Monday, June 26, 2017

Sushi Kaji: Toronto's Ultimate Omakase

Omakase comes from the Japanese term "to trust", and dining Omakase-style means just that — allowing the chef to present a sampling of their favourite selections. Considered to be one of the top Omakase experiences in Toronto, Sushi Kaji has only 30 seats and reservations are absolutely required, often months in advance, with the best seats being those at the bar facing the open sushi prep area, where chef Mitsuhiro Kaji surgically slices through glistening slabs of fish flown in that morning directly from Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market. Reserving a spot at the bar more than two months before, we were front row centre to the cooking theatre of chefs Kaji and Takeshi Okada, to savour Sushi Kaji's $130 12-course Omakase tasting menu which spans several hours and is prepared with only the freshest and highest quality seasonal ingredients — it’s impossible to be disappointed if you’re into the very best sashimi and sushi.

While Kaji is the undisputed maestro of the sushi and sashimi bar, the kitchen is Okada’s domain where he prepares zen-inspired courses which include his sensational Tuna and Avocado Spicy Salad with flash fried lotus root, Fried Chicken Katsutu with sweet onions, Grilled Ocean Trout with Brown Butter Yuzu Sauce and ultra-umami Wagyu Steak from Kagoshima. The fish and seafood are hand sliced by Chef Kaji, and garnished by his 'shefuashisutanto', or trusted chef's assistant, and served with Sushi Kaji's homemade soy sauce, guided by Chef Kaji's directions as to which sushi morsels to dip into the soy, and which not. A selection of sake and plum wines are a delightful accompaniment to the Omakase dining experience, which are only upstaged by Chef Kaji's playful personality, deft knife skills and the most wonderful fresh and flavourful fish — dōmo arigatō.

With an unspectacular exterior on the Queensway, Sushi Kaji is worth the drive 
to Etobicoke for Toronto's most celebrated Omakase

The modern interior with Chef Kaji at the helm

There are two Omakase menus and a succinct selection of Sake

A simple Zen-like place setting with napkin and chopsticks on lacquer tray

Japanese tea is served in handmade cups

Warm Okunhmatsu Sake

Tuna and Avocado Spicy Salad with flash fried lotus root was the first course of the Takumi Omakase

Fried Chicken Katsutu with sweet onions

A mound of steamed edamame is served with the Katsutu

Albacore Tuna Tatami served with grated daikon radish and broth

Sashimi with Moroccan Octopus, Japanese tuna, sea bream and amberjack served with wasabi 
and shiso leaves

Sea Bream with grated miso and micro greens 

Daikon, Carrot and Leaf Salad

Sesame Dressing for salad

Grilled Ocean Trout with Brown Butter Zuzu Sauce and Asparagus

While Chef Kaji slices the fish and prepare the sushi, his assistant is in charge of garnishing each piece, like the Japanese Spot Prawns

Japanese Spot Prawn Sushi

Chef Kaji slicing the fish for our sushi course

Flounder Sushi with julienned Shiso Leaf

Octopus Sushi with Garlic Sauce

Anago - saltwater eel - garnished with grated shiso and yuzu

Scallop Sushi

Chutoro, medium fatty tuna sushi

Mackerel with black garlic sauce

Wagyu Steak from Kagoshima 

Panacotta with Zuzu Sorbet

Iced Cream with red beans and fresh berries

Friday, June 23, 2017

Moroccan Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas & Veggies

Light, crunchy and slightly sweet with the addition of honey and dried cranberries in the broth as the quinoa cooks, this colourful Moroccan Quinoa Salad is the perfect side dish for a hot summer lunch or outdoor dinner. Tossed with a medley of diced vegetables, dried fruits, fresh herbs and exotic mixture of fragrant spices, the salad is entirely gluten-free for a low carb contribution to a healthy and delicious summer meal.

Moroccan Quinoa Salad 
Serves 6

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed in cold water
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup each finely chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup grated carrots 
1/2 cup seeded and diced English cucumber 
1/3 cup chopped green onions
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of one lemon
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Combine the quinoa, chicken broth, raisins, curry, cumin, coriander, honey and salt in a medium pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the quinoa has absorbed all of the liquid. Remove from the heat and let stand covered for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and allow to cool completely. After the quinoa has cooled, combine with all of the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Chilled Creamy Avocado & Cucumber Soup and Crab

Creamy avocado and fresh cucumber partner exquisitely in this refreshing Chilled Avocado and Cucumber Soup, perfect as an elegant first course or light summer lunch on a hot afternoon. Low in carbs and high in savoury and sensory appeal, this delicious soup can be prepared well in advance and simply chilled until it's ready to be served. Just purée all of the ingredients together in a blender or food processor with a dollop of crème fraîche and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and enjoy this tasty tribute to summer's abundant produce. Splurge with a garnish of cooked lobster, flaky crabmeat, or perhaps one or two large sautéed prawns, along with some chopped tomato, avocado and a shot of tabasco. Rich and creamy, this soup is best enjoyed in smaller portions, such as small bowls or shot glasses with a colourful array of festive garnishes to celebrate the season.

