(Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/289821 )
We were not expecting to see standing-room only happy hour crowd at 7pm on a Monday night. The thought that perhaps we had the dates mixed up while trying to convince ourselves today was not Friday diminished when the hostess found our reservation in the book. We found out later such is a normal restaurant scene on most weekdays in popular restaurants around downtown Toronto, thanks to the financial and corporate offices inside every towering building spilling out flows of well-dressed ladies in high-heel shoes and nicely-suited gentlemen who gather after work to grab a drink and a bite, to socialize with the peers and quite often, to execute some ladder-climbing motions with managements or sealing business deals. Oh yes, the commercial pulses in Toronto are on a much higher speed, during and after business hours!
But of course, there is always the harsh reality that restaurants without good food and apt vibe will still be left out of the scene. The contemporary décor and energetic crowds in front of the stretch cocktail bar set the mood the instant you step inside Ki. High ceiling, geometric furnishings and attractive colour schemes feed the vibration. It has the casual feel of an upscale chain restaurant and the detailed elegance of an oriental fine-dining club. The girls at the reception and our service team of duo greeted us warmly and provided attentively, indicating calibre staff training which is a must but not necessary found in all restaurants.
We believe the best way to see how Chefs work with the freshest ingredients available in the market is let them take care of our order and allow the surprise factor to elevate the dining pleasure. To add to this anticipated Ki experience was the presence of Ontario’s very first Certified Advance Sake Professional Michael Tremblay, the Head National Sake Sommelier designing and perfecting Ki’s sake programs in both the Toronto and Calgary locations.
The protégé of N. American’s renowned Sake Expert John Gauntner, Tremblay hones his Sake knowledge by going to Japan’s top Sake Breweries to observe and talk to the masters all the time. The impressive sake menu at Ki’s confirms Tremblay’s profound passion and deep lore in this ancient art. For sake enthusiasts, ‘sake’ conversations with Tremblay, as he unveils the how and the w5’s of sake making, from choosing the rice and water to the histories of the families and their breweries, is inarguably the highlight of sake-dining here. Tell him what you’re having; his pairing recommendation often becomes the integral part of the meal.Tremblay suggested two sakes, one cold and one warm, to charm our palates that evening. “Cold sake should stay between 10 to 20C while warm sake can be sipped at 40 to 55C. Some sake can be enjoyed at room temperature.” Tremblay explained, “Place unfinished opened bottles of cold sake back to the refrigerator, 2nd fermentation will take place otherwise.”
We started with Nakoa ‘Maboroshi’ Junmai Ginjo from Hiroshima served cold in a wine glass. Hiroshima is the birth place of ginjo and Nakoa Brewery started in 1871. Brewed from 58% ground grains, this Maboroshi Junmai ginjo has a beautiful written Chinese character meaning ‘mirage’ on the bottle. Clear and crisp, this mildly sweet ginjo is quite mellow with subtle aroma, a good sake for beginners and to wake up the palate, no doubt a lovely start to a great dinner, it can be sipped on its own too.
To go with this, we had the Albacore Tuna Tataki with Sweet Chili Dressing, the Torched Salmon Belly and sesame and white miso sauce garnished with dried red pepper and ginger, shaped like a flower. The plate of 6 pieces of almost carved-like sushi was so beautiful it took our breath away for a few seconds, luckily our desire to sink our teeth into it stayed put. You can imagine how exotic one of the sushi - Iko Squid marinated in white truffle oil was and how excited we were to indulge!
With hot items, we had affably served warm sake from Ontario Spring Water Sake Co. here in Toronto. Meaning ‘creek’, the‘Izumi’ Junmai Nama Genshu was poured from a dark clay pot into authentic sake cups which we sipped with admiration. Using premium junmai rice grown in California and water in Ontario, Izumi is a floral unfiltered wine with a lengthy finish. Interestingly, different aspects of the wine character surfaced and somehow harmonized with the nutty-sweetness of the crispy-skin pork belly, the creamy texture of the soft yet firm scallops and the capturing soy-flavoured grilled short ribs. Higher alcohol content and bolder structure give this wine length and depth.
The popularity of sake in Toronto has been on the rise, as indicated by sold out sake events and festivals. Ki’s sake menu is likely one of the most listed and descriptive sake menu in Canada. We both agreed the simple but functional menu is an education tool in itself, a good read for sure for novice or veteran sake lovers. With Tremblay’s immense knowledge in sake and his tireless effort reaching out and explaining to each table ordering sake; no wonder Ki’s sake program is so successful.