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Posted by Alexandra Grigorescu / Profiled on November 22, 2012 / review policy

jabistro torontoJaBistro opened three weeks ago in the Club District and is announced by a playful, illuminated front sign against blackout windows. At its helm is James HyunSoo Kim, who also opened the Guu chain of restaurants and Kinton Ramen, and chef Koji Tashiro, whose resume stretches from Tokyo, to Vancouver, to Guu Sakabar. Tashiro's passion is clearly sushi, and he humbly admits that his time at Guu allowed him to familiarize himself with Toronto's culinary tastes.

jabistro torontoInside, you'll find a bar area at the front, followed by a narrow dining room comprised of both table and sushi bar seating. Blonde wood and exposed brick are dominant throughout, and similarities to the Guu look are thanks to Bennett Lo, who oversaw the design.

jabistro torontoJaBistro's bartender, J.R. Graham, has worked extensively with the Publican Group in Melbourne, as well as recently at Parts & Labour, and was more or less given free reign behind the bar. The result: a succinct list of 5 cocktails and 3 virgin drinks. "Looking at it now, it's a deeply personal list," Graham tells me, but also one that's designed to function well with the food--as with the unusual Spicy Celery Lime (sake, ginger syrup, lime, celery bitters and soda, $11) or the Shiso Smash (bourbon, simple syrup, shiso, lemon and water, $13). You'll also find Flying Monkeys Amber Ale ($6), a selection of barley and sweet potato shochu, and sake on offer.

jabistro torontoWe begin with the decadent sashimi platter (priced between $50-$100). Advance reservations are required for customized platters, and the price will depend on what you choose. The sashimi on offer varies drastically from day to day--JaBistro's focus is on the utmost freshness. Presented on a stone slab and accented by cucumber shavings, and pickled vegetables and seaweed, the day's selection is sea breem, bluefin tuna from Halifax, ocean trout from Australia, and amberjack.

jabistro torontoThe last ingredient is raw lobster, whose halving (and slow demise) I'm afforded a front-row look at from my seat at the sushi bar. The meat from the tail is scooped out while the front of the lobster continues to quiver on the platter. Tashiro explains that this is done for freshness, and I'm aware that this is considered an elegant delicacy, but even I (who am hardly squeamish) was taken aback. That aside, the freshness of the fish is beyond reproach and flavorful enough that a splash of lemon and sea salt suffices.

jabistro torontoThe restaurant also has a bistro menu of 10 items, which can be loosely described as fusion cuisine. We try the kamo ($14), a thoughtfully arranged salad with an onsen tamago (boiled egg) in the centre, surrounded by duck breast, a nest of spinach leaves, dried burdock, and a dollop of house-made mayonnaise. I recommend trying the salad before piercing the egg, as the crisped burdock (used in traditional medicine as a detoxifier and diuretic) adds more than enough texture, and the subtle smokiness of the duck is somewhat overpowered by the egg.

jabistro torontoNext is the saba ($15), which is an oshuzushi topped with cured mackerel, made by pressing freshly-made sushi rice and the fish into a mould to obtain a perfect rectangle shape. Next, they're cut and heated from above with a handheld blowtorch. This not only imparts a different texture to the fish, but somehow allows its flavour to seep into the rice--we're advised to eat it without soy sauce, and the lush taste of the mackerel is more than enough.

jabistro torontoAs you'd expect, the flavors here are delicate, well-balanced, and the dressings are made in-house--from the wasabi, which is made directly from wasabi root imported from Japan, to both a traditional soy sauce, and a house-made deviation made with fish broth and kumbu seaweed that yields a bit more sweetness. Tashiro even tends to the sushi rice by hand, in a large wooden bowl meant to absorb excess vinegar while retaining moisture.

jabistro torontoAlthough JaBistro's atmosphere is different from what we've come to expect from the Guu chain of restaurants, Kim is rapidly becoming a go-to name in quality Japanese cuisine. The addition of a lunchtime menu is set for December, at which time the dinner menu will also change slightly.

Photos by Jesse Milns



Paul / November 22, 2012 at 10:03 am
This sounds very good. Clubland already has the wonderful Yuzu on Adelaide, now another high-end sushi spot. Lucky clubbers!

I do wish that BlogTO would be more transparent about differentiating restaurant reviews from these promotional "profile" pieces. It seems a little dishonest to allow editorial and advertisement to be so easily confused.
Jennifer / November 22, 2012 at 12:15 pm
This is the most excellent Japanese place in Toronto. Make your mouth water endlessly with delight and temptation.

They have freshest seafood and meat to please your senses. Believe me you would be very happy coming here.

Go there now! Enjoy. You won't be disappointed in the least. I take my mother and family there every weekend.
hellebelle / November 22, 2012 at 01:52 pm
i feel bad for that lobster.
handfed / November 22, 2012 at 03:56 pm
They slice up a living lobster! WTF, how is this legal in canada??
Keitai / November 22, 2012 at 04:12 pm
I completely agree with the last two comments - that's cruel and disgusting. Would never go there.
bobby / November 22, 2012 at 04:29 pm
The live lobster slicing makes me want to go more actually
BH / November 22, 2012 at 05:24 pm
Man, people need to quit checking their brains at the door. It's being killed live! The horror!

