Sushi is such a frail, delicate food. Think about it. How many times have you been to a few sushi places and one stood out because it had a better tasting rice, was rolled correctly, was properly served a little bit above room temperature, or had a more buttery piece of fish? It’s truly an art.
Only one sushi restaurant has truly blown me away. Ukai on Belmont Avenue. Everything about this place is just a little different than most places in town. The restaurant is gorgeous. The maki rolls I ordered have came with five thick pieces. They don’t have normal maki (cucumber, avocado) anywhere on the menu. The presentation is lovely. Their award-winning Gomae dish experiments with molecular gastronomy, wrapping pieces of cucumber with cooked spinach while sesame powder and soy yuzu air sits alongside. Wakame salad isn’t even the same here. Ukai’s seaweed salad sits on a large portion of cucumbers then topped with a sweet and sour cucumber vinaigrette ($4).
I normally skip appetizers at sushi places since they’re the normal boring soup and salad. But keeping with the theme, those selections sit at the bottom of the menu below their “Raw” section. I recommend the Hamachi Jalapeño ($9). The yellowtail is characteristically light, the cilantro brings a love or hate earthiness, the jalapeño and sriracha adds the heat, then out of nowhere the mustard seed oil and grapefruit come in with tart and sweet. Essentially, it’s a dish that combines all tastes including umami in a bite.
So sushi isn’t sushi without the fish, right? Say it with me: “butter.” I haven’t seen pieces of tuna and salmon so fatty in a long time. My favorite is the Bulls Roll ($8.50), where the spicy mayo blends with that tuna and salmon. While that’s melting in your mouth, cucumber and salty tempura flakes join in to round the taste out and blow your mind. Eel lovers can find a treat in the Fire Dragon roll, while masago fans will want to make sure they get the nigiri, which is wrapped in a generous bit of their nori.
Nestled in an area of Lakeview a few blocks away from general insanity and reasonably priced being that it’s a BYOB, Ukai is my favorite sushi joint in town.