July was an exciting month for those of us on Ambergris Caye, Belize. The long-awaited soft-opening of JYOTO Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar was finally here!
You might be thinking, “big deal, there are probably tons of sushi bars and Japanese restaurants around, right?” Wrong!
And, you might think living on a tropical island means I’m eating fresh fish every day, right? Wrong, yet again!
The idea of a traditional sushi bar with a classically trained Japanese chef has had me salivating for months. I miss my favorite chefs back in my old neighborhoods — the places I would go to once or twice, ok, maybe four times, a week.
You’d sit at the bar and talk with the chef, neighbors, and friends, who would share stories, beer, and sake throughout the night. And, the best part was watching the chef cut and prepare your sushi in front of you.
And, that experience has been missing for a long time in my life. Traveling as much as I do is obviously one reason, but the other stems from being forced to give up eating sushi for nearly a year while I dealt with massive thyroid tumors that caused difficulty with breathing and swallowing. Since my surgery in December, I have been binging on sushi as often as I can, so I was definitely ready to try JYOTO.
JYOTO Sushi Bar
I’m really excited to share that San Pedro has what I consider it’s first potential neighborhood sushi joint. Ironically, it’s located at Mahogany Bay Village, a somewhat large-scale resort opening this winter under the Hilton Curio brand of boutique hotels. Another first for us — Ambergris Caye’s first big brand/chain hotel! So, while it’s at a resort, it’s one frequented by many locals and expats, so I can easily see most of the seats being filled with familiar faces on a regular basis.
Chef Toshiya Tsujimoto hails from Southern Japan and has lived all around the world. He’s incredibly well-traveled — potentially even more well-traveled than me — at probably half my age!
His menu is simple and airs on the more classic Japanese way of making sushi. There are some rolls, but you aren’t going to find the endless menu of crazy creations you may be used to outside of Japan.
Instead, he focuses on simple flavors and showcases the beauty of the fish itself. This is the place you want to go for more quality nigiri and sashimi if you’re traveling to Ambergris Caye.
He also has traditional Japanese restaurant offerings like tempura, miso soup, gyoza, and my personal favorite — seaweed salad.
Drinks at JYOTO
I’m pretty impressed with the sake selection on the menu. There is everything from the basic warm sake, that many people are accustomed to at sushi bars in the US, to an export quality Junmai from Hakkaisan. I’m also excited that they have a nigori, or unfiltered sake. It’s not always easy to find, even in Japan. There is also Shochu, and even a sweet dessert-style plum wine on the menu.
If you’re looking for non-alcoholic beverages, they have several Japanese teas that made me swoon. I love gen mai cha, which is a Japanese-style green tea that has toasted rice kernels. It’s my favorite tea from my tea shop in Taiwan, and I still drink it nearly every day.
Menu Items at JYOTO
There are a number of other dishes I want to go back and try, so I will update this post as I make my way through the menu, but in the meantime, here are the dishes we sampled thus far.
We started off with the JYOTO gyoza (dumplings) (16 BZ), which are some of the best I’ve had outside of Japan. Chef Toshiya has invested in a state-of-the-art tabletop Japanese gyoza machine, and watching the process of making the gyoza was hypnotic. He even let us come back into the kitchen and look at how the machine works up close – video of that coming soon!
Thinking back on all my sushi visits around the world, I can’t recall any that included raw lobster sushi or sashimi. Belize’s lobster season recently kicked off on June 15, so I was excited to try something new. That’s saying a lot since I was a judge again at this year’s Lobsterfest Block Party, which meant sampling nearly 20 unique lobster dishes! Such a rough job, but someone has to do it! 🙂
The presentation alone for the lobster sashimi (market price) makes it worth ordering. He cracked open the lobster, and it was mesmerizing to watch him prep and plate it. Even the other tables in the restaurant came over to watch and take a few photos.
Raw spiny Caribbean lobster has a buttery soft texture and a delicate flavor. With a healthy portion of tobiko on the top, this is a must order dish if you’re dining at JYOTO and lobster is in season.
The salmon tataki (29 BZ) was not only beautiful to look at, but seriously tasty. Salmon is obviously not local to Belize and chef Toshiya sources it from Chile. The ikura, or salmon roe, were surprisingly mild in flavor compared to what I am used to. Typically, ikura is one of my least favorite things, but I will still eat it. In this case, I actually plan to order it again because it was that tasty.
10 Piece Nigiri Sushi
Next up was the 10-piece nigiri, or small chef’s choice sushi (60 BZ). Traditional offerings like ebi, tako, tamago, hamachi, ikura, and more fill the plate. We also had local aji, hamachi from Japan, and maguro, which is typically either local black tuna or imported yellowfin tuna (based on availability).
The quality was top-notch — there were no issues with the fish separating and rice falling apart everywhere. Definitely rivals some of the best sushi I’ve had, even back in Japan.
Sake Ice Cream
When chef Toshiya asked if we wanted to try dessert and mentioned sake ice cream was an option, I was sold. Other dessert options included green tea ice cream (which I was told was also incredible by the nice couple dining just down the bar from us) and a soy milk cheesecake. I am definitely trying that cheesecake next time too!
Important Notes about JYOTO
JYOTO is only for dinner, nightly from 4:30pm to 9:30pm, closed on Tuesdays. He recently started opening for lunch as well from 11:30am to 2pm — offering a special sushi lunch set. The restaurant has approximately 120 seats and is a two-story dining facility, but there are not many seats at the bar. I’d suggest calling for reservations (+501-628-0100), especially as things ramp up, and most definitely if you want to sit at the bar.
Their Facebook Page indicates they take American Express and Discover along with Visa and MasterCard, but right now they are only taking Visa and MasterCard — something I hope changes when the resort itself opens as Hilton Hotels partner with Delta Airlines and you can earn hotel points for every dollar spent on the SkyMiles AMEX!
About Mahogany Bay Village
Located south of San Pedro, Mahogany Bay Village is part resort, part residential community. It is scheduled to open this winter and it’s quite a departure from the other resorts on the island, with it’s all white colonial style cottages and homes. Mahogany Bay Village has a commercial center, or “townlet” as they call it, with a yoga and wellness center, hair and nail salon, Rum + Bean Coffee Shop, scuba and fishing tour services, and more. It will open under the Curio – A Collection by Hilton brand with just over 200 cottage-style rooms. There are other food options in addition to JYOTO, along with the first aquaponics farming / greenhouse, which supplies the restaurants with produce.
I was invited to dine at JYOTO as a guest of Mahogany Bay Village, but as always, all views, opinions, and calories gained are my own.
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