Uh, exactly how many dead lobsters are dropped into pots of boiling water in homes across the nation every day?
raymes / November 22, 2012 at 05:57 pm
Can't wait to check it.
Tim replying to a comment from Paul / November 22, 2012 at 08:18 pm
You are mistaken. No restaurants reviews are advertising. You can take a look at our review policy in detail here:
Hiro replying to a comment from Keitai / November 22, 2012 at 08:31 pm
so the live slicing is cruel? yet throwing a lobster in a boiling pot of water isn't? or when you chop up a fish fresh? if you eat fish.. or even meat.. thats JUST HOW THINGS ARE!! accept it! we kill.. we eat. done. don't go around saying its cruel and you'll never go eat there.
dkaso / November 22, 2012 at 09:04 pm
It's a lobster, not a new born baby.

me / November 22, 2012 at 10:46 pm
who will think of the lobsters? :(
Davina / November 22, 2012 at 11:48 pm
Slicing a live lobster to death is cruel because it unnecessarily prolongs its pain and suffering. Dropping a lobster into boiling water is comparatively less cruel because the lobster dies in less time. Still cruel, but less so. Come on, people. Use your heads. Would you rather be dropped into boiling water or sliced with a fine knife until you bled to death? Another question: why is it appetizing to see a live animal be killed and tortured?

To those who want their lobster but worry about humane treatment: a device that stuns them unconscious in 0.3 seconds and kills them in 5-10 seconds is being used in the UK. Compare that to boiling alive, which takes 3 minutes:
rG / November 23, 2012 at 01:58 pm
Who gives a fk about lobsters... really. I think we can all think of better things to worry about in our lives and on this planet.
Greg replying to a comment from Keitai / November 23, 2012 at 07:53 pm
hope you guys realize that in the wild animals are eaten alive. Their necks are gouged or they're injected with venom to immobilize them and then they're eaten while they're still living. how is this different, wild animals like their meals fresh too.
Mike Hawk / November 23, 2012 at 10:43 pm
LOL @ Hipsters complaining about slicing up seafood, I need to get out of this city.
Ching Chong replying to a comment from Ace McNugget / November 27, 2012 at 07:49 pm
Nope, pretty sure Toronto is in China, or Japan, or whatever all the same, right?
Brad Chow / November 27, 2012 at 08:26 pm
I love that blogto will remove a sarcastic comment but keep a blatantly racist one.
T / December 3, 2012 at 05:30 pm
The flamed saba (mackerel) rolls - which they seem to pride themselves on is mediocre at best, the rice is way too wet and soggy with too much sauce. Saba was ok.

The kamo salad...with a poached egg which was more like a shriveled up egg which didn't know what to do with itself in the salad.. it was an interesting idea for the salad but they just didn't combine together nor did the ingredients complement each other. It just all melded into one...confusing dish.
Cat / December 10, 2012 at 06:07 pm
When I was in China there was a lobster dish where they sliced it open and I ate it while its legs were still kicking right out of the body cavity :) YUM. One of the best things I've ever tasted. You're all such wimps. Maybe you should each chicken nuggets instead.
disgusted replying to a comment from Ching Chong / January 2, 2013 at 02:53 pm
really "Ching Chong"? pig.
zkpxo replying to a comment from Keitai / January 3, 2013 at 01:58 pm
oh well more sushi for me!
Tran / February 1, 2013 at 12:14 pm
Hands down the best "sushi" moreover Japanese restaurant in the city. They have the seasoning of the sushi rice down to a science and the fish was so fresh, dare you ask for soy sauce. The service was so preemptive, my guest sat down before asking and was gracefully given a cocktail napkin for her chewing gum. At all points of our experience there was a unobstrusive choir of staff who were attentive to each detail and timely measure of our experience. I feel as though the experience, quality of food, authenticity and elegance of Ja Bistro was unparalleled.
Dating thai girls / April 29, 2013 at 07:26 pm
Hey there just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a
few of the images aren't loading properly. I'm not
sure why but I think its a linking issue. I've tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same results.
Yuliya replying to a comment from Keitai / July 2, 2013 at 10:50 pm
Do you think that animals in slaughterhouses get much better treatment? If you're so offended consider going vegetarian.
Bret / March 1, 2014 at 11:47 am
looks pretty boring. Are there any women there? Waitress in a short skirt or low cut? It looks uninteresting from the pictures
Hunter / July 13, 2014 at 04:31 pm
Effn sakes! Some ppl? I feel so sorry for these ppl! Killing a live lobster? Omg! Get a life gdi!
Elie / September 6, 2014 at 09:04 am
I just cancelled my reso after reading this review. I won't be able to enjoy my meal knowing how this restaurant kills lobsters. Horrible!!
Mary / September 13, 2014 at 09:37 pm
JaBistro is owned by a Korean guy who is I guess out to make $$ from Japanese food. He probably pays the young Japanese chef pittance. In return the chef packs the rice like it's in a bowl . This is what we praise in Toronto as WOW
Nicholas / September 20, 2014 at 04:57 pm
So this is how the rich in Toronto eat. Must be nice.
Oy replying to a comment from Davina / October 6, 2014 at 03:58 am
If you cared to do your research on the restaurant you wouldn't be ignorant to the fact that you can watch it happen if you really want, I have. That lobster is whole and alive as the dickens, no cuts. Then suddenly, like only a master sushi chef can do in let's say 0.2 seconds (or less) it's dead. Quick 1 shot to the face & brain, and about 5 seconds later it's in pieces and displayed beautifully. Even more so obvious at this point that it's very dead. All in all, best sushi in Toronto by far. You'll give up that farmed frozen fish fillet all you can eat garbage right quick, after visiting JaBistro.
David S replying to a comment from rG / October 31, 2014 at 08:38 pm
Could we get your real name so we make sure we do not befriend you or employ you or have anyone we love marry you?

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