The serious sushi skills of chef Jun Kim have likely escaped your notice. Remedy that immediately with a trip to Sushi Nomi.
When you step into Sushi Nomi, an easy-to-miss Roncesvalles takeout joint, ignore the packaged stuff that everyone else is grabbing. Take one of the eight seats at the narrow counter and tell owner Jun Kim you’re staying to eat. And not the dynamite or California rolls—you’re having the nigiri that this second-generation sushi chef spent a decade learning to make. Check out the specials to see where the fish are coming from, and when the sushi arrives, avoid the temptation to drown it in the tasty soy sauce that Kim ages himself in the basement. Then sit back and enjoy your $20 dinner.
Although Kim honed his sushi skills at top Toronto spots Ki and Japango before taking over (and renaming) the beloved neighbourhood haunt Sushi 67 last year, he remains relatively unknown. Most of the activity on Roncey can be found north of his shop. Here, it’s just Kim in the kitchen, trying to find the middle ground between what most customers want (spicy salmon rolls) with what he wants you to want (horse mackerel marinated in Korean sea salt; buttery sea bream on warm sushi rice).
“If I want to do my thing my own way, I’d never survive in the industry in Toronto,” the 29-year-old says. The takeout business pays the rent, but the sit-down sushi is what he really interests him. “Most people are used to the rolls, so I need to stay in-between to survive and show people what sushi is about. It’s a balance.”
For every $3 cucumber roll he makes, Kim ensures there are finer touches elsewhere, like his soy sauce. “The soy sauce shows the character of a sushi restaurant,” he explains. “I don’t want to just give you a packet from a factory.” Instead, he takes low-sodium soy sauce, adds dried bonito flakes and Korean seaweed, then ages it for two weeks to add a faintly salty sea flavour.
Coming from a sushi-making family, he wouldn’t have it any other way. “My father and his brother were sushi chefs in Korea—my father was actually one of the first sushi chefs to be taught by the Japanese many years ago,” Kim says. “He said if you wanted to be a sushi chef, you have to know the freshness of the fish. But in Toronto, it’s hard to get live fish.” In order to train a little closer to the source, Kim took an apprenticeship at his uncle’s restaurant in Korea.
There, the then-18-year-old started chopping vegetables to improve his knife-handling skills—he wasn’t allowed anywhere near the sushi rice. Instead, during off hours, his cousin would give him a bowl of rice, telling him to get used to the feel and consistency of it in his hands. Recalling this more than 10 years later at Sushi Nomi, Kim sticks out two fingers to scoop an imaginary clump of rice, delicately molding it in his hands, making sure that there’s a tiny air pocket so the rice stays soft. Kim notes that in Canada, he uses a three-fingered scoop (evidently, we like more rice).
The best way to sample Kim’s skills is with the Sushi Saiko set ($20): nine pieces of what Kim considers the best fish that day (yellowfin tuna, red sea bream, and amberjack, on one night), plus a six-piece spicy tuna roll (yes, he’ll make a roll). “When you’re eating nigiri sushi, the fish and the rice have to melt into your mouth at the same time. That’s the perfect sushi.” And his sushi does: The warm rice is tinged with just enough acidity to cut through the fatty, creamy fish, merging the two in a single bite.
“I’ve had customers ask for gyoza, teriyaki, and noodles, but really, sushi itself is a lot of work and not something you can just cut up,” Kim says. “It’s what I love about Japanese food. The chefs want to master one thing only.”
67 Roncesvalles Ave., 647-748-7288.