Neither fast nor casual, special meals from Labora & Sushi Masaki Saito offer a discerning palate for those looking to celebrate special occasions while still practicing social distancing.
Story & Photography | Renée S. Suen
Influenced by the years he spent in Majorca surrounded by Spain’s markets, his stage at Albert Adrià’s modern tapas bar, Tickets, and Bodega 1900 in Barcelona, chef-owner Rob Bragagnolo has been serving the city bold and vibrant Iberian flavours since opening Labora over two years ago.
Dairy- and gluten-free by nature, Bragagnolo has created six different varieties made with Spanish bomba rice, Spanish smoked paprika, and saffron. Their most popular option being the grilled octopus and red prawn featuring premium Mediterranean octopus (that’s also used by Tickets), toothsome Argentinian red prawns and tender calamari topped with salsa verde, grilled artichoke and dollops of lemon-saffron aioli.
Slightly spicy Paella Brava and its combination of chorizo, roasted chicken and dollops of creamy braised pork shoulder is perfect to pair with any of the restaurant’s consignment-only Spanish wines (the updated list can always be found on Labora’s website) and vermouths (both available for pick-up at a discount). There’s also a vegetarian-friendly truffle paella studded with sautéed mushrooms, Spanish black truffle preserved in Spanish brandy and olive oil, porcini mushroom puree and baby peas. Meanwhile, the wagyu beef paella tops a rich and robust paella base of wild mushroom and fire-roasted piquillo peppers with braised-then-grilled short-rib.
Whether it’s paella for two or 10, the King Street restaurant offers these well-loved dishes through contactless pick-up, delivery or via Labora’s private service for large and customized orders. Supplement your order with a seasonal salad, side dish like grilled broccolini with romesco sauce or a sandwich to complete the meal. But don’t forget to order the Basque cheesecake, this creamy slice with a blistered top that’s not at all share-worthy. Order one for yourself, and then another half-dozen to enjoy out in the open or in the privacy of your own home.
Take a trip to the Mediterranean via take-away from Labora.
Choose from six varieties of paella that are cooked separately for each order.
The Basque cheesecake at Labora is lush, creamy and delightful, plus sports the same blistered top.
433 King Street W., 416-260-9993, https://www.labora.to/
Sushi Masaki Saito
For that extra special celebration, look no further than the prestigious hand-crafted dons (rice bowls) and bentos made exclusively by Michelin-star sushi chef, Masaki Saito, from this Yorkville shrine. Formerly of New York’s two Michelin-starred Sushi Ginza Onodera, Saito is celebrated for his refined skill and mastery in crafting a “new” version of perfectly seasoned Edomae-style sushi rooted in the traditional methods of aging which requires no refrigeration. Here, premium fish imported straight from Japan is marinated, simmered or cured in order to increase tenderness and umami creating a taste perfectly paired with akasu (sweet and fragrant red sake vinegar) seasoned Koshihikari, aka the King of Rice from the Niigata Prefecture.
Pre-COVID-19, securing one of the seven seats along Saito’s hinoki wood sushi bar was a challenging score, as was the hefty price point of its two omakase menus. During these unique times the renowned chef is offering a slightly more affordable delivery option that upholds the quality expected from a restaurant of this calibre while still maintaining safety. (For a nominal fee, guests can choose to have their meal dropped off at their front door or hand-delivered by a dedicated delivery person who is fully equipped with mask and gloves.) Each dinner-only package is bound with a red string and wrapped in furoshiki from Japan (a nod to the traditional way to transport gifts or goods) also accompanied by a handwritten note from Saito that includes an explanation on how to best enjoy the meal.
As every item in each to-go box is meticulously prepared by the chef himself, only 10 portions of each menu item are available per night which must be pre-ordered by phone at least a day in advance. Just like the exquisite dining experience in the Avenue Road dining room, items like the tekka-don or the upgraded version that’s topped with glorious pieces of toro uses blue fin tuna from Shiogama are intricately created and well-balanced in flavour. The jewel-like Edomae bara-chirashi don is packed in a traditional Japanese cedar and cypress box and glitters with edible gold. Filled to the brim with custardy lobes of uni, bouncy ebi, sweet snow crab, mackerel, tuna, marinated octopus, plus tender and sweet black beans, crisp snow pea and bamboo further complimented by soft pops from mildly-briny ikura, blanketing a loose and flavourful shari studded with shitake.
The pride and joy is the Edomae Morikomi, chef’s omakase that features seasonally-driven, time-consuming preparations in a bamboo leaf separated tray. The assortment of signature items range from the uber-creamy and delightful monkfish liver which is slow cooked in red wine for three-days, fish that’s grilled over binchotan, smoked with Japanese hay to fish that’s marinated with kelp and dashi broth (tile fish in my experience). As well as silky slow-cooked octopus, egg yolk and vinegar marinated fresh crab meat, incredible baby shrimp capped with uni, and yuzu rind-kissed wild yellowtail that transports a diner away from reality and to a tranquil room in Japan. However, a standing ovation must be given to chef’s homemade pickles in a cacophony of flavours and crunch (don’t miss the sweet and tart ginger or the explosion of juice from the peeled grape tomato), plus the meaty bonito flake-dusted bamboo shoots.
Each dinner-only package from Sushi Masaki Saito is bound with a red string, wrapped in furoshiki from Japan (a nod to the traditional way to transport gifts or goods) and accompanied by a handwritten note from Saito that includes an explanation on how to best enjoy the meal.
The seasonality-dependant Edomae Morikomi (chef’s selection) features premium seafood that includes Saito’s signature monkfish liver (incredible and unagi like in delightfulness), baby shrimp, wild yellowtail, slow cooked octopus, burdock, tomato, and pickled radish.
Edomae Bara-Chirashi Don features a mix of seafood and vegetables that have been prepared in Edomae-style over a flavourful bed of sushi rice. The ingredients have already been seasoned to taste by the chef himself in a harmonious balance that doesn’t require additional soy sauce.
Sushi Masaki Saito
88 Avenue Rd., 416-924-0888