“Daddy! Daddy! Come! Listen to the radio… there’s a sushi restaurant with ROBOTS!!! Come and listen!!!”
This was around six months ago. CBC Radio 1 were reporting upon a newly opened sushi restaurant in York Mills where your food was brought to you by robots… and our five year old is pretty much in love with anything even a whiff of the robotic.
York Mills + All-You-Can-Eat Sushi + Robots.
What could possibly go wrong?
As we were to discover, quite a lot actually.
It was one of those bi-annual Sundays where my wife was attending a couple of events, the kind of Sunday where I’d drive our son out to Reptilia in Vaughn and then go for gelato, or something along those lines.
“What would you like us to do today? Just you and me?”, fully expecting him to suggest Reptilia, but this was not to be the case…
“Robot Sushi!!! You promised, Daddy! Remember… on the radio? And you said that Drummond’s always keep their promises…”
And so we journeyed to York Mills for our Sunday afternoon Robo Sushi adventure.
And what a grand (and yet altogether underwhelming) adventure it turned out to be.
After a gruelling drive up the Allen Expressway (I swear that the traffic on Eglinton just gets worse and worse), we arrived at an unassuming strip mall on the south side of York Mills at Leslie.
With a wholly unremarkable frontage, Robo Sushi’s particular brand of “magic” begins when one crosses the threshold and is greeted by a decidedly surly and dishevelled hostess who gruffly asks as to the size of our party and the age of the wee guy.
Indeed this question of the wee guy’s age is one that we are asked a grand total of four times by three different employees, a fact that puzzled me until I eventually got around to writing this piece and studying the photographs I had taken of the menu. You see, the All-You-Can-Eat price is decided upon by the child’s age, so $12.99 for every kid above three years with another dollar added “For Each Additional Age”. Okay then.
At this point we must have been assigned a table, as the hostess pressed a couple of buttons on the head of a cheeky little little three-foot-tall white and purple host robot, who then trundled as cheerily as a battery-powered piece of plastic can into the restaurant proper.
Our woefully sullen hostess eventually broke a laboured smile and vigorously gestured for us to follow her robotic colleague, much to the wide-eyed thrill of the wee guy, who eagerly followed his new best friend, even making futile attempts to converse with it as we were led to a scruffy looking banquette, replete with crumbs, rice grains, and dessicated ginger bits aplenty between the shabby cushions.
Perhaps it would be a better idea for Robo Sushi to outsource robots for menial tasks like keeping the place a little more clean and hygienic? Or would that be asking too much?
Speaking of hygiene, a tablet with the restaurant’s menu installed was thrust upon our table by a passing waiter with all the grace of Popeye’s nemesis, Bluto. Now I’m no germaphobe, but this was one grimy, nasty-looking piece of consumer electronics that immediately had me wishing that I had brought the hand sanitiser from the car. I took a tissue from my jacket and cleaned it up as best I could, before scrolling through the sizeable menu with the wee guy.
We ordered a selection of sushi, rolls, sushi-pizza (Please forgive me) and a couple of appetizers, as the wee guy had spotted deep-fried calamari and dumplings the moment the tablet buzzed to life.
Pro Tip: Don’t leave an unattended child alone with one of these tablets lest he/she goes wild ordering stuff. The small print notes that they charge $1 for any wasted dishes. Thankfully I nipped this in the bud within the first five minutes as he hadn’t discovered the send button at that point in time; otherwise it may have turned out to be a pretty bloody expensive day out for Dad.
Although the restaurant was almost full, the first pieces of sushi arrived pretty sharpish after the order was placed, although it wasn’t brought to us by one of the “server” robots that we had seen clunkily rolling counter-clockwise around the room, as if placed in a cruel Sisyphean loop by their heartless human masters.
As is his gregarious nature, the wee guy attempted to strike up a conversation with each of the oversized kitchen-appliances-on-wheels every time they tinnily squeaked by, but to no avail. Not built for small talk with little people, these robots were way too busy applying themselves to the tasks at hand, which apparently did not include bringing us anything for the entire duration of our meal.
Whilst the food that promptly arrived via visibly-stressed human wait staff was not “bad” specifically, it certainly wasn’t anywhere near approaching “good”, and was certainly some of the most mediocre Japanese food I have ever tasted.
I’ll admit that I have never dined at an All-You-Can-Eat sushi establishment previously, so I have nothing to compare it to, but never have I witnessed such bland, washed-out, colourless, tired, and pallid food.
For me, sushi (and associated dishes) should be a veritable explosion of colours, flavours, and textures. This was simply dull as dishwater and even the wasabi tasted like drywall dust.
I mentioned earlier that bar our host robot showing us our table, we had no interaction with anything even mildly robotic over our ninety minutes there.
Until that is, towards the end of our meal, when I flagged down a human server and voiced my complaint about the lack of even a tiny bit of the much-ballyhooed robot service.
He stared at me with a look of utter bemusement.
“It’s for the boy… he loves robots… and we haven’t had one robot deliver anything all afternoon… and he would really like to see a robot”
Another waiter sprinted by and dropped off an anemic Green Dragon Roll (see menu below), our very last dish, without saying a word.
I looked at Mr. Bemused and he stared back at me.
This went on for an uncomfortable period of time before finally his eyes rolled skywards and he grabbed the recently arrived Green Dragon Roll, taking off with it at some pace towards the production line at the back of the restaurant.
“What’s happening Daddy?”
“I’m not quite sure…”
Around a minute later one of the well-worn server-bots creaked up to our table and stopped. The wee guy and I turned to look at each other and he was grinning from ear to ear like the proverbial Cheshire cat, and my heart just melted, making our entire Robo Sushi adventure worth every damn penny.
Suddenly Mr. Bemused appeared out of nowhere like a pantomime villain, snatched the Green Dragon Roll from the weary robot’s shelf, and unceremoniously slammed it onto our table… he slapped the back of his battery-powered pal, and then the two of them were off, both human and robot. Never to be seen by us again.
And we both burst out giggling, our mutual mirth about the ridiculousness of robot-served sushi bringing even closer as Father and Son.
The perfect afternoon together without Mum.
In the car on the way home I told the wee guy that I felt bad that we hadn’t had that much of a Robo Sushi experience.
“It’s okay Dad. I think that maybe the robots were all just a little bit tired from working so hard and they were having a break.”
“Yes, you are probably correct there, Buster… Ah well, Hey, what do you think they pay the robots with?”
“I think that they give them battery juice, Dad”
“Yes, that sounds about right… that sounds about right…”
“Can we go to Reptilia now?”
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And although he wouldn’t go back, it was a great experience.