The problem I have with so many reviews on services like this and Yelp is that often the negative reviewers have axes to grind based on isolated personal bad experiences with service, portion size, cost, etc. Those are all legitimate reasons to write a bad review, but they don't often get to the root of the problem... just flame the restaurant for the sake of revenge. Hopefully, this one will be different.
We had planned our trip to Vancouver for months and carefully planned our restaurant visits to take in the best Vancouver had to offer. Being sushi aficionados, we knew right away that we wanted Tojo's to be in the mix and that the Omikase menu was the only way to go.
However, things started going wrong as soon as we arrived when we asked to sit at the sushi bar and where told that instead of the $ 150.00+ listed on their website for those seats the price had been raised to $ 200.00 - $ 250.00+. Fair enough... fish prices rise and changes to a website don't always happen in real time so we decided to sit at a table while we figured things out. When we got our menus a piece of tape had been placed over the price of the omikase so we decided that it would be a little rich for our blood and move on.
Someone came to take our drink order soon after we were seated while waiting for them we decided to settle for the nigiri sampler to get started and then finish with an order or two of toro and / or uni which would still take our bill north of $ 400.00. It wasn't very crowded and the drinks arrived in short order, but it seemed to take a long time for our food to arrive (25 min.). This wasn't any problem since we weren't in any particular hurry, but as the evening progressed our waitress became increasingly occupied by the eight-top we were sharing her with and the service went downhill in a hurry. We finished our samplers (which, by the way weren't anything special and nowhere near the quality of fish we saw coming across the sushi bar) and waited to get our waitresses attention to order our next course.
By the time we finally did, we were over it and decided to accept that this wasn't going to be the experience we hoped for. We requested the check from the server and when she asked, we admitted that we were disappointed. She was genuinely sorry that we hadn't been satisfied and tried to make it right with a free desert. (BTW... I hate it when restaurants try to paint over their shortcomings with free deserts... but I digress) It took us a while, but we finally convinced her that we really didn't want a desert and gave us our check.
She offered to have a manager come to the table and speak to us, but one never came so on the way out I took a moment to tell Tojosan how disappointed we were. He seemed confused when I told him about the $ 200.00 - $ 250.00+ price I was quoted for the omikase dinner upon arrival (as was our server when I brought it up with her) and insisted it was indeed $150.00 - $ 175.00. He then apologized and asked us to try again sometime, but of course the chance of us making it back to Vancouver any time soon is pretty slim.
So, who is to blame for our bad experience? Did we come in with too-high expectations? Possibly, but with all the press on their website and menus I don't feel bad about holding them to a higher standard. The waitress? She wasn't very efficient, but she at least tried to make things right. The manager? We're getting warm... he/she was obviously responsible for the staff training and the miscommunication of the omikase pricing to either the staff or to Tojo - we'll never know.) No, in my opinion the responsibility (if not the blame) goes directly to Tojo.
Its unfortunate, but this is a classic case of the master resting on his laurels rather than staying on top of things and loosing site of the fact that what makes a restaurant truly great isn't just the originality of the dishes, but the attention to detail across the entire operation. It was pretty obvious watching him walk around behind the sushi bar, occasionally making a dish between drinking sake toasts with customers, that he's grown tired and is way too comfortable in his role as figurehead. Talking to him and seeing how unaware he was of what was happening in his own dining room showed all too clearly that he's grown too comfortable letting other people run his restaurant.
There's no doubting Tojo's mastery of his art, but after forty years he has abdicated responsibility for taking care of all but his regular customers. I can't blame him... but its sad and I hope that he realizes what's going on and cares enough to turn things around.
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