Get out of your sushi roll rut with these raw-fish bites
Since childhood, my love of fish has propelled me into every sushi bar I could convince my parents to take me to. I’ve celebrated all my birthdays since I was 8 at Takashi in downtown Salt Lake City, enjoying all types of raw-fish delicacies created by Takashi Gibo who, in my opinion, has written the book on sushi.
I can’t think of a dish on any sushi menu that I’d say no to. As an adult dining out with friends, I find it sometimes challenging when they order the same basic rolls each time.
“Come on,” I want to say. “Live a little.”
I know it’s easy to get in a food rut. Especially with sushi, we find a few rolls we enjoy and tend to order them over and over. Requesting rare or unknown dishes can create an uneasy feeling since the costs do add up, and we wonder if the satisfaction will be there.
Luckily, I found a work companion who enjoys trying out raw-fish dishes as much as I do. Raised in a seafood-loving family that owned a commercial fishing business in Oregon, Vaughn Robison, an art director for Copperfield Media, claims he basically was raised on sushi. His ability to appreciate the rare and raw dishes on Takashi’s menu proved we were on the same level. We decided to enjoy a lunch of “advanced” sushi for this article, but with these caveats: no fried fish, no exorbitant sauces to mask the taste. And no California Rolls.
Mussels: Syllabus Week
The mussel shooters ($6.50) are a zesty way to begin. The ceviche served on top is acidic, so we ordered them with quail eggs to add richness and tone down the bite.
Now, to cast a wider net and delve deeper into the coursework.
Nigiri: Pop quizzes
When the next wave of seafood hit our table, our eyes lit up—now, we were getting somewhere. Robison and I went heavy on the nigiri, a thin slice of fish atop a bite of sticky rice. The saba ($4) is the house-cured mackerel and, as advised by the staff, was strong. The house cure sweetens the mackerel and controls the strong flavor.
The uni ($16) is sea urchin, and this was my first taste of it. When it hit my mouth, I wasn’t expecting its briny, gelatinous texture. Robison concurred and detected a little sweetness after the brine that made sense of the surprising taste.
The kamasu, or barracuda, ($10) is now my new favorite fish (bumping yellowtail tuna off its pedestal). It’s a knockout. The torched preparation added a light smokiness to the powerful flavor. The spices that top the fish were an excellent addition but subtle enough to leave room to savor the fish. If there’s a dish on Takashi’s chalkboard that can pole-vault you to the advanced level, try the barracuda.
Next, we enjoyed a Takashi specialty roll, Black Magic Woman ($8.95), made up of sablefish, roasted red bell pepper, spicy sauce inside with lemon pesto, ponzu and sesame seeds on top. I’d tried it before, but Robison’s keen observations allowed me to enjoy it more. The taste of the buttery, black cod sablefish took Robison back to his childhood when his father would treat him to the fish.
Monkfish & Octopus: Research Paper
Next up was the ankimo gunkan maki ($5.95), a helping of monkfish liver pate topped with ponzu sauce, scallions and momiji. Let this one sink in as it’s an acquired taste for some. The texture is creamy, but not as heavy as foie gras. The ponzu sauce lightens the taste and adds a spice that fills every corner of your mouth with delight.
Fan of octopus sashimi? The spicy tako ($5.50) is a zesty bite of the diced cephalopod. What sea urchin and monkfish liver lack in mouthfeel, the octopus makes up for with a piquant chewiness. The seaweed salad and eel sauce converge to make the bite pop.
Ponyo roll > Final Exam
The Ponyo roll ($15), served with hirame fish, Asian pear, shiso, lime, chiles and ponzu sauce, is a pleasant way to end the meal and pass with flying colors. The crispiness of the pear, as well as the citrusy flavor of the roll, complement the hirame fish impeccably. A must-order roll for a Takashi visit.
Willie’s chilis & panna cotta > Extra Credit
Couldn’t muster up the courage to indulge in one of the dishes above? Try the off-menu Willie’s chilis ($12), a base of tempura shishito peppers topped off with tuna tartar and habaneros. Or, finish up with Takashi’s unique panna cotta ($6.95), a white gelatin-like dessert made with candy-cap mushrooms that sweetly completes any sushi meal.
18 W. Market St., SLC
Some Dos and Don’ts of Eating Sushi
Do eat traditional rolls and nigiri by hand. Use chopsticks for messier rolls topped with sauces, tobiko and such.
Do eat nigiri in one bite. There is a perfect balance of fish, rice and wasabi. Two bites throws off the balance.
Do dip nigiri fish-side down. Otherwise, the rice will crumble.
Do eat the ginger. It’s a palate cleanser, so eat it between different dishes, not during.
Do ask for the skin of your nigiri fish. It’s delicious cut in small piece with rice vinegar over it.
Do try new things. Give your chef a direction of your tastes and let them work their magic.
Do request omakase service on occasion. For a set dollar amount, ask the chef to decide what to serve you, based on your likes, dislikes and any dietary restrictions.
Do ask what’s in season.
Do look at the fish specials on the chalkboard.
Do ask your server for recommendations. They know about off-menu specials.
Don’t put wasabi in your soy sauce. Put some wasabi directly on your sushi as needed.
Don’t pick up shared food with the pointy side of chopsticks. Instead, flip them and use the fatter end so you don’t spread germs.
Don’t drown your sushi. A gentle dab of soy sauce is plenty. Too much masks the flavors.