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Restaurants

Zen Japanese Restaurant

Posted by Simon Yau / Reviewed on May 27, 2011 / review policy

Zen Sushi TorontoZen Japanese Restaurant is probably not paying a lot for rent. Located between a bowling alley and a convenience store in the Eastern recesses of Scarborough, this cozy kitchen is clearly spending its resources on more important priorities; like fresh ingredients and attentive servers.

Belying the austere strip plaza in which it is located, parting the cloth curtains at Zen's entrance reveals a humbly decorated, tiny room with only a handful of tables.

Two wood paneled booths and a modest sushi bar reside at the back of the narrow restaurant, behind which three smiling chefs greet us cheerfully upon our arrival.

We are seated immediately by a cheerful server and peruse the menu -- a mixture of sushi and more traditional cooked Japanese cuisine. Complimentary green tea and edamame tide us over as we mull our plethora of options.

Zen Restaurant TorontoTo start, we settle on the braised cod with miso paste ($7.95). The fillet arrives unadorned, save the single banana leaf on which it rests. The utilitarian presentation of the cod is a perfect analogy for Zen as a restaurant - no flash, plenty of substance.

Slightly charred and glazed in the golden hue of fermented soy paste, the fish is perfectly cooked. Tender chunks of cod fall apart at the most gentle of chopstick tugs, while the slightly elastic skin clings delicately to your tongue, allowing you to savour the dish's musky sweet aromas.

The starter is a delicious contradiction; delicate yet intense miso flavour; a satisfyingly firm texture until you actually put the cod in your mouth where, essentially, it melts.

Zen ScarboroughNext we tackle the hand roll set ($9.50), featuring one serving each of tuna, yellowtail and salmon. Unlike many restaurants that sprinkle only a trace of fish at the top of the roll, Zen's portions contain a full serving of fresh, finely minced sashimi almost in equal parts with the moist rice. The pillar of fish runs surprisingly deep, ensuring every last bite we take includes fresh sashimi, right down to the bottom of each tightly packed nori cone.

Spider RollThe spider roll ($13.50) proves a surprisingly large portion, featuring a pair of the meatiest soft shell crabs I've ever seen. It's impossible to eat a piece of the avocado and deep-fried shellfish sushi in my mouth with one bite, and it crumbles at my attempts to do so. The following plate clean up proves messy but delightfully indulgent.

Toronto ChirashiFinally, we tuck into the chirashi zushi $25.50), which arrives literally as a bucket overflowing with fresh and meticulously prepared sashimi. Raw sweet shrimps, snapper, tuna, salmon, octopus, salmon roe, mackerel, tamago and, most importantly, scallops, lay in pairs atop a perfectly vinegared bed of rice, like a delicious seafood iteration of Noah's ark.

In addition to the sheer size of the serving, the freshness of the sashimi is impeccable. There is no fishiness or even a trace of freezer burn with any of the sashimi items.

Although I didn't get a chance this time to sample them, Zen also offers a fairly extensive sake list and an incredibly tempting omakasi sushi or sashimi option for $45 per person. I vow to return for both.

The location and d├ęcor might make it hard to believe, but you absolutely get what you pay for at Zen. The incredibly fresh ingredients and attention to detail in every dish make it one of Toronto's better (and consistent) upscale options for Japanese; a small step below the likes of Sushi Kaji but so many miles beyond the ubiquitous packaged California rolls of food court fare.

Plus, as a bonus, you can go bowling afterwards next door.

Hours

Lunch: Tues-Fri 12pm - 2:30pm
Dinner: Tues-Sat 5:30pm - 9:30pm, Sun 5:30pm - 9pm
Mon CLOSED

Discussion

8 Comments

Warren / May 27, 2011 at 11:16 am
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Danforth & Eglington is NOT east Scarborough, Morningside gets that distinction.
Simon replying to a comment from Warren / May 27, 2011 at 11:27 am
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touché.
Raien / May 27, 2011 at 11:37 am
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Definitely a place to serve your taste buds. $45 per person for Sushi in Scarborough is very expensive. As a sushi fanatic I wouldn't mind spending that much for some good quality meal.
Lune / May 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm
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This restaurant worth the $$$.
I love their Matusmae sushi (salted then marinated in vinegar mackrel sushi) - may not be everyone's favorite, but authentic and tasty.
Val / May 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm
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Should try the omakase
Nick / May 27, 2011 at 08:20 pm
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omakase is one of the best i've had in the city.
Sean / May 28, 2011 at 09:12 am
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I've been meaning to try this place for ages. I will definitely go now. As a side note, Scarborough is also home to Le Cafe Michi - an excellent high-end sushi restaurant/cafe - really unique. Worth checking out too.
Lori K / October 14, 2013 at 01:57 pm
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Zen is one of the few authentically Japanese restaurants in flavour and presentation. I've been coming here since it opened in 1983 - what a milestone for them to be still serving their exceptional food and outstanding customer relations for 30 years. Kudos 2 U!

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