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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Four West Coast Restaurants Changing Sushi As We've Known It

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 4:27 PM

click to enlarge The new traditionalist: Sebo's Michael Black. - ELKANAH5730/FLICKR
  • elkanah5730/Flickr
  • The new traditionalist: Sebo's Michael Black.
It's ironic -- sushi, a cuisine that fetishizes a few simple, pristine ingredients, just might be the last restaurant genre to pick up the ingredient-centric mantra of modern food. But a sustainable sushi revolution that ignited in San Francisco has gradually spread to other West Coast cities, causing more and more sushi lovers to question where the tuna in their nigiri is from, and whether or not it's depleting global fish stocks.

The standard collection of always-on-the-menu favorites (farmed salmon and shrimp, eel, hamachi, and above all bluefin tuna, every one of them dodgy from an environmental perspective) is giving way to less conventional choices. At the same time, young chefs (most not of Japanese heritage) are taking sushi back to its historic roots in early-19th century Tokyo, when fish for sushi was lightly cured with salts, vinegar, and seaweed. We're foscusing on four West Coast spots in the forefront of new sushi.

Tiny, nondescript Tataki in San Francisco is credited with launching the sustainable revolution -- it's the first sushi bar in America to serve only seafood from sustainable sources. Chef-owners Kin Lui and Raymond Ho even employ a full-time sustainability consultant. They've banished unagi, but how about faux-nagi? Fatty black cod seared with a blowtorch to resemble glazed eel. Cool idea.

Portland's Bamboo Sushi calls itself the world's first certified sustainable sushi restaurant (it's received a big thumbs up from the Marine Stewardship Council). Owner Kristofor Lofgren brings a kind of New American sensibility to sushi. Consider the Salmon Nation rolls, ivory salmon smoked in house with wild salmon and salmon-skin salsa, or the Highway 35, with its red crab and sake-poached pears.

click to enlarge Tataki's Fire Extinguisher roll. - JM3/FLICKR
  • jm3/Flickr
  • Tataki's Fire Extinguisher roll.
Sebo's chef-owners (Michael Black and Danny Dunham) are hooked on sushi's traditions. They've turned their chill, low-key San Francisco sushi bar into a hip locus of classical Japanese sushi-making that harks back to the Edo period of the early 1800s. All the fish is sustainable, though, unlike at a place like Tataki, most comes from Japan. Black and Dunham subject much of it to light cures of vinegar, seaweed, and salt to produce subtle textures and flavors. Exquisite and, like all good sushi, you pay for it.

After 15 years, well regarded Seattle sushi bar Mashiko is ready to go green. Chef-owner Hajime Sato has been working with Casson Trenor -- sustainability consultant for Tataki in San Francisco -- to banish fishery-depleting species from the menu. Mashiko is slated to unveil its new eco menu late next week. Sato points out that his sushi bar will be the first in the nation with a Japanese chef to embrace sustainability. How do you say "welcome" in Japanese?

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