Relocating to Toronto after a 15-year absence has been like meeting an old friend who has had huge success in my absence: Since we last met, it has grown richer and more flashy, while still being refreshingly tolerant, earnest and friendly. When I left Toronto for New York in 2005 there were just a few chefs playing with molecular gastronomy, farm-to-table was barely a thing, and the words “craft” and “cocktail” still hadn’t even gone on a date. When family circumstances brought me back to this city in the fall, I was happy to see how vital and exciting the restaurant scene here had become.
Always culturally diverse, Toronto has become even more so in recent years—and nowhere is the change more evident than in Japanese food and drink.
Many Japanese restaurants in Toronto began as imports from Vancouver, which once owned bragging rights for Canada’s best Asian fare. But no longer. Vancouver-born and -raised Shori Imanishi, chef owner of Imanishi Japanese Kitchen, says of Toronto, "the standard of Japanese cuisine is even higher here than in Vancouver now." One reason for the jump in quality, he explains, is that fish from Tokyo's Tsukiji market is now flown direct to Toronto, without making the once-mandatory stop in Vancouver. The city’s Asia-influenced real estate bubble and stricter liquor license provisions, he adds, have also made it hard for small Vancouver restaurants to get off the ground. Meanwhile, says Imanishi, in addition to being the cultural and financial capital of Canada, Toronto is “an up-and-coming” city where people want to live: “There’s just more going on here culturally, and people catch on to things a lot faster than in Vancouver.”