First Look: Gill, a new restaurant serving spiced up Japanese cuisine at Yonge and St. Clair


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One thing that makes Gill Fine Japanese Fusion Cuisine different from many Japanese restaurants in Toronto is that the chef and wait staff are Japanese. Co-owner and chef Akihiro Kitao is from Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. Gill, opened last month, offers Japanese cuisine in a North American context, but it's not North American-style Japanese food. This is Japanese cuisine with a spicy twist.

The concept: Expect to be surprised. According to Gill’s other owner, Frank L. Zhang (formerly a chef at the Four Seasons), food is culture. Non-Japanese items like Szechuan hot and sour soup ($4) and lunchtime dim sum appear between familiar and unfamiliar Japanese options. Steamed rice is available in white, brown and black. If katsujyu ($12) sounds half familiar, that’s because of the ubiquitous katsudon (pork cutlet on rice), which comes in a bowl — here, the similar katsujyu is served in a traditional wooden box. If you had to condense the menu into one phrase, you might say it’s Japanese food for people who like a bit of spice.

Zhang explains that the name Gill (pronounced “era” in Japanese, in case you want to pretend to read the sign) reflects the importance of seafood in Japanese cuisine, and also carries the message that breath is life.

Opened on June 16, Gill has 60 seats inside plus 40 on the glass-roofed patio overlooking the corner of Yonge and Heath. Being on the second floor (wheelchair accessible by elevator), there are good views from inside and out. Zhang, who runs front of house, set up Gill using the principles of feng shui. He grew up in Dalian, on the northeast coast of China, where his family owned a restaurant. He studied culinary and hospitality management at George Brown College and Ryerson. The sushi chef, James Tam, also runs Yuki Japanese Ya on Bloor Street.

The hood: Deer Park, on Yonge between St. Clair and the Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

The eats: The ornate miso salad ($8) is full of surprises, like cape gooseberries, dried cranberry, sliced oven-dried pears, asparagus, wakame and other types of seaweed in a miso vingerette. Then there’s the spider marble ($10), which sees soft shell crab projecting from a bed of fried tofu; the Fuji volcano maki roll ($12) features tuna, salmon, avocado, tobiko and tempura flakes with a spicy kewpie dressing. For the DIY inclined, an elegant hibachi-style grill is brought to the table to cook such fare as AAA angus beef (4oz/$14, pictured), beef tongue ($9) or assorted mushrooms ($10). Popular vegetarian options include the brown-eyed pea ($6) (brown rice, snow peas, asparagus, sesame seed, spicy kewpie) and the grasshopper ($12) (a roll of tempura yam, cucumber and asparagus topped with avocado served with kewpie sauce). Wash it down with Masumi Karakuchi Gold (4oz/$14) or one of the many other sakes selected, along with the wines, by Zhang, who is an aficionado of both. There is also a list of “saketinis” ($10-$13).

The spider marble (above) and angus beef, ready for the hibachi (below)

The owner’s favourite: The super rainbow maki roll ($18), a myriad of sushi delights like shrimp, avocado, unagi, smoked salmon and tobiko piled on top of a maki with cucumber, crab meat and soft shell crab with dill mayonnaise, not to mention the kitchen sink (well, it’s got everything but that).

Coming soon: The website, www.gillcorp.ca, is under construction. Watch for the culinary images projected on the south window, and an upcoming marketing campaign.

Gill Fine Japanese Fusion Cuisine, 1560 Yonge Street, second level, 647-350-4455

Tuesday to Friday 11:30 a.m.-11p.m.
Saturday 12:00 p.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday from 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
Closed Monday

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