Anticipation of my dinner-party-for-one has kept me in good spirits throughout Day 40 of my self-isolation. Madam Butterfly, the opera by Puccini, plays softly on the stereo. I set the table: chopsticks, chopstick rest, napkin, tiny dish for soy sauce, and one of the hand-made plates carried in my son’s suitcase from Japan. I open a bottle of sake and find the perfect glass. I prepare my table as a sign of respect for the beautiful food I will soon enjoy. And I wait. Shoushin will be delivering my dinner any moment.
A courteous masked-courier from Shoushin arrives right on time with a large white paper bag containing intricate arrangements of Japanese cuisine.
This is no ordinary sushi platter. Everything looks beautiful, even immaculate. The soy sauce, too, is rather special. It is actually quite fragrant—not at all salty like a typical condiment–and a unique accent to compliment the assemblage of ingredients. Japanese tradition requires that a friend pour your sake and you pour his, but tradition is forgiving, and allows me to pour my own. I sip my glass of sake and take a few moments to appreciate the beautiful arrangements before me. I have dined at Shoushin, and watched the talent of Chef Jackie Lin at work. He is laser focused on purity and eliciting the optimal quality of each ingredient. As a sushi chef he is on a higher level, meticulous, passionate and shows great respect for his craft.
In the comfort of my own home, there are no rules except to appreciate each morsel at my leisure and in which ever order I choose. Each piece of sushi and sashimi is made to order. Will these intricately designed boxes travel well from Shoushin to my table? Timing is everything. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
I begin with an extra dish that has been included in my take-out bag. I am fascinated by the Toro Uni Don, showcasing Shoushin’s own wild caught Bluefin Tuna from the east coast of Canada. It is arranged like a pinwheel on top of Chef Jackie’s signature sushi rice–cloaked with a simple condiment of fragrant minced black seaweed–and centered by the highest quality of divine uni from Hokkaido that rests on a shiso leaf. Careful not to mar the design, I lift a slice of Bluefin Tuna with my chopsticks. Silk and velvet comes to mind. I have mastered the art of putting several items on my chopsticks at once, but if not, would it be heresy to use a fork? There is no one here to criticize.
I could cry that I am alone and cannot share this extraordinary dish – it is certainly enough for two.
Barazushi Gozen is three levels of seasonal sushi. The first is a sublime Toro and Uni Seafood wrap, a Shoushin signature dish, and almost a meal in itself. Each luxurious mouthful is a privilege for my palate. A few extra sheets of nori are added for a DIY experience. This trio of toro, uni and a selection of three different kinds of today’s catch are to be folded into the nori along with delicate condiments. This is a first for me, but it shall certainly not be the last. Sake is really the best partner for sushi, but I imagine there are other wines too, like a fine sparkling Blanc de Blancs.
My next dish is Tsumami Morikomi, an amazing selection of unique seasonal appetizers. The scent of sweet smoke perfumes that air when I lift the lid. It comes from beltfish smoked over wheatstraw. Like choosing jewels from Tiffany, I taste purple-skinned firefly squid, a meaty mackerel seaweed roll, delectable monkfish liver and crisp lotus root sprinkled with tiny sesame seeds, fresh bamboo shoot, as well as more delicacies that are unknown to me but not unappreciated. It’s all so pretty and delicious, and it lifts me from the doldrums of the daily routine as though my dining room table has been transported to a Michelin starred-restaurant in Tokyo.
I’ve saved the BaraZushi for the end, since it appears to have some mystery. This a rare type of Chirashizushi and what I see is a very large split shrimp (kuruma-ebi) perched on a trio of sweet crumbles: egg yolk, egg white and shrimp. What surprises lie beneath this pleasant blanket? Before I dig in, I enjoy the sweet shrimp. To my delight, Chef Jackie’s splendid Japanese rice is studded with luscious morsels of Kohada (a small shimmering silver-skinned fish), Anago (fresh salt water eel), Tako (octopus), Shiitake mushrooms, Tamago (delicately rolled layers of egg) and more.
Enjoying this myriad of details takes time. Even without conversation, I have enjoyed a delightful two hours, tasting and appreciating a delicious cultural diversion. I would consider it a once a week treat as a gift to myself for the stress of self-isolation.
This is a good-news-day for those who have been craving sushi. The refinement, the skill and all the unexpected nuances are without peer in Toronto. The demands of this sushi lover has been far-exceeded. As they say in Japan to express gratitude after an incredible dining experience like this, “Gochisosama-deshita” (It was a feast!)
Shoushin, 3328 Yonge St. For pickup or delivery call 416-488-9400. The phone lines are open from 12:00 noon to 8:00 p.m. however, the same day order ends at 6:00 p.m. The BaraZushi Gozen needs 3 hours of notice, while others are okay while quantity lasts. Chef Jackie is flexible, so you can feel free to ask regarding other menu options. Pickup time starts at 4:30p.m. and delivery starts at 5:30 p.m. Closed Monday, Open Tuesday to Sunday.
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.