Location: 4750 Yonge Street – Unit 119, North York
I’ve mentioned before that the Japanese Netflix TV show, Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman (about a Japanese businessman who’s obsessed with dessert), is pretty much the best. It’s frequently hilarious and features some mesmerizing food porn, not to mention enough slickly-shot footage of Tokyo to make you want to get on the next flight. It’s great.
He eats at least one dessert per episode, and it all looks amazing. Sadly, much of it is really difficult (if not impossible) to find in the GTA.
One of the desserts he eats is called ohagi, and you can actually find it at HCafe, a tiny little Japanese dessert shop near Yonge and Sheppard.
It’s pretty unique. It features a ball of chewy rice (a mix of glutinous rice and regular rice) surrounded by a sweet red bean paste.
It’s not quite like any dessert I’ve ever had — it’s chewy, almost like mochi, but with a coarser texture thanks to the grains of rice. The sweetness is very subtle, and though the flavour is mostly beany, there’s an underlying fruitiness.
It’s odd, but also surprisingly delicious. If you like mochi, this hits a lot of the same notes.
Location: 3160 Steeles Avenue East, Markham
Sasaki Fine Pastry is the latest gem I’ve discovered thanks to the inimitable Suresh Doss, who specializes in sussing out the best non-Western eats in the city, usually out in the ‘burbs. If you’re on Twitter and you’re not following him, I don’t even know what you’re doing with your life.
Sasaki specializes in daifuku, a Japanese dessert in which soft, chewy mochi is stuffed with various sweet fillings. On this particular visit they had seven flavours available; I tried mango cream, strawberry cream, yuzu cream, and sesame cream.
It’s easily the best mochi I’ve ever had. I like mochi, but it can sometimes be a little too gummy. But the version here had a delightfully delicate chew that almost melts in your mouth.
The subtly sweet, creamy fillings were all great, though the strawberry — which featured a mixture of strawberry cream and sweet red bean filling — was the highlight.
I also tried the red bean and cream doriyaki, which features a filling of sweet red bean and whipped cream that’s sandwiched between two little pancakes. Like the daifuki, this was super fresh, subtly sweet, and extremely delicious.
Location: 105 McCaul Street, Toronto
I’ve already talked about Manpuku, so I’ll keep this brief. I went back and tried the shigure don, and just like the udon I tried on my last visit, it was absolutely delicious and delightfully cheap.
The shigure don consisted of a heaping pile of tasty, well-marinated beef and onions atop a generous portion of rice. The beef looks a bit dry in the picture, but it was actually super tender, and surprisingly packed with flavour. And the soft, tasty onions compliment the beef perfectly.
It cost $6.49. I mean, come on, Manpuku — now you’re making all the other restaurants look bad. I’ve frequently paid three or four times as much money for meals that weren’t half as good as what they’re serving here.
Location: 170 Baldwin Street, Toronto
Joining places like Little Pebbles, Sakoshi Mart, and Millie Creperie, the Japanese domination of this stretch of Kensington Market continues with Koi Koi Sake Bar, which features a tasty selection of Japanese eats. I, for one, welcome our new Japanese overlords.
I tried a few things. First up was a nice little snack that every table gets by default. I meant to ask what these were and completely forgot, but they were crunchy, savoury, and a little bit sweet.
Next up was the katsu sando, which is a fried pork sandwich topped with a generous amount of mayo and tangy tonkatsu sauce, with some romaine lettuce for added crunch and freshness. It’s a solid sandwich, though the pork was overcooked (I had a hard time even biting through it in parts).
The miso nasu followed, which is a dish consisting of grilled, miso-glazed eggplant. It feels like it’s missing something (a crunchy counterpoint to the soft eggplant, perhaps?), but it’s enjoyable enough; it basically tastes like they distilled the flavour of miso soup into a glaze and then brushed it onto an eggplant.
The last dish was the bacon fried rice, which food writer David Ort called “possibly the best fried rice [he’s] ever had.” This is mostly what made me want to come here.
I’m not sure if it’s the best I’ve ever had, but it was definitely top-shelf fried rice, with a nice meatiness from the generous bacon and a satisfying level of crispiness from the fried garlic slices. The creamy mayo on top was a nice touch.
Location: 160 Baldwin Street, Toronto
I was still hungry after the horrifying abomination I was served at Kiss the Tiramisu; I couldn’t eat more than a third of it. So I went a couple of stores down to Little Pebbles, a great little Japanese cafe in Kensington Market.
They have the usual assortment of coffees to pick from, as well as a variety of French/Japanese-inspired baked goods. I went with the Strawberry Sakura Mont Blanc, which features an almond-infused crust, pastry cream, a whole strawberry, and strawberry mont blanc cream.
Maybe I was just happy to eat something that wasn’t disgusting, but I really enjoyed this. The nutty crust was tasty, the whole strawberry was sweet and ripe, and the mont blanc cream did a really great job of balancing the chestnut flavour you’d expect with something a bit fruitier.
The whole thing was quite subdued in its flavours, but it all worked really well. I’d definitely like to come back here and try some of their other offerings, because everything looked really good.