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Shiso Tree Cafe

Posted by Staff / Reviewed on October 20, 2012 / review policy

Shiso Tree CafeShiso Tree Cafe specializes in Japanese-style pasta. Internationally, there are chains that serve this food, most notably Pasta de Waraku which is insanely popular in Asia, but since none of these large mega-restaurants seem remotely interested in opening a location in Toronto, this little place will have to suffice.

And boy does it ever do a good job. Serving heaps of Italian pasta wrapped in creamy Japanese-inspired sauces (try the sukiyaki pasta or the unagi pasta - they are simply wonderful, light, and smooth-tasting) along with Asian pastry such as red bean or green tea cakes, this place really does deserve more recognition than it currently has.

Shiso Tree CafeTucked away in J-Town, the restaurant has the appearance of a comfortable and relaxing cafe although large groups can book the one tatami room just to the left of the entrance.

While they do have a regular menu, Shiso Tree offers popular daily specials that rotate often. Their pasta comes in three different categories: Wafu (pasta made with Japanese ingredients), cream and tomato sauce. During weekdays, they have an amazing good lunch deal - $8 for pasta, soup and salad. On weekends, only their dinner menu is available.

During my most recent visit to Shiso Tree, I arrive with a fairly small group and we all decide to get the the lunch deal as well as share some small side dishes.

Shiso Tree CafeThe simple salad comes first. The wafu salad dressing, comprised mainly of soy sauce and sesame oil and seeds, is very good - flavourful, tangy and a bit salty but very light.

Shiso Tree CafeNext up is the soup. Each of us receives a house made cream of cauliflower. Like the salad, it's quite flavourful and we can tell it's made thick with a puree of cauliflower.

Shiso Tree CafeMoving on to something more substantial and unique, their Okonomiyaki fries ($8) are rather interesting. They're regular fries topped with ingredients that typically go on top of okonomiyaki: Japanese mayonnaise, otafuku sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter) and a sprinkling of green onions and bonito flakes. After our first bites our mouths are begging for more. Who knew that the sweetness of the otafuku sauce would compliment the fries so well?

Shiso Tree CafeNot content with just one order of fries, we all split the nori fries ($6) which come with their signature wafu dressing (used in the salad) and a generous sprinkling of thin nori strips. A lighter combination than the Okonomiyaki fries, it's still equally delicious.

Shiso Tree CafeFor our pasta mains, we order the Okonomiyaki (sauteed onions, bacon and garlic dressed like an Okonomiyaki-style pancake), Napolitan and the Puttanesca pasta. All three are made with spaghetti and plated with a thick slice of garlic bread

The Okonomiyaki pasta is by far our favourite of the three and is the true essence of Japanese-Italian fusion. Each piece has the perfect mesh of the thick, sweet otafuku sauce and the Japanese mayo. There's also a generous amount of onions and bacon in the pasta.

Shiso Tree CafeWe are excited for the Napolitan pasta since it's a very popular pasta dish in Japan but it tastes just sweet and cheesy.

Shiso Tree CafeThe Puttanesca pasta (tomato sauce, anchovies, olive and garlic) is, unfortunately, the most disappointing dish of the three. It isn't bad but there is just simply nothing extraordinary about it and the kitchen must have forgotten to include the anchovies but doubled the amount of olives.

Shiso Tree CafeNot ones to pass on dessert, we dig into a black sesame brulee ($6) which is utterly heavenly. The crispy caramelized top with the smooth black sesame pudding underneath is as good as this dish getsm not to mention a generous portion size for three people.

Also worth mentioning is Shiso Tree Cafe's cakes which are quite popular as the restaurant is affiliated with nearby Bakery Nakamura. All cakes and pastries are brought in fresh from the bakery each day.

Shiso Tree CafeWriting and photos by Christina Li with contributions from Darren Susilo



Ken / October 20, 2012 at 02:05 am
Nice! I've always passed by (and bypassed) Shiso Tree, not quite sure what to make of a place billed as a "cafe". Definitely going to drop in and try the black sesame creme brulee, the 2 fries, and the okonomiyaki pasta.
Thanks for the write-up Christina!
buddy / October 20, 2012 at 10:43 am
Where in the hell is "J-town"?
Dkz / October 20, 2012 at 10:53 am
Idiot replying to a comment from Dkz / October 20, 2012 at 11:04 am
You're an idiot. The city isn't confined to your little bubble at Yonge & Bloor. Grow up or get lost, troll.
Khristopher / October 20, 2012 at 11:17 am
This sounds really good. Is there anything like this downtown?
Aniebeth / October 20, 2012 at 02:58 pm
Great. Anything like this in Toronto?
acv66 / October 20, 2012 at 10:55 pm
looks good i might go there . i hope you guys do more anything north of bloor st
RS / October 20, 2012 at 11:56 pm
I need those okonomiyaki fries, NOW.
pho / October 21, 2012 at 02:33 pm
Bonito flakes on fries? YES PLEASE!
troll / January 28, 2013 at 09:59 am
"Who knew that the sweetness of the otafuku sauce would compliment the fries so well?"

you mean like ketchup or bbq sauce...o who knew lol
Xiao / April 16, 2014 at 06:01 pm
This place is great because owner is Chinese and not Japanese, also noodles are originally Chinese and the tastes are NOt Japanese so GO GO GO
Gaijin replying to a comment from Xiao / August 8, 2014 at 09:55 am
That is too bad, why would I want to eat Chinese food at a Japanese restaurant.
If you want Chinese food there are lots of choices in Markham.
I will keep looking for a real Japanese experience and not another Chinese copy.
Jeremy / August 11, 2014 at 11:10 am
The owners are NOT Chinese. Ken & Koh are Japanese-Canadian. Their restaurant is an authentic Yoshoku experience.
James / August 24, 2014 at 12:04 am
Yeah I was talking to a Japanese friend about the fact that this restaurant was sold a couple of years ago (I think he said five) to the Chinese guy that owns the bakery there.
Apparently there was some legal problems before the Chinese owners took over for a hk style
Peter Chan / September 20, 2014 at 12:41 pm
This restaurant is good, but the same food (Hong Kong style pasta) is available at Blue Ocean and Blue Ocean charges less so for a difference of five minutes drive Shiso loses
Chris / October 2, 2014 at 11:28 am
The waitress was able to communicate with us (we speak Mandarin) so that was good and she was nice but there is plenty of Hong Kong cafes that serve the same food like grotto down the road for example
Jessica / December 5, 2014 at 01:34 pm
Blue Ocean and Noodle House have similar Macau style noodles and better service
Yelissa / January 8, 2015 at 02:44 pm
I normally like HK style pasta but theirs is very greasy..
Superpeachlady / March 24, 2015 at 08:37 pm
Thank you for clarifying about this place being sold to Chinese owners. I was excited about coming here but now I'm not interested. Like the comment above, I'm not interested in a Japanese copy.
food dudde / April 25, 2015 at 05:51 pm
For the record, J-Town tries hard to keep the Japanese culture alive, and the owners of Nakamura Bakery and Shiso Tree are NOT Chinese. NOT Chinese. And this is not HK Style pasta, it's a Japanese twist on Italian-French classics! Definitely pushing the fusion bar highhhhhh
Ken / May 16, 2015 at 02:48 pm
I really liked this Shiso place
We had this style of food as teens in Hong Kong (HK style food). The owner was there and was happy that we were reminded of it. He also has a bubble tea cafe on Woodbine so good overall

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