Torching the saba
Torching the saba

I had been meaning to check out Japas Japanese Tapas and Oyster Bar in Bloor Street’s Koreatown for a year but only made it there a couple of weeks ago. It was my son’s idea. He had seen that they offer oysters at a buck a shuck on Monday and Tuesday evenings and the economics of greed proved irresistible. And not just to us. Other tables were filled with Asian students and at one point a tattooed biker in spandex shorts and a muscle vest stalked in to a table and ordered a dozen oysters “in a big hurry.” He ate them all within a minute and then got back on his bike.

Japas is a cool place with an unassumingly casual décor – linoleum floor, walls painted black or lined with hipster barn boards. Dark brown banquettes and blonde wooden tables don’t really gel visually, but hey ho… A lot of the food is much better than the ambience might lead you to suspect. The name Japas is an elision of “Japanese Tapas” which explains the menu structure. We ended up ordering a bunch of dishes and were delighted with the quality and value.

Aburi Saba Sushi brings a token moment of tableside drama as the waitress comes out with a blow torch and plays the flame over the raw slabs of mackerel perched on their pressed sushi rice balls. It doesn’t cook the fish – just scorches the surface – but makes for an interesting mouthful with most of the mackerel cold but the top warm.

Fish tacos (inevitably) were fine – whitefish tempura with Japanese salsa wrapped in soft corn tortillas. Mussels Sakamushi seemed much more interesting. The steamed mussels came drowning in a rich, thin sake broth, sweetened with butter and shaved green onion. We couldn’t resist spooning up the broth as if it were soup and soaking up the dregs with toasted baguette.

shrimp tempura with green tobiko alongside beef tataki
shrimp tempura with green tobiko alongside beef tataki

Silky slices of beef tataki, very tender and barely seared, were draped over a tangy salad of red and green leaves garnished with arugula and fried garlic chips. The lobster roll was disappointing, a maki roll made with gummy rice and oily seafood. Wild jumbo shrimp tempura, on the other hand, drew cheers and the order had to be repeated – exceptionally well-timed, juicy shrimp in crisp tempura topped with green tobiko roe and green tea salt for dipping.

What else did we explore? The kushiyaki set of skewered and grilled meats and shrimp – of the several options, crunchy little enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon was the clear winner. And then there was Ika Sugatayaki, a whole squid sliced very thinly and reassembled, its legs more crispy than its tender sheath, the whole creature moistened with a runny ginger-soy sauce.

Oh and those buck-a-shuck oysters! Big, plump Malpeques, admirably handled with a dashi mignonette. Terrific value.

Japas is at 692 Bloor Street West, (647) 748-8847.

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