Chilled Avocado & Cucumber Soup with Crab
Serves 4

2 english cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium avocado, chopped
3 green onions, chopped 
1 cup buttermilk 
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream 
juice of 1 lime 
2 tbsp chopped cilantro 
1/4 tsp ground cumin 
salt, to taste 

2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 can cooked crabmeat 
Fresh ground white or black pepper

Place all the ingredients together in a blender and process until smooth. Cover and chill for 1-2 hours. To serve, pour the soup in decorative glasses or bowls, and garnish with chopped tomato, avocado, and flaked crabmeat with a grind a little fresh ground pepper to finish.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Whole Grilled Lavraki: Mediterranean Sea Bass

Lavraki is a Mediterranean sea bass, indigenous to the shores of Greece, and is considered a prized fish in Europe. In France, they are called Loup or Bar, the Spanish call them Robalo, and in Italy they are known as Spigola or, more commonly, as Bronzino. In Greece, Lavraki are a near mythical fish, ever elusive. In fact, when Greek journalists stumble upon a great story — snag that rare exclusive scoop — they call it a Lavraki. Stuffed with fresh herbs, lemon and sliced ginger this recipe for Whole Grilled Lavraki is easy to prepare and makes a gorgeous main dish, especially on a hot summer evening under the stars.   

Whole Grilled Lavraki
Serves 2

2 medium Lavraki, at room temperature - cleaned and scaled by your fishmonger
1/4 cup olive oil, for brushing and drizzling
Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper
1 handful fresh mint and lemon thyme
1/2-inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
2 lemons, one finely sliced and the other cut in half for grilling

Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Light an outdoor grill or barbecue to high heat. Season the inside of the lavraki with salt and a few grindings of black pepper, and rub the outside with the olive oil and season well with kosher salt which will help ensure a wonderful crispy skin. Stuff with lemon slices, sliced ginger and sprigs of fresh mint and lemon thyme. Place the lavraki and lemon halves on a foil lined baking sheet for easy transport to the barbecue.

Grill the fish over high heat, turning once, until browned and crisp and just cooked through, about 7 minutes per side, adding the lemon halves cut side down for the last 3-4 minutes. Serve the lavraki straight away, and garnish with the grilled lemon wedges for squeezing overtop of the fish.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Grilled Lamb & Vegetables with Arugula, Mint & Feta

Ideally suited for summer grilling, Rack of Lamb is one of my favourite cuts of meat, and when sliced into single or double chops and marinated in a fragrant elixir of garlic, fresh mint and rosemary, the flavours are positively intoxicating. Blended together in a food processor, and loosened with a little olive oil to produce a smooth paste, the marinade is simply massaged into the lamb chops and then abandoned to works it's magic for an hour or so. Grilled with a medley of mixed vegetables in a non-stick grill basket, they can be cooked beside one another then served as a sensational summer salad. Any combination of vegetables will do, but I love the colour and flavour of broccoli, red pepper, mushrooms and baby red onions garnished with a little feta once served. Easy, healthy and delicious, Grilled Lamb Chops with Wok-Grilled Vegetables make a fabulous summer meal when it's just too hot to do anything else.

New Zealand Rack of Lamb cut into individual chops and marinated with garlic, olive oil, 
fresh rosemary and mint

Grilled Lamb & Mixed Vegetables with Arugula, Mint and Greek Feta
Serves 2

1 rack of lamb, cut into single chops
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, pulled off the stem
2 tbsp fresh mint, plus an extra handful for garnish
3 tbsp olive oil
Maldon salt and fresh ground pepper
6 cups wild baby arugula

BBQ Wok-Grilled Vegetables with Feta:
1/4 head of broccoli, cut into small bite size pieces
4 large cremini mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large shallot, skinned and quartered
3 scallions, trimmed and cut into 3-inch long pieces
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
2 oz Greek feta

Add the garlic and fresh herbs to a small food processor and blend to emulsify, then add the olive oil and blitz again until the marinade becomes a smooth paste. Pour the marinade into a shallow glass baking dish, then add the lamb chops and toss thoroughly to ensure all of the meat is well coated with the marinade. Cover and place in the fridge for 2 to 4 hours.

Return the lamb chops to room temperature before grilling. Meanwhile, place all of the chopped vegetables in large bowl and just before they are to be cooked, toss with a little olive oil and oregano, then set aside. 

