Toronto Day 7 : Part 2 – Sushi Couture is NOT Pret à Porter

I like to venture out to new restaurants because I like the sense of adventure. As well, restaurants tend to try better when they first open shop. I know that I try harder at the beginning! Especially if I’m trying to build a clientele based on good word-of-mouth. When I read super things about Sushi Couture on Chowhound just before my visit up to Toronto, I was psyched. I read that for a steal of only $59, you get a 10-course sushi tasting menu (Omakase). There was a cheaper Omakase offered at $39, but I heard that the premium priced meal was definitely worth the extra money.  Charles Yu (one of the resident Asian-food experts on the Board) highly recommended it (among others) and said that everyone should rush out and try it immediately. There was nary a soul that disputed those claims, and there were many avid supporters with photos to prove it.

Apparently, I didn’t rush there fast enough.

I called a day and a half in advance and asked if it was still possible to order the upgraded Omakase Dinner. The manager that took the order said it would not be a problem and asked if I had any restrictions, or preferences for my meal. I told him that one of my friends (M) took a severe disliking to Shiso leaves during our last Sushi Meal out.  As a result, she would definitely not want any Shiso, or anything similar, to be on her plate as it turned her stomach the last time. The manager said that it would be accommodated and thanked me for the clarification. He warned us the meal would last a bit longer: around 1.5-2hrs because the meal style would be more elaborate. I said the quoted time frame was fine and that I was looking forward to finding out what all the fuss was about.

A day later, we show up to Sushi Couture. It’s a very basic Sushi joint on the Bloor Street Strip near Bathurst. It’s not a nice area, and it’s basically where you can find cheap sushi choices littering the streets. I remember living off questionably graded sushi there during my College/University days at U of T. It used to be a huge treat for E & I to have a nice slab of slimy salmon, but I digress. I had high hopes from what I read on the boards, so I put my concerns aside and walked in to grab my seat.

The menu was pretty budget, which raised some additional flags. I could get a meal there for $15, and I was paying how much? The manager quoted $69 on the phone. It was slightly inflated from the initial postings, but I chalked it up to experience in pricing and/or heightened cuisine. Chef Ken was an experienced sushi Chef in Toronto and formerly worked at one of the top rated restaurants (Japango), so I trusted him. Boy, was that trust misplaced!

We started with what was sized as an Amuse at most restaurants. It was the first course in what we assumed would be a ten course meal. Eight-courses later we were handed the cheque. It wasn’t the only surprise of the night. Anyway, the amuse was good. Nothing novel or mind-blowing. It was a quail egg topped on top of uni. Salmon roe dotted the top for an additional dash of colour.  I’ve had variations of this in the past, so this wasn’t special in any way. I’ve also done my own version at home.

We got a nice starter of tasty clams in a sake broth, which I hoped would set the tone for the rest of the meal. Seems like it was more an exception to the rule than anything else. It was light, sweet and complex. The broth was delicious and savoury. I drank every last drop.  A few of my shells were empty though, and some of my companions found out the same. It seemed like they just vapourized.  The duck was a complete failure. It was dry and tasted like Beef Jerky, but ‘ducky’. If you’ve had lap cheung before, or that preserved duck that looks like road kill in a Chinese grocery store before, then you’ll have tasted this dish. It was nothing special, nor inspired. I don’t give credit to a chef that can take good ingredients and make them taste pedestrian and cheap. In fact, I tend to reward the opposite. Maybe that’s just me. Chef Ken seemed to be specializing in the former treatment.  The endive it was served on was overpowering and bitter when compared to the blandly flavoured, salty duck. It was poorly thought out and the endive was too thick due to not being veined so that the ‘bite’ was unenjoyable. I had a feeling at that point that I was going to be hungry at the end of the meal.

tuna tartare on an avocado bed. In the background, there was some lotus root on top of a grilled baby miso-glazed eggplant. The foreground was some Asian mashed-root vegetable, similar to Mountain Potato. It was topped with a helping of garlic oil, which will be showcased again later on in the meal. Everything tasted nice and light. Nothing mind-blowing again as I’ve had these flavour combinations before. Originality is apparently not his strong suit.

