Don’t you love it when passionate people join forces?! It almost always results in something magical. And the more unusual the collaboration, the more interesting the outcome – at least that’s been my experience. So when I heard that a Japanese chef and a Jewish restauranteur were the duo behind EDO-ko on Spadina, my curiosity was piqued. There just had to be a good story behind this collab! And there was…
You see, EDO restaurants (there are four locations in Toronto) are not new to the rapidly evolving food scene; they’ve been around for almost three decades. So, how has this business managed to thrive in a city where more restaurants open and close than most people can keep track of? The answer became perfectly clear within the first few minutes of our dining experience: both Chef Ryo and Barry Chaim have a profound understanding and respect for Japanese food and culture. Everything – from the menu items to the way the chopsticks are laid out on the table (in the proper horizontal position) – is carefully thought out and presented with a sense of pride.
And the food? A nod to traditional Japanese cooking and Seiyo-Ryori (Chef Ryo specializes in classical French cuisine). The dishes are inspired, interesting and a step beyond what most westerners would consider Japanese food (aka sushi). But don’t call it fusion: the chef equates the term with confusion. His recipes are deliberate and meticulously thought out; each ingredient serves a purpose and the flavour profiles are simple, not smothered. Throughout the course of the evening, Barry (who speaks fluent Japanese, has studied in Tokyo and was recently named Asian Restauranteur of the year) took us on a virtual trip to Japan as Chef Ryo presented us with his ambitious, new menu. We tasted over a dozen dishes and while most were delicious, a few stood out among the rest. Here are the highlights…
Salmon Tartare ($13) – A well-balanced dish made with velvety salmon, crunchy cucumber and creamy avocado. Served with nori squares, the tartare is topped with green onion and tobiko which really enhance the flavour and texture of the dish.
Tiger Tuna ($13) – The delicate slices of seared tuna are drizzled with a Japanese mustard-miso sauce and balsamic vinegar reduction. There’s a complexity and depth to the sauces that only a classically-trained chef can achieve. There’s also a lot of love on this plate: Chef Ryo was inspired by his mom’s recipe when he created this dish.
Angus Striploin ($27) – To my surprise, Chef Ryo is a steak expert! The fire-grilled Black Angus striploin topped with his teriyaki sauce is one of the best pieces of meat I’ve devoured in the city. An unlikely place to have it, I know, but order the steak and you’ll see what I mean.
Kyu-Maki ($7) – These fresh rolls are stuffed with avocado, cucumber slivers and drizzled with a rice vinaigrette. Although the flavours aren’t pronounced, there’s something light and refreshing about this dish: it’s a great appetizer or palate cleanser.
Goma Hamachi ($15) – The yellowtail from Kyushu is thinly sliced and topped with a maple-tamari glaze with toasted sesame and real wasabi. There’s something so simple yet refined about the ingredients on this plate. It was my favourite dish of the night (and Chef Ryo’s favourite too).
Lobster Tempura Maki – This beautifully plated dish elicited a few oohs and aahs from a room filled with food-lovers. The lobster was meaty and sweet, the rice was well-seasoned and the roll was just the right size: not too big, not too small (something many sushi restaurants in the city struggle with).
Kobe Beef Nigiri ($6 each) – Torched table-side by Chef Ryo, this nigiri was heavenly. The man knows how to select his meat! The beef was beautifully marbleized (but not as fatty as Wagyu) and tender. Topped with real wasabi from Japan, this nigiri was a delight for my taste buds.
Miso Black Cod ($29) – While I wasn’t a huge fan of the presentation, the charbroiled black cod was incredible. The fish was perfectly cooked, well-seasoned and the Saikyo miso marinade was divine. Japanese cuisine can often be difficult to pair with wine, but I thought my glass of chardonnay complemented the dish exceptionally well and highlighted the savory and nutty flavour of the miso.
We tasted many more dishes throughout the night, but the ones listed above were the most impressive (side note: in my opinion, the double-sided menu definitely needs to be pared down so the gems don’t get lost). As we digested our meal, we were introduced to Chef Ryo’s team. Each person in his kitchen specializes in one aspect of the cuisine; they stick to what they’re taught and perfect the craft throughout the years. It was really nice to see everyone who was working hard behind the scenes…
But, for me, the most memorable part of the evening was watching Chef Ryo and Barry interact: they are refreshingly real and very candid about their partnership. As with most passionate people, the two don’t always agree on things (we quickly discovered that food and wine pairings are highly contested). But instead of dwelling on that, they pour their energy into creating a fantastic dining experience for their guests: one that goes far beyond sushi. With that being said, I can’t imagine what it would be like without Chef Ryo and Barry guiding our culinary journey so – if you can – track them down before you head there (perhaps book a Chef’s tasting menu to secure the experience).
A special thanks to EDO-ko On Spadina for inviting us to their media preview. As always, all reviews and opinions are entirely my own.