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Frederick Kalil reviews

Devotees of longtime Arlington restaurant Toraya will doubtless be familiar with the trajectory of its peremptory closing and postpandemic reopening. For those who have yet to discover the place, I can attempt to convey why it has gained a reputation as one of Arlington’s favored dining spots, if no longer a well-kept secret.

Since 1999, the restaurant was in a tiny spot across the street from Arlington High School, where it was a favorite of local cognoscenti. It reopened Dec. 31, 2021, in a new space, a year and a half after its lease was terminated. As before, the kitchen is occupied solely by Shinji Muraki. The food is as devotedly crafted as it’s always been.

Space suggests a bento box

The square interior, painted deep blue, is sunlit during the day and intimate at night, its airiness and minimalist feel making me think of a bento box. Restricted to walk-in service with only seven tables, diners must plan accordingly. Astonishingly, with a considerable menu and one lone chef, the system works efficiently enough for the food to arrive without noticeable time elapsing.

When fresh sushi is artfully prepared and beautifully presented, it can be a source of marvel. On a recent afternoon visit, a lunch set was introduced by an elegant miso soup with wakame, tiny tofu cubes and bits of green onion presented in a slender wooden bowl. My donburi came generously endowed with a vibrant raw assortment atop rice: saba (mackerel), sea clam, tuna, salmon (including salmon belly), yellowtail, squid spiral-wrapped with nori, fluke on a shiso leaf and tamago (omelet made with dashi and mirin, lightly seasoned with soy).

Were it not perfectly cooked and seasoned, the rice would be unworthy to combine with the texture and flavors of the fish. Here it is exquisitely tended to, evidence of an unerring understanding of each ingredient’s nature. That knowledge is transferred to us, awakening our appreciation for the palette of foods and the combinations of their essential flavors. It also encourages attention to the finer details of the care lavished by the kitchen upon even the simplest menu items.

My second time in the door, a dinner menu sampling included a substantial plate of sautéed mixed mushrooms over greens, subtly tangy, savory and complex. Broiled salmon and tofu wrapped in bamboo leaf with miso sauce arrived as an arresting sculptural composition graced with a half-moon of lotus root and a bright gash of red pepper. Accompanying this and several other dishes was a finely diced cucumber and eggplant pickle contributing the haunting umami flavor of umeboshi plum. Clearly, the high standard exhibited in the sushi was met in the many prepared kitchen offerings as well.

Focus on inside-out Foster maki

Sushi returned to the table with a tuna tatami salad, seared rare and fanned alongside greens in a mellow orange sesame dressing. As maki demanded to be tried, one I zeroed in on as most appealing was the inside-out Foster maki with avocado wrapped around eel, burdock root, egg and cucumber. It was another individually fashioned creation satisfying in the balance of its components.

I adopt a mien of spareness in accounting another pair of selections:

Crisp tempura shrimp

Kabocha squash perfection

My eyes roll inward


Octopus, my friend

Yuzu kosho anointed

I am not worthy

Unless you read the menu in every detail, you might miss a note about the availability of fresh wasabi root on certain items for an additional cost. And although it isn’t listed, if you’re a fancier of hamachi kama (broiled yellowtail collar), you may want to ask if it’s available -- because it was on the evening I visited.  

Sushi Kappo Toraya, 795 Mass. Ave., Arlington

Tuesday - Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday - Sunday 5 to 10 p.m.
Saturdays open at 4 p.m.

Website >>  

March 1, 2023: Review: Donut Villa: 3 balanced meals of doughnuts

This restaurant review by YourArlington freelancer Frederick Kalil was published Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

A resident of Arlington, Kalil has been eating food since birth. Starting from a home where family cuisine ranged from kibbeh to cretons, he has sought high standards and a world of flavor at his own table and when dining out. After years of writing about dining options for the neighboring Tufts community, he now explores local kitchens for his fellow Arlingtonians.