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Umi Sushi Express

Posted by Simon Yau / Reviewed on June 3, 2011 / review policy

Umi Sushi ExpressUmi Sushi Express innocently calls it a bonito hot dog. As I stand amid a teeming mass of hungry Financial District suits however, my disbelief at what I'm seeing gives way to excited familiarity.

Bonito shavings? Mayo? Teriyaki sauce? Grilled onions? On a Nathans hot dog no less?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, on the heels of Vancouver's signature Asian street meat finally announcing plans to expand to Toronto this year, the Big Smoke is welcoming its first official (as far as I know) Japadog knockoff. And it's in the food court of the TD Centre.

Sushi Umi Express is a relative newcomer to the competitive club of Toronto's PATH lunch options. At first glance, the quick serve Japanese restaurant looks par for the food court concourse.

Smack dab in the middle of its menu though, which mainly consists of prepackaged sushi rolls and bento boxes, one finds the ever elusive Japanese style hot dog.

Two permutations are on tap; a teriyaki option featuring onions, teriyaki sauce and mayonnaise; and a bonito variety that adds a heap of dried, fermented tuna shavings to the party.

The lack of variety may leave many Japadog fans wanting, but East of British Columbia, beggars can't really be choosers.

The girl at the cash register looks mildly surprised when I order a bonito dog ($4.49), then informs me it will take 5-10 minutes for the item to be prepared. I'm guessing they don't sell a lot of these puppies?

I order an 8 pack of spicy salmon rolls ($4.99) to tide me over during this wait and find it to be unspectacular. The rice is slightly dried out from refrigeration and has the texture of tiny pebbles. The fish itself is inoffensive -- not fresh but not fishy -- and doesn't taste frozen, which is a plus.

All things considered, you could do much worse than mediocre while wandering the path for raw seafood. Take that for what it's worth I suppose, but I've always been of the mind that fast food sushi is like asking Ferrari to build a sub $15,000 car; would it really even be a Ferrari?

Umi Sushi Express sushiA somewhat disappointing 13 minutes later, I get my styrofoam box of proletariat fusion cuisine.The prolonged wait is quizzical in a food court that caters exclusively to time squeezed white collar patrons.

Opening the box reveals an explosion of bonito shavings burying a six inch Nathans hot dog nestled on a standard white bread bun. The fish flakes seem to have a life of their own, twisting and undulating as the delicate shavings are exposed to different temperatures.

The first bite is typical of a Nathans hot dog, with the elasticy skin giving way to an extremely salty and savoury dog. In a further ode to New York tradition, the juicy meat tube is boiled instead of grilled.

Each bite reveals why the juxtaposition of novel Japanese ingredients with a classic street meat experience has proven so successful in Vancouver.

The sweetness of the mayonnaise, teriyaki sauce and grilled onions balance the dog's natural salty, meaty flavours. The bonito shavings add not just their subtle, smokey depth, but also an exotic, paper like texture to every mouthful.

Umi Sushi ExpressLike most knockoffs, this dog falls short in comparison to the original that inspired it. But that's not to say it's a bad hot dog. There are more notes to this snack than one you might normally get outside Nathan Philipps Square; more complex textures and flavours at work in your mouth.

Toronto Japadog fans have waited years for Japanese style hot dogs to turn up in their fair city. As long as they can wait another 13 minutes, I think their cravings will finally be sated.



Chinatown fried Ric / June 3, 2011 at 09:39 am
This sounds not bad but why is it only in the Finanical district? how are normal ppl gonna taste it?
Marilynne Jackson / June 3, 2011 at 10:13 am
This is street food. Why is it not on the streets???
ROB / June 3, 2011 at 10:20 am
Exactly why is it not offered in more locations? The price wouldn't be $4.49 if it became available from carts.
matt replying to a comment from Marilynne Jackson / June 3, 2011 at 10:22 am
cause city hall knows whats best for us and is protecting us from the evils of not-regulated-to-death street food. if they don't look out for us who will? i don't ever know whats best for me and need a better educated elected official or committee of them to tell me. i feel much safer that way. the more taxpayer money they spend to figure out whats best for me, the better. more money spent means more results right?

the lemur replying to a comment from Chinatown fried Ric / June 3, 2011 at 10:26 am
By going to the financial district?
the lemur replying to a comment from Marilynne Jackson / June 3, 2011 at 10:26 am
Probably because the toppings wouldn't be allowed under the idiotic street-food regulations that apply to hot dog vendors. They're not even allowed to offer shredded cheese, remember.
indianguy / June 3, 2011 at 10:42 am
Yes? Hi! Vashi's Slum Dog Hot Dogs are still the better than all the others.
robert / June 3, 2011 at 11:40 am
They do not allow mayo either, or fried onions.
The strange thing about this both those item do not pose a health threat.
Chopped onions do but they are allowed. This is what cause ecoli in potatoes salads, not commercially prepared mayo
thanos replying to a comment from Chinatown fried Ric / June 3, 2011 at 01:13 pm
Chinatown fried Ric says "why is it only in the Finanical district? how are normal ppl gonna taste it?"

I don't know, maybe by going to the financial district. Duh
ew / June 4, 2011 at 05:58 pm
looks like shit. that meat and bun probably contains 5-7% real meat and bun.
howsitdone? / June 7, 2011 at 10:49 am

One more item stolen Vancouver... Japadog you dufus. Bore-onto strikes again.
Marianne Moroney / June 26, 2011 at 10:12 pm
I stood in line 3 years ago for a Jappa Dog. Had the turkey with miso and sprouts. Actually it was lousy. I like the idea but the product was shite. Sorry. You gotta do the grilling to make a dog worth eating. Adding toppings to hide an inferior product is not the way to go about it. Like the idea but please come through with the evidence.
Anna / August 12, 2015 at 12:02 am
The Umi Sushi Express from TD Centre - Wellington street - Finantial District is a total mess. The food is disgusting. They drop the food on the floor and put back in the containers. The guy that works there took one fry from the customer's bento box and ate in front of everyone, and yell at his employees as well in front of the customers. The sushi is a lame. I know someone that worked there and told me that the kitchen is full of mices and the owner don't give a damn. Not even the employees eat the food from this restaurant.

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