Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sushiro and Duck Duck Goose: Bringing Japanese pub food and Spanish tapas to Saskatoon

Megan Macdonald and Todd Gronsdahl, the owners of Sushiro and Duck Duck Goose restaurants in Saskatoon, are artists and world travellers who enjoy sharing their love of food in a friendly, inviting atmosphere.

They are adapting the Japanese pub and Spanish tapas traditions to suit a Saskatoon audience, and it’s a welcome addition to our social and cultural environment.

Sushiro, on 10th Street just off Broadway Avenue, offers a varied selection of Japanese dishes accompanied by martinis (lychee sake, plum blossom plum wine), cocktails (wasabi Caesar), beer (Hitachino, Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo), wine and tea.

Fresh sushi is a central focus of the menu, but there is so much else as well. My absolute favourite is the Panko crusted mushroom risotto cakes drizzled with Japanese chilli mayo. The tempura sweet potato is also great and so are the fresh, crispy salads with carrot, daikon and even seaweed. I keep meaning to leave room for dessert because they sound intriguing.

It’s fun to visit Sushiro with friends and share a variety of different small dishes. But you don’t need to have a full meal. You can also pull a stool up to the bar and enjoy a late-night beer and a snack. “We’re not really formal,” says Megan. “We wanted to recreate the pubby atmosphere of an izakaya with fun music and staff and snacks.”

One of Sushiro’s first locations was just off 7th Avenue in City Park. There were only 12 seats and no one was more than 10 feet away from the chef. “It was like throwing a house party every night,” says Todd. It was too small to be financially viable, but the atmosphere was great and this is something Megan and Todd are trying to maintain.

Duck Duck Goose
Todd and Megan had an extended holiday in Spain a few years ago and realized that wine and tapas bars, like izakayas, emphasize good food and drink in a casual, friendly atmosphere. When Dan Walker of Weczeria moved to a larger space on Broadway, the time seemed right for Megan and Todd to open their own Saskatoon version of a tapas bar.

Duck Duck Goose (616 10th Street E) is open from 11 am to midnight and offers wine, beer, cocktails, espresso and an assortment of small, European-inspired dishes.

I had roasted mushroom and provolone Panini with watermelon gazpacho salad, accompanied by a glass of Parés Baltà wine for lunch. It was fantastic. The sandwich was rich and enticingly spicy while the salad was fruity and refreshing.

Desserts include lighter-than-air churros and chocolate dip, almond horchata gelato and crème caramel.

The dinner menu offers a wide selection of snacks and small main courses – from duck poutine and bacalao fritters, to truffled popcorn and asparagus with romesco. It’s European comfort food at its best, and there are lots of options for vegetarians.

The wine list is a mix of Spanish, Canadian and European wines with several offered by the glass. “We want to share what we love,” Megan says. “We’re not going to sell what we don’t know.”

Breaking the stereotypes – a female sushi chef
One of the highlights of Megan’s university years was meeting people from around the world, and she started experimenting with all kinds of dishes, even making her own tofu. But she was fascinated by sushi. “It’s so beautiful, so artistic,” she says.

When Todd and Megan were living on Grand Cayman, there was a popular sushi bar run by a well-known Japanese chef. Sushi restaurants don’t usually hire Caucasians or women, but the chef was having problems obtaining work permits for Japanese staff so Megan managed to land a job in the kitchen.

“I learned everything,” says Megan. “He’d go to the beach and leave me in charge. I put in 80 hours a week, but I was really well trained.”

Megan enjoys introducing Saskatoon residents to dishes that she and Todd have found on their travels, bringing them home and creating a new, personal version. “Fine dining can be so pretentious,” says Megan. “We just want to make good, simple food. We want it to be accessible so that people will really like it. It’s for everyone.”

Art and renovations
Todd is an artist. His first love was graffiti-style art, but his interests expanded while they were living in Spain, and he created over 1000 sketches. Back in Saskatoon, he turned the sketches into silk screen paintings and held an exhibition at the Mendel Art Gallery in 2007.

Todd has now taken several university art classes, and he spent 5 months last winter at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.

Operating two restaurants doesn’t leave much time for formal artwork, but Todd’s artistic talents have a ready outlet in building renovation. This is fortunate, as he has renovated three houses and three business locations in the past few years.

“Duck Duck Goose is a reflection of my art,” Todd says. “I make sculptures of old found objects. I take something old, recycle it and make it special.”

Living in Vancouver, Megan and Todd were impressed with the way businesses had breathed new life into the old buildings in Gastown. “Small, old, unique spaces are charming,” says Megan. “We saw the potential in the site of Duck Duck Goose [a lumber yard in Saskatoon’s early years as a Temperance colony].”

The space is warm and authentic , respecting the historic nature of the building and the Broadway area while also adding a touch of whimsy. The old safe in the centre of the room is being used for storage, while its door has become a communal table. A chandelier and matching wall sconces from a hotel in Cairo feature antlered deer busts. The coffee menu is chalked onto the exposed brick chimney.

Wonderful staff
Megan and Todd say that they would never have considered opening a second restaurant if they didn’t have such wonderful staff at Sushiro. Aman Saleh was named Saskatoon’s best server by Planet S magazine, while Kristen Matheson does a fantastic job in the kitchen.

“The new restaurant is a chance for us and our staff to grow and expand,” says Todd.

A restaurant’s success depends on its owners. It is their vision, their values and their personalities that are the determining factors. Megan and Todd are warm, caring people who offer high-quality food in a casual, art-filled environment. Enjoy!

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