Assembly Chef’s Hall is like what Bourdain Market was supposed to be if it ever got off the ground, except instead of overseas hawkers, Toronto’s chefs have set up shop with smaller, fast casual versions of their larger restaurants and other concepts. It’s a food court that doesn’t suck! And it contains the ONLY stand-up sushi bar in Canada. EVERYONE I spoke to said I was foolish for wanting to eat sushi in Toronto when Vancouver already has the best sushi in Canada (and for much cheaper). But my stubborn self always has to experience it first-hand. I’m always willing to test a theory to see the results myself. And the result is that Tachi does some kick-ass sushi that’s easily as good as the mid/high range of sushi in Vancouver, all for a surprisingly reasonable price too.
I was in town for work, plus a few extra days to do my usual craft beer-drinking and food exploring. I lucked out and got sunny (but cold) weather the entire time, except on my last day which it rained.
Assembly Chef’s Hall is designed like an upscale food court (complete with live DJ when I was there) or like the food section of a public market.
A large seating area is behind me. Majority of the food stalls are up the stairs.
There’s a Little Khao San Road! The backlit menu was impossible to photograph, so you can read the menu for this stall and all of the others on their website.
If I had more stomachs, I totally would’ve gone for a Pad Grapow. From this restaurant group, I’ve only tried Nana during my 2016 trip.
There’s a Ramen Issin here.
A scaled-down DaiLo is here too. We loved DaiLo and actually visited it twice during 2017!
Tachi is tucked into a corner. Reservations recommended but not totally necessary when I ate there on an early Tuesday afternoon. The counter only has eight spots.
The way it works here is that there are predefined seatings where the entire meal lasts less than 30 minutes. My seating was at 11:15am, and it started right on time because the host rang a bell to signal the start of the meal. If you’ve never had this sort of rapid-fire omakase before, it will feel a bit like a race!
I noticed later that the day’s selection was listed on the board. I’m not sure how often it changes. The omakase course here is 11 pieces of nigiri and a hand roll to finish, all for $45.
(As a comparison, I’ve had 7 pieces of Premium Sushi at Tetsu for $42.25 back in December 2017, so Tachi is really not a bad deal at all.)
I was assigned stand-up spot #3.
View of spots 1-3. There’s chopsticks available but the chefs recommended that you use your hands to eat.
Drink menu. The top Green Tea is the only hot option.
Itoen Genmai Tea ($3.25).
AND WE’RE OFF!
1) Scallop. All pieces come pre-sauced.
2) Kanpachi (Amberjack). The nigiri here are on the upper scale of size that I’ve experienced at similar omakase. Not quite the delicate bite-sized pieces at Tetsu or Maumi, but not garishly large either.
3) Madai (Golden Eye Snapper). I totally missing taking a picture of this one because you only get 1-2 minutes to eat each piece, have a sip of tea, eat some ginger, etc, so it really is perfect for people who are in a hurry, not for people who want to linger and savour.
4) Akami (Lean Bluefin Tuna). I’m a little surprised at the inclusion of bluefin tuna in a $45 omakase.
5) Chutoro (Medium-Fatty Tuna).
6) Otoro (Fatty Tuna Belly). The nigiri here lean towards the stripped-down and basic style. It’s mainly just rice and neta, with maybe some extra knifework (like in this piece of otoro) or topping (like the green onion in the bonito below). This is the difference between the omakase here and Tetsu, for example. At Tetsu, more work goes into each piece but then you are paying more for it, so one’s not necessarily better than the other, just different styles.
I found the saucing of the nigiri to be just right, neither under- nor over-sauced.
7) Katsuo (Smoked Bonito).
8) Ebi (Prawn). The itamae (chef) actually did redid this piece for me! He placed the first on down then noticed how drippy and messy my leaf was, so discarded the rice, wiped down the leaf with a towel, removed a stray piece of ginger, then redid the prawn and placed it down like you see above.
This would be a good time to talk about the rice and temperature. The toppings were all close to that ideal “room temperature” where you can taste the flavours in the fish the best. The rice was that almost warm “body temperature”, so Tachi nails the temperature thing. What impressed me most about Tachi though is how delicate a hand they use to form the rice. It’s very similar to how Sushi Bar Maumi does it — rice that’s gently packed so that it just holds together for the journey to your mouth, but falls apart easily when you start chewing, creating a commingling of chewy, discrete rice grains and the full flavour of the topping. This is where eating with your hands brings another layer to the experience. You can feel how delicately the rice is packed. It feels like it’s going to fall apart before you get it to your mouth, but it doesn’t.
The seasoning on the rice is delicate too — restrained on the vinegar, and a smidge more liberal with the sugar. Firmness is just right — not mushy or gummy, and not too firm either. Grains separate beautifully in the mouth.
9) Shime Saba (Pickled Mackerel).
10) Ikura (Salmon Roe). Timing is critical on this piece! You gotta eat it right away while the nori is still crisp.
11) Anago (Sea Eel). The last piece of nigiri. I love the lighter, sweeter, more delicate, less fatty flavour of anago versus unagi.
12) Temaki (Tuna Hand Roll). As a wonderful finishing touch, this last piece is handed directly to you to eat. It’s like getting the fried rice and noodle dishes at the end of a Chinese banquet, just to make sure your guests leave full.
The flavour of all the toppings were standard — or my personal minimum 😉 — but what really stands out is the attention paid to the rice and the whole flow of the experience.