Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto is the most expensive Japanese tasting experience you can get in Toronto. It is owned and run by Chef Masaki Hashimoto along with his son Kei.
With a $300 price tag for dinner ($200 for lunch), you have to wonder why a meal can be this expensive. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner and is the closest you can get to a 3-michelin star experience in Toronto, in my opinion. It’s an experience where it’s not all about the food, but the art form, the cultural learning, and the story that Chef Hashimoto wants tell his diners.
Coming into the restaurant, we were greeted by Kei who has been waiting for us at the entrance to welcome us in. He took our coats and guided us to our table. We didn’t realize before coming in how intimate and private this experience would be, as we were ushered into a dining section with just a table and two chairs. It turns out they only have 3 tables to ensure an exceptional private dining experience. Therefore, it is best to make reservations at least 1 week in advanced.
Kei described what to expect for Kaiseki and mentioned that there is a complimentary tea ceremony as well at the end of the meal if we wish to participate (only available during dinner). He showed us the tea and alcohol menu, and carefully explained each variation of matcha tea and sake on the menu. Since we were already doing the tea ceremony after, we opted for a bottle of the Ginjo sake, which has a very full bodied taste and is the best sake I’ve tasted so far.
The full Kaiseki experience started: Eight courses of carefully crafted dishes with artistry combined. Kei delivers each course and tells a story about the course and the ingredients associated. For me, the story telling is very important because learning about the dish actually makes you appreciate the dish even more.
One thing you’ll realize, much to my dismay, is there really isn’t a lot of raw fish here. No sushi course and only one sashimi course with only one type of fish. So just a warning that you’re not at the right place if you’re looking for sushi/sashimi, go to Kaji/Zen/Yasu for that.
Two of the standout courses for me are the Shii-zakana (Signature) course and Tome-zen (Main) course.
Shii-zakana (Signature): The Shii-zakana is the epitome of artistry and food combined in the Kaiseki. Delicious fried shrimp from Japan with very playful popped rice that still resembles unprocessed wheat. You actually get to play with your fingers as you pop the rice out of the shell to eat, and they were very good. It was my first time trying Ginko Bilboa nuts as well, having only tried them as a supplement with water. They are sort of like eating chestnut but with a edemame taste. Perhaps the most impressive thing in this course was the Signature Daikon Crane. As a kid, I grew up learning about origami and this beautiful piece of daikon was like a perfectly constructed edible origami. Try it on its own, then try it with the carrot dressing to see the difference in flavours.
Tome-zen (Main): A5 Wagyu Joshu Beef. Enough said! The beef was grilled perfectly such that the grill flavour supplement the beef but still maintaining the marbling texture on each bite. It’s placed on a bowl of Japanese sushi rice so the rice soaks up the fat from the beef, which is absolutely delicious. This course also comes with a Soba noodle soup with small red fried shrimp, which is a good accompaniment after the wagyu. The small red fried shrimp is so full of flavour that the overall soup taste becomes flavourful as well. What makes this even better? We were informed that, in Kaiseki, the Tome-zen course is complimentarily offered for a second round. So you can get this course again, which I obviously did! I wanted even a third round if they’d offer it.
As a background, Joshu wagyu is wagyu beef from Japanese Black cattle raised in Gunma prefecture in Japan. Raised with a unique feed adapted to the environment and advanced fattening technologies, Joshu Wagyu Beef is of the highest level wagyu in the country.
After the Kaiseki, we then proceeded to the Tea Ceremony. This is in a totally different room so Kei asked us to gather all our things since we won’t be returning to the table. The typical Tea Ceremony is quite elaborate and intricate which I didn’t expect. Kei said a typical Tea Ceremony in Japan lasts 3 hours, but what they offer here is a simplified version which takes 30 minutes since the Kaiseki took at least 2 hours already.
He explains the setup of the room we’re in, the tools and equipment for the ceremony laid out on the floor, and started the ceremony. At any time during the ceremonial sequence, you can ask him questions on what’s happening. It’s quite interesting to learn all of this as I never would’ve imagined how much effort is put into a Tea Ceremony.
After he instructs us the proper way of drinking the tea during the ceremony, I got to taste the best Matcha tea I’ve had so far. Kei said they use the highest level of Matcha for the ceremony.
Meet and Greet
After the Tea Ceremony, the entire experience has completed and we realize that we’re back in Toronto. Kei tells us to wait as we put on our shoes because they usually take photos of their customers to send to them in email which also included all the photos of the menu we had tonight. This is something I’ve never seen a restaurant do before, and it really makes the experience even more special.
After the photos, he also tells us to wait as Chef Hashimoto would like to come out to greet and talk with the diners. This is also a very welcoming touch to the experience. So we got to meet Chef Hashimoto himself. And he’s such a nice and talkative person, and very passionate about his craft.
He explained how much thought process goes into his menu for the day as it changes everyday based on the ingredients, his mood… and even the weather outside! One thing we also learned was that he initially had a different menu in mind for tonight. He wanted to use a deep water shellfish that’s normally available at this time of cold weather. However, because the weather the past few days had been warm, the shellfish he wanted to use didn’t come out. This means that menu can be very volatile here, and each visit would definitely be different. But based on what he said, I would recommend going in the cold weather. I love shellfish so I was a little saddened that we missed that course he had in mind.
My verdict is: I highly recommend to try this place once… at the very least. Overall experience was exceptional. As I mentioned, this experience is very similar to that of a three michelin star restaurant, which you won’t really find much in the city.
If you have the money for it, by all means try it as many times as you can. If money’s not an issue, I personally would want to try it each season since they emphasize that “Kaiseki is an exploration of delicate textures, flavours and colours that define each season, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.” So it would be interesting to try and see how each season differs.
Onjyaku-zen (Amuse Bouche)
Rice porridge with yam and Chestnut, Sesame Tofu, White miso with Buttercup Egg tofu
Tennen Madai (Wild Porgy), Wakame Agar Agar, Daikon, Fresh Wasabi
Madai steamed with shrimp and mountain potato, Domyoji rice, squash, green bean, Yuzu
Shima-Aji with sudachi, persimmon with mochi and eggplant baked with miso, Lotus root
Takiawase (Steamed and Stewed)
Ama-dai steamed with grated Turnip, Mizuna, Yuzu, Konbu, and ponzu sauce
– Kuruma-Ebi (Shrimp), Tachiuo (Belt fish), popped rice, Ginko nuts, mountain potato
– Signature Daikon Crane served with Carrot dressing
Joshu Wagyu rice, warm Soba with small red shrimp fried with vegetables
– Matcha mousse, red beans, pudding, strawberry Agar Agar
– House made ice cream; Strawberry, Vanilla, Matcha, and Hojicha
Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto
6 Garamond Court, Toronto, Ontario, M3C 1Z5