Japango is like a beacon along the desolate stretch of Dundas between Bay and University. On this stretch, there is no shortage of grimy restaurants with misspelt signs. but Japango is an exception with its surprisingly authentic atmosphere and impeccably fresh sushi.
Judy and I manage to escape the frigid cold and are warmly welcomed by the eager staff, while we squeeze into a cozy nook by the window. This teeny tiny restaurant barely manages enough space to cram in its 8 tables, but is inviting nonetheless with soulful jazz tracks and the soft murmuring of servers in their mother tongue. Inside, the vibe is low key and captures the essence of any typical neighbourhood sushi joint in Japan.
We sip on bottomless cups of warm rice tea and chomp on crisp salads while awaiting the feast to come. We're hungry, cold and in serious need of some nourishment. Feeling a bit under the weather, Judy orders Chicken Udon ($12.99). As she digs into her steaming bowl of juicy noodles in piping-hot broth; garnished with dried seaweed, snow peas, plump white meat and green onions, she is instantly brought back to life!
I opt for their signature sushi dinner, which arrives with a rainbow assortment of fresh fish and six scrumptious California rolls ($18.99). I am reminded of what a truly delicious California roll should taste like- Crisp cucumber, crackling bits of red caviar and surimi that frays with each bite, all snugly wrapped up in seaweed with a thin coating of rice sprinkled with sesame.
Though we're both comfortably full at this point, Chef Ken persuades us to sample their daily sushi special, which varies according to different fresh fish in season. Much to our delight, a platter of expertly executed sushi is presented to our table. Like colourful soldiers marching two- by- two, we are impressed by the artistic presentation (heads and all). Bamboo leaf is commonly used to keep the fish fresh and not just to make the dish look pretty.
Rather than stuff their patrons full of rice in an attempt to make up for bland, tasteless fish, Japango delivers remarkably fresh slivers of Spanish Mackerel, Bonta Ebi Shrimp, along with slightly charred Red Snapper on no more than a tablespoon of tasty sushi rice.
Normally packed with dreary looking public servants at noon and a more eclectic crowd come dinnertime, reservations are helpful particularly during the weekday rush. With a loyal following of sushi fans, it is no wonder that Japango continues to receive rave reviews ten years on and now offers a second location in Clubland named Yuzu.
In between mouthfuls of Bonta Ebi sushi, the newly revived Judy sums up our experience at Japango best by exclaiming: " This is unlike any sushi I have ever had!"
Photos by Judy Nguyen