Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Trendy TORO

I consider sushi to be highly addictive in general, but every once in a while, a sushi bar will come along and prove to be so habit-forming that you actually think about going back twice in the same day—even if it’s 20 miles away. That’s when you know they’ve got you.

Toro Sushi of Ontario is such a restaurant. I had spotted the place off the 10 East freeway several times before I finally got the chance to eat there. Each time I saw it, I made a mental note: Must eat at Toro. But it was never the right time, I was either on my way somewhere else or had other plans. But it beckoned me; experience and instinct told me that based on their name, logo and architectural style, it was one of those modern sushi joints that catered to sophisticated, contemporary taste buds.

My instincts proved to be right.

Their signature rolls, for one, come with daring sauces such as sweet and spicy vinaigrette, garlic-onion vinaigrette, or wasabi-cream sauce. The toppings range from crispy red onion and garlic chips to bacon, an unprecedented but not unacceptable sushi roll ingredient in my opinion. Each roll varies in price—ranging from $8.50 to $15, the pricier ones certainly bearing more ingredients.

I chose the Paka-Lo-Roll for its blackened salmon, crispy red onion, and sweet & spicy vinaigrette, although the rest of it—spicy tuna, tuna tataki, crab and veggies—didn’t sound bad either. The $14 roll turned out to be quite a whopper—an enormous rice-and-fish monstrosity sliced into about ten pieces, topped with minced crab stick squiggles battered and deep-fried, which replaced the crispy red onion promised in the description.

Not to be shorted, I asked for a side of the crispy red onion, and discovered the hairy-looking fried crab was actually better than their original intention. I have seen minced crab stick sitting atop a sushi roll, but never minced and fried crab stick. The genius behind this is that every single strand gets coated with crunchy tempura batter—far more effective than if they had just fried an intact crab stick, which would leave the center still gooey and soft. In my opinion, this roll was ultimately enhanced by the sauce, blackened salmon and fried crab, for it would otherwise have been rather plain, with its basic center of spicy tuna, flaky imitation snow crab and cucumber.

The single roll filled me up, but I decided I would have to go back and eat more to satisfy my curiosity and to make this restaurant more blogworthy. And so a second visit was in order, and this time I ordered the Pink Lady roll (shrimp, spicy crab, masago, avocado, veggies rolled in pink soy paper and served with ponzu), and the funky-sounding P-Whip hand roll (shrimp tempura, spicy crab, avocado & veggies wrapped in soy paper, finished with dynamite sauce). The Pink Lady was tangy and refreshing, but the P-Whip was what I craved again later.

Toro Sushi’s version of dynamite sauce didn’t look like much—a hazy light-orange liquid stored in a huge hot sauce bottle, appearing watered-down and generic—but when mixed with the minced crab stick to form the spicy crab, then combined with the shrimp tempura and soy paper, it was something beyond ordinary.

I nearly ordered a dessert known as The Happy Ending (something about tempura and ice cream served with a milky “Happy Ending sauce”), but then I was told by the waitress that I really, really should try their Pepper Salmon sushi, served with ponzu and wasabi-cream sauce, which is one of the dishes for which the restaurant is famous. I rationalized that sushi is as good a dessert as any Happy Ending, and settled with glee on the salmon. Fearing the wasabi-cream sauce would overpower the taste of the fish, I asked for it on the side. But as it turns out, Toro’s version of this sauce is also stellar, as it is mild and creamy and not overly horseradishy. It brought out the taste of the pepper-infused salmon, which was also excellent.

Toro Sushi, I learned, is not new to the Inland Empire. It relocated from Chino a few years ago, where it had been open for business since 2000. The new building is far more spacious than their old one, and this move certainly exposed the restaurant to new clientele while it continued to cater to their devout followers. But taking over a better location is not the only way Toro Sushi promotes itself. Every week, the restaurant comes alive with “Fuego Fridays,” a party that turns the restaurant into a bit of a nightclub, complete with dance floor, drink specials, and deejays playing various types of music which include salsa and Spanish rock.

Toro Sushi
1520 N. Mountain Ave., Ontario
(909) 983-8676

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