It seems to be a generally accepted conclusion that all of the restaurants in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood are, at best, over-priced for what you get. I have tried a few of them and have to draw attention to at least one exception to this rule. The cozy, below-ground sushi spot with the bright neon sign called Asuka is a diamond in this diamond-priced rough.
The service at Asuka varies from very good to quite bad without warning. On a recent visit a set of those glowing orange sticks airport ground crews use to guide planes and a reflective vest would have been helpful in placing a drink order. It takes a lot for me to complain about service but twenty minutes is too long to wait to order my first beer. It seems that the waitresses are willing to sacrifice effectiveness for brisk formality. On the other hand the proprietor, Sato, is welcoming and always hospitable. He’ll talk business or baseball with customers sitting at the sushi bar and most importantly cuts fish and rolls rice quickly and exactly. He’s also great about providing a second, heaping mountain of pickled ginger for addicts like myself.
Edamame is just soybeans and the same every where, right? I don’t think so. From my failed attempt to grow the stuff two summers ago–there was a time when only asian grocery stores carried it–I know that there is a quality difference between the worst and the best. At Asuka the fresh soybeans seem sweeter and plumper than average and they come with a retro salt shaker on the side so each diner can control the seasoning. Sunomono salad is another appetiser hit with some of Toronto’s freshest seaweed and a perfectly balanced dressing.
The maki rolls are excellent at Asuka. Everyone seems to have their own favourite off-menu order and mine is the Sexy Roll (avocado, spicy tuna, unagi, and shrimp tempura wrapped in rice paper) even if there is nothing more emasculating one can do in a sushi restaurant than order something by that name. The spicy mayo (I know, the least authentic sushi ingredient) in the spider roll at Asuka has a fresher burn and more luscious texture than you’ll find at any of the joints on the Bloor St. strip.
All of this talk of edamame and spider rolls has really only been foreplay for what diners (should) go to Asuka for: the sashimi. For the price there is no place in this part of the city with fresher more perfectly prepared fish. The usual characters like salmon and tuna standout for their Ika (squid) and uni (sea urchin) are two house specialties worth a separate order.
The space is well-designed with two-tops, larger booths (screened and not), and stools at the sushi bar for single diners and those of us who love to watch Sato work. My two suggestions are to make reservations and share a sashimi boat. The service can be inattentive at times but the food is good enough that there is no reason to switch allegiances to any of the nearby alternatives (especially the atrocious Sushi Inn).