Zen Kyoto provides Financial District professionals with sushi and ramen lunches, tucked away inside First Canadian Place on King Street West.
With just a few small tables, the Japanese restaurant is primarily geared to takeout, its sushi counter filled right up until the 3 p.m. close with fresh-made sets and side salads to grab and go.
Convenience and speed are essential with a clientele coming mostly from the abutting offices in search of a quick midday bite between meetings.
The owner, chef Jimmy Shi has spent over 13 years working in some of the finest omakase restaurants in Japan, where he also trained in ramen, and Toronto including Ja Bistro, Rin Sushi and Sushi Umi.
On any given day, you'll find Shi behind the open counter, artfully hand forming nigiri sushi, a multi-step technique he's mastered over the years, with premium bluefin tuna and madai from Spain and Japan, and rice soaked in Japanese red vinegar.
Chef Shi also does aburi sushi, which is first pressed into clean, tight rectangles and then lightly flame-seared. Housemade soy sauce gets slathered over top before and after the char and the chef's signature mayo with basil adds even more flavour.
Torched sushi costs $14 for six pieces while nigiri is anywhere from $5 to $12 for two pieces depending on the topping, with botan ebi, foie gras and ikura on the more expensive end.
Or you can opt for a torched combo ($18) for six spicy salmon oshizushi and two each of salmon, scallop and ika sushi.
The salmon lover ($19) is among the sets available for takeaway at the counter, with six spicy salmon, three nigiri and three sashimi. It averages out to about $1.50 for each piece.
A selection of pre-packaged salads and small sides including house green salad, seaweed salad, kimchi salad, as well as edamame ($4) and miso soup ($2) sits beside the sushi at the counter.
There is also donburi, chirashi don ($18) is an absolutely stunning bowl full of bluefin tuna, salmon belly, ikura, botan ebi, tako and abalone.
Spicy salmon don ($16) packs in the fresh salmon, sauced with spicy mayo.
Gyudon ($15) is another rice bowl with savoury-sweet beef prepared in awase dashi, a stock made from kombu (dried kelp) and dried bonito flakes, with sauteed onions, sugar and soy sauce.
Bowls of steaming ramen round out the menu.
Chef Shi's broth is made with pork and chicken bones and is much lighter than typical Japanese ramen. For the roasted garlic shoyu ($15), garlic is deep-fried three times over in pork lard until blackened and then mixed with sesame oil.
Dessert consists of handmade mochi filled with a red bean paste ($5 for two), perfect for anyone not crazy about last courses that are overly sweet.