Sushi Kashiba - Seattle, WA
- Sushi Kashiba
- 86 Pine St #1, Seattle, WA
- February 9, 2019
I love sushi. I think I am realizing more and more that my excellent sushi meals are my absolute favorites, and when I am in a place that has access to extraordinary seafood, I tend to seek out sushi (or other seafood places!) first. Seattle, of course, is one of the seafood capitals of the United States (if not the world!), and with a healthy and proud Japanese population, boasts some really fantastic sushi restaurants among its most prized establishments.
There is no icon of sushi more revered in Seattle, however, than Shiro Kashiba, who is climbing north of 75 years old these days, but still diligently works most nights behind the sushi bar at his namesake restaurant, Sushi Kashiba. A student of Jiro Ono (yes, THAT Jiro), Shiro is a legend in these parts for pretty much singlehandedly forging the Japanese food scene of the city when he came from Kyoto to open the first sushi restaurant in Seattle in the 1970s. At his eponymous “Shiro’s” on Capitol Hill, he showed just how much he had fallen in love with the bounties of Washington’s seafood. The restaurant is still open despite Shiro’s departure years ago, but Seattle's culinary world was rocked when Shiro announced he would open Sushi Kashiba in a spot just steps from arguably the greatest market for fresh seafood in the North America, Pike’s Place.
This is a tricky reservation to score, and last time I was in Seattle, Scott and Jacque tried to take me here, but much to my dismay we were unable to snag a table. Those really in the know, however, understand that the real draw here is the sushi bar, for which there are no reservations, and you can easily wait two hours. My original plan this time around called for visiting a different spot on Saturday night, which Jacque immediately rebuffed and said “you need to go get local sushi.” I guess my path had been illuminated!
I made my way through the fields of snow and ice at a sort of silly time (their first seating is at 5 and last about 2 hours; I arrived at 5:30) and lucked into a nearby parking space, where I cursed the city of Seattle for their $7.50/hour STREET PARKING (the horror). I entered the cozy, boisterous restaurant just off the courtyard of an area hotel and put my name down for the next sushi bar seating. Turns out I got lucky again––Shiro-san HIMSELF was in the house that night, and I had nabbed the last seat of the night in front of his station at the sushi bar, to begin about 90 minutes later.
I settled in at the restaurant’s bar to wait and ordered a glass of bubbly rosé from Beaujolais, which was subtle and crisp but took a while to open up into the more interesting strawberry-driven territory. The bartender moved so quickly while making and pouring drinks that I almost had a seizure, but we developed a rapport and he recommended a martini for my next drink. I insisted on a St. George’s Terroir Gin martini with a twist, a gin that caused a veritable scandal in the beverage world when it launched for its aggressive conifer flavor, but which I happen to really appreciate. Sadly, I learned that it’s not really a martini gin, but a splash of lemon juice from the bartender rounded things out.
I spent the next twenty minutes or so reading articles about what I should order, and the verdict was nearly unanimous: omakase. Omakase is a word in Japanese which roughly means “trusting,” and essentially you put yourself in the hands of the chef and allow him or her to create a fabulous meal for you, no decisions required. All that was left to be selected was what to drink.
I was ushered over to my spot at the sushi bar at about 7:05 with the three other diners who would share Shiro-san’s creations with me, and was immediately star struck by the unassuming artist standing behind the bar with his fellow sushi chefs, the very rockstar of sushi in Seattle himself. “Shiro-san, it’s such a pleasure to be dining with you” I said awkwardly, the martini somewhat affecting my speech, which made him laugh heartily, as he welcomed us and confirmed that we all wanted the omakase option for tonight’s dinner, and requested that we stop him when we were “90%” full. Off to the races!
Shiro-san presented each of us with a hand roll of tuna, soy, and green onion (negi) as an “appetizer,” crafted one at a time so that the seaweed stayed crunchy, and said, “Two bites. One bite, pay double” before cackling to himself. This was a great way to start, and the fish was fresh and flavorful and benefitted nicely from the crunchy nori. I did it in three bites… glad I wasn’t caught!
