Kappo Sato in Toronto takes the number one spot on the Top 10 list of Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2023.
Somewhere between the time it takes Takeshi Sato to whisk up a frothy cup of matcha and my first bite of electrifyingly juicy Japanese musk melon, it hits me that I’m not just out for dinner. I’m in an immersive back–to–the–future experience.
Let’s go back to basics. During the Edo period in Japan (1603–1868), sushi chefs started offering customers their best cuts through omakase; by the mid–1800s the country’s exquisite culinary culture and unique cooking techniques became intrinsically linked to the fine arts. Those customs trickled down to various forms of dining, including kappo, which is more casual than kaiseki but not nearly as shouty as an izakaya.
Cut to 2023, in a tranquil room in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, where a tasting menu is prepared entirely in front of guests sitting comfortably wrapped around a smooth wooden counter. Chef–owner Sato, who worked at Tokyo’s Michelin–starred Ukai and came to Canada to cook for the Japanese Consulate General, conducts a two–and–a–half–hour kappo omakase. There will be 16 or so dishes arriving in gentle waves, from dashi (stock) to desserts. A staff brigade shows us the toro (tuna belly) he’s smoking, the soy milk ice cream they’re churning and, as a kimono–clad server proudly holds up a framed certificate, the marbled Wagyu beef we’ll soon be eating.
Jelled dashi, sea urchin, tofu skin and freshly shaved wasabi layered in a Baccarat crystal glass is a meditation on pristine culinary history. Tempura is prepared one piece at a time: a sweet, young fish, a perfect little fry, with instructions on where to dip it – into the tiny ceramic bowl of sea salt, dashi or lemon. Then seaweed noodles and mountain yam tossed in a sharp black vinegar cleanse and refresh. Unagi (eel) from the Aichi Prefecture grills beautifully over ceramic briquettes, served with luscious kabayaki sauce on handmade Japanese pottery. Warm seafood rice, with the savoury–sweet aroma of Sakura shrimp and ocean trout, is prepared in an artisanal copper pot. It’s so homey that we’re offered seconds, and I’m transported to a midwinter space of wood fires and free–roaming deer.
This is virtuoso cooking that transcends space and time. And reminds us why we’ve always loved eating together.