The scallop dish was a disaster though. They topped it with some cheap yellow cheddar and said it was ‘couture’? I don’t think so. The scallop was fresh, but it was ruined by the complete drowning of it in a salty sledge of yellow cream. The sweet scallop was buried and all I could smell was cheese. Who ever thought that cheese would pair well with seafood (especially scallop – it’s much more subtle in flavour than the lobster that’s often ruined with this preparation) should seriously re-asses their taste buds. Also, this is such a simple and uninspired preparation method that any home cook could do this if they so felt masochistic enough to destroy a perfectly good and pricey shellfish. This is not what I expect in an Omakase.

After those dishes were taken away, we got some wasabi to go with our fish courses. It was nice that they provided two different variations: a spicier real wasabi root grate, as well as the artificial horseradish infused green play dough one usually gets at a lower-end sushi restaurant.  E & I only ate the fresh root, but it was a nice side by side comparison. The root one dissolved much better and left a cleaner taste on the palate.

The next course was Sashimi. Boring sashimi. I’ve had Yellowtail before, I’ve had sea bream. I’ve had butterfish (a.k.a escolar) and I know it’s not a high-end fish that is usually served by reputable establishments (it’s often been banned because of its ‘effects’. Just google it; I wont’ go into details.), not that I can say I’m not a huge fan of its buttery flavour and texture.  But what are these fish doing on my plate during a $70 Omakase menu?  Show me something I haven’t seen before. Chef’s whim is supposed to enthrall me and surprise me. I was neither. In fact, I was darned-right disappointed. The garlic oil was a nice touch to cut the fat of the butterfish, but it was to be seen previously in another course. Chef Ken was definitely running low on ideas (and produce) that night. Note: Objects in photo may appear larger than they are.

Now, if you’ll also look carefully at the background on the plate above, you’ll notice that there’s this green leaf: the Shiso leaf I purposely stated to the Manager to leave out of my friend’s dish because of her genuine dislike of it. For $70, I would expect the team to be able to accommodate such a simple request. I certainly wouldn’t expect them to ignore the one request and present it on the plate. What kind of service am I paying for here?

And then we get what turns out to be our second last course. Four tiny morsels of fish on 4 tiny balls of rice. Boo. There was torched tuna, eel, that sea bream again, and some shrimp tempura. Granted the shrimp was fresh and expertly fried, this is not what one would expect when being charged these prices for an Omakase. These can simply be ordered a la carte off any menu at a fraction of the price. I know what these things are, and they don’t impress me. I wanted to be enlightened during my experience, not hit with the same flavours over and over again. I’ve had the snapper. I’ve definitely had tuna & eel before (and it wasn’t even fresh water eel!).

To end off the disappointing $70 meal (with only 8 courses instead of the promised 10), we got 1/4 of a banana with a scoop of mediocre, mass-produced green tea ice cream. They couldn’t even give me a whole banana. I hate bananas, but this was on principle.  We paid nearly half a Grand for a meal here, and they made us share 1 40 cent banana.  This was something that would be given to me for free at any of the neighbouring sushi joints, and certainly no self-respecting chef would serve this up as an ending to a tasting menu. Chef Ken obviously has a lot of nerve and very little self-respect.

What got me more worked up than anything else was his total disregard for his customers and their valid complaints. Another couple dining there that evening finished up around the same time we did.  The entire meal, from front to end took 2.5 hours. I’m not kidding you. Everyone else was in and out in half that time, and they were paying his regular $15 prices. We paid 4.5 times as much and got to wait a heck of a lot longer for food they were probably served for a fraction of the time wasted and price paid.  The service was totally lackluster and was on par with a sushi joint that charged $15 a plate.  This was not congruent for an Omakase meal that charges $70 per person. We had 3 or 4 waiters drop off dishes throughout the meal. Some were better than others. Only one guy knew what the heck he was serving. The other ones barely spoke English and just dropped the dishes off without saying a word. I’m sorry, but if you have the gall to charge $70, you’d better have staff to back that up. Just have your main waiter/manager deliver the dishes and explain to me what everything is. Don’t send your tea girl that usually refills water to drop off a dish and scurry away. Save those people to deliver the $15 plates to your other customers.

