In last year’s listing of Seattle’s top five Asian restaurants, I included Kisaku as my top Japanese pick. A recent visit reconfirmed why this is my go-to place for sushi and more.
The occasion was a birthday celebration for my special someone. The sushi serenade would precede my previously discussed deluge of desserts at Canlis, but this wouldn’t keep us from filling up on our favorites. In the past, we’ve had omakase experiences, entrusting chef/owner Ryuichi Nakano to make our selections for us. Nakano-san has an energy and enthusiasm for fish that I appreciate, and once he gets to know you, can make suggestions to suit your sushi style. But you can certainly offer a few guidelines for your omakase meal. State how much you want to spend and your eating preferences. We like more traditional (i.e., authentic) choices, which means no spicy tuna and no crazy rolls.
On this particular night, we ordered on our own, and first enjoyed a couple of appetizers, as the aji no tataki (chopped, or actually sectioned, horse mackerel, serving as our “sashimi” course and nicely flavored with ginger and green onion) and soft shell crab tempura (serving as our hot dish, with high-quality tentsuyu – tempura dipping sauce) both looked tempting – and tasted terrific.
Sushi was next, but not before Nakano-san presented the birthday girl with a special uni tower. (Uni is her answer to the “What would you like as your last taste before dying?” question.) This prized plate contained plenty of sea urchin (more specifically, uni is sea urchin gonads) topped by salmon roe. Mmm…nutty, oceany, and with just a tad bit of cholesterol!
Sitting at the counter is the perfect place for ordering sushi, as you can check out what’s in the glass showcase and ask about what’s fresh. Nakano-san recommended Hawaiian moi and wild hamachi, and both were wonderfully sweet. We also sampled some of our usual favorites: maguro (tuna), chu-toro (fattier tuna), saba (mackerel), and a salmon skin roll (as we love the texture and the taste of the skin).
Two specific recommendations as must-haves: hotate konbu jime and amaebi. Hotate is scallop and has a natural sweetness, and konbu jime is a kelp marination that amps up the umami. It’s really something special.
As for amaebi, my fine young cannibals, this is an issue about the raw and the cooked. Most Westerners go for the cooked version (“ebi”), preferring the firmer, chewier texture. But I encourage you to try the uncooked (“amaebi”), which is a different variety of shrimp. The head and shell are removed and the remainder is basically butterflied and placed on a block of sushi rice. How sweet it is – clean and with an almost candylike aftertaste. But here’s what you need to know: Get some head. Yes, you need to ask for it. The head will be lightly battered (typically with potato starch), deep-fried, and lightly salted. Now, in contrast to the softness of the sweet meat, you’ve got the crispiness of the head. Heaven.
The amaebi could be dessert, but we like to end with tuna, so Nakano-san suggested some slightly seared toro. The fat cooks down, resulting in a tantalizing tuna treat. And treat is the best word to describe visits to Kisaku in Tangletown.