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Restaurants

Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto

Posted by Debbie Ohi / Reviewed on September 17, 2007 / review policy

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If you're craving a fast and inexpensive sushi fix, Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto is probably not the restaurant for you. If you're looking for an unforgettable and authentic Japanese kaiseki experience, however, Hashimoto definitely fits the bill.

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The origin of the word kaiseki can be traced back to the 16th century, when Zen priests used to tuck hot stones (seki) wrapped in towels into their kimono pockets (kai) to help ward off hunger pangs during fasting. Nowadays, traditional kaiseki consist of a multi-course set meal that changes with the seasons. Some say that kaiseki-ryori is the ultimate Japanese cuisine.

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The outside of the restaurant is fairly ordinary-looking, hidden away in a strip plaza in Mississauga. Step through the door, however, and the atmosphere changes completely: carefully chosen lighting creates the illusion of starlight above, the warm light of paper lamps providing gentle illumination.

With only two tables and limited bar seating, you can almost imagine that you're sitting in a small village restaurant in Japan. Masaki Hashimoto, chef and owner of the restaurant, designed and built the interior of the restaurant by himself. Chef Hashimoto trained in Kyoto and Tokyo for 10 years to become a kaiseki chef.

There is no menu; the chef chooses what you eat. As you can tell from the photos, presentation is a major part of the experience.

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After each course was served, Madame Hashimoto would explain what each dish was and how it was prepared. Sometimes she would offer tips on how to eat certain items to maximize the flavour. Chef Hashimoto is hugely particular about his ingredients, and many are flown from Japan.

I didn't like uni, for example, until I had uni at Hashimoto's. The uni was from Kyushu, the most southerly of the Japanese main islands, where the uni is apparently best during the summer. Winter uni is from northern Japan (I had no idea there was more than one type of uni). Our uni was very fresh, flown in from Japan the previous day, and served in the spiny shell in which it had arrived. It was served with freshly ground wasabi and paper-thin slices of sudachi, a small citrus fruit also flown in from Japan.

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Chef Hashimoto tied for third-place in the Japanese Culinary Art Competition, which was held in Japan in August/2007. Chef's dishes were judged on preparation, appearance and taste. (Thanks to my friend John Chew for translating that Japanese Web site!)

There was no photography allowed inside Hashimoto restaurant, by the way; many thanks to Chef Hashimoto for providing the photos of the meal we had on one particular evening for use in blogTO. Believe it or not, the chef keeps a record of each customer's meals to help make sure their next meal is different.

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Dining at Hashimoto is not cheap but in my opinion (I've eaten there around three or four times over the past five years), it's well worth it. You're not just paying to get fed but for the whole experience: the intimate atmosphere, the authentic cuisine, painstaking preparation and exquisite presentation. Kaiseki is also usually expensive because of the extensive training needed to cook and serve it; my impression is that the prices at Hashimoto are much lower than what you'd ordinarily pay for kaiseki cuisine in Japan.

Dinners start at 7:30 pm and are available at $100 (6 courses, chef's choice) and $150 (8 courses, chef's choice); each person in your party must choose the same price tier. I've never had lunch there, but it's served from 12:30-2:30 pm with prices ranging from $25-$100. You need to make reservations at least one week in advance.

The photos from our evening at Hashimoto (pictured above) are from the 6-course meal. Again, the menu will likely differ each time you visit this restaurant. What won't change: the unforgettable dining experience.

All photographs courtesy Masaki Hashimoto.

