It’s funny – I’m originally from Maine, but for most of my life, I HATED seafood. If you brought fish, lobster, or shellfish anywhere near me, the smell would make me gag. I know – what a waste to be surrounded by such excellent seafood and not eat any of it! Fast forward to today and the word “sushi” will perk up my ears from a mile away! Well, not a mile; not unless you were yelling through a megaphone. Really, it would perk up my ears if you were within earshot.
So far, I’ve been lucky enough to try sushi in Maine, Vancouver, Toronto, Hamilton, and even the Tsukiji fish market at 5 AM in Tokyo! This week we’ll be reviewing one of Hamilton’s All You Can Eat (AYCE) sushi restaurants, Kushi Yaki on King St. East.
I should note that Kushi Yaki was previously called Sushi Star, and seems to have been re-branded. I say re-branded rather than “a new restaurant” because despite the Kushi Yaki sign in the picture above, the windows and order slips still say “Sushi Star.”
Ambiance & Decor
The inside of Kushi Yaki has a bit of a simple, modern decoration to it. A lot of square edges, some greenery, and a neat panelling+lighting design on the outside wall (see the picture). It’s a very clean look, though perhaps a little boring. Lighting was a little dim, and not very “warm” – mostly dim white lights. It would be nice to see some color added to the restaurant to make it feel a bit more inviting.
Food & Drink
We’ll start with drinks, sort of. I can’t really comment on their drink selection based on our visit; I can only comment on the online menu. We were not given a drink menu, and when we asked about drinks/prices, the server responded with a blank stare and eventually said “I don’t know…. name something and we might have it.” More about this under the service section, but unfortunately it means we didn’t end up getting anything to drink. Having looked at the online drink menu, there is actually a pretty decent selection at reasonable prices, including Tsing Tao, Kirin, Sapporo, Asahi, Heineken, and others all around $5 (except for the Sapporo, which is a large can for $9). They also have a selection of other drinks including wine, cocktails, sake, and plum wine.
Before I talk about food, I’ll mention a little pet peeve of mine. If you visit the Kushi Yaki website, you’ll see a little slide show of images. Among those images are whole fish that are being fried, large red tuna steaks being cut, a dish containing what appears to be soba noodles, and a plate of sushi that contains a number of items not found on the menu (red tuna nigirisushi and what appears to be sea urchin makisushi). As far as I could tell, none of the above items are available on the menu, and I consider this false advertising. Unfortunately it’s fairly common practice among sushi restaurants in North America and it’s very frustrating. Stop doing this! Do not show pictures of an item that I can’t order!
Anyway, on to the food. I have to say, sushi has to be one of the most satisfying foods to photograph – the food is always gorgeous and the colors are vibrant. Unfortunately that bar is set quite high among sushi restaurants, and so Kushi Yaki’s presentation is only a bit above average.
I should note that we tried a few salads, edamame, sashimi, sushi (nigirisushi), a hand roll (temaki), a number of sushi rolls (makisushi, I think?), and dessert. The menu did have a small selection of dim sum and chinese food, but we stuck to the sushi for this review.
I won’t comment on every single dish we ate, as that would turn this review into a novel. However, overall, the quality seemed to be just about average. Nothing was bad, only slightly sub par; the edamame was slightly undercooked, the salmon roses had a little too much mayo (which is more of a personal preference), the beef tataki was a bit thick and tough, and the egg was a bit spongier than I’m used to. These are mostly minor complaints, as the food was still alright. Unfortunately the competition is tough in Hamilton, and these are the things that put other similar AYCE sushi restaurants in the area at a slightly higher rating.
Among the rolls we tried were some standard ones (such as rainbow and dragon rolls) and one specialty roll (which is not on the online menu as it is a new item) that I unfortunately forgot to take the name of. It’s pictured to the left though. I wanted to comment on the specialty roll for a few reasons. First, when there are so many sushi restaurants that are so similar, specialty rolls can help separate which restaurant people tend to go to. This particular roll was beautifully presented and tasted quite good. Unfortunately, it was just a bit overfried (which made the tuna inside a little too tough). As well, the roll was not listed accurately – it did not mention that the sauce it was covered in was spicy (so Nicole couldn’t eat it) and it didn’t even mention it was fried!
Overall, we felt the food was a mix of very slightly below average to very slightly above average for a general feeling of “meh.”
Unfortunately, here is where the complaints start to pile up. We were initially seated but not spoken to for almost 15 minutes. If this was our first time at a sushi place like this, we may not have known what we were meant to do. As well, we would have liked to order drinks during this time. As was mentioned above, when we did get to inquire about drinks, we were given almost no information. The restaurant was also quite chilly, which I realize is a tough issue when it’s -20 C outside and your exterior is mostly windows, but it needs to be addressed.
The initial round of food was served quite quickly, but it seemed like we were quite lucky – there was a man across from us who almost left due to waiting (he was there before us and didn’t receive food until after us) and a couple that was a few seats down that did leave due to never receiving their food. Our second round suffered from this – we were left waiting for about 5-10 minutes between each dish coming out. A number of rolls were left out of both our first and second order; the specialty roll mentioned above had to be ordered three times before we received it! Our drinks were left empty for very long periods of time, and we never even received our tea. Overall, pretty terrible service.
The Final Word
With average food and pretty bad service, it’s hard to recommend Kushi Yaki over the other sushi places in Hamilton. I think you’ll still enjoy most of the food, but you could do better elsewhere. We give Kushi Yaki 3 out of 5 hammers.