An emphasis on family yet serving elegant and creative dishes is the focus of Chef Akira Back’s new restaurant in Toronto and not only does it almost completely succeed in the execution of this vision which consists of a Japanese/Korean fusion with a slight Canadian twist but it is further strengthened by excellent service.
As we walk into the dining room after handing our jackets at the complimentary coat check, we almost feel like being in a cave or base underwater/underground. This is not a bad thing as it manages to create a luxurious and charming atmosphere accompanied with light music with Asian influences in the background.
We start off with cocktails and our waiter thoroughly explains the menu and tells us a story of Chef Akira Back’s culture and upbringing that allows it to have that “family” element. The food items on the menu which are meant to be shared (calling back to that family value) are mostly divided between cold and hot plates in addition to a couple of items listed under mains and sides with a full-page at the end dedicated to Sushi/Sashimi.
Our waiter politely requested that the choices of the night be left to him as he would bring out Chef Akira Back’s signature dishes and we immediately agree. At this point I just want to acknowledge our waiter, Nelson Yeung who periodically through the night would tell a short story in regards to why Chef Back decided to have a food item on the menu as it was being served. It made for a far more enjoyable dinner experience than I expected.
It would be amiss not to point out some highlight dishes with one of my favourites being Chef Back’s signature Tuna/Mushroom Pizza, a signature also present at his restaurant in Seoul, South Korea that was recently awarded a Michelin Star.
The pizza was thin, crispy and light with tuna laid out on top and considering I had very high expectations for this dish as I knew it was popular at his previous restaurants, it was very delicious. The delicate taste and texture of the soft tuna went well with the crispy-ness of the tortilla underneath providing for an addictive taste and a dish I would order again.
Another highlight was the Miso Black Cod which was perfectly glazed with Miso. It was soft and flaky and the sweetness of the Miso was perfectly countered by the Yuzu (citrus) Foam. We were told that the Shishito peppers were a gamble as they had a 1 in a 10 chance of being extremely spicy but fortunately (or unfortunately depending how you look at it), they were duds for us.
The tacos were probably one of the most Western dishes on the menu yet it had its Asian influences with the Wagyu beef and the tomato ponzu. This was surprisingly really really good. Not to say that I expected bad but I didn’t expect much but the crunchy tacos went really complimented the tender beef which was topped with Bulgogi sauce.
Most of the dishes we were served were excellent. They were creative, well plated and just tasted so good but unfortunately, there were a few that paled in comparison, mainly the Jidori Chicken and Toban Filet Mignon.
The beef came sizzling hot and had a mouth-watering fragrance. The mushrooms and the soy were fine but unfortunately, I thought the beef was slightly overcooked for me. It also came with a side of Wagyu Fried Rice which was easily one of the better fried rice dishes I’ve ever eaten but nothing remarkable when compared to the preceding dishes.
The Jidori Chicken was moist and tender (thankfully not dry so kudos to them) but the taste was nothing remarkable. The Maple Teriyaki and Potato Puree wasn’t anything earth shattering but the skin was crispy and at the end, it went well with the moist chicken.
The end of the night was topped off with 3 very good desserts. I unfortunately didn’t catch the name of the first one but I believe it was a Yuzu citrus dessert w/ strawberry gelato and the right one was Nutella chocolate w/ cake in it. My favourite however was the 2nd one: Black Sesame Cheesecake w/ gelato. The cheesecake came in small cubes that were perfect for me as they had a hint of sweetness and the sesame tasted perfectly.
So we finally come to the end of this lengthy review. Well the question that now remains is would I go back to this restaurant and the answer is absolutely yes. The dishes were adventurous and as mentioned before, creative. The elegance of the restaurant was complimented by the familial nature which was backed up by the fact that not only were the dishes meant to be shared but even the plates they were served on had paintings done by Chef Back’s mother. And lastly, the service especially our waiter surpassed our expectations.