It’s a bit difficult to translate into English, but the Japanese concept of ikigai has to do with purpose and meaning—a reason for being—not unlike the French phrase raison d’être. Ikigai restaurant owner Johnny Kwon speaks of ikigai partly in terms of passion and of destiny. He and head chef David Hopps are certainly passionate about flavor. From bold new takes on classics, like ramen carbonara, to subtle hotate chips with delicate scallop mousse, Chef Hopps is introducing a very creative and refined style of Asian cuisine to Salt Lake City.
A perfect example is his amberjack with pistachio and pickled plum dish, which is relatively simple in its components, but where each superb ingredient sings. Hopps utilizes the Japanese method of aging/curing fish for two to four days, depending on the fish, before serving it sashimi-style. In this case, Japanese hamachi (aka amberjack) is cured with Okinawan salt and raw brown sugar for a couple of hours, then rinsed and aged for two days in a special antibacterial cypress (hinoki) box from Japan. The aging imparts a distinct umami character to the fish.
The hamachi is then cut into sashimi-style pieces and served raw with subtle garnishes of pureed pickled plum (umeboshi), candied pistachio crumbs and mitsuba leaves. The flavor is both savory and slightly sweet—a dish that you’ll develop a passion for.