Discussion

10 Comments

delme / September 9, 2006 at 01:43 am
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The experience that i had at Hashimoto's was just outstanding. It was truly an experience that i want others to experience. Something that can't be explained unless you go there your self. If you don't believe me, go there and experience it your self, its worth every penny. There was a lot to learn about this cuisine but once you know it, you start to appreciate why they serve such traditional dishes. The presentation, the art, the feeling, all comes to one leaving you all relaxed untill you step back into the busy world we live in. Truely it was a great experience.
steven / September 18, 2007 at 03:17 pm
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Wow, that looks really beautiful and delicious!
Blade / September 18, 2007 at 04:06 pm
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Oh, my! Those pictures, and the description of the experience, are enough to make me want to go there in spite of having to save up for it! Thank you.
Tanja / September 18, 2007 at 10:42 pm
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Fascinating! Looks like such an interesting place to dine.
Chris / September 19, 2007 at 01:04 pm
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I'm not sure I understand the connection between the kaiseki stone-tucking and the kaiseki meal type...

although compared to the amounts I eat, I definitely can understand the relationship between fasting and these portions.

Certainly beautiful though!
Brian / September 25, 2012 at 01:19 am
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For those of you who wish to experience a real Kaiseki, I'm afraid you really have to go to Japan or at least Asia (there are some real Kaiseki in HongKong too). Do a google search on Kikunoi and understand what Kaiseki means.

This restaurant is a hoax. From the ambient, the utensils, the arrangements, the ingredients, the preparations, the presentations, based on Japanese cuisine standard, this is at best a Swiss Chalet grade of a restaurant. Even in its name, it called itself a Yu-zen "Kaiseki", Yu-zen means casual. There's NOTHING CASUAL about Kaiseki. If you're looking for casual, go to Japanese all-you-can-eat run by the Chinese/Koreans. Shame on you Hashimoto, you've insulted your country's finest form of dining.

Granted in Ontario, there is no real Kaiseki, if you really have $300 with nowhere else to spend but unable to travel aboard for a real Kaiseki, by all means.

For me, I'd go to Kaji twice, order Takumi twice and pocket the rest of the change. Kaji never calls itself a Kaiseki restaurant, because he knows he is not. For that, he's earned my respect entirely already.

If you think you've earned a bragging right after eating here, brag to someone else who's even less knowledgeable than yourself on Japanese fine dining.
Joshie / April 17, 2013 at 11:48 am
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But how did the food taste Brian? What are your credentials?
vanessa replying to a comment from Brian / June 10, 2013 at 12:42 pm
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I have been to Kaji, will not go back. In my opinion, it’s totally overpriced. Food is OK but not great. Some people like it, some people don't,it’s a personal choice. I don't really care about the name of the restaurant, it’s in Japanese anyway; food is what I focus on. I have never been to Hashimoto but heard good comments about the restaurant. I went to the website, the food actually looks beautiful. Clam down a bit, people are just sharing their dining experience with other. There is no boundary in food tasting. It's either taste good or taste not so good to a person. Taste is very personal too. We don't have the same amount of taste buds on our tongue after all.
Richard replying to a comment from Brian / October 25, 2013 at 02:44 pm
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Brian: how pretentious of you. I have eaten at many restaurants in Japan and in North America....I can assure you that the food served here is certainly light-years beyond the 'Chinese and Korean run fast food Sushi' places in Canada...and is in better then the average Japanese restaurant in Tokyo or Osaka. Note that I said 'average' restaurant in Tokyo or Osaka - of course in Japan people will find restaurants that are better than this (Japan has more Michelin star restaurants than any country). But this ranks as very good by Japanese standards....unless you know something about authentic Japanese food that my Japanese friends and in-laws do not? Ridiculous comment - calling this a 'hoax' is offensive and uninformed.
If people can afford it and are looking for a piece of the kaiseki dining experience in Toronto...then go. It is VERY good. That said there are a number of great options in Toronto that are more affordable (Kaji) so nobody should feel the need to go into debt for this.
Sac / November 19, 2013 at 02:04 am
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Even though foods are expensive here, it is true that it will give an unforgettable and authentic Japanese experience. It might be expensive but the foods presented are very class. Price doesn’t matter if it will leave you great memories. Same as Kanji Sushi Restaurant & Sake Bar. One of the Finest Japanese Cuisine in Toronto, Canada. They offer different types of Sushi together with Sake wine. Traditional Japanese recipes with French and Italian influences. You can also visit their site @ http://kanjitoronto.com/#!/splash_page

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