Ja Bistro is a chic, modern, minimalist Japanese restaurant located at 222 Richmond Street West near Simcoe in the entertainment district of Toronto. It has been around for about three years. The owners are from Guu restaurants as well Kinton Ramen. But this restaurant is for grown ups – the music isn’t blaring and they take reservations, hallelujah! It offers interesting sushi, sashimi and fusion dishes as well as a nice list of imported sakes. The sake list is extensive and each selection had tasting notes beside it. We tried Konteki “Tears of Dawn” Daiginjo Saké, which was a silky entry to dry yet fruity medium with a long and refreshing finish. You can get the sakés in a 3oz, 10oz or bottle size.
The room is long, narrow and windowless, but beautifully designed in white washed brick walls, slate floors, rich blonde woods and a lovely marble sushi bar.
We sat at the sushi bar because for me, these are always the best seats in the house. You can see the chefs preparing and ask questions if you like.
We started with a sashimi sampler and added two pieces of raw lobster to the mix. There’s a nice selection and it’s a good size for two to share. The plate contained deep fried fish bones – which tasted amazing, it almost reminded me of bacon. The restaurant is known for their Aburi, which is a technique where they blowtorch the fish or meat. We chose the salmon oshizushi, as a fatty fish works well with this method. The final product was topped with a hollandaise and a slice of jalapeño. The sushi is glazed with a sauce first and after it is torched it allows the fish to release a creamy sweetness. I think the rice was a little too thick and the slice of salmon was sliced too thin. But it was still a tasty preparation. We also had the Ja Bistro roll from this section. It contained salmon, snow crab, uni, cucumber and tobiko. The combination created great textures and mouth feel. We tried a Japanese delicacy of Kama, which is grilled fish collar and fish cheeks. We decided to go with the sea bream. The fish was delicate, rich and very flavourful.
The sushi platters were popular and we saw traditional pieces to innovative preparations as well. All the dressings like wasabi and soya sauce are made in house. There is also a bistro side to the menu which has some French influences. Here you will find grilled black cod, salads, deep fried oysters, battered shrimp or chicken or the fish collar dish. If you arrange in advance you can order from a choice of three different omakase dinners at different price levels. For dessert the choices are very limited. There is a nashi compote which consisted of a red wine simmered pear with vanilla ice cream. We tried the hoji brulee which is a roasted green tea brulee served with matcha ice cream, and you know, it was actually quite nice.
The Chef Koji Tashiro who has cooked in Tokyo and Vancouver, was not cooking the night I was there because, believe it or not, he was currrently in Tokyo working to open a Ja Bistro there. But the restaurant was in capable hands, and the staff was very friendly and helpful.
The menu is pricey, but the place was full on a Sunday night. I would say Ja Bistro has good dishes with a modern twist, served up in a beautiful but simple unpretentious manner. The fish is fresh and of high quality.