I ordered a 300ML bottle of crisp, dry, and aromatic junmai daiginjo sake from Konteki in Kyoto, nicknamed “Pearls of Simplicity,” a versatile and balanced sake I’d had many times before at my favorite sushi haunt in Austin, Uchiko. It was recommended to me by the bartender during my wait as “a sake that goes perfectly with all types of sushi” and “from chef’s hometown.” I also placed an order with our waitress for a hot appetizer (pictured above) that I had read was not to be missed: fried sole with negi and ponzu, served with the deep-fried, delicate skeleton of the fish. The sole was marvelously tender, with a slight crisp from the tender breading, and the skeleton crunched like a kettle chip with the slight essence of the sea.
The first course, of course: salmon; the great specialty of the northwest. Chef told us we would receive three pieces of salmon, and instructed us to eat left to right. The first was a sockeye salmon from Puget Sound dusted with sea salt, and when he said it was local, he pointed out to the windows behind us overlooking the water. The second was a king salmon from Scotland, with lemon and a thin slice of onion, and the third was the belly of the same salmon that had been torched and topped with negi.
It was really cool to see the difference between these two types of salmon in color and marbling, and also to taste the difference. The sockeye was firm and lean, with a flavorful but not overwhelming flesh that melted with just a few bites. The king salmon had much more melty, luscious fat, and had that wonderful, slightly oily salmon umami that I adore in a piece of king salmon. The salmon belly, of course, had even more fat, and the torching allowed the fat to render slightly and come forward even more while contributing a sensational essence of char to the fish. I was already in heaven.
Tuna was to follow, once again in a “flight.” From left to right, we were served local albacore tuna (complete with Shiro-san again pointing to the water behind us as he plopped it on our plates), Japanese Bluefin akami, otoro from the same fish, and akami marinated in a house-made sauce. The Bluefin was certainly outstanding, and the toro as decadent as one would expect, but my favorites wound up being the bright, supple local albacore, which had a more delicate flavor, and the marinated akami, which came to life in the mouthwatering sauce.
Shiro-san played with our visual "psycho taste" expectations (see blog about Ultraviolet!) next by placing two similar-looking fish in front of us: hamachi, or yellowtail, a staple of the sushi world, and kanpachi, or amberjack, another common fish at sushi bars, and one of my favorites. He encouraged us to really focus on experiencing each fish as we chewed to taste the differences despite the similar appearance. The hamachi was beautiful, bright, and gave way immediately, while the amberjack had a much firmer flesh and a more robust flavor. I enjoyed both pieces very much, but they paled in comparison to the salmon and tuna that preceded them!
Two local specialties were next, complete with the requisite pointing to the bay behind by Shiro-san. The first was a shigoku oyster with negi and citrus, which was delightfully briny, but sweet, and had a nice zing from the citrus. The second, lord have mercy, was my favorite thing: uni. This sea urchin was also from Washington, a first taste for me.
The roe came in large pieces, and was very flavorful with a deep savory complexity unlike any uni I’d experienced in the past. I’ll still stick with uni from Japan’s north island, Hokkaido, when given the choice, but was very impressed by what Washington’s urchins had to offer.
He’d really run the gamut at this point, and checked a lot of things I’d expect from sushi places off the list. Salmon, yellowtail, toro, uni… what on earth could be next?! Flounder, it would seem! Two cuts of hirame were presented to us, and foolish me can’t remember what distinguished them even just 24 hours after the dinner, but one had a pepper relish of some kind, and the second a plum sauce with some spicy shiso. The third, engawa, is the fin or “wing” of the flounder, and was torched. Shiro-san grinned as he served it to us: “This is one of the most popular pieces in Japan!” I can see why!
