Sushi Kappo Tamura on Eastlake Avenue East in Seattle is a restaurant rooted in Japanese concepts with an American exuberance. Sushi and sashimi are notable for their delicate flavor and freshness.
Some sushi chefs are solemn practitioners of their art, others more gregarious. Taichi Kitamura, like his one-time boss, Seattle sushi master Shiro Kashiba, is one of the showmen.
At his new Eastlake restaurant, Sushi Kappo Tamura, the Kyoto-born Taichi (as everyone seems to call him) makes customers at his sushi bar feel welcome right away. Many are former patrons of Chiso/Kappo in Fremont, which he closed to launch Sushi Kappo Tamura.
“You’ve been in before haven’t you?” he’ll often inquire. If the person has, they feel valued: flattered to be recognized by the busy chef.
Admit to being a first-timer and his next question might be, “How did you hear about us?” or “Do you live in the neighborhood?” Thus begins an easy banter that will weave throughout the meal you are now primed to enjoy at his smooth, honey-hued hemlock counter.
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Behind the good-old-boy manner and mischievous grin lies a skillful master of his domain. Taichi is focused on his customers, often stepping around the counter to personally deliver and describe a dish, yet always attune to the bevy of cooks, dishwashers, servers and apprentices bustling around him.
Co-owner and general manager Steve Tamura ably oversees the tranquil dining room. A man of equanimity and gracious decorum (even with his toddler son tugging on his arm) he is particularly knowledgeable about sake, as is the attentive wait staff.
Tamura’s sake list is broad, affordable and user friendly, offering helpful descriptors for the novice, and enough facts about region, percentage of rice milled, and other arcane information to satisfy the sake savvy.
Taichi’s food is rooted in Japanese concepts, but has an American exuberance. A list of specials is printed daily to accommodate seasonal tweaks and available ingredients. Right now, and up until the first frost, matsutake mushrooms are prominent among them.
Taichi might put them in a stew of beef shoulder. Or tuck a slice into his lightly battered tempura assortment, alongside shishito pepper, Alaskan red snapper fillets and a fritter-like kakiage of Satsuma yam and tiny, sweet baby shrimp.
To me, matsutake dobin mushi is the ideal way to appreciate the mushroom’s sensational, cedar-y aroma. Slices are steeped in dashi with other aromatics (and one night, a piece of Alaskan black cod) in a small dobin (teapot). You squirt in some lime and drink the nearly clear, fragrant elixir from a shallow cup. When the broth is depleted use chopsticks to pick out the pot’s delicious dregs.
Specials vary from light salads to hearty meat dishes. Both slender string beans with sesame almond dressing and yuzu-dressed mizuna greens topped with grilled king oyster and shimeji mushrooms had an appealing astringency.
A dab of momiji ponzu (a zesty sauce of red chili, daikon, citrus and soy) was delightful on shigoku oysters from Willapa Bay. They tasted crisp and clean in their smooth, deep-cupped shells, and were stunningly presented on crushed ice in a long, curved ceramic bowl.
Among heartier plates was a thrilling marriage of scallops and short ribs, thin overlapping discs bound by a potent yuzu-sharpened scallion sauce. The meat was as tender as the mollusk.
That same vibrant green sauce embellished rosy slices of duck breast, seared to render some fat, then braised to pliancy. Braised mustard greens, unabashedly bitter and fabulous, accompanied both meat dishes.
A sashimi ensemble of the chef’s choosing showcased dainty slices of geoduck, marbled tuna, sockeye, sea bream, scallop, snapper and yellowtail. The chef’s sushi selection featured two kinds of salmon (Yukon king and sockeye) as well as a geoduck roll bright with shiso and pickled plum. Wild salmon, not farmed, appropriately stuffs a Seattle roll. All of the fish was notable for its delicate flavor and freshness.
This is one Japanese restaurant where you do want dessert, especially if it is chestnut panna cotta, served in a stemless martini glass topped with tiny twigs of lime zest submerged under an inch of clear honey-rum syrup. Enjoy it with a glass of ume plum sake. It’s a singular treat, like Sushi Kappo Tamura itself.
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