Alex Oh Sushi & Rolls
Hours: Tue-Wed, 11:30am -10pm; Thur-Sat, 11:30am -10:30pm; Sun, 12pm- 9:30pm
It's a busy Friday night at Alex Oh Sushi. The dining room is tiny, but full; the heat of the small crowd has the windows sweating against the outside cold. My friend is running late, so I sit at the counter and watch the chef at work while I wait for a table.
The air is light with the delicate smell of sushi rice and vinegar. The chef, Alex Oh, is behind the counter patting rice onto sheets of nori. As he constructs each roll he chooses from a row of fresh fish, fat slabs of pink, white and speckled grey, curls of octopus tentacles, strings of crab or a bowl of glistening roe.
A banana leaf is given a wipe and draped onto a plate. The chef slices through a dusky pink sheet of tuna, then a fatty pink streak of salmon. He moves the fish through his fingers, seeming to weigh and check the quality of his butchering by feel alone. He dips his hands into a bowl and cleans them with a quick clap. Another plate is loaded with rolls, topped with a sauce and scorched with a small blowtorch. A char bursts through that clean vinegar smell of moments ago.
I've had a lot of time to watch the goings on behind the counter: There is only one server. He is bouncing from group to group taking orders and delivering plates. The phone is an almost constant ring. It's incredibly busy. Because I'm waiting, I'm happy to wave off attention. Still, the server brings by a cup of hot tea as an apology for any lack thereof. It's a nice gesture.
My friend arrives and we spend enough time at the counter for the server to bring her a cup of tea as well. Eventually we slide into a table by the window. A beautiful bowl with a tangle of twigs, curls of pink fish and a bright yellow flower catches our eye, so we order a sashimi appetizer ($11). We get our own tapestry of twigs and cellophane noodles topped with rich butterfish (also known as that gastrointestinal roll of the dice, escolar), silky salmon and meaty, but somewhat mealy, albacore tuna.
We sip a Kirin Ichiban Shibori, one of the three Japanese beers available, as we enjoy the sunomono salad ($7), a vinegared seaweed salad topped with a thin slice of radish, sweet crab, slightly chewy octopus and luscious tuna leaning against scrunched cellophane noodles. Lemon and ponzu add to the brightness of the vinegar. It's a great salad.
We also have the Hokkaido scallop ($11), which sees coins of scallop sitting atop gummy sushi rice croquettes—obviously microwaved—with little dabs of a garlic cream sauce and pops of orange fish roe. The scallop feels almost unnecessary: I would actually prefer the croquette with a more generous dollop of fish roe instead. We each indulge in more cream sauce with the sushi cup ($5), a tiny cup of rice, salmon and escolar topped with sauce and torched. The result is a warm, inventive snack.
The black dragon roll ($8) and the Alex roll special ($15) are both huge, snaking down the length of the plates. Both feature tempura shrimp, avocado and cucumber. The former has freshwater eel, sadly battered by the slicing of the rolls, while the former has fish roe and scallop, with a wonderfully spicy cream sauce drizzled overtop. They're very good.
We finish the meal with black sesame ice cream ($3.50) brought in from Toronto. It's thoughtfully split into two small spoon-shaped dishes. A single grape punctuates the meal. "A sweet finish," our server says. This has felt more like a sweet beginning. I'll be back.
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