Zen Japanese Restaurant is one of my favorite Japanese food hubs on 2803 Eglinton Ave. East. Its a cozy, all Japanese run heaven nestled in a crummy Scarborough plaza in between a video store and a “run n’ tug” massage parlor. Its unassuming at first glance, but quickly wins you over with its charming setting and fresh glistening seafood delights.
I was first introduced to Zen by a good friend who said Zen would turn any non-sushi lover into a sushi paramour. I was intrigued as an already avid sushi fan. It is good…so good, it is the only sushi restaurant I settle for now without having to splurge out the cost for more expensive sushi places like Sushi Kaji in West end Toronto or Masa at the Time Warner Square in New York City.
Lunch time at Zen is unpredictable. You never know if the compact space will be brimming with people or if you’ll lunch in relative solitary. Either way, I make reservations in advance with Emmi who is the cutest girl with the smallest voice alive. She has yet to tell us not to show up because there are no tables available. We like her a lot! My usual order is the 16 piece nigiri lunch set with a green salad. The rice is done very well and complements the fish beautifully!
The Nigiri set is good but the green salad is outstanding! I know, you’re thinking “what’s the big deal about lettuce greens and a few cucumbers”?! Well…the big hoopla is about the dressing! Its one of the best salad dressings ever! I mean it, its got the spicy pungency of red onions, the umami of soy essence, tang from rice wine vinegar, nutty sesame flavor, and sweetness from what I suspect to be honey all wrapped up in one mouthful with crisp buttery lettuce. How could you not love that?! I wanted the dressing so much, I consulted my “Cheffy” friend to perfect the masterpiece. We’ve tried many times now and I think we’re almost there, its pretty close to perfection but no cookie yet. Every time we go, we taste, dissect and discuss missing components that we need. Its still a work in progress. I’m waiting for the one day I build up enough courage to ask Emmi, except she might just shoot me down.
Dinner time is busy. Its families, work colleagues and friends gathering with smiles. An older, more mature lady typically serves alongside Emmi during dinner service. She is stern and has glowing skin. I want to ask her about her beauty regime every time I see her but she comes off as someone who wouldn’t share anyway. So I hold back. She is polite, never cheery.
The portion sizes for dinner are larger as expected and the seaweed salad is only on the dinner menu. Its another great salad with seaweed, carrots, cucumber, silken tofu, bits of shrimp and imitation crab meat topped with bonito flakes. The dressing is another killer one! Its lighter and not a creamy one like the lunch salad. I find it harder to discern because the base is mostly soy with light hints of one or two ingredients that are present but don’t scream out loud.
Of course I don’t just have salad for dinner! I like to order the red snapper with green onion roll. Its zesty and crispy bite from the onions…mmm…I love anything with onions! Its a delectable harmony with wasabi and soy.
The wonders of Japanese cooking, an art form passed down from eons ago, continues to enthrall young and old across all walks of life! Try Zen…you’ll you ‘zenfully’ addicted!