Forget about idling in the cellphone lot. Next time I’m picking up or dropping off at SeaTac I’ll be building in wait time at Miyabi.
The eight-year-old sushi bar and restaurant, just south of Southcenter Mall, somehow eluded this reviewer’s radar until this spring, when it spawned a Wallingford sibling, Miyabi 45th, where fresh soba noodles are the focus and sushi is not to be found.
Miyabi’s trio of owners includes executive chef Masaaki Ishikura, his wife, Hisako, and one-time Mariner Masao Kida, now pitching for the Ishikawa Million Stars in Japan.
Two years ago Hisako oversaw a remodel of the Southcenter restaurant. It’s a lovely, visually lively space, with boughs of pink cherry blossoms arching across the ceiling and light installations by Yuri Kinoshita, whose work illuminates several Asian restaurants in Seattle. Servers — a caring, friendly, energetic bunch — are costumed to match the setting, in traditional Japanese garb, navy cotton jackets and shorts, called jinbei.
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A local woodworker built the two long walnut-slab tables and their matching benches that run down the middle of the dining room. This stunning centerpiece makes for flexible seating. It’s used as a communal table, or to seat large parties, or as a temporary perch until a smaller table opens up.
Miyabi bustles even on a weeknight. Customers span a range of ages and ethnicities. Out-of-town business people, singles, couples and extended families are in the mix. Birthday celebrations are common, involving a silly hat and singing by the entire staff.
Things can get so hectic, empty plates pile up unnoticed. It’s not that servers are negligent; they simply can’t keep up.
Those who come for sushi will find fish that tastes impeccably fresh. Sashimi is meticulously arranged, and the nigiri petite enough to consume in one bite.
Sushi rolls are so popular and elaborate that making them can sometimes bog down the sushi chefs. The more ostentatious among them include “Blazing Godzilla” topped with glowing red habanero tobiko, and “Mt. Rainier,” a tempura-style roll arranged in jagged peaks crowned with crab salad, spicy mayo and sweet eel sauce. The Happy Tuna roll was more my speed. Spicy tuna and cucumber filled the center; maguro and albacore formed a mosaic across its back.
Hewing just to the specials at the sushi bar one night, I savored a sashimi assortment of Alaskan sockeye, geoduck, kanpachi and shimaaji (jack mackerel): three dainty slices of each plus lemon, cucumber, shiso, shredded daikon, pickled ginger and a small bowl of lighthearted ponzu. Creamy uni (sea urchin), ordered as nigiri, came cupped in a shiso leaf on a column of rice wrapped in nori.
The tuna, salmon, yellowtail and shrimp nigiri available as part of a bento combo was just as carefully composed, with clean-tasting fish and glossy, lightly vinegared grains of rice.
The bento box itself is a pick-two proposition with a wide choice of meat, seafood and vegetables. Beef yakiniku (grilled steak bites and onions in a soy-based brown sauce) was a hit; tough pork tonkatsu (a breaded, fried cutlet) was a miss.
Salmon teriyaki, another bento option, can also be ordered as a generously portioned entree comprising two crosscut pieces edged with skin in a sauce that isn’t overly sweet, plus miso soup, rice and the house “spaghetti salad” (noodles coated in mayo).
Another way to go is to graze on izakaya, or small plates. Worth trying are tempura-fried pork and vegetable-stuffed gyoza; kushikatsu (skewers of pork, prawns and chunks of eggplant breaded and deep-fried); and Manila clams steamed in a light, sake broth.
Gummy octopus-studded dumplings (takoyaki) held little allure and languished on the plate, but tender, grilled squid, cut into ringlets, disappeared quickly, leaving not a trace of the mayonnaise dipping sauce behind.
If grilled black cod collar is on the menu, give it a go. This bony cut offered up lots of salty, charred sweet flesh hidden in its many cavities and even a piece of soft cheek.
The soba noodles here are OK, but they are not the ones handmade by Mutsuko Soma, who is a partner in the Wallingford enterprise. I guarantee it won’t be years before I get to Miyabi 45th and report back. Watch this space.
Providence Cicero, Seattle Times restaurant critic, co-hosts “Let’s Eat” with Terry Jaymes at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. Listen to past shows at www.KIRORadio.com/letseat. Reach Cicero at firstname.lastname@example.org.