Seattle’s sushi sensei Shiro Kashiba is back. But does his new restaurant, Sushi Kashiba, live up to the hype?
“Is Shiro here tonight?” It’s a question I heard more than once at Sushi Kashiba, and the answer is almost always yes.
On a recent night off, the 75-year-old, Kyoto-born sushi master Shiro Kashiba was dining with friends at a corner table in the softly lit lounge of his latest namesake restaurant. Here, adjacent to the courtyard of the Inn at the Market, in the space that once held the long-loved restaurant Campagne, the ripple of excitement his presence caused wasn’t quite akin to a Macklemore sighting — no one jockeyed for a selfie — but when the Mick Jagger of Mackerel is behind the sushi bar, plenty of cellphones point his way.
Soon after settling in Seattle 50 years ago, Kashiba set about introducing his adopted city to Tokyo-style sushi. He married it to the local seafood and eventually realized his dream of opening his own restaurant. Generations know him from his original Nikko restaurant in the Chinatown International District and later as the star-power at Shiro’s, still thriving in Belltown but no longer under his stewardship.
Sushi Kashiba ★★½
86 Pine St. (Inn at the Market Courtyard), Seattle
Reservations: recommended for the dining room; no reservations for sushi bar
Hours: dinner 5-10:30 p.m. daily
Prices: $$$$ (a la carte items $3.50-$18; prix fixe dinners $70-$85; omakase $95 and up)
Drinks: full bar; cocktails, sake, beer and wine; captain’s list features Japanese whiskeys and grower Champagnes
Service: engaging; all smiles and smooth sailing
Parking: on street or in nearby garages and lots
Sound: loud in the dining room; less so in the bar
Who should go: sushi enthusiasts willing to play the waiting game for a seat at the bar
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Without a doubt, Shiro Kashiba is Seattle’s sushi sensei. Whether you will enjoy Sushi Kashiba depends on your willingness to play the waiting game and your appetite for the party atmosphere that prevails in the bright, convivial dining room.
If it’s sushi you want, the sushi bar is where you should sit. Most order omakase, an open-ended menu of the chef’s choosing; you say when. Only a lucky few are served by Shiro-san, but all of the other chef-partners — Yasutaka Suzuki, Ben Kuo, Yoshi Hori and Ken Wada — have had a long association with him at his other restaurants.
Getting one of those 14 seats requires determination though. You can call to reserve a table, but the only way to snag a place at the sushi bar is to show up and put your name on the list — as early as 3:30 p.m. if you want to catch the first seating at 5 p.m. Timing is more fluid for the two later seatings. Not all customers relinquish their seats within the expected two-hour time frame, so you could wait an hour or more. (Genial host and general manager Michael Rico is prepared to suggest places to explore nearby while you wait, if the 10 seats at Kashiba’s liquor bar are occupied.)
Once seated beneath the sushi bar’s white, birch-limb canopy, your back is to the rest of the dining room and the waterfront view. Before you, glass-fronted cases of fish, chilled in plastic wrap, largely obscure the knife skills of your sushi chef. Despite the low, wood-paneled ceiling, the decibel level is high: I had to ask my soft-spoken chef to repeat his description of every piece.
At my seating, I consumed 21 pieces of nigiri. Despite some temperature fluctuations — sometimes the rice was a little too cold, sometimes the fish was — it was a satisfying lineup that included skin-on madai, the much-prized Japanese sea bream; various cuts of bluefin tuna; Spanish and king mackerel; and from more local waters, uni, geoduck, squid and sockeye.
In keeping with the Edomae tradition, embellishments were few and simple: a smidge of wasabi; a swipe of dark sauce; yuzu and pink sea salt sprinkled over alabaster fluke; shiso and pickled plum tucked beneath squid. A dab of yuzukosho gently jolted sweet Hokkaido scallops and lush yellowtail. Minced daikon and scallion graced albacore and seared salmon belly.
Another solo diner next to me kept up a similar pace. Our final tabs were roughly equivalent: about $95, before tax, tip and beverages. (We compared.) He got a few things I lusted after — an oyster on the half shell, halibut and ankimo (monkfish liver). I piped up and asked for the latter, no doubt a breach of decorum on my part, but my chef graciously obliged with a boatlike gunkan nigiri topped with the diced liver doused in ponzu.
Ankimo is one of the dozen or so hot and cold a la carte dishes that come from the kitchen, along with oysters, tempura, butter-sautéed geoduck and the not-to-be-missed Crispy Rex Sole. The delicately fried fish fillets are served with the deep-fried, golden brown skeleton, as brittle and salty as a Kettle chip.
The a la carte items are part of a larger menu offered at the table. It features four pricey, prix fixe dinner options: two are sushi-focused; the others spotlight broiled king salmon and kasu black cod, a luxuriously rich fish steeped in sake lees and miso.
Chawan mushi $11
Crispy rex sole $12
Chicken karaage $12
Sautéed geoduck $15
Shiro’s iconic kasu black cod has inspired countless imitations around town. It’s as good as ever, but only available as part of a $75 dinner package, rounded out by miso soup, salad (lately a very lovely, honey-and-mustard-dressed arrangement of watercress and asparagus with blood orange and smoked salmon), a few heavily battered tempura shrimp and vegetables, and a couple of dreary nigiri (yellowtail and Atlantic salmon).
The nigiri in the composed sushi dinner (also $75) was a far cry from the artistry on offer at the bar. Twelve pieces are served in two courses of six. The fish was pristine, but the nori was tough, and the cold, clumpy rice stuck to the chilled ceramic serving plate.
On the upside, the dinner came with the same salad and an appetizer of four, dainty fried silver fish, exquisitely escorted by lemon sour cream, wasabi mayo and potato chips.
Also on the upside here: doting servers; a sinuous jazz soundtrack in the sleek, sexy lounge; and the magic that happens when there’s a rock star in the house.