Recently, I had the pleasure of going to Zen again to try more of their menu.  WARNING: Long post ahead! The pictures are pretty nice though, so just read the parts that you want to read.

Entrance

The Entrance!

Website: http://zenjapaneserestaurant.com/
Phone #:  905-604-7211
Hours of Operation:  Tues – Sat: 5:30pm – 9:30pm, Sun: 5:00pm – 9:00pm, Mon: Closed
Pro-Tips: Reservations are highly recommended! The menu also changes with the season.  Finally, reserve a seat for the bar! The experience is even better.

The Entrance Hallway

The Entrance Hallway

Going to Zen is a real showcase of what a master of his craft can do with extremely fresh and high quality product. Everything at Zen is beautiful in its simplicity; the ingredients do all the talking with no unnecessary noise from superfluous ingredients.

I can't make non-food things look good

I can’t make non-food things look good

This time, the head chef recommended their full course menu and I happily obliged.

Let's begin

Let’s begin

They have really pretty plates, dishes, and bowls.

They have really pretty plates, dishes, and bowls.

Zen somen

So refreshing!

First to arrive in this exquisite-looking bowl was somen — a cool and refreshing thin noodle made from wheat flower served in a flavourful broth. This was a great start to the night because of how hot it was outside! This dish is very fitting for summer.

Appetizer Trio? Sextet?

Appetizer Trio? Sextet?

In the green cup is a small serving of seaweed from Hokkaido marinated in sweet vinegar with some aromatic ginger on top. In the blue cup is green peppers with fried bean curd skin. Both of these dishes were fairly light, and helped to cleanse my palate for the three main appetizers in the white dish.

dat omelet

dat omelet

First off: holy crap, that omelet! Somewhat custardy, dense (notice that there are almost no holes or pockets!) sweet, creamy, slightly savoury, and incredibly delicious; I’ve never had egg quite like it before in my entire life! The miso-marinated black cod is always a treat as well, because of how buttery the fish is. It simply melts inside your mouth. Finally, the duck breast with fresh wasabi grated on top of it (I was watching the chef grate fresh wasabi) was very tender and meaty.

Such great plates...

Such great plates…

This was a miso-marinated salmon. It was a nice contrast from the black cod because despite somewhat similar flavours from the same marination methods, the textures of both fish were wildly different, and the super crispy skin of the salmon made pleasant sounds as I hungrily devoured the fish.

I’d say this is foreplay for what is to come

A small sample of their fish before the main event. Each slice of fish was extremely fresh. My favourites from this were the slightly sweet and succulent scallop, as well as the high quality tuna.

With all the appetizers taken care of, it was time for the main course. I’ll present them in the order it was given to me so you can go on the same culinary adventure that I did! This is actually important: one of the reasons why sitting at the bar is important is that it enables the chef to tell you a story with his fish. It’s a gradual progression of flavour and texture served in the optimum order to best savour the taste of each piece.

This is a bad pic. Sorry!

This is a bad pic. Sorry!

First to arrive was a piece of fluke nigiri dusted lightly with yuzu zest. Refreshing, lightly flavoured and not oily at all. By the way, that soy sauce is just for show, I only used it for the sashimi!

Usually my favourite fish to order

Usually my favourite fish to order

Hamachi is the next to arrive. It has a more robust flavour and a meatier texture that serves as a nice contrast to the fluke. Soy sauce is gently brushed onto this variant of tuna. Remember, you can just eat it as it is served — no need for more soy sauce or wasabi! The ginger is used as a palate cleanser in between pieces.

Amberjack

so pretty it has a reflection

This piece that looks like a shimmering jewel is Shima Aji. Similar to hamachi, the main differences I noticed are the slightly silkier texture and also a smoother flavour.

Ocean trout

Ocean trout

This looked and tasted a lot like salmon! Salmon/Trout gets a bad rap because it CAN be a cheap fish (especially in Canada, where sushi-grade salmon is plentiful) and many AYCE places serve salmon en masse. But good quality salmon/trout is less fishy and holds together in your mouth much better, whereas cheap variants are sort of mushy and lack such brilliant colour. Also take note of marbling, because as always, FAT IS FLAVOUR!

BOTAN ebi

Succulent shrimp

This is another great example of “don’t let AYCE be the judge of how good it can really be”. Either you get a really dry piece of flavourless shrimp or an almost watery, gooey mess. With Zen’s though, it has just enough bite and a slight, seafoody-sweetness that just tickles your mouth, making it want more and more (unfortunately, I just had one).

Chutoro

Chutoro

Even though o-toro is better known as the “the best piece of sushi ever”, some find o-toro a little too fatty. As such, chu-toro is very popular because of its more balanced fat/meat ratio. This piece really melted away in my mouth!

Scallop

Scallop

I raved about the hotate already earlier, but to reiterate: yum! I could have 10 of these.

Squid

Squid

Watching the chef prepare this was one of my favourite parts of the evening. He skillfully cut thin pieces of this squid before gently patting it with his knife to create those ridges you can see on its surface. This makes the squid easier to chew (it breaks away into parts easier in your mouth) and allows a little more soy sauce to adhere to it. I liked this a lot because of its unique texture: it had a slight stickiness to it!

Snow crab

Snow crab

Just crab, rice, a touch of salt and a kiss of yuzu citrus is all that is needed to make this crab sing. I’ve personally always hated having to deal with breaking up the crab to get at the meat, so just having a hunk of crab meat in front of me with no effort on my end is always a-okay with me.

cutlass fish

cutlass fish

Also known as a ribbon fish, this is blow-torched to give it a charred, smoky quality.

Toro

Toro (tuna belly)

anago

anago (saltwater eel)

Of course, the day is not complete without dessert, and Zen makes all of theirs in house.

Zen Desserts2

House-made White wine jelly and soy milk ice cream

Close-up of the white wine jelly

Close-up of the white wine jelly with mango and strawberry

Soy Milk Ice Cream with Azuki bean paste

Soy Milk Ice Cream with Azuki bean paste

One thing that I love about good Japanese desserts is that generally, they are never too sweet. The taste of soy milk permeates through the ice cream without being ruined by an overabundance of sweetness, and the white wine jelly is delicate, acting as a vehicle for the sweet pieces of fruit.

TL;DR: I have been to many Japanese Restaurants here in the GTA, and I really do think that Zen is the best experience you can have. Some of my friends who have visited Japan have in fact told me that Zen is probably the best Sushi you can get outside of Japan! But you know, don’t take my word for it: take a look at the pictures, and if they make you salivate… well, you know what to do! Just make sure to make a reservation first.

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One thought on “Zen Japanese Restaurant: A Journey to the Sublime

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