The Shozan Room’s long-anticipated opening has arrived, and the two-storey locale at Ossington and Dundas West is advertising “new wave” Japanese creations that pay homage to their culinary roots while simultaneously breaking all of its rules.
“Our starting point was traditional Japanese food,” says CEO, co-owner and co-chef Squid-Ti, “But we completely deconstructed it and rebuilt something quite modern. With traditional Japanese food, there’s a saying that you shouldn’t touch it too much, and just preserve the natural flavours. But our fish is brined, or cured, or smoked in-house, and then paired with unique sauces. It’s almost un-Japanese in that sense, because there’s just so much flavour work.”
Inside The Shozan Room
Chef Kohei Matsuyama and co-owner Michiko Takahashi partnered with Squid-T to create The Shozan Room almost two years after a devastating five-alarm fire stole their popular ramen spot KON-NICHI-WA from Baldwin street. Pioneers in Toronto’s ramen scene, Takahashi hopes that Shozan’s meticulously crafted dishes will hold to that spirit of innovation and offer Torontonians something they have never experienced before.
“Creating the menu was so difficult,” recounts chef Matsuyama through a small smile. “It was a lot of trial and error.”
“Toronto already loves Izayaka pub food and things like Nikkei cuisine, or Kaisekis-style meals,” says Squid-Ti, “So coming up with something that doesn’t duplicate those while staying close to Japanese culinary roots took time.”
One bite of the duck pastrami wraps ($9.50) and it’s clear that their long hours of creative labour have paid off, though, as this dish’s baffling list of ingredients end up coming together to create something magical.
The duck pastrami wraps ($9.50)
The duck is brined for 48 hours, cured, cooked sous-vide and then pounded into ultra-thin slices that are wrapped around an array of microgreens. Chef Matsuyama, after whom the restaurant is named (in Japanese, Shozan is an alternate version of his last name), then tops the dish with a red wine, beet and miso reduction, portions of balsamic vinegar jelly, cacao nibs, and a garnish of pink flower petals. A beautiful medley of flavours and textures, this dish is the perfect representation of the restaurant’s concept of “new wave Japanese.”
But despite the highbrow aesthetic, the team is working hard to steer away from the posh vibe their creations imply in favour of occupying a space somewhere between casual and fine dining.
“We’re offering affordable tapas-style dishes with quality ingredients,” explains Squid-T. “The dishes are really complex, and when we were creating them, they sort of just blossomed into these artful creations. Beautiful is good, but so is accessible.”
The team’s favourite dish, sashimi no. 7, comes in at $45, and includes seven differently prepared types of sashimi, each of which are accompanied by a unique sauce. The diversity of flavours combine to create a complementary profile, and if you don’t want to spring for the large option, you can order the smaller new wave sashimi no. 3 ($18) plate instead.
Sashimi no. 3 ($18)
The smaller option comes with three sashimi portions: maguro (tuna) that is smoked in-house, and served with a coriander mustard soy oil, in-house smoked salmon topped with ikura (red caviar) in a lemon-soy and balsamic vinegar sauce, and cured sea bass that is torched and served with a hot pepper garlic paste. Also pictured are the scallops from sashimi no. 7, which are cured in vinegar and served atop a miso mustard and yogurt curry sauce.
“Really, if there is any location in Toronto that celebrates pushing boundaries it would be Ossington, and we knew we wanted to do this here” Squid-T says with a grin. “Don’t look at these photos and think you have to dress up to walk in here. Jeans, shorts—whatever works out on Ossington works in here.”
The Shozan Room, 164 Ossington Ave., 647-478-6164