just tuna. At an omakase, it can mean a lot of things.
I had bluefin tuna, Maguro, medium-fatty bluefin tuna, Chutoro, and fatty bluefin tuna, Otoro. I learned that each part of the tuna tastes completely different than one another and the texture varies.
Maguro is one of my favourites. It's the least fatty and the one with a lot of flavour. But the fattier ones were delicious too, because they were denser and juicier.
Uni and caviar in one of the dishes.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
Expensive caviar is crave-worthy. I never understood the hype behind putting caviar on dishes. But, recently, I found out that each bite with caviar tastes significantly better because it adds buttery and flavourful components that make the dish tasty.
I also tried sea urchin, known as uni, which is one of the most expensive ingredients typically found at Japanese restaurants. They are still hand-harvested by divers today because people haven't found out how to farm them yet, which makes them pricier than other kinds of seafood.
Uni is bright orange in colour and tastes buttery and sweet. Delicious!
Mira and Chef Hiroyuki Sato.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity
I haven't had omakase before, but I can guarantee you won't be disappointed by what Sushi Yūgen in Toronto has ready for you to experience.
Even though the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on bite-sized dishes can be outrageous, the experience of tasting such delicious combinations is worth every penny.
I would instead save all the money I spend on all-you-can-eat sushi and indulge in an omakase experience when I can because it is like nothing I've ever tasted before.
Also, the whole experience is quite majestic and artistic, so make sure to take it all in because it is beautiful. So ditch the shrimp tempura roll and replace it with some uni, friends.
Chef Hiroyuki Sato and Chef Kyohei Igarashi in Toronto.
Address: 150 York St, Toronto
Why You Need To Go: To indulge in delicious sushi like you've never tasted or experienced before. It's the perfect place to impress a business partner, take a person on a date, or simply have a luxurious night for yourself.