Here’s a question for those who live around the GTA: Have you ever heard of New Kennedy Square? Thought not. Let’s rephrase the question: Do you know about the sprawling, traffic-nightmare Chinese plaza at Kennedy and Highway 7? I see more hands now. For the rest of you, here’s a quick recap: New Kennedy Square is one-half (the other is called Peachtree Plaza) of TWO shit-kicker ugly Chinese shopping plazas that were built presumably in the 1980’s in Markham. The best part is that nobody who manages that horrendous-looking mall has any intention of renovating it so that it may, 13 years late, look like something that belongs in the 21st century. Even their website (I think?) looks like something that was created using Basic and would look great on your Netscape Navigator. It’s gloriously awkward.
BUT for all my criticism for how bad the mall LOOKS like (people from Hong Kong should come and view it as a tourist attraction to reminisce how buildings used to look over there 30 years ago), there’s tons of interesting places to go shop in and awesome places to eat at. This article is about one such restaurant: Ilpunji Restaurant. Otherwise known as Sushi House. Otherwise known as Sushi House Ichiban. Otherwise known as ah fuck it I give up.
The restaurant is decked to the nine’s with all the cheap faux-wood and fake Japanese-style interior decor that apparently was all the rage 20-30 years ago (in keeping with the mall’s overall feel – I see what they did there). But the service is always pleasant and the food selection is pretty good. It has your usual assortment of Japanese dishes and random Korean food thrown in, which is pretty normal (sushi places in the Toronto area are usually run by Koreans) until you realize all the wait staff speak Mandarin. Huh. So we have an odd-named restaurant in an odd plaza, with food that makes no sense if you consider the people who run the restaurant. But here’s the kicker: THEY GOT AWESOME LUNCH SPECIALS.
And that’s the main thing I want to tell you guys today. Cheap sushi is rarely good. But this place has pretty cheap specials that provide you with large portions food that are fresh and delicious, which is really all I can ask for. Still don’t believe me? Check out the picture below:
Yes, kids. You can actually get 12 pieces of sushi rolls/makis for just $6.95, including salad and soup. And the best part is that it is also available on weekends! For the best value, it’s hard to beat the Tempura Roll ($5.95 each normal price), which I ordered the previous time I came here and in itself is pretty delicious, but this time we decided to go for the Spicy Tuna and Spicy Salmon Rolls. I gotta tell you, they were pretty awesome. There are tempura bits inside the rolls, which provided a great texture contrast from the smooth fish pieces that they put in there. Also, they’re pretty generous with the ingredients, not falling prey to many cheap sushi restaurants’ annoying trick of giving you moundfuls of rice on the rolls while minimizing the actual fish. Protip: Order it with a side of spicy mayo. It may not be “authentic” Japanese-style eating, but damn it’s delicious. And as you know, authenticity means little to me, as long as the food is good.
Another highlight that you should try is the tempura lunch bento box. You basically get two shrimp, four (!!) yam, one broccoli, and one onion tempura along with a smorgasbord of other dishes like 4 small California Rolls, fried tofu in sweet teriyaki sauce, and salad and soup. All for $7.95. And it was all delicious. Nothing crazily fancy, but the batter was crisp and not too oily, the tempura sauce was warm and sweet (just the way I like it!), and the salad provided a nice dash of lightness in what is otherwise a heavy meal. Did I mention that the meal comes in a long bento box that can be separated by taking the top part off? It’s like Transformers: Bentos in Disguise. Awesome.
Quick note: the restaurant also likes to give you a nice bowl of sesame glass noodles before the meal, and this is probably one of my all-time favourite Asian appetizers. It’s light enough not to fill you up before your gorge-fest, but filling enough to make you feel that yep, you did have some proper food. The noodles were a bit oily, admittedly, but as this was sesame oil I think I can forgive them as it is one of the favourite type of oil around due to its intoxicating fragrance.
The only weak point about the food is that the rice used in the rolls (and presumably the sushi themselves) are not of the highest quality. They kinda crumble and don’t adhere very well to the nori. Again, I suppose that some cutbacks need to be made with prices this low, and I’m glad that they didn’t sacrifice the taste or quality of the main dishes themselves. For $20, you can have a gargantuan weekend lunch that is both delicious and filling, all in a kitschy 1980’s Japanese restaurant setting. You really can’t beat that.
Oh, and the naming confusion. It calls itself Ilpunji, but also goes by Sushi House on the large nameplates on the plaza sign, all while using the Ichiban logo that is rather prevalent across Toronto. Speaking of which, what’s up with the Ichiban name anyway? Is it/was it a franchise or chain of sorts? Why do so many seemingly unrelated restaurants have this name and logo? I know at least of two more: one in Richlane Mall in Richmond Hill and one inside Empress Walk in North York. In any case, make sure you come try out this place, it’s really quite amazing, proving once again that you should never, ever judge a book by its covers.
–Final verdict: Mari Makan!
Ilpunji/Sushi House/I give up
8360 Kennedy Road
Markham, ON L3R 9W4