Anyway, that couple was peeved. Even more so than I was. I’m only getting worked up now in retrospect, and after having tried to contact the Chef repeatedly with no response from him, except “if you have any questions, please contact me!”. What an A$@($#. The girl at the other table went up to Chef Ken on the way out and immediately voiced her displeasure. She said that she had never felt so ripped off in her life. Her and her husband said it was the worst Omakase meal they’ve ever had and that it was insulting that Chef Ken would charge $70 and have their customers leave hungry. I was hungry. There wasn’t enough food. She said that he essentially charged $70 for a bowl of rice and a few slices of fish. As well, she was taken aback by the atrocious timing of the meal. We were quoted 1.5-2 hours. 2.5 hours for a meal is ridiculous.  We were charged more than anyone else online and our food was no where near the quality, quantity or calibre of the food photographed by previous diners.  It was basically fraud (and don’t let my fancy pictures dissuade you into thinking otherwise). Anyway, guess what Chef Ken had to say?  He defended himself and said that he’s been in the business for a long time and that is what he delivers in an Omakase. He said that if she was disappointed, she should come back another time and try something else. The girl responded with a logical statement to Chef Ken’s ludicrous request: She would never come back and she would never recommend it to anyone either. Chef Ken smiled, nodded and said thank you as we all left. I think the guy needs to check his medication.

I normally don’t get this worked up about a meal. I’m generally a really happy and nice person. But when someone so outlandishly takes advantage of me with so little regard for my thoughts and opinions as a paying customer – I get PI$$ED.  I tried calling him and writing emails, but the guy chose to ignore me and not even address my concerns. Whatever. If that’s how he chooses to run his business, he most likely will be running it into the ground. Serves him right. He’s immature and not at all professional. Other restaurants have also responded to my complaints with offers of complimentary meals, which I never accept of course, but it was nice and professional of them to do so. This guy chose to ignore me completely and brush me off. Bad idea, buddy. What goes around comes around. Hopefully karma will show him the underside of its boot. Until then, I doubt this guy will give a flying arse what anyone thinks of his food. This place is not couture in any sense of the word, and is not even Pret a Porter (ready to wear). Nothing is a “go” here and he seems to be still in his planning stages, trying to figure out a better way to ruin his business and reputation. I swear, I’ve only been disappointed time and time again with Toronto’s higher-end dining scene. The Chefs here need to venture out of their little minnow pond and see what the World is offering up on its silver platter. Toronto chefs are so deluded into thinking their World-Class, and as a result end up charging World-Class prices. I’m sorry, but for $70, I’ve eaten twice better and 1/2 as costly at places in NYC. Maybe you guys need to go on vacation more. Make sure you stop me if I ever get any brilliant ideas to spend a lot of $$ in Toronto ever again.

Just in case you missed the message of this post – Avoid Sushi Couture like the plague. When a Chef cares so little about his customers, he will never prepare the food with the finesse and aptitude you would expect as a paying customer. He is rude, and disrespectful. Do I sound harsh? I guess I’ve never been this angry with a Chef before. I tried to turn over a new leaf earlier this year with communicating my pleasures and displeasures with chefs and staff. It’s gone well so far, until I had the unfortunate pleasure of bumping into chef ken. Chefs always claim that they never have the opportunity to defend or explain themselves before people trash them online. Well, here’s a case when one Chef was given the benefit of the doubt too many times to count and chose instead to thumb his nose at me.  I wish him nothing but the worst in all his endeavours.

Sushi Couture

456 Bloor St. W
Toronto, ON M5R
Neighbourhood: The Annex

2 Responses to “Toronto Day 7 : Part 2 – Sushi Couture is NOT Pret à Porter”
  1. jared says:

    wow this restaurant has gotten you all worked up. sorry about your $70 loss, at leas the pictures are nice. nice use of white balance. your pictures are getting better and better.

    • Thanks Jared!!! 😀 I’m so happy to hear you think I’m improving. I’m happy I’m finally taking this all seriously and aiming to learn a bit each time. I’m happy as well that it’s showing!!
      Yeah, it was mostly because of the way the guy handled it. The food was a bomb, but the guy’s attitude just really turned me off more than anything else. Boo.

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