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Toshi Izakaya Restaurant Revamped with Ownership Change

Michael Ma, 38, creates a neighborly setting at the sushi bar with customized meals for his new and longtime patrons.

When a customer walks into , head sushi chef and new owner Michael Ma, 38, quipped that he knows right away what they want.

"I read their mind so I know what type of customer they are," Ma said. "When they come into the door, I know."

While Ma may not be a psychic, he does make an effort to get to know his customers' dining preferences and taste when preparing sushi, sashimi and other food for them at the sushi bar.

When new customers sit at the sushi bar, he finds out their preferences.

"I ask what type of fish they like. If they don't like raw fish, I can make something else," Ma said.

Besides the sushi bar, the restaurant also has seating at tables. Toshi Izakaya has plenty of other dishes besides sushi, including vegetable tempura and noodle dishes. There are various types of sake and other drinks you can pair with your meal.

The restaurant has fare for the kids too, such as fried chicken, chicken and beef teriyaki and mini burgers.

Save room for tempura ice cream, a fried dessert that comes with your choice of vanilla, green tea, red bean, ginger and strawberry.

Michael Ma Revamps Toshi

The business, which reopened July 16 after renovations were completed, has been in Riverdale Farms in Avon for 15 years. Former owner Teresa Lew, who still works at Toshi as a manager, decided it was time to pass the restaurant to someone else.

She sold it to Ma, who has worked there for about 10 years. He became master sushi chef after original master chef Toshi Saki moved to California six years ago. Toshi was a traditional Japanese chef, Lew said.

Since moving to Queens, New York in 1996, Shanghai native Ma has dreamed of opening his own business. The last time he was in his hometown, sushi was getting popular. Ma learned everything he knows from observing Toshi and other chefs at work.

"Every time, he gives them different dishes," Lew said.

For him, sushi and sashimi is an art.

"I know sushi," he said.

Customers' Taste

Longtime customers Ed and Laine Krisiunas, of Burlington, frequent many sushi restaurants and are willing to try pretty much anything Ma puts in front of them.

One of the items they ordered came with small strips of uncooked steak that they grilled themselves on a rock heated with flames.

They compare Toshi's sushi bar to a neighborhood. Because they come in so often, Ma knows what types of food they like to order, so they rarely look at the menu anymore.

"When you go to Japan, it's very much a ceremony," Ed said.

Hibachi is a more Americanized version of Japanese cuisine that is not as common in Japan, according to Ed.

A good sushi place is hard to find, Ed said. He liked the food at Toshi so much that after sushi chef Hiro left, he went to San Diego to eat at his new restaurant.

He said that the cut of the fish at Toshi is unique because it is so thin whereas in some other restaurants it's thicker.

"Half of the experience is texture," Laine said. "Without the right cut of it, you lose the texture."

While sashimi is served without rice, that is a very important ingredient for sushi. Rice can make or break sushi, the couple said, because if the rice isn't good, it can get lost in a big piece of fish. They praised the rice used at Toshi.

"What's missing here in Connecticut is other styles of Japanese cooking," he said as the couple ate oysters and shooters filled with quail eggs, scallions, fish eggs, ponzu sauce and sea urchins.

For those that are not keen on raw fish, Ma can prepare cooked sushi, from shrimp and eel to vegetables.

"He's the master and we're the students here," Ed said, describing one time when Ma surprised them with a cucumber and crab dish in a martini glass. "The personal touch is what makes it so nice."

The restaurant is open from Monday to Saturday from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner. Happy Hour starts at 4 p.m.

Toshi Izakaya is located at 136 Simsbury Rd. in Avon inside Building 4. For more information, you can call the restaurant at 860-677-8242 or visit its website at www.toshi-izakaya.com. You can also follow the restaurant's updates on Facebook and Twitter ( @toshiizakaya) by clicking on the links provided.

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