It was an odd sensation. With sushi restaurants popping up on almost every corner -- and without actually having eaten even a single piece recently -- I was beginning to feel as though I'd OD'd on them. But one day I realized it had actually been more than five months since my last mouthful of raw fish, and all of a sudden, raw fish was what I wanted.
There's a lot of it around, much of it good to some degree or other (restaurants that serve bad raw fish won't last long) but when the yen (no pun intended) struck me I didn't want my raw fish merely good, I wanted it great, which was when I thought of Yujiro, where I'd had the best I could remember since Edohei closed.
This Japanese-owned restaurant (an increasing rarity these days) started as a tiny, almost exclusively takeout place on Academy Road, but later blossomed into the full-scale restaurant at the above address. I last ate there about seven years ago, at which time it was rather dark and cramped and awkwardly divided down the middle by a wall. But the wall is gone, and the space has since been redone in spare minimalist style and neutral tones, with the only notes of colour in the lovely orange glow of tiny Japanese lanterns.
The ambience now is airier and serene, but the real payoff is in some of the freshest, finest fish available, whether as sushi or (even better) the incomparable sashimi. Good sushi can be made with good fish, but with nothing to disguise it, sashimi fish has to taste even fresher and more flavourful, and the sashimi I had at Yujiro were superb: hamachi (yellowtail), which is on the regular menu ($16 for seven pieces), and one night's salmon trout from Norway ($15 for five pieces, $22 for nine).
The specials' sheet changes daily, and I still long for the monkfish liver I had years ago -- slightly reminiscent of foie gras but, unfortunately, available only rarely. But this is where my passion for uni was rekindled -- my first sea urchin ever was in Cannes, where it was just hours out of the Mediterranean, and glorious. Since then I've had it mostly in Japanese restaurants, but most of it, sadly, has just tasted mushy.
But one night Yujiro's specials sheet offered sushi with a choice of uni -- one from Hokkaido, the other from Vancouver, at $6 and $3.50 respectively, per piece. The differences between them were slight -- the Hokkaido uni might have been slightly sweeter and possibly a tad creamier -- but I'd be grateful for either. That night there were also specials of foie gras with barbecued eel on sushi rice, which I managed to resist ($12) and, for the open-minded (or adventurous), horsemeat sashimi ($12). But I did try the grilled, skewered beef tongue, which was flavourful throughout, but also, literally, impossible to chew through in parts ($6).
The sushi rice is moist and flavourful and the other ingredients are top-notch. You can have the standard California roll, made with imitation crab, mayo, flying fish roe and avocado at $5.50 for six pieces, but I prefer the deluxe version with real crab, for $7. The rice noodle and cucumber sunomono salad also comes with a choice -- $6 with imitation crab (or shrimp or octopus), or $8 for the deluxe with four sizable chunks of the real thing.
Nigiri sushi are a perfect balance of rice and toppings, and range from $3 to $3.50 per piece. The rolls (maki or inside out) are mostly $3.50 to $12, among them one relative rarity -- the delicious soft-shell shrimp roll with avocado and tobiko. I'd have been happier with the special maki of barbecued salmon skin, salmon, tuna, scallop, real crab and tobiko roe if the rubbery nori wrapping hadn't been too hard to bite through, and the oversize filling (which needed three bites) hadn't fallen apart. I could also pick a nit about the skimpy amounts of pickled ginger with all the dishes.
There are five dishes listed simply as fish, with four of them at $6 each, including the excellent barbecued salmon belly. Seared black cod with a slightly sweet miso sauce is the exception at $12, but it's fabulous. Appetizers and side dishes are also excellent: agedashi tofu -- three soft, fresh-tasting squares, deep-fried in a delicate coating and served with dashi sauce ($4); diced tuna goma ae with avocado and a sweet sesame dressing ($12); and lightly grilled tuna tataki with a citrusy ponzu sauce ($13). The pork-filled gyoza dumplings were bursting with juices ($5.50), and fine flavoured shrimp tempura came in the lightest possible batter (four pieces $6, eight for $11).
Prices are higher than some sushi spots, but so is the quality. Even something as simple and standard as miso soup had more flavour than most, and there are several affordable choices of the same quality as the more expensive dishes. Dinner bento boxes, for instance are $18 to $20, with appetizer, salad and ice cream, and at dinner, seafood-topped donburi are $16 to $20 with miso included.
Lunches are even better buys, with bento boxes ranging from $10 to $14 filled with miso soup, a delicate little salad, an appetizer, two pieces of inari sushi (rice in skin-thin fried tofu) and two main items. Alternately there are lunch donburi at $8 each, with miso soup and salad. They were out of the beef with onions and yam cake, but I liked the fried katzu don pork topped by an egg. I can't say the same for the utterly flavourless diced chicken thigh.
There are ice creams and bean cake for dessert, but I'd always opt for the exquisite banana tempura -- tiny chunks of fried banana, topped with slices of strawberry, chocolate and peanut butter sauces (yes, peanut butter) and whipped cream ($5.50). A must, even if you think you're too full for dessert.
All dishes are beautifully presented and the service is perfect.
To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.
Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.