Aji Taro used to be one of my favourite restaurants. My friends, family and I have experienced countless birthdays there, a lot of laughs, even more drunken debauchery than any of us can remember, and we closed the place down 90% of the time. I started going there about 12 years ago when I used to work for Canadian Airlines Cargo. It was the graveyard shift that brought me there, one of the few places that still took orders at about 1 in the morning. Open till two, we would somehow find the time to drive into town for a couple of california rolls (or in my case, a variety of my favourite nigiri sushi). The head sushi chef there was a really nice Japanese oji-san. Whenever I sat at the bar, I didn't have to order. He knew my order, or he would make me something he knew I'd like. I'd sit down and start to look at the menu and with a wave of his hand in front of his face, he would mumble a few words in Japanese and start making stuff for me. This was something I never experienced before and only heard about such practices years later, long after he left Aji Taro.
It was under different management then, before the onset of all-you-can-eat-fever that took over many Japanese restaurants. The owner of Aji Taro was the same as Thai House and Samba's. Back then, there were still standards. It's really quite sad to see what Aji Taro has devolved to, just another slop-house with an all-you-can-eat-menu and extremely low standards. I saw this coming, when Aji Taro was sold and the new owners decided on adding the all-you-can-eat menu. It was overwhelming at first because during this transition, the chefs tried to maintain the same level of quality, and you could say that it swelled in popularity. It was almost impossible to to get a seat there, especially after 10pm (when the late night menu started). It was always packed,
Over the years, Aji Taro underwent a few more changes in ownership, the original staff moved on to other restaurants and the Aji Taro was a mere shadow of it's former self. My long time friend and manager was probably one of the last remaining staff and even she decided to call it quits last year. She was a bright, happy girl when she started off as a waitress over ten years ago, always smiling and always cheerful, but like in many poorly managed companies, she was slowly demoralized. The only time she could muster a smile was when she saw a familiar face. Overworked and underpaid, she left Aji Taro along with my only excuse to go there.
Out of sheer curiosity, and a little boredom, I dropped by Aji Taro earlier this year and was truly, truly disappointed. It was around 10pm (the start of late-night), there was no line-up, and the restaurant was maybe at 50% capacity. I didn't recognize a single face amongst the staff. Anyway, the pictures here will speak for themselves, but I guess it couldn't hurt to add a few comments.
The ebi sunomono used to be pretty decent - the noodles held together, weren't too chewy, weren't too brittle, the (soup?) was tasty - not overwhelmingly sour or sweet like some other places. The taste this time still was overall the same, except where the hell was the ebi? Seriously? Just one miniscule ebi that was no bigger than a dime? That was pretty bad, even for all-you-can-eat standards.
The shime saba wasn't that bad, but as you see in the picture, that's how it was served...off to the side, and tossed in front of us. Not pictured here was the black cod, which used to be another really good dish. Oh, I wish I had a picture of that because it wasn't excatly grilled. With the amount of oil that it was swimming in, I would hazard a guess that it was either deep-fried or just cooked in way too much oil, soaking in a pile of other servings.
Okay, here's one of the main reasons I'm even bothering to write anything about Aji Taro. When you order something at all-you-can-eat places now, one order is ONE PIECE???? When we got our order sheet, we had no idea that one order meant one peice. So, not wanting to go overboard on the first round, we chose just that, one order of a lot of things. One piece.....that's what we got per dish - one piece.
One piece of gyoza.
One piece of shishamo.
One piece of agedashi tofu.
I started seeing the kaki motoyaki start coming in the egg tart trays a few years ago at Tomokazu and thought to myself what an all-new low. I thought that this is why people have such low expectations of Tomokazu unlike Aji Taro - at least they still serve their oysters baked on the half-shell. Well, here it is folks, Aji Taro has joined the other lemmings - the oysters were diced bits of larger whole oysters, (probably of the frozen variety), swimming in some cheap rendition of Japanese mayonaise, and served in the lovely tin tray you see above. If you're going this far with a dish, you may as well throw all the food into a trough and take away the utensils too.
The salmon and tuna nigiri sushi is the mainstay of most all-you-can-eat Japanese food, if these items aren't on your menu, forget it. But as these two items are one of the most poular (along with California rolls), they are mass-produced. Not visible in this picture is a demonstration of the sheer laziness of the chef. I'm sorry, I shouldn't say that. It's not necessarily the chef's fault because they do need to cope with the unusally high-demand of these particular items. A lot of factors are to blame here - the management/owners who have lowered themselves and their standards to produce such food, the populace who are inherently too cheap to eat quality food, and the chefs themselves for delivering such fodder. Anyway, back to the salmon and tuna nigiri - these items were mass produced and sitting en masse in a tray, and kept moist only by a filthy, minging looking blue cloth that most other restaurants use to scrub their filthiest pots. Needless to say that when I noticed this, it was too late and I already ate several pieces. *blurgh*
The standard issue California rolls and dynamite rolls. We got a lot of end-pieces, or at least what looked like end-pieces.
I had a lot of fond memories of the old Aji Taro, and it really pains me to write about what it has become. It is always my dream that the original owner will buy it back and return it to it's original glory, but years of bad management and a few food inspections due to rats have degraded my once-favourite eatery to something that makes me cringe everytime I drive by. It's hard to describe the feeling, but I guess the closest analogy would be an old flame of yours who you once cherished and is now on East Hastings selling themselves for crack.