Exceeding (lowered) expectations. Or: An evening at Sushi Kai.

Among the many new trends that has swept across the Interwebz in the past several years, few have excited me and my wallet more than the rise of group-buying sites or, as they’re eloquently called by many of my friends, “those, like, Groupon-like sites, like”.  A lot of the businesses profiled are great places to visit and try out (50% off a fancy restaurant? Where do I sign up?), but then you hear stories about some places that make you go….”Uh no thanks”.

Sushi Kai is one of those places (or so I thought). Present in some form or another in just about every single group-buying site out there, the restaurant is more omnipresent than hotdogs at an American baseball park or pregnancy articles about Jennifer Aniston. This naturally raises a lot of red flags in my charming inquisitive self. The main concern I had was “Just how desperate are these guys for business?”, especially considering that the thin margins that these deals net the businesses themselves.

About THIS desperate, I'd gather.

About THIS desperate, I’d gather.

My secondary concern can be summed up here. I have a lot of friends who are Yelpers (I’m one myself!) so imagine my profound horror to read how this place seems to be hated in the same vein as Nickelback or Kanye West at an awards gala. After calmly consulting some other sites though, I decided to give it a shot. We had a DealGetters coupon and decided to come in for a visit, even though the drive itself was about half an hour or so from the house.

After spending what felt like an eternity to find a parking spot, we were greeted by a friendly server into what looks like a dated, but very spacious, dining area. My parents kept on remarking that, if this was a Chinese restaurant in Markham, they could probably increase the density of the tables by almost 50%. They actually could, but I’m glad they didn’t. The place was clean, spacious, and bright. A good start.

In a typical Chinese restaurant, the empty space you see here would contain about ten more round tables that should be sitting eight people, each filled by ten adults + at least one crying baby.

In a typical Chinese restaurant, the empty space you see here would contain about ten more round tables that should be sitting eight people, each filled by ten adults + at least one crying baby.

Then the service. I simply have to talk about the service before I even talk about the food as it was the highlight of the entire visit. Every single person we spoke to was helpful and quick, and the main server at our table (a white person in a Japanese restaurant – interesting and charming!) was without a doubt the sweetest and gentlest server I’ve ever had in an Asian establishment. She was very polite and double-checked all our orders. It almost felt like the service I get when I visit restaurants in Indonesia. Everything was done efficiently and excellently. Top, top marks.

I ordered the tempura dinner set, while WW ordered a chicken teriyaki bento box (that came with your choice of maki – she picked a spicy salmon roll – and some tempura on the side too). I was a bit wary of ordering anything that contained excessive amounts of raw fish due to many doomsday reviews saying that they got food poisoning here. I therefore assumed that frying, though it may not do much for your arteries, is an excellent way to protect my bowels from uncomfortable rumblings post-meal.

My tempura set was actually pretty good. There were 4 shrimps and 6 assorted vegetables in the meal, and all were freshly fried, without any smell of bleach (something I encountered in Maison du Japon, believe it or not) or any other strange olfactory sensations. The only criticisms I have are that the shrimp size was quite small and that the tempura batter seems a bit unimpressive (it doesn’t ‘flower’ and expand, for lack of a better term, the way it does in more impressive restaurants). But there is nothing wrong with the taste at all.

Bleach free!

Bleach free!

WW’s bento box was impressively large, and the chicken was flavourful, though some parts were a bit dry. The spicy salmon rolls that came as part of the meal were quite nice, though I have to admit the salmon meat itself didn’t scream ‘fresh’ like some of the better ones I’ve had. That’s not to say that the sushi was off (it wasn’t), it just was OK and not much more than that. As for her tempura, see my story above.

As WW hovers in the background yelling at me to quickly finish taking the picture.

As WW hovers in the background yelling at me to quickly finish taking the picture.

The most interesting thing is that the restaurant was full by the time we ended our meal, so much so that there was a mini lineup waiting for our table. To me, this means one of two things: 1) If the reputation of the place was indeed as bad as I feared, then everyone around me were just coupon users, or 2) The place really isn’t as bad as many reviewers make it out to be, as evidenced by the large number of patrons (who may contain, admittedly, some couponites). My money’s on the second one, given the large number of people who brought their young children there. Otherwise I’d just have to assume that people on the Mount Pleasant and Eglinton area are child haters who wouldn’t mind subjecting their children to possible food poisoning.

To sum up, this place really isn’t bad at all. Certainly nowhere near as bad as my first fears (based on reading Yelp reviews) were shaping up to be. It’s not a high-class sushi joint and is basically an OK place with really good service. Perhaps my lowered expectations of the place made the whole experience so much better than it would otherwise be, but I did enjoy my dinner.

So the next time you see a Sushi Kai on Groupon, Teambuy, WagJag, or whatever other group-buying site you can think of, I would definitely recommend it. This is perhaps a very meh place at regular price, but definitely a good deal if you got a coupon.

My feelings on the whole experience is almost bang on with what I hope people will say when they read my blog: “You know, it really isn’t that bad at all”.

–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!

Sushi Kai

168 Eglinton Avenue East
Toronto, ON M4P 2K5
(416) 481-8181 ‎


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