At the age of 25, chef Masaki Nakayama traded the bustling Tsukiji Market — one of Asia’s biggest fish markets — for the bright lights of New York City. The young Masaki had dreams of becoming a great jazz musician. However, he had a show-stopping problem. “I had no talent,” jokes Masaki. Instead, he took his passion for music and applied it to cooking. The Japanese expat quickly built an impressive reputation at restaurants like Zuma in Miami and Sushi Yasuda in Manhattan.
Where to Eat in Toronto: Shibui Robata Bar
When asked about how Masaki found his way to Toronto he says, “I wanted to change the way Japanese food was presented in Toronto.” Soon, Toronto restaurateur Michael Rudan came calling. Rudan spent four years travelling across the United States working on a new Japanese restaurant concept. While many chefs were interested in joining him on his journey, something stood out about Misaki, “I was impressed by Misaki’s presentation and character.” It’s Misaki’s skill and zeal for perfectionism that are the driving forces behind Shibui.
Fusing beautiful presentation with healthy ingredients is what has kept Japanese cuisine very popular in Canada, especially Toronto and Vancouver, for decades. Shibui’s version of robata cooking elevates seafood to a work of art. For instance, your average scallop is seared on both sides, but at Shibui, the generously proportioned scallops are grilled on the robata, cooked on the inside and are devoid of a chewy texture ($16).
What is Robata
The roots of robata can be traced to the fishing boats of Japan, where fisherman would cook on boats and pass the food around. Simply put, robata is food that is cooked on an open fire according to three levels. The lowest level is for flaming and searing and the highest level is for resting. “Each type of food you cook needs to cook at a different temperature,” says Rudan. When cooking over charcoal, the temperature can get up to 900 degrees Celsius, and it’s very difficult to do; however, the results are superb. The heat adds a tremendous amount of flavour to seafood, steak, and vegetables because the juice goes onto the charcoal and evaporates back onto the food.
The new 60-seat family-friendly restaurant —located in the heart of Toronto’s Entertainment District — is for anyone who is looking for a refined dining experience. If you care about amazing food, quality and a unique experience, put Shibui on your to-do list.
Must try: The Miso marinated Black Cod
Crowd pleaser: Shibui Salmon Maki / Spicy salmon, tempura flakes, salmon on top