Gesturing again back to the bay behind us, Shiro-san informed us we would be experiencing more true local specialties next. The first was a spot prawn from Washington, one of my favorite things, which was smaller than spot prawns I’d had from Santa Barbara or British Columbia but brimming with the same delightful sweetness I expect from the crustacean. As it was to be eaten last, the deep fried head of the prawn was served alongside the last bite of the course (scallop), and was crispy and delicious, if bracing!
You have seen me write about Washington’s own well-hung bivalve, geoduck (“gooey-duck”), in the previous blog post, and I was surprised to learn that it was Shiro-san who discovered and turned this incredible mollusk into the sushi delicacy that it is. We were presented with a substantial cut of a particularly endowed geoduck siphon, scored for tenderness, which was even better than the iteration I had at Taylor Shellfish the previous day, and from the man who made geoduck into the sensation that it is today. Last was a torched scallop, which was also divinely toothsome, and I appreciated the char that the torching offered, something I hadn’t ever had with a scallop before (except once when I charred some for one of my own tasting dinners. Tee hee).
“Mackerel festival!” Shiro-san joyfully and abruptly declares as he presents us with our next lineup of fish. The first was a pickled herring, the second a Norwegian mackerel rolled in sesame, and the third an in-house hay-smoked mackerel from Florida. The pickled fish didn’t appeal to me, but I enjoyed the fresh, firm Norwegian mackerel, and the delicate smoking from the hay on the last mackerel piece was nuanced and delicious.
Ok, NOW he had to be wrapping up. What else could he possibly have up his sleeve?! Well, ladies and gents, he had plenty. I always get excited when sushi chefs fire up the torch, because I absolutely love torched nigiri, so I watched the master take the torch to some gloriously fatty looking pieces of fish, which we were promptly served with no additional explanation. When Shiro-san finally caught sight of us patiently gazing up and him for a description, he jovially insisted, “Eat it before it’s cold! Then you tell me what it is!”
To the left, it turned out, was the torched belly of the local albacore tuna we had consumed earlier in the meal, which was so luscious and even better than the Bluefin toro. The second piece was a torched cut of the collar of the same Bluefin we had earlier, which is a uniquely tender, fatty cut, and was bursting with flavor and velvety marbling. Both of these were standouts!
At this point he looked around and said, “So, are we 90% full yet?” Myself and the solo diner sitting next to me, also clearly a sushi aficionado and just as star struck as I was, shook our heads “no” vigorously, and Shiro-san laughed. “Two more, then sushi dessert!” he proclaimed, and went to work on our next pieces. The first was a HEAPING piece of king crab tied to the nigiri rice with a thin strip of nori, which was absolutely to die for. The second was an agglomeration of small cubes of ankimo, which is monkfish liver, and accoutrements like negi and shoyu, which was fine, but I am generally not a huge fan of ankimo, and try to avoid eating monkfish when I can for sustainability reasons (fully realizing the hypocrisy of that after eating Bluefin).
I could have eaten twenty more pieces, but let the “90%” decision by the somewhat unfriendly fellow sushi connoisseur next to me nudge me toward my ultimate decision to move forward to “sushi dessert.” On the docket were two pieces of eel, a traditionally sweet piece of sushi: one was saltwater eel (anago) with a smear of sweet eel sauce, and the other was a tempura-fried freshwater eel (unagi) with a sweet sauce and sesame. Both were sweet and delicious, but the unagi, the fried eel, was my favorite.
There's not much else to say except "wow." This was exactly the type of meal I would expect from a sushi restaurant of this caliber, and could have seen paying three times as much for a meal just this good at some of the most revered sushi spots in the world. It was particularly special to be served by Shiro himself, and his joy in his art is still evident at every turn. I was happy that I finally had the chance to eat here, and that I got lucky enough to have a seat with Shiro-san.
What a wonderful weekend in Seattle! I have an exciting review of a much-anticipated dinner in San Antonio next Friday, so stay tuned for that, a throwback Thursday post on Valentine's Day, and surely a recipe or two between.