Sushi Masaki Saito toronto

What's next for the restaurant that got the highest rating in Toronto's Michelin Guide

Sushi Masaki Saito in Toronto has just been christened with two Michelin stars, and is the highest ranked restaurant recognized by the illustrious guide in Canada.

Some deem the restaurant a gastronomic temple. Many aspire to try, and even more balk at, the spendy $700 per person – to start – price tag.

The omakase experience is a true trust-the-chef blind tasting that incorporates some of the world's most pristine seafood – yes, chef Masaki Saito only sources from the best, with most of it arriving daily from Japan. It's also part kitchen theatre, where diners are given an unobstructed view of Saito as he prepares a parade of meticulously crafted appetizers and the most ethereal pieces of sushi and sashimi imaginable.

Make no mistake, no matter how deep your pockets are, this isn't an everyday affair.

Twice a night, six lucky diners are transported to a magical alcove in Japan where they'd observe mesmerizing knife skills turning out translucent sheets of homemade pickled ginger, earth-shattering monkfish liver, and geometrically-precise slices of horse mackerel that slide off the gleaming blade between each ballet-like stroke.

Beyond the freshest and best ingredients, Hokkaido-raised and Tokyo-trained Saito is celebrated for his refined skill and mastery in crafting a new version of Edomae-style sushi.

But what separates his craft from many of his contemporaries is the chef's evolved style that uses traditional methods of aging and preparing fish that came before refrigeration and modern preservation, which has won over discerning diners and Michelin inspectors.

On paper, Saito's pedigree, attention to detail plus enviable access to the best ingredients, sets him up for Michelin-level success. Everything from the selection of fish, to the preparation of rice, and wasabi is a demonstration of balance, where what is complex is made simple and that which seems simple is actually complex.

This isn't Saito's first Michelin rodeo either.

Before moving to Toronto to helm his namesake restaurant, Saito helped New York's Sushi Ginza Onodera achieve their two stars. He also wasn't shy about his aspirations, sharing his intentions of attracting the attention of the Michelin Guide to the city even in the early days.

Tuesday night's Michelin reveal didn't just acknowledge the level of dining experience Sushi Masaki Saito was capable of, it was validation for the chef, and his team, of the work they had put towards creating an extraordinary, deliberate-from-the-start restaurant experience for guests.

Few might have noticed a brief emotional moment for Saito when he realized that there was still a two-star award to be given and he was the last chef to be announced. The professional regained his composure before heading on stage to thank Michelin, express his love for Toronto and Canada, and charm the crowd with a few jokes in the jovial manner his customers know him for.

Big changes ahead

Instead of resting on their laurels and coasting, the senior team at Sushi Masaki Saito tells blogTO that this is the start of major changes ahead.

"[Getting two stars was] very, very good," said Saito. "But this is not my goal. We will improve to get three stars."

"It's a Japanese mindset to achieve, continue achieving, and never stop achieving until you die," explains Saito's business partner William Cheng. (Cheng is also behind uptown's one-starred Shoushin with chef-partner Jackie Lin.)

While the team spent Tuesday evening celebrating their recognition, by Wednesday morning they abandoned that excitement and set their eyes on even bigger goals.

The most immediate change was upgrading the already stellar lineup of premium ingredients they import. That means bringing in products that were previously deemed too expensive to consider – high wastage ingredients like shrimp and crab that would typically not survive the journey from Japan – and incurring all the costs associated with it.

"I've discussed this with Saito-san," said Cheng acknowledging that it's a decision that isn't supposed to make financial sense.

"In order to become a better high-end omakase restaurant serving Edomae-style sushi equivalent to Tokyo-level, we must bring in more special ingredients even though we know the food cost and wastage will be very high. For the diner, it will taste like you're eating in Japan with the fish market next door."

"I've said this many times: making money is not the number one thing for us here at Saito's restaurant; if making money is the number one thing, we would not be able to become better."

Changes aren't only relegated to importing fancier ingredients. To create what the team feels will launch Sushi Maskai Saito into three-star territory, the second-floor walk-up will be closed for two to three months for extensive renovations starting around Christmas. During that time Saito will visit Japan, and the duo will travel to dine internationally for research.

"We can't reveal the changes because it'll be a surprise, but every change will be geared towards a better food experience," teased Cheng.

"Even though it's a physical renovation with something that has to be custom-made in Japan that's incorporated into our dining space, it's not for esthetics. The renovation is the only way that will allow us to apply better traditional Edomae-techniques to the ingredients."

Will the menu prices increase?

The elephant in the room is obviously cost. With pending renovations and increased food costs, we were surprised to learn that none of that will be transferred to the customer.

"We don't intend to increase the price because we have Michelin stars," said Cheng who also notes the restaurant did increase prices a few months earlier. "It will be more costly to us, but we have to accept the fact that it may not make financial sense, but we have to do it. It's just a matter of fact. Again, this is a passion business.

"I think people will be shocked about that. Our goal is to become better from an artistic perspective. You cannot put value to art. And what makes us happy is to complete the art by Saito's team and by Saito's hand rather than making money."

Will it be impossible to get reservations?

Cheng dispels the myth that earning two stars will increase the number of reservations at the restaurant, mainly because Sushi Masaki Saito has always been fully booked. That said, the restaurant's website did crash shortly after the Michelin announcement.

With limited nightly seating at the hinoki-wood sushi bar, it was already impossible to snag a reservation pre-announcement. Cheng tells us that the team is working to change the reservation system so that it's easier for those ready to pony up $700-plus for a meal to book a seat.

The current system involves releasing reservations as a block, with the restaurant booking out 60 days in advance. Realizing that there is interest but that many customers can't foresee what might happen in two months' time, they're readjusting the system to permit a rolling 30-day window. That means if you're super keen, you can try daily to secure a reservation one month out.

"We want to give everybody a chance to come and try," said Cheng. "Every day there's an opportunity to book over the phone or online. We want to show our art to everybody."

Love for Canada

But there's more.

Asking if he could address the crowd after receiving his accolades at the Michelin awards, Saito mentioned his deep love for Toronto and Canada.

blogTO also learned from Cheng that Saito is applying for his permanent residency.

"Please tell everybody to let Canada know, we need him to stay here," shared Cheng.

Lead photo by

Renee Suen

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