It was just over four years ago that the Peruvian restaurant, Chotto Matte opened at Brookfield Place in downtown Toronto. Food lovers like were thrilled to experience the first Nikkei cuisine in the city. From one tasting menu, we could enjoy O-Toro Nigiri as well as Asado De Tira. It grabbed us by our taste-buds and did not let go. The ambiance is exotic, the music and entertainment have a Latin beat, and right from the start, Chotto Matte spelled out good food and fun.
The few years of society’s social break-down have passed, and it’s time to re-visit Chotto Matte. The reminder is that they are featuring something new: Saturday Niwa Brunch from 12:00 to 4:00.We arrive at noon to the evocative sounds of live Japanese Taiko drummers in the plant filled lounge, and find seating in a comfy booth. We study the three Sharing Menus, the Add Ons, the Specials and the Free-Flowing, one charge, drinks. I throw up my hands saying, “I want it all.” Now, with my Prosecco and orange juice Mimosa in hand, I await what is an array of spectaculars, made-to-order in our full view, and delivered by servers who all seem to be surprisingly happy.
We begin with big wedges of crunchy tostado chips dusted with smoked paprika that perfectly pair with accompanying guacamole and each of our cocktails. Beware: these are so good they’re addictive. I would return for these chips and cocktails after work any day of the week.In short order other dishes follow. Shishito peppers are pop-in-your-mouth, lightly charred with a hint of sesame, and they’re accompanied by a sweet in-house made soy sauce. This is not the salty Kikkoman. It has rich character.
Our palate openers are followed by a parade of colours. Each small plate is a visual treat with scintillating flavours, just enough for two of us to share. Tuna tataki is a work of art composed of savoury tuna on sweet miso topped with herbal salsa and spicy jalapeño.Everything that is sweet has a hint of spice and everything that is spicy has a hint of sweetness, but more than that, each dish conveys a harmony of notes and each flavour profile shows the versatility of the kitchen. Of the three sharing menus we order two different options, so that we can enjoy the tantalizing tastes of both.
Thinly sliced strips of squid are lightly fried, seasoned with salt and pepper, splashed with lemon and mixed with sake-flamed garlic for another perfect cocktail partner. Slender slices of warm beef fillet are so tender and succulent. Seared and smoked with aji panca they are reminiscent of an aromatic patio barbecue in the Barranco District of Lima. Drizzled with passion fruit salsa, this begs for a pairing with a light frothy Pisco Sour.Tuna tartare, spiced with Peruvian chili is no ordinary nigiri, as this one is a crackly, crunchy morsel that feels as satisfying as it tastes.
Did you know that per capita, Canadians eat more doughnuts than any other country in the world? Canada also has more doughnut shops than in any other country. Why am I mentioning this? Because there is only one sushi doughnut, and this is our obligatory “add-on.” Toronto is home to the original sushi pizza, but now, Chotto Matte’s sushi doughnut is what’s generating the buzz. This colourful confection is an absolute must-try. Not just instagrammable, it is a delicate melange of ingredients that make a fun and sophisticated dish, for which you may need to order a second serving. When in doubt, sparkling wine pairs with everything. This is true of Chotto Matte’s artful sushi doughnut adorned with strips of tuna, salmon, yellow tail and sea bass, accented with a blueberry and yuzu emulsion.Our servers are all in a good mood and happy to engage with us. They contribute to the laid-back feel-good vibes and are proud to serve these dishes and cocktails. The DJ at the music deck has the right idea with her choice of Latin music and the right decibels suited for a Saturday afternoon to sustain the mood, but not render conversation impossible.
Following the textural bliss of fatty tuna and yellowtail nigiri, and our Dragon Roll of crunchy shrimp tempura with smooth salmon layered with creamy avocado and lacquered with unagi sauce, our sushi journey ends with a torch. Our server “flame-sears” the Sato Maki of yellowtail and salmon tartare table-side. This Aburi-style is an Osaka tradition that elicits a charred essence to the fish.Nikkei cuisine is one of the world’s original fusion cuisines, blending Japanese and Peruvian. Peruvian cuisine, itself, is a panoply of flavours from the Andes, the Amazon, the ocean, rivers and desert.
The Asado de Tira of slow cooked braised beef is tender enough for me to cut through it with my chopsticks. Lavished in a teriyaki jus, each savoury morsel marries the smooth purée of purple potato on which it sits, and is simply one luxurious bite after another. At the same time, our Pollo Den Miso arrives. Marinated in miso, it too is as tender as can be, and is enveloped in a thin crisp with a charcoal essence from the hibachi grill.Just when we think we’re finished, more courses arrive. Crispy chicken and waffles do not disappoint. The secret to why the Japanese chicken karaage is so crunchy on the outside, but still juicy on the inside is in the double-frying technique. Tender, juicy and crisp, the chicken rests on a lightly maple-drizzled waffle and is crowned by a poached egg that adds a creamy texture to the dish.
For our final add on, the encore performance from the kitchen, the Chuleta de Cordero Ahumada is a succulent, meaty lamb chop. One could not pack more flavour into this dish, and yet it’s not aggressive. The Peruvian chili miso, the squeeze of lime, the crunch of the cashews, the smoky essence and caramelization of the marinade from the grill…it’s absolutely delicious. Dietary-conscious, many dishes here are gluten free, and so too is this lamb chop.The menu fulfills all its promises and clearly, they do not want us to leave hungry. Our finale of fluffy Japanese pancakes is airy, sharable, drizzled with maple syrup—and not to excess, but just to give flavour—and decorated with dollops of peanut butter whip and bananas, and a dreamy macha green tea custard is so delicate and yet rich and smooth, and we scoop it up without a second thought.
Since arriving at noon, we have completely forgotten the time. This has been a wonderful reprieve from the hustle and bustle of time. That seems to be the point. “Chotto Matte” is Japanese for “wait a little.” Perhaps that’s not meant for the guests, but for anyone who might be waiting for us to call them back or answer an email. We’ll just tell them, “Chotto Matte, we’re enjoying a fabulous, relaxing brunch, and we’ll get back to you, oh, sometime later.”
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.