Taro's Fish is a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon for a boatful of reasons, not the least of which because a trip there allows me to check off a whole lot of boxes on my list of culinary awesomeness.
A wide variety of both comfortingly familiar and tantalizingly obscure (to those non-ESL teachers out there) cooked Japanese treats? Check. Friendly, knowledgeable service? Check. Pocky and Pocari Sweat? Check. Other Japanese snacks sporting packaging with cute-sy anime characters and awesome grammar? Check! J-pop pouring out of the sound-system. Check! A mouthwatering assortment of the freshest seafood guaranteed to send your tongue into spasms of ecstasy? CHECK!
Admittedly, it's tough to get a spot on one of the five stools that line the window counter near the door. And you could face up to a 20 minute wait at the checkout during peak periods since there's only one cashier, but once you get a gander at the huge Styrofoam trays groaning under the weight of the glistening, jewel-like hunks of sashimi and catch a scent of the stray, sweet teriyaki breeze coming from the kitchen, you'll quickly be reduced to a babbling idiot (not really much of a reduction in my case) limiting your vocabulary to three ridiculous words: om nom nom (okay, technically two words).
All the fish has been carefully chosen by Taro himself to exacting standards for sashimi/sushi use. Various fish are sourced from Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and North America. But Taro also loves local fish like lake Erie Pickerel.
So what's the best bet for the journeyman snacker at Taro's? Impeccably fresh and artfully presented, the sashimi is where it's at. Pre-packaged and available in the refrigerator in a variety of sizes and configurations, the assorted sashimi is a relative bargain at $15 and feeds two people respectably or one person to capacity.
Next, I head over to the sushi bar and try out one of several varieties of live oysters on the half-shell, shucked to order. This visit I opt for sweet, plump Virginica oysters from Washington ($2.20 each) with a pleasant brine-ness and a hint of mineral to round out the taste.
If you're feeling indulgent, you can't miss the Nova Scotia otoro nigiri (the special of the day when I visit). At $6 a piece, it's definitely expensive, but once you have a gander at its marbled pale pink beauty, all supine on a small bed of sushi rice you'll quickly dismiss any buyer's remorse as you joyfully reward your taste buds for putting up with all that downtown AYCE sushi and inhale this sweet, gloriously rich treat that reminds you of exactly how magnificent sushi can be.
Taro's cooked food should definitely be sampled fresh from the kitchen (and there's usually a quick enough turn around, especially on weekends, that freshness isn't an issue). On our visit, the items we chose were a little hit-and-miss. The grilled squid was smoky-sweet and delicious, albeit a little rubbery from its time on the counter. Likewise the shrimp tempura which was tasty enough though slightly greasy.
All the cooked food was good but made us wonder exactly how crazy good it would've been straight from the fryer or grill. Most of the cooked food is priced by weight so before you queue, make sure you head to the back cos it'd be a shame to waste 20 minutes in line.
My favourite cooked item was definitely their take on takoyaki. Taro's tako balls are arancini-sized (or golf ball sized if you eat those kinds of things) deep-fried batter dumplings stuffed with cabbage, octopus and pickled ginger and covered in a sweet "bulldog" sauce and piled high with shaved bonito. This is the one dish that room temperature doesn't seem to undermine, and I could easily eat a quartet (4 for $3.95) without batting an eyelash.
By the time lunch is done, I'm exhausted and ready for a nap and Taro's proximity to Ikea means I'll be snoozing in modular Swedish "luxury" soon, but I manage to snag a few goodies for the road because though the lure of the seafood is strong, y'never know when you'll be at Taro's table again beyond the fact that it won't be soon enough.
All images courtesy of Adrienne Tam.