The food: Japanese fried chicken
Nami, on Adelaide Street East (near Church) in Toronto, is my favorite Japanese restaurant. The atmosphere is at once darker (cave-like, even) and more formal than I’d like (waitresses in kimonos, ahem) and the prices higher, but the food is of superior quality, and E and I always leave the place happy, at lunch or dinner, with a bill of $40 before tip (including a beer) when we bypass the entrees and order 4 or 5 small plates to share.
I adore the version of rainbow roll sushi that Nami calls a “sushi spring roll,” (above) E likes the agedashi tofu best (below)
and we both find satisfyingly delectable complements to those two dishes in the grilled zucchini with sesame sauce from the robata bar, and a plate of juicy deep-fried morsels of boneless chicken called torikaraage, the best version of the dish I’ve ever tasted, and crazily low-priced at $8.
We thought of Nami’s torikaraage when New York magazine named the fried chicken at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar and Grill the best fried chicken in New York in 2008, and decided we had to try it on our next trip to the city, to compare.
Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar and Grill has a more trendy and modern décor than Nami, and a more casual vibe on the surface (the waiters wore T-shirts and jeans) but the interior room in which we were seated was also cave-like and dark. We tried not to be intimidated by the loud party of six nearby popping a bottle of champagne, and ordered only three dishes to share for an early pre-show dinner: the vaunted Fried Chicken, Blue Ribbon Style – a half chicken cut in pieces, bone-in, for $24.50; an ebi tempura sushi roll, and an off-the-menu order of agedashi tofu. To their credit, the wait staff did not pressure us to order more, nor did they sigh about our drink order of one beer, or our total bill of $65.
So how was the Blue Ribbon fried chicken? Altogether different from Nami’s torikaraage, and very good—with a tasty crisp crust, juicy meat inside, and a killer sweet and spicy wasabi honey dipping sauce. We’d go back for it, not regularly, but once or twice a year. With different accompaniments though: what we had was nothing special.
The faceoff results: for taste alone, the Fried Chicken, Blue Ribbon Style wins. But as part of a superior meal with other excellent places, and for a lower price, Nami’s torikaraage rules.