Yutaka can be found among the growing number of Japanese establishments along Dundas St. between University and Chestnut. Occupying a large space that was previously Garden Restaurant , this Japanese eatery seats 120, including 18 at a long sushi bar.
Behind this project are men who have worked in the Japanese restaurant biz and known each other for over 28 years: front-of-house Bill Hu ( Masa , Nami ), sushi chef Osamu Fukushige ( The Drake Hotel , Le Cafe Michi ) and Michi Tanaka ( Edo , Hiro ), responsible for the back kitchen.
Both Fukushige and Tanaka came from Osaka, Japan almost three decades ago, and they attended the same culinary school there. (Hu is from Shanghai, but also speaks Japanese.) Fukushige once worked at a wholesale fish supplier here, so he has inside knowledge on how to access the best product.
Since opening, they've been adjusting and fine-tuning the menu to customers' tastes, with a lunch menu offering donburi (rice bowls) and lower prices compared to dinner, as well as an omakase (chef's choice) option (available with 24-hours' notice) starting at $80 per person. In addition to sushi, sashimi and items cooked in the back kitchen, there's a robata (grill) bar.
To start, we each down a Yutaka oyster shooter ($8), an exquisite composition of uni, tobiko, quail egg, oyster and ponzu jelly topped with scallions. It's gorgeous to look at, and its ingredients' simplicity is complex taste-wise: pleasant pops of tobiko mesh perfectly with the sweet oyster, the briny uni and creamy quail egg with a hint of the ponzu's citrusy acidity.
A few more appetizers follow, including beef tataki ($11) - lightly seared beef (some shaped into a flower!) with mustard miso dressing and ponzu sauce - and an App Tempura ($9) of battered-and-deep-fried shrimp and veggies. They're both done as professionally as you'd expect from a place like this.
What my dining companion finds a novelty though is the shishamo ($6) from the robata menu. The fish, which are capelin (a type of smelt from Newfoundland that's a popular import to Japan), are meant to be eaten whole - head, bones, roe (it's full of tiny fish eggs) and all.
Having eaten them in Chinese restos before, I'm not as shocked, and I've always found them tasty - if not a bit disconcerting, knowingly eating an entire fish packed with unborn baby fish (just don't contemplate it too much).
My dining companion's favourite dish is the sukiyaki ($16), a sweet and salty soupy stew of beef, vegetables, tofu and noodles. It's usually a winter comfort food, but works just as well as a satisfying meal in any other season.
Dinner sets come with salad, miso soup and rice, and you really can't go wrong with the chef's sashimi dinner ($35), which looks like a work of art when it arrives at our table.
Comprising high quality cuts of whatever's best and available that day (Fukushige takes care to prepare and present each piece of seafood for optimal flavour), it's an adventure for the tastebuds, especially accompanied by the freshly ground wasabi - a rare treat compared to the artificial stuff that usually comes out of a tube.
Prices here are rather reasonable for what you get, and the service is top notch. Yutaka ups the game for dining options in this area, and further legitimizes this stretch of Dundas's claim as Little Japan.
Photos by Jesse Milns