SUPERB FRESHNESS AND quality of fish are what set Nigiri-Ya apart from other sushi places around town — that and the actual location that endearing owners and husband-and-wife team Yasu and Kimi Ouchi chose for their venture.
The frills are few in this matchbox room that seats 15, which opened three months ago off the beaten track on a mostly residential street in Leaside. Nigiri-Ya focuses on turning out premium takeout, but they’ve gone ahead and made the teeny dine-in space feel welcoming anyway.
Yasu — whose rap sheet includes stints at Nobu and Crown Casino Hotel in Australia and who can brag of turning out bundles of fish and rice to the likes of Keanu Reeves, Matt Damon and Nicole Kidman — focuses on enhancing the natural flavours of ingredients by light searing and/or by adding complementary sauces.
The menu, like the room, keeps things simple — appetizers, house specialties, classic rolls, Nigiri-Ya rolls, sushi and sashimi.
Seaweed salad ($3.99), one of just three appetizers (the other two being edamame and miso soup), brings subtly sweet,inherently chewy strips of wakame stirred with raw sesame seeds and just-detectable ground red pepper flakes — a refreshing opener. Famous aburi sushi ($14.50) assembles one piece each of eel,scallop and butterfish plus two of salmon. Yasu favours preparing sushi in the aburi style, which is like making crème brûlée by using a blowtorch. Each ever-so-lightly seared morsel,playing pedestal on small bundles of rice (a.k.a. nigiri), outdoes the next, with sesame seed–dusted,creamy butterfish in a league of its own.
Classic rolls entice — yellowtail, tuna, salmon, avocado, cucumber or marinated squash, six pieces each, from $4.50 to $6.99 — but Nigiri-Ya rolls win out.
House special roll ($12.75) sees five walloping pucks of nori wrapped around tuna, salmon, whitefish, scallions and a smear of house sauce (a combination of ginger, garlic and sesame oil). More raw sesame seeds dusted overtop add texture. So many flavours in each mouthful have the potential to overwhelm, but the quality of fish and expert rolling keep things in check. Even the off-white pickled ginger and squirt of whipped wasabi reflect Yasu’s dedication to quality.
The only letdown of our lunch comes in the form of crunchy tempura shrimp,another Nigiri-Ya roll ($9.50). Too much mayonnaisey sauce and the precooking of battered and deep-fried crustaceans are the culprits here, which even skilled assembling, teensy fresh cucumber matchsticks and drizzles of tsume glaze (sake, mirin, sugar, fish stock and soy) can’t placate.
Phone ahead for takeout orders. Free parking.
897 Millwood Rd.,416-423-4419
Dinner for two,excluding tax,tip and alcohol
(Three and a half stars out of five)