One sunny day after work, Christine met up with me in downtown Ottawa. We shopped at Rideau and wandered the ByWard Market a bit before deciding to have dinner at Totoya. I had been dying to try it again after eating there a few years ago. Christine had heard great things about it (namely that the Japanese ambassador dines there regularly), so she was excited for dinner.
We were greeted warmly by the sushi chef and the waitress as we entered. Offered a seat anywhere in the restaurant, we chose one of the window seats. The weather was gorgeous outside, one of the few summer days in Ottawa this year, and the sunbeams made for some fantastic lighting.
We started with an order of the edamame. These were steamed just right and sprinkled liberally with salt. I loved that they still retained their bite. Pop, pop, pop, and then they were gone!
Normally, the miso soup is a forgettable dish. While it is one of my favourite soups, most Japanese places just don’t do it justice. The miso soup at Totoya, however, is the most nuanced and satisfying bowls of broth you could ever slurp. The base of the broth was a proper dashi broth, with shaved bonito flakes and kelp. This added a lot of umami to the soup. The colour and deeper flavour of the soup indicated that they used a mixture of white AND red miso paste.
In the end, the soup was rich and light, all at the same time. The flavour was rich and complex, but it was light on the stomach.
At this point of the meal, I was pretty excited for the food to come.
Next, we were served a typical Japanese salad for a set meal: iceberg lettuce, shredded carrot and radicchio, slices of cucumber, a tomato wedge, and a magical ginger dressing. I love this creamy ginger dressing, so I always gulp up the salad. I’ll have to find a recipe of it sometime.
The main course, una-jyu (broiled eel with sweet sauce, over seaweed and rice), was the best unagi dish I have ever eaten. Of course, I can’t say that all of the unagi dishes were authentic, but they were all inferior in quality to Totoya’s. The eel didn’t taste fishy at all, and it may have been fresh. I suspect that most eel is frozen before preparation (especially in Kingston), but the tenderness and sweetness of the meat leads me to believe that it was never frozen.
The sauce was also a revelation. Often, restaurants will get lazy and use their teriyaki sauce as the unagi sauce, but Totoya’s sauce was clearly made for the unagi. It was sweet and round. That’s a strange way to describe sauce, but that’s what comes to mind. There were no sharp flavours, all of them melding together smoothly.
The green onion and gari even played pivotal roles in this dish. The green onion perked up the dish with its crisp flavours, cutting through the sweetness. The ginger also cut through the sweetness, but with its spiciness.
It was truly amazing.
I don’t remember much about the inari sushi (deep fried tofu shells, marinated in sweet soy sauce, and stuffed with sushi rice), so it was probably “okay.” I was expecting more of an impact, in terms of flavour. I suppose I’m used to the generic Sushi Shop rendition. Oh, no!
The spicy salmon, on the other hand, was like no other spicy salmon I’ve eaten before. The salmon was chopped into little chunks, not minced into paste like at other restaurants. This allowed me to chew through the sushi and enjoy the lovely texture of the fish. It’s such a simple roll, with so few ingredients, that freshness and execution can make or break it.
For dessert, we decided to order the matcha ice cream. This ice cream struck a nice balance between bitter, sweet, and creamy. Other green tea ice creams taste like vanilla ice cream with a bit of matcha mixed in for colour (i.e. not very matcha-y at all). This ice cream was smooth, not too sweet, and even had some powdery texture without being distracting. I really enjoyed the way the bitterness was tempered by the creaminess.
The bill couldn’t have been more than $50. I remember thinking that it was worth the price for the quality of the food, so it must have been on the pricey side.
The service was friendly and unrushed. The older waitress (probably the manager/owner) was exceptionally patient in explaining the dishes to us. When we told her we were going to share everything, she immediately asked if we also wanted our own bowls of miso soup and salad, something most waitstaff forget about. I really enjoyed the quiet atmosphere. Because it isn’t as trendy as places like Kinki’s, you can focus on the food and your company. I would bring a date or a small gathering of friends or family here.
After a surprisingly filling meal, Christine and I decided to walk it off downtown, just as the sun set. Here’s a beautiful shot of the statue of Samuel de Champlain at Nepean Point.
From the same spot, Christine pivoted and shot this postcard-perfect picture of Parliament Hill. Ahh… such a relaxing scene. The sun eventually set, so we slowly meandered our way to a bus stop. A perfect food and photo adventure on one of the loveliest days of summer.
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