This is the first in a series of short restaurant reviews for some of my favourite (and least favourite?) restaurants. Generally they’ll be around the Toronto area, but expect some eats in Japan, San Francisco and elsewhere, from street food to fine dining!
I was skeptical when we were invited to Gal’s Sushi. The sushi boom in North America has put a sushi place in every small town and two on every street corner. We literally have two downstairs of our building and a dozen within short walking distance. Toronto sushi is generally the same as most North American sushi (a focus on maki over nigiri as well as a focus on complexity instead of minimalism) with worse quality fish than west coasters like Vancouver or San Francisco get. There are fewer than half a dozen places in the Toronto area that actually fly in fish and they’re all expectably pricey. The rest, like Gal’s Sushi, all source frozen fish.
Gal’s Sushi is in a strip mall plaza under a condo building in Markham, right on Highway 7. We arrived at 7:45 and the place was absolutely packed with a dozen people waiting out the door. Since we were starving I was worried we wouldn’t get a table, but amazingly we were seated within 10 minutes. Tables moved fast. As I said earlier I’m typically skeptical of retail plaza sushi, its generally mediocre and prices vary more based on area than quality. Gal’s is Korean run and there are some subtle Korean touches in the restaurant. The chopsticks are the typical solid metal round variety, tables feature a ‘call’ button to summon the waitresses and you are greeted at your table with some typical Korean side dishes including glass noodles and sweet/sour potatoes. Both were delicious.
The appetizer menu had an extreme amount of variety, so our party of 4 went with some less common choices. We had takoyaki (becoming more common lately it seems), deep fried soft shell crab and galbi (Korean short ribs). The galbi was excellent, tender and nicely charred. The soft shell crab was very good (crispy and meaty) and featured a nice sour soy dipping sauce. Takoyaki was fairly average (it probably came from frozen), but I’m such a fan that it was good enough to quench my craving. The tea served was a mild genmaicha. Either a fairly light brew or a second wash, but it tasted good and complemented the sushi excellently.
We ended up ordering a bunch of fancy maki a la carte along with a platter of mostly nigiri and sashimi. Eva tends to prefer maki and the the rest of us are sorta indifferent, so we ended up with a nice assortment. Spicy tuna was excellent, as was the spicy scallop and spicy salmon. The dynamite (tenpura shrimp and avocado) was good, and as with the spicy tuna rolls none of them were over mayonnaised. I find most North American sushi places tend to abuse mayonnaise and worse, they often use western instead of Japanese ‘mayonnaise’. The flavours just aren’t compatible. The salmon skin maki was truly a delight. It’s generally one of my favourites, but is often the biggest disappointment at other restaurants. The skin was crispy and delicious, no chew texture or fishy taste at all. None of that stuff was particularly authentic, but it wasn’t supposed to be. All delicious.
Onto the nigiri, this was Gal’s big win. Nigiri and sashimi always reveal inferior fish and inferior knife skills. Gal’s salmon was their real stand out. The fish was fresh, no fishy taste at all, extremely buttery texture. It was also cut excellently, with no tough or rough areas. Thankfully our platter had four salmon nigiri and some really healthy chunks of sashimi. Tuna was fairly standard, but again an excellent source and cut. The white fish was surprisingly good, it’s often one of the worse common fishes in the North American sushi assortment.
Overall we were exceedingly impressed with the quality and quantity of food we got. Dinner for four with no drinks was $100 before tip. Absolutely incredible for the quality, Gal’s is definitely one of those little neighbourhood gems. The place came highly recommended and draws a major crowd well deservedly. As we only just went last night I can’t comment on the long-term consistency, but I’m told it has always been this good. They also have a small Korean menu towards the back of the menu, I definitely have to try that next time. We’re looking forward to going back!