Even though (the original) Sushi-Ko is right down the street from our apartment, it took us a good couple of months before we finally ventured forth to try it out. Still in our student loan money spending spree weekend (thanks Sallie!), we decided it would be a good time to try it out.

Even though Sushi-Ko is not a fancy restaurant, I felt like dressing up a little bit. I just got my hair cut and was feeling exceptionally trendy, so I slipped on a black dress and a red plaid jacket with some black heels. With only 30 minutes until our reservation, however, I sent Jay on a hunt for some opaque black tights, while I finished getting ready (i.e. makeup). Jay was triumphant and got back to the apartment with only about 5 or 10 minutes to spare before our reservation. Good thing we were just going down the street.

Unfortunately, 4-inch black heels aren’t really made for walking, much less running, so I had to move uncharacteristically slow in trying to make our reservation on time, taking tiny steps and trying not to snap my heels in half. Countless cabs honked at us as we made our way down the street, causing me to have Jay check and make sure my skirt wasn’t flipped up and showing my ass or something. Why the hell were they honking? It remains a mystery.

Hot from our run/walk and my calves screaming at me, we made it to Sushi-Ko only about 5 minutes late. After only a couple of minutes of waiting, we followed the waiter upstairs, trailing a couple of short awkward girls who decided they didn’t want to watch me walking up the stairs, so they pushed in front of me as fast as they could to follow the waiter. Whatevs. We were seated at a small round table next to a window facing the alley, across from which is the WSC that I had worked out in only hours before. I could even point out my favorite elliptical machine to Jay.

Although it’s not on the menu, Jay and I had both read about the omakase tasting menu. Feeling very chi-chi and in-the-know, Jay asked if it was still available, and our waitress indicated that it indeed was. Awesome! I bet those awkward girls didn’t know about it. Relishing in our trendiness and our new found position as restaurant insiders, we split our (first of two) bottle of sake, chilled yet with a nice warmth.

Before I get to the food, let me remark on the atmosphere of the restaurant. The ENTIRE place was packed, but I’m glad we got to sit on the second floor, which was less crowded than the first. The decorations are sleek and sparse, with some nice modern lighting, which somewhat reflects the elegant simplicity of the food itself. The group sizes ranged from small like us to larger, with some pretty rowdy people standing on their chairs at one point and causing a general roar. There were also some families and even some pretty young kids.

Our first course was a lightly fried eel over sauteed vegetables (I’m guessing baby bok choy) and soy-balsamic based sauce. Absolutely delicious. The eel was so lightly breaded and lightly fried that you didn’t get lost in the fried-ness of the dish, and the eel itself was creamy and warm. Its was almost like a little package that exploded when you bit into it. When you got a bight of all of the components together (which is a lil’ difficult with chopsticks, but then I am almost completely incompetent with them), it was exquisite.

Second course was a flounder carpaccio with a truffle sauce. This flounder was sliced so thin and had a perfect consistency: not too tough, not too watery, melt in your mouth. It was topped with something shaved and lightly fried, which I thought was slivers of carrots. This course really speaks to the aesthetic of sushi-ko: elegance and exquisite taste in simplicity and subtlety. You won’t get bold, strong flavors here, but the subtlety of all of the flavors is delicious on a whole other level.

Third course was seared tuna topped with marinated mushrooms and also–I’m pretty sure–diced potatoes. I’m pretty much completely over seared tuna and I have had it SO much that it’s lost its appeal and newness, but this was still good. The tuna tasted more like a steak than fish, especially with the mushrooms and potatoes.

Fourth course was a clear soup with tiny, tiny white stringy mushrooms, asparagus, and maine lobster. You never really get lobster these days in a light dish, but this is one of those rare moments where it happened. The soup itself was very clean and delicious, the asparagus was cooked perfectly, and the broth hinted to a deepness of flavor that nevertheless came out light and subtle.

Fifth course was, thankfully, a plate of sushi, which included fatty toro, seared tuna (again?), clam, and mackerel, as well as one other that I just can’t remember. This sushi is, by far, some of the best I’ve ever had, if not the best. Each tender piece of fish just melted in my mouth. The seared tuna was very good in that you could actually taste the grill. The clam was very sweet and an unexpected surprise. My favorite was probably the fatty toro, which just dissolved in my mouth. One of the best things about this dish is that it came with actual real fresh wasabi, none of this green fake wasabi horseradish crap. I had a little bit of the wasabi on it’s own, and even though it was hot (as expected), it had a hidden sweetness to it. Furthermore, because it was actually shaved wasabi root and not made out of a paste, the texture was completely different, and you could actully feel the shavings with your tongue. Finally, the heat of the wasabi hit your face in a different place. While fake wasabi (the stuff you always get in place of wasabi) hits you in your nose, the real wasabi hits you on your tongue and the roof of your mouth.

Finally, we finished off with a dessert that was absolutely killer. Jay and I got to choose between a small variety of dishes, but we both went for the banana tempura. I chose ginger ice cream for mine and Jay chose green tea ice cream. I’ve had a variation of this dish at Sushi Cafe in Little Rock, and that restaurant’s version was heavily breaded and covered in whipped cream. This version, however, was simpler and wonderful, and made me declare that I want to take frying lessons from the chef. The bananas were sliced to a moderate thinness and had, like the eel, very little breading, and they were so creamy and wonderful in the middle. The ginger ice cream was just phenomenal and had a wonderful lightness to it. Furthermore, the dish itself didn’t need to be covered in whipped cream to be good, it was simply drizzled with a little sauce and sprinkled with some cinnamon.

Throughout the course of the tasting menu, I kept asking myself whether this meal would actually fill me up. Pretty much all of my sushi experiences involve ordering way too much food and simply gorging myself on tons of raw fish. This was different in that it was slow and paced and involved small dishes. Even though I wasn’t full when I left, I was pretty content. I guess this is the true beauty of the meal, it’s balance on the light. Nevertheless, I do look forward to an all-out sushi eat fest the next time I travel down to Sushi-Ko. I think the tasting menu is an excellent way to get to know the cooking aesthetic of the chef, however, and gives you a certain pleasure in knowing about something that’s not actually on the menu. Next time, I might leave off the heels and trade my dress in for some jeans, with a trendy top of course.


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September 2008
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