Monday, June 16, 2008

Seattle trip - Shiro's sushi restaurant

I just got in to Seattle today for my conference and I skipped the free buffets at open houses and instead walked over to Shiro's Sushi Restaurant. Seattle is lousy with sushi places--I passed four or five on my way over--but Shiro's has a Local Specialties section on the menu I really wanted to try. I've also read that chef's choice will net you some really interesting and odd dishes, but it was a full house and it didn't look like they had time to get experimental.

I was a bit surprised about where I found the restaurant. It looked like a Williamsburg-esque hipster-infested mid-gentrification neighborhood, but Shiro's has been there and, apparently been a hot-towel glass-covered-white-tablecloth sort of place, since 1994.

It was a full house at 7 pm on Sunday with a good mix of families, the aforementioned hipsters, and Japanese young professionals boozing it up at the sushi bar. The amount of customers may have been unusual; the wait staff seemed a little overwhelmed.

I didn't order any sushi myself, but I wasn't far from the sushi bar so I got a look at the orders. I liked how they were laid out--prettily garnished with bean threads, shrimp heads and such but not sculptural. It's a bit of a peeve of mine when dishes are laid out so they look great, but are a pain to actually eat.

So what I did order was:
Geoduck Butter Yaki--Tender giant clam sauteed w/butter and mushroom sauce
Smelt Nanban--Marinated smelt w/fresh sliced Walla Walla onion
Asari Sakamushi--Steamed local Manila clams w/sake sauce
and a bowl of miso soup with baby mushrooms.

Let's start with the soup which I didn't photograph because you know what miso soup looks like. I think you can get a sense of a Japanese restaurant from their miso soup. I was particularly impressed with Shiro's because it had such a nice balance between the miso and the bonito and kombu in the dashi. Most places use a lot of miso and drown the dashi and most dashi goes heavy on the bonito and drowns the kombu. Really tasting all three is pretty rare and pretty nice. The cilantro garnish instead of the usual wakame was a good match with the baby mushrooms.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the smelt. Looking at it, I expected it to be warm, fresh from the deep fryer, and to taste primarily of tempura batter. Instead, the fish were deeply chilled and bursting with a bright vinegary flavor well balanced against the raw sweet onions that topped them.

The geoduck I was actually a little disappointed with. It's the first time I've had geoduck (a giant clam native to the Pacific northwest) and I don't know if sautéing it with butter and mushrooms is a great showcase. I've made similar recipes with chicken and the flavors and textures in dish were hard to distinguish from them until the shellfish aftertaste hits. Maybe that's the point? If it's deliberately using geoduck as just another meat then it succeeded well as it was a well prepared and pleasant enough dish. I'll have to have more geoduck in other preparations to really get a sense of what was going on here, I think.

Finally, the Manila clams. They were cooked to just the right level of doneness, firm but not chewy and tender enough to de-shell using chopsticks. I'm assuming the broth I got was the advertised sake sauce, but I couldn't taste any sake in it. It tasted of clam liquor rounded out subtly with other flavors, a squeeze of lemon, a bit of kombu, maybe some sake. The scallions on top were raw but wilted slightly in the broth. Quite straightforward, which is how I like my clams generally, but carefully managed to get just right. Not a hint of grit either which I appreciated.

Overall I was quite happy, and, surprisingly, full for only $36 including tip and tax. (It would have been more if I had went with sake instead of tea.) I can only hope my other meals here are as good.

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