March 2016 Bar Bulletin
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March 2016 Bar Bulletin

Forget “Star Wars” — In Seattle, The Force Starts with Sushi

 

There are those people who through the sheer force of their personality and energy, become pioneers forming social and cultural trends as well as culinary habits. Today, because of one of those pioneers, sushi in Seattle is easily accessible in a wide variety and range of presentations and restaurants. Undeniably, the most notable person in the development of the sushi industry in Seattle is the sushi master, Shiro.

Shiro, no last name necessary, arrived in Seattle in 1966. He had trained with sushi master Jiro Ono in Tokyo in the early 1960s. Many of us were introduced to Jiro in the 2011 documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” For the details of Shiro’s history including experiences in sushi and the Northwest, consult his memoir published in 2011, Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer.

Shiro was an early adherent to local, sustainable fish. The trail of sushi accolades is long, including the first all-full-service sushi bar in Seattle, the first sushi conveyor belt in 1986 (it did not last), and Shiro’s Sushi Restaurant from 1994 to 2014 (the restaurant remains, but Shiro is not involved). Best of all, he recently opened his latest restaurant in Pike Place Market, providing his last name: Sushi Kashiba (86 Pine St #1; 441-8844;sushikashiba.com). It includes a full sushi bar, dining room and cocktail bar with expansive views of the market and Puget Sound ... and a wait.

As Shiro’s longtime patrons, we were aware of the risk of getting lost in the line and not getting a seat. Fortunately, we planned ahead and selected an unassuming Wednesday evening in early January to experience the new venue. One person in our group arrived outside the locked doors at 4:30 p.m. sharp. The rest of the group arrived 10 minutes later and we were lucky to be the third group to be seated when the doors opened at 5.

We requested seats at the sushi bar and ordered the omakase (the chef’s choice sushi dinner). A few moments later, Shiro himself walked out of the kitchen with a bright smile, greeted the guests and began preparing sushi for our side of the table. We were star-struck.

Shiro expertly prepares a variety of salmon, tuna, flounder, shrimp head, mackerel, geoduck, uni and eel. The seafood delicately lies upon a thin layer of wasabi over perfectly balanced sushi rice. Shiro purposely selects three pieces of like seafood for each course and directs the order of tasting to ensure that the progressive flavors and texture are complementary. The omakase dinner begins with a miso soup and finishes with a sweet egg omelet. Of course, a broad sake list and Japanese beer are available to cleanse the palate between bites.

Some may feel a little intimidated to be served by Shiro, but he is wonderfully cheerful and loves answering all sorts of questions. That being said, there are some subtle rules for the novice Sushi Kashiba diner to follow.

First, Shiro prepares his sushi, so no additional soy sauce or wasabi is necessary — do not ask for it, and if you have it, do not use it. Second, during an omakase dinner, make sure you tell Shiro when you are getting satisfied; otherwise he will continue to serve and serve and serve. Third, close your eyes when paying (do not worry, it is a worthy gastronomical investment). Finally, pay attention to your surroundings because you just may be sitting amongst prominent figures in the restaurant industry who have succumbed to the force of Shiro.

Sushi Kappo Tamura or STK (2968 Eastlake Ave. E.; 547-0937; sushikappotamura.com) opened in Eastlake in 2010, quickly earning a reputation as an up-and-coming force and one of Seattle’s finest sushi restaurants. Within a few years of opening, STK received numerous awards in short order: Seattle Magazine: Best Restaurants for Dinner; bon appétit: The Best 10 New Japanese Restaurants in America; Seattle Magazine: Best Sushi Restaurant; Travel + Leisure: Best Sushi Restaurants in the U.S.

Leading the way is Executive Chef Taichi Kitamura. Kitamura was raised in Kyoto and attended a Lynnwood High School exchange program. He graduated from Seattle University and went on to learn his sushi skills. After stints at other restaurants, Kitamura opened STK, which focuses on sustainable fish and includes sustainable options on the menu.

Our habits are fairly unvarying when ordering sushi. We rarely sit at the sushi bar because we tend to overeat with the chef carefully tending to our sushi cravings, and we lack the willpower to say “enough.”1 Our usual sushi order begins with miso soup and includes a spider roll: crunchy, tempura-prepared, soft shell crab centering the roll, legs extended, wrapped in delectable layers of rice, nori and vegetables, prepared beautifully and exquisitely.

The roll is followed by any variety of sashimi (fish without rice) and nigiri (fish with rice) — usually hamachi, salmon, anago (sea eel) or unagi (freshwater eel), tuna, and on and on, and for some of us, uni (sea urchin). All the sliced fish are satisfying in flavor and texture, and one of the best things about sushi is that the preparation and the presentation are beautiful works of art — so take a moment and admire before picking up the chopsticks. Not being sake fans, we order Sapporo beer to cleanse the palate and to keep our sushi company.

In addition to sushi, STK offers ippins, both hot and cold small plates, with many great choices. A favorite option at brunch when sushi is not the primary selection (rarely) is “Bara Chirashi” — sushi rice layered with nori, tamago (egg) and ginger, and topped with a mix of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, albacore and masago (roe). Delicious.

Do not overlook dessert. The yuzu-
yogurt panna cotta is the perfect finish.

Officially one of the most anticipated new restaurants to be opening soon in Seattle, Sansei (1529 Ninth Ave.;sanseihawaii.com) is the expansion of D.K. Kodama’s well-established sushi restaurants in Hawaii. Sansei means “third generation” in Japanese, denoting Kodama’s heritage and also his use of Japanese tradition, while serving contemporary Asian food.


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