Akai Sushi opened in the Annex two months ago. In an area with all too many sushi joints as it is, I was initially skeptical whether another was needed, but unable to tame my curiosity, I decided to stop in for a quick sample last week.
The Korean and Japanese restaurant is decorated with more care than most Annex sushi joints, featuring dark wood and seats not totally crammed together. I was happy to find that there's a lunch special menu that runs from 12 to 3 daily. On this visit I order the sushi lunch ($9.95) which comes with six pieces of sushi and six rolls, as well as a nice and subtle miso soup and salad.
The meal starts out well with nice, fresh fish. I'm particularly taken with the salmon -- so fatty it just melts in my mouth.
I usually find California rolls in the Annex a bit bland but these ones are a creamy delight, with just the right amount of roe and crab flavour. I gobble them up quickly.
My friend orders the chicken teriyaki and tempura bento box ($11.95) which comes with three salmon rolls. When it first arrives I take one look at the teriyaki and my skepticism floods back -- the chicken is pale and looks flavourless. But when I try a piece, I'm surprised to find that it's actually really tasty: it just hasn't been marinated in the teriyaki sauce.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing. All too often, low-end sushi restaurants drench their teriyaki dishes in sickly sweet sauce that obliterates all other flavours.
The teriyaki also comes with a side of tempura which are crispy and not too heavy, and the salmon rolls, my friend tells me, are absolutely delicious. We agree that it seems that Akai's recurring theme is "light and fresh."
I chat briefly with the chef and find out that he was a sushi chef for 10 years in California before coming to Toronto. Apparently his sushi style is rather typical of California because my friend, who's in fact visiting from San Francisco, says that his food reminds her a great deal of what she gets at home.
While we enjoyed our meal I'm still concerned about what will happen to Akai in an area that has all too many Japanese restaurants to begin with. Sushi on Bloor and New Generation Sushi, the two heavy hitters in the area, offer lunch specials for as low as $6. Akai is a cut above in terms of quality, but I can't help but think that even the small four to six dollar price difference might be enough to make students lose interest. But I, for one, am happy to have a quiet little restaurant with good food just off campus.
Our bill, which includes complimentary green tea, tip, and tax, comes up to about $32. Akai offers takeout and delivery, and is open Mon-Wed 12-10 p.m., Thurs-Sat 12-11 p.m., and Sun 4-9 p.m.