Our 20th Anniversary Dinner: Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto

Laura Yep, it’s been 20 years, can you believe it? So to celebrate such a big date we decided to splurge on one of the best Japanese restaurants in the GTA.

For our 18th anniversary we went to another of the best: Sushi Kaji, and were very impressed. However, the only thing that Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto has in common with Kaji is that a) it’s Japanese and b) it’s located in the middle of nowhere (Kaji’s in a strip mall on the Queensway near Pearson Airport; Hashimoto’s in a Dixie Road strip mall near Pearson Airport.) Masaki Hashimoto’s restaurant is definitely not a sushi place. Kaiseki is a style of Japanese cooking—formed as an offshoot of the tea ceremony—where the presentation of the food is just as important as the food itself. (Explanation of Kaiseki from the restaurant’s website.) Each course is artistically laid out in exquisite place settings, inviting quiet observation and contemplation; the food itself emphasizes balance and tranquility, freshness and seasonality. Many of the ingredients are unavailable in Canada and are flown in from Japan (hence the proximity to the airport)—this is not a low-carbon-footprint meal by any means!

The restaurant is tiny and tasteful, with a ceiling whimsically decorated with stars, moon and fluffy clouds. It seats a maximum of eight and has to be reserved at least a week in advance so Chef Hashimoto can source and plan the dishes. The meal is prix fixe and served omakase style: chef’s choice. Service is paramount: As each course comes, the helpful waiter explains what it consists of and how it’s made, and even (if not obvious) how to eat it. At one point he even brought out the manifest for a Wagyu beef shipment and a page with the Wagyu graphic logo so we could check it over (which was interesting to graphic designers/food nerds like us, but might be a bit of information overload for some.) Photos of all the dishes are taken by the chef as a record of what was served; he makes a point of never serving a given patron the same thing twice.

A selection of a few of our eight courses (be assured that the others were just as good):
All photos by Chef Masaki Hashimoto

Sushi course
The sushi course: Thin slices of whitefish (the waiter didn’t know the English name, but it’s related to red snapper) with real wasabi (zingier than the imitation stuff you usually get, yet with subtle floral undertones); yuzu citrus in the dipping sauce. The deep-orange shreds at the left and the slice at the right are different treatments of Japanese carrot.

Meat course
The meat course: Two cubes of perfectly-cooked Wagyu beef, with daikon spiral, chestnut on root veggie (not sure what it was; it tasted a bit like a sweet potato), and salt and very pungent-yet-citrusy pepper in blue bowl. Gold lacquer bowl at back contains soft-cooked quail egg in a vinaigrette, with fish on top, surrounded by lotus leaves. Peter and I are not egg eaters generally, but this combination was surprising and sublime. The placemat below the plate can’t be seen well here, but was a copy of a vintage woodblock print of rabbits and frogs, which tickled our cartoonists’ hearts mightily.

Fried course
The fried course: Deep-fried shrimp head (salted, so the waiter made sure we knew not to dip it in sauce, unlike everything else on the platter); shrimp body halves, rolled in dyed rice crackers (note the tiny coloured balls), and deep-fried in delicate noodle cages tied with nori. At left is a crane carved out of daikon to be dipped in the carrot sauce at far left. Dismantling the crane to eat felt a bit like artistic vandalism! Under the ceramic plate is a wooden platter with a rectangular depression filled with pebbles—very Zen.

Dessert course: Two matcha-flavoured crà¨pes, whose green-tea bitterness is perfectly balanced by two grape-sized scoops of homemade ice-cream and drizzled with sweet red beans. Note the text on the banner on the decorative cage.

After the meal Chef Hashimoto came out and we talked for a few minutes. The chef and staff were genuinely interested in which dishes were our favourites, which is a bit akin to asking us to pick our favourite child!

If the meal wasn’t enough, the staff also presented us with a little present on occasion of our anniversary. Inside a simply-wrapped package was a charming octagonal origami box and lid, with a little flat disc of mild incense (to place in a book or keepsake) and a scroll of iridescent paper with a congratulatory message inside.

By this time I rather wished that I drank alcohol (and lots of it) so I could help their profit margins. This was exacerbated by the fact that Peter and I were the only clients that night. I imagine that this recession is doing a number on specialized restaurants like this. So we’re trying to get the word out that if you can swing the cost at all, go to Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto for an incredible experience.

Our little present!
A delightful finish to a wonderful evening!

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  1. Peter says:

    While the carbon-footprint of shipping so many ingredients from Japan is less than ideal, the meal was otherwise very environmentally responsible. The ingredients were all in season, organic (in the case of the vegetables), or wild-caught (no farmed fish).

    In terms of season, we had the last meal of the fall season, and Chef Hashimoto was moving on to winter ingredients and sourcing as of today.

  2. Patti says:

    Congrats on the Big Day P&L

    Your dinner sounds amazing more like an adventure than a meal!

  3. Jude says:

    Just fell off my chair in disbelief.
    Holy crap – 20 years!

    What a wonderful experience and amazing meal you had.
    Talking about yummy.

    Happy Anniversary you too!

  4. Gillian Chan says:

    Happy anniversary! We will definitely go there. It sounds wonderful.

  5. Richard says:


    A friend of mine recently dined at this same restaurant and also gave it stellar reviews. Perhaps ominously, he and his wife were the only couple on that night, too.

  6. Laura says:

    Hashimoto’s food is also capable of overturning long-held food prejudices: Friend Debbie mentioned that she previously hated uni (sea urchin roe), but absolutely loved it at this restaurant.

    I’ve always hated, hated, HATED takuan, a japanese pickle, which has the fluorescent yellow colour of a highlighter accompanied by the smell of something decomposing. Our “main course” at Hashimoto’s (which we were allowed to have seconds of if we chose) included a couple of slices of takuan, not so artificial in colour, and coated with sesame seeds. I found it quite lovely—more nuanced than regular takuan—and I could’ve happily eaten many more slices!

  7. Luisa says:

    A very happy anniversary to you both!! Wow! 20 Years!

  8. Alayne says:

    Happy anniversary! (20 already??) What a beautiful meal!

  9. Tamiko says:

    Congratulations on 20 years (two Decades!!) together.

    oh and I happen to love takuan, stinkiness and all.

  10. hyedie says:

    wow congratulations on your 20th anniversary 🙂 that’s so special!

    and the restaurant … well the name alone is pretty nice. teehee

    so people of japanese descent, what do you think of natto? it’s my favourite food of ALL time.

  11. Erik says:

    Just came across your blog this past week.. and must say it’s a great blog… very interesting reading 🙂
    Happy belated 20 year anniversary… my, it seems INCONCEIVABLE (channelling Wallace Shawn from the Princess Bride) that 20 years have passed … looks like you had a great Japanese meal that night
    Be Seeing You 🙂

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