The rules of sushi etiquette and terminology can be mind-spinning. Each piece of nigiri is meant, in an Olympian feat of chopstick acrobatics, to be flipped and only the fish component dipped briefly in soy sauce. Raw before fried and–more confusing still–a lightly flavoured fish goes down the hatch before its deeply-flavoured (usually oilier) cousin. All this is an obvious introduction for temaki the sushi preparation that throws out all of these rules in favour of a make-your-own experience.
Temaki or “lazy man’s sushi” while frequently appearing in Japanese homes for parties and family meals is only available at two restaurants in Canada and one of those places is Toronto’s own Drake Hotel. The Drake’s temaki feast ($50, $70 with lobster) is a platter which features the usual players (tuna, salmon, and deep-fried shrimp) but also some more uncommon seafood like (butterjack and arborfish). Diners are also given a bowl of nicely-seasoned sushi rice, a stack of nori sheets, and three ramekins of house-made sushi sauces to complete their custom hand rolls.
It may seem like a good idea to skip the nori and just attack the fillings as you would in a shared sashimi situation (say that ten times fast) but avoid this folly, my friends. This is top quality nori and really the whole point of the exercise is to create hand rolls that suit our own tastes. The fillings are meant to go on the rougher, sandpaper like face of the nori sheet and if you get the hang of things and manage to roll your creation tightly enough (those who misspent their youth in the basement of friends will have an unfair advantage here) the nori will seem almost crunchy as you bite into it.
When, thanks to the Drake and rock-it promotions I had the opportunity to taste their temaki I have to admit that I hewed closely to the generally accepted rules of handrolls: one piece of salmon on a small mound of rice with a conservative dollop of spicy mayo. Good but nothing compared to what I came up with when all sushi caution was thrown to the wind. Avocado with deep-fried shrimp? Why not? Nothing but a healthy dose of the rice and a generous dollop of all three sauces? Sure. I even went as far as to create an all-vegetable hand roll.
The menu bills it as “for two” but I think it’s better fit is in a before-dinner or with drinks role for three or four. It’s available in the dining room on Tuesdays and daily at the raw bar and pairs nicely with the subtle burn from the Capa Piquante ($11) cocktail which is mainly about cachaca and jalapeno syrup.
Making sushi is a line item on the to-do list of most foodsters and aspiring hostesses. With temaki we need not worry about fiddling with rolling mats or finding refrigerator space for three trays of leftover avocado rolls. Instead guests are left to turn the knobs themselves on their raw fish (and vegetable) experience. For some sources the ingredients and hosting a temaki party will be most of the fun but for the rest the Drake offers an excellent experience.