Preheat the BBQ to high heat. When hot, pour the vegetables into a non-stick grilling basket and place on the grill. Cook while tossing the vegetables frequently for about 10-12 minutes, or until the vegetables are just done. To serve, spoon the grilled vegetables back into the bowl and then set aside and season the lamb chops with salt and pepper. Grill the chops for 3 minutes per side for medium. To serve, lay the arugula on a large platter then spoon the grilled vegetables over top, then arrange the lamb chops on top and garnish with the feta cheese and the remaining whole mint. Season with a little Maldon salt and serve.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Parmigiano Trattoria: Rustic Italian in Lawrence Park

A cozy Italian trattoria with comfortable neighbourhood charm, Parmigiano serves Northern and Southern Italian inspired cuisine, using local ingredients and property-grown organic herbs and vegetables. Chef Kunman's menu features the usual Italian suspects such as Bruschetta, Caprese Salad and Grilled Calamari, a selection of over 20 pastas and risottos including Baked Manicotti, Spaghetti Bolognese, Gnocchi Toscana, Tortellini Quattro Formaggio and Risotto con Funghi, as well as their ever popular pizzas such as The Mediterranean with red pepper, eggplant, spinach, red onions, feta cheese and mozzarella cheese, and Toscana with tomato sauce, grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini, roasted peppers, black olives, goat cheese and mozzarella. Entrées also pay homage the family of Italian favourites including Eggplant Parmigiano, Veal or Chicken Marsala, and Vitello Con Funghi with mushroom white wine cream sauce. A popular local "Italian" for "Larry Park" regulars, Parmigiano is open seven days a week and always busy. 

The cozy casual interior of Parmigiano Trattoria

Spaghetti Bolognese

Linguine with black tiger shrimps, scallops and lobster tail with sun-dried tomatoes 
and capers in a basil pesto-garlic sauce

Spaghetti with Calabrian-style meatballs and mushrooms in tomato-basil sauce

Eggplant Parmigiano

Whole Grilled Branzino

Friday, June 16, 2017

Churrasqueira Martins: Superb Portuguese Cuisine

Owned and operated by Carlos and Samantha Martins since 1992, Churrasqueira Martins Grill House is a neighbourhood gem, tucked away in a lacklustre plaza near Rogers and Old Weston Road in the Rockcliffe-Smythe area of West Toronto. Famous for its succulent Barbecue Chicken and bathed in their famous sauce, there’s no rotisserie here — chicken is cooked the "authentic way," butterflied over a rotating horizontal charcoal grill. The classic BBQ sauce that completes the meal is an old family recipe. Martins also imports whole fish twice a week from Portugal which come in fresh on ice, never frozen, and serves quite possibly the city's best grilled fish and seafood in the city. Cooked to perfection and flavoured with love, the Grilled Octopus is the best I've ever had.

Relaxed and informal with an outstanding menu of over 60 Portuguese classics and extensive wine list including their own wine brand of house red and white, Martins sensational cuisine is only matched by their warm, friendly and gracious staff, helpful with any menu recommendations and attentive to our every whim. Arriving for a weekday lunch on a sunny summer afternoon, we began with complimentary plates of Presunto, a traditional dry-cured ham from Portugal, as well as heaping bowls of spiced olives, as we perused the mouthwatering menu. Our lovely server Jason, started us off with two bottles of Martins house white and red wine, followed with an assortment of appetizers including delicious Grilled Squid topped with parsley infused olive oil, Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato — clams in white wine and cilantro butter — and an impressive platter of gorgeous Grilled Tiger Shrimp. As entrées, we dove into a selection of Martin's signature dishes: Bacalhau à Lagareiro: Grilled Salted Cod; Dorada Grelhada: Grilled Whole Sea Bream; Sardinhas Assadas: Grilled Sardines sprinkled with sea salt and lemon and Slow-Roasted Charcoal-BBQ Chicken with fresh cut french fries. Open seven days a week, there is absolutely no place outside of Lisbon to find better grilled fish and seafood than Churrasqueira Martins. It will take great restraint on my part not to go back each and every day — "Obrigado a todos".

The warm, inviting and elegant interior of Churrasqueira Martins

Complimentary plates of Presunto, a dry-cured ham from Portugal, are brought to the table as diners peruse Churrasqueira Martins extensive menu of classic Portuguese dishes

Bowls of spiced olives are also set out to enjoy

A bottle or two of sparkling water was a sensible beginning to our indulgent pescatorian feast

Our warm and gracious server Jason presenting Churrasqueira Martins house white wine

Light bodied, cool and crisp, the Portuguese white wine was delicious

Lula Grelhada: Grilled Squid topped with parsley infused olive oil

Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato: Clams in white wine and cilantro butter

Gambas Grelhadas: Grilled Tiger Shrimp

Bacalhau à Lagareiro: Grilled Salted Cod served with roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables

Dorada Grelhada: Grilled Whole Sea Bream served with broccoli, carrots and broccolini

Slow-Roasted Charcoal-BBQ Chicken served with a pot of chili-laced Piri-Piri sauce, 
the iconic blend of chili, lemon and oil, and fresh cut french fries

Sardinhas Assadas: Grilled Sardines sprinkled with sea salt and lemon

My spectacular Grilled Octopus served with asparagus, broccolini, carrot and picked onion