Hungry for more? Let’s dig in!
It’s no secret that Toronto has a big appetite for Japanese food. The city’s growing enthusiasm for dishes like sushi and ramen has been a boon to Japanese chefs who choose to make Toronto home, and diners’ palates have naturally become more exacting as they are treated to more and more excellent Japanese cuisine. However, while many Japanese chefs in Toronto have found success catering to the city’s existing appetites, it is less common to see a chef break new ground in the type of cuisine they offer.
Chef Izutsu’s story is certainly an uncommon one. He arrived in Toronto as the private chef to the Japanese Consulate General. Far from catering to novice tastebuds, from his first days in the city he was serving the likes of government officials, renowned artists and even the Japanese Imperial Family. These patrons were familiar with a Japanese fine dining style, kaiseki, that is less known in the West. When he decided to open his first restaurant, Sakura, Izutsu’s mission was to teach Torontonians about Japan’s traditional style of haute cuisine with its meticulous, multi-course meals and emphasis on seasonal ingredients.
His new restaurant, Yukashi, is refined and minimal, but also very intimate. With the kitchen taking up about half the available space and separated from the dining room only by a broad wooden bar, you get the feeling that you could be a private guest in the chef’s own house. Izutsu’s disarmingly casual manner in the kitchen only heightens this feeling. But if you’re expecting casual fare, you are in for a surprise. You will soon realize that the lack of pomp is founded in Izutsu’s confidence that his food can speak for itself.
Fittingly, one aspect of Japanese haute cuisine that the chef has truly mastered is the judicious use of surprise. Kaiseki is known for its attention to presentation, including a custom of skillfully disguising one food as another. But this tradition is not just an amusing parlour trick. Wielded by Izutsu, the misdirection leads diners to rediscover familiar flavours as if for the first time.
Of course, for this trick to work, it’s essential for the flavours you discover to truly stand out.That’s why Yukashi’s menu is updated regularly to reflect the freshest seasonal ingredients, most of which are own in from Japan and then combined into inventive dishes. Here, kaiseki’s seemingly contradictory emphasis on simple, fresh ingredients and elaborate presentation both serve the same purpose: showcasing the intrinsic qualities of the ingredients.
Back when Izutsu opened Sakura, heremembers that his patrons had never seen fresh grated wasabi. “They would say, ‘I thought wasabi came in a tube.’” A decade later, Toronto’s restaurant-goers are educated about Japanese ingredients and there is a demand for the same quality you can find in Japan, thanks in large part to Izutsu’s contribution. Lucky for them Yukashi is here to meet that demand.