The transition of Queen Street East (in particular, the Leslieville area) has been remarkable to watch from our window over the last 4 years. Last summer appeared to be the peak of gentrification and, while the pace of change has accelerated, the topic seems to be all but gone from consciousness. The neighborhood is growing into its new skin.
Another new restaurant (the 3rd in a month) opened on Thursday evening. Sushi District is a great analogy on what has happened out here. The location was home to Woodgreen Fish and Chips for more than 30 years before the owners retired in the fall. Woodgreen was a loved staple in the neighborhood with the quality of the food in strong contrast to the quality of crayola colored paint through the restaurant. The irony that 30-years of fish and chips transforms into a sushi lounge is indicative of what has happened out here.
Sushi District is three parts sushi restaurant combined with one part lounge. The decor is minimalist – two chandeliers hang over a bar and the black and white room is accented by a set of LED lights which change the color of the bar and the walls of the restaurant. The mood of the place transitions through subtle changes as you progress through your meal.
A low-cool buzz of chill music filled the air as I took my spot behind a white tabletop. My waiter bounded over with a giant smile and was welcoming as he presenter their opening night menu. He also explained they were waiting for their liquor license (the strike in the city is crippling a lot of new restaurant owners and those who are trying to open patios). Alas, no sake today.
The food looked great -a mix of traditional Japanese fare with a twist of the new (tuna tartar being one example of such a bend). I ordered deep-fried tofu (a secret love of mine), a spicy salmon and a dynamite roll. The rolls were fantastic! What appeared to be fresh crab filled one of the rolls and contrasted with the crunch of tempura shrimp that appeared to be made just for my roll. The rice was light and airy and not the gluey mess of inferior sushi. The spicy salmon showed great care in its preparation. The flesh of the fish had been marinated slightly before being tenderly rolled with small hickory-stick shaped slices of cucumber and decorated with black and white sesame seeds. The seeds almost stole the show! They were plump and popped in the mouth as they were crushed between my teeth. These were not an afterthought and were truly impressive.
Overall, Sushi District delivered on its promise of very good traditional Japense fare with a few modern options. Check out the bar after dark for the best ambiance and enjoy!