J-Town: a Japanese wonderland for foodies
Travel to Tokyo via Markham, satisfying all your food cravings at once
In contrast to the kinetic bustle of Spadina’s Chinatown and the invigorating scents and colours of Little India on Gerrard, Toronto’s JTown mall feels restrained, calm and suburban. The clutch of squat, brick buildings face a peaceful central pathway that is sheltered from the weather and connected to the suburban-size parking lot.
Although there is shopping (household items and golf equipment dominate), the plaza’s true focus is Japanese cuisine. The food tends to the classics (rather than flashing with trends), probably to satisfy the steady stream of devoted repeat customers.
CAFE GREEN TEA
J-Town’s north building is divided into separate restaurants and retailers that are joined by indoor connections. Heisei Mart, in the middle, is the main attraction for adventurous cooks due to its wide array of Japanese groceries. Items range from several types of miso and noodle varieties to a rainbow of sweet and savoury snacks. Famu, the connected butcher delivers on top-quality meat.
Cafe Green Tea is the attached café with bare-bones decor and a menu of homestyle classics. The pork katsu curry ($8.98) is a house specialty. Breaded pork cutlets are served with rice and Japanese curry sauce — sweeter and milder than its Indian or Thai cousins. Despite the ubiquity of sushi and ramen in
shop, T.O., it’s difficult to find a better pork curry.
J-TOWN BY THE SEA
This seafood-focused canteen comes with a boatload of understated simplicity. Although the fish-based curries and tempura are delicious, their don (rice bowls) are an even better bet. The Hokkaido don ($12.80) comes covered in generous servings of sea urchin, salmon roe, grilled egg and large slabs of fatty salmon, making for an eyecatching dish.
With some imagination, you can spot a slight resemblance between JTown’s cluster of buildings and the izakaya alley in Tokyo’s Shinjuku District. Inside Izakaya Ju there is a similar lunchtime atmosphere (bustling and friendly) to the Japanese original. Similarly, the menu really shines when it comes to yakitori classics of various grilled chicken parts — from chicken legs with leeks to chicken hearts for the more adventurous ($2.50 ea).
As a concept, “izakayas” roughly translate as Japanese for “pubs,” so it makes sense that Ju has a good variety of sakes (like the popular Okunomatsu) and three brands of Japanese beer.
SHISO TREE CAFE
The heart of the menu at Shiso Tree fits into the “wafu” style: the bones of western dishes, particularly Italian pastas, clothed in Japanese ingredients. Unagi don is an interesting combination of noodles in a shimeji mushroom sauce (made creamy with white miso) and the eponymous barbecued eel ($17). The okonomiyaki fries get an umami hit from bonito flakes and a house-made BBQ sauce ($8) while poutine turns Japanese with dashi gravy and seaweed ($9).
This sweet shop was in business well before Uncle Tetsu came to town. Here, the soufflé cheesecake is nimble without being feather light ($4.75). The black sesame tofu cheesecake is striking: the greyblack top layer packs a heavy dose of sesame flavour that contrasts nicely with the lighter base layer ($4.80).
After you’ve finished your crawl, Ten23 is a conveniently located last stop for karaoke. After all, boozy concoctions-by-the-pitcher work best on a full stomach.
J-Town, 3160 Steeles Ave. E., Markham
L-R: J-Town By The Sea’s Hokkaido don, Nakamura’s cheesecake