There is good food. There is great food. There is even spectacular food. And then there is food that transcends one's very notion of taste. This kind of food makes your whole world stop; it's food that makes what's happening inside your mouth all that matters. With food like this, I find myself staring into space, forgetting about the rest of world, succumbing completely to the unique sensations that start on my tongue and somehow take over my entire consciousness.
Never had the pleasure of such an experience? Think I'm exaggerating? Put it to the test. Go to Sushi Kaji, savour every bite, and then tell me I'm wrong.
I had wanted to go to Kaji for a long time. It's one of the restaurants that makes Toronto a world-class city, because it's probably one of the best restaurants anywhere. So when the day of our reservation had finally come, I was ready.
So here's a crash course on the world at Kaji: you pay $120 for the Omakase - a weekly tasting menu consisting of approximately eight - ten courses, made with only the freshest and highest quality of seasonal ingredients. (There is also an $85 menu, but at Kaji it's the full-fledged experience we're after.) There is clearly an obsession for perfection upheld not only by Chef Kaji but by every member of his team. Yet, to note this obsession hardly does justice to an experience at this restaurant. Each course is exquisite: I'm blown away by the pairing of inventiveness, playfulness, and riskiness with an intense precision that illustrates some serious skill. Through each course, your senses are brought to life on every level.
Enough vague descriptions. Let me give you a rough outline of what we ate (even though words really cannot begin to describe it). Keep in mind that while many of the dishes sound simple, they are not: there is a consistent layering of flavour that makes each bite of food come alive in your mouth in a way you may not have thought possible.
Our meal consisted of the following courses:
1) Creamy cauliflower soup, served with an asparagus tempura to dip.
2) Lobster and Avocado "salad," which included raw lobster and avocado mousse, and was eaten with a spoon.
3) Generously sized dumplings filled with sweetbreads in a sauce of what I think was caramelized cherries, accompanied by a small salad of micro-greens, dotted with a mango dressing.
4) Sashimi course: included hefty slices of o-toro (the fatty tuna belly that nearly made me swoon the first time I ever tasted it); red snapper; abalone; octopus; sea bream; and others I was unfamiliar with.
5) Bonito broth with poached sea bream, sticky rice, and lily.
6) A take on "fish 'n' chips": lightly battered and fried flounder on a bed of thinly grated and fried potato sticks, served with tempura dipping sauce
7) A trio of small dishes: conch soup, served in its shell (you eat the fried conch first and then pour the soup out of the natural spout into the bowl provided); a salad of persimmon, cucumber and cooked shrimp, served in the persimmon itself; a terrine of unagi (barbequed eel), sushi rice and cooked egg.
8) Sushi course: beginning with two bowls - a) uni (sea urchin roe) served with salmon roe on top of sushi rice (this was one of the greatest things I'd ever tasted); b) tartar of o-toro, topped with finely sliced mountain potato, on top of sushi rice. These bowls were accompanied by a delcious soba in broth. They were then followed by a selection of sushi, including lobster, king crab, scallop, and others I was not familiar with but absolutely loved.
9) Dessert: We are each given a separate dish, so we could share - a) a layered, panna cotta type dish with mango mousse and raspberry puree, served with a selection of fresh berries; b) a delicious potato noodle dish also served with fresh berries.
We washed this meal down with some excellent green tea and exquisite sake. (The sake menu changes regularly, too. Needless to say we paid dearly for it, but equally needless to mention is that it was worth it).
So there you are, my first visit to Kaji, summed up in a way that can scarcely do it justice.
I know there are many approaches to food out there; to some, paying this kind of money for food is nothing short of insanity; to others, it's just another evening out. To me, it's something truly special - a relatively rare but thoroughly relished experience that was worth every penny.