September 1, 2014
Aug 1, 2012
03:08 PM

First Look: Kanji Sushi & Sake Bar, a Japanese fusion restaurant in Parkdale

Kanji's sashimi salad with mixed greens, assorted fish, mango and chili yuzu sauce, $9 (Images: Gizelle Lau)

Parkdale’s latest restaurant, Kanji Sushi & Sake Bar, opened quietly last month just a hop and a skip from Chantecler and Grand Electric. With prime real estate at the corner of Queen West and Brock, Kanji’s concept is Japanese fusion, which is not so familiar to this particular neighbourhood.  

Behind Kanji is first-time restaurateur Rob Banton, who bills Kanji as a place where sushi meets izakaya — a casual setting for after-work drinks, catch-ups and socializing.

The space was designed by Emil Teleki of Offcut Studio (SPiN Toronto) and features a rustic-meets-industrial look, with reclaimed and restored oak on the walls and minimalist cement epoxy as flooring. In the lounge, industrial banquettes share the space with checkered stone cocktail tables. Pops of colour come in the form of bright orange bar stools with chopsticks to match. Blackboard walls list the latest menu and cocktail specials, while lights dangling from thick sailing rope hang over the dining room.

Kanji, meaning “alphabet” in Japanese, is meant to showcase, in part, the philosophy of the restaurant, where simple parts create something intricate. In the dining room, a sushi bar complete with bar seating focuses on cold dishes, while a kitchen at the back brings out hot food. Both kitchens are overlooked by chef James Gao, who hails from New York City; he was previously a sous-chef at Nobu and has also worked at Toronto’s Yuzu.  

On the menu are fusion dishes like a crazy tuna roll ($13) with spicy crunchy tuna, avocado, seared pepper tuna steak, fried leeks, wasabi mayo and cilantro sauce; the golden dragon ($13) with shrimp tempura roll, spicy tuna, fresh mango, black caviar, eel sauce and mango sauce or starters like beef and vegetable gyoza ($7), agedashi tofu in a warm dashi broth ($7) or chicken karaage ($7).

Restaurant manager Cody Holler (Tati Bistro) is behind the Japanese-inspired cocktail menu that highlights Japanese brandy, plum wine, vodka and whisky, along with sake, of course. The summer menu features refreshing cocktails like the Kanji ($10): rum, sake, grapefruit, soda and mint, or the Nikka sour ($14): whisky, lemongrass, lemon, gooseberry ($14). For the adventurous, a Wasabi Caesar ($12) features vodka, Mott’s Clamato, wasabi and Asahi, with a garnish of celery salt and pickled daikon.

Kanji Sushi & Sake Bar, 1346 Queen St. W., 416-536-8448

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