You Gotta Roll with It
Sushi purists might argue that sashimi, nigiri, and traditional rolls showcasing fish and simple vegetables are the three best and only true forms of the delicate, centuries-old specialty. After all, Masa Takayama and Nobu Matsuhisa have achieved critical success by sticking with those staples in their multiple restaurants. Nevertheless, the traditional roll has evolved into more elaborate and creative preparations in recent years, where numerous ingredients meld for unexpected and delectable results.
Any reputable sushi chef knows that success for makimono rests on the quality and flavor of the fish; and in San Francisco, no restaurant does it better than Umami. The Japanese tavern’s sushi chef, Akira Yoshizumi, has developed close relationships with fish purveyors in various Japanese markets over the years, which allows him to spotlight lesser-known species such as butterfish, Japanese sea trout, and icefish (a seasonal, mild whitefish).
Makimono standouts on Umami’s menu include the Buttercup—a roll of tuna, green bean, and avocado topped with butterfish, tobiko, and spicy aioli—and the Hotsui—snow crab, avocado, and cucumber topped with butterfish and hamachi and served with ginger, scallions, ponzu, and sizzling oil. Despite the rolls’ complex flavor profiles (and the novelty of the intricate combinations of ingredients), they are successful, regulars say, because Yoshizumi focuses on the main attraction—the fish.
At Sushi Blue in Park City, Utah, patrons also get equal servings of high-quality fish and creativity. Originality is a mainstay on the restaurant’s makimono menu, as are tongue-in-cheek names such as Holy Shishito, Kimchi Kardashian, and Mike Thai Son! The latter is a combination of spicy tuna, basil, red bell peppers, and peanuts, topped with hamachi, lime, and a Thai coconut curry. Most unusual ingredients are used sparingly, but even so, in the Kimchi Kardashian roll—a combination of sesame salmon, cucumber, and kaiware (a sprouted daikon seed) topped with red snapper and house-made kimchi—an aggressive amount of kimchi flavor comes through. If you don’t love the taste of pickled Asian cabbage, this roll isn’t for you.
When Tyson Cole opened Uchiko in Austin, Texas, in 2011, the chef and restaurateur wanted to highlight Japanese farmhouse dining and sushi, not the contemporary Japanese cuisine that he continued to serve at his first restaurant, Uchi. But loyal followers demanded that the new menu include one particular item: the Shag—a roll of salmon, avocado, and sun-dried tomato that is coated in tempura batter and fried. “It goes from the crunch of the exterior with the tempura batter that hits your mouth first and then it melts in your mouth,” says one regular patron. “It’s the kind of dish that is very comforting, yet exciting and interesting. You eat one and you say, ‘Oh God, I want another.’ You almost can’t stop at one.”