November 15, 2013
Down a crooked alley and then up three narrow flights of stairs. At the top, the usual sliding wooden door into a tiny restaurant: Sushi Hoshiyami is a counter with just 8 seats.
But this sushi chef walks his own path. He is young, with a shock of mod-cut hair, and a serious look that approaches a scowl.
Without a word he hands us each a bowl of muzuku, and it feels like he means it as a challenge.
I have a passion for this seaweed, although the kind I know, from Okinawa, is thinner and much slimmier than this Hokkaido version. This one is crisp, snapping in the mouth. He watches intently as we eat. “You like?” he asks, peering at us with a puzzled expression.
We like. He nods and hands the first piece of sushi across the counter. “No soy sauce,” he says sternly, painting the tai with some elixir of his own.
In fact, as he hands one impeccable piece of fish after another across the counter, the mantra never changes. “No soy sauce.” This is sushi chef as control freak, carefully calibrating each bite.
The fish is excellent, but it does not taste like any sushi I’ve eaten before. The rice is chewier and saltier, which lends the fish a different flavor. Even the ginger, eaten between bites, is salty, not sweet.
The meal is long, slow deliberate. The flavors I remember best:
The flavors rise to a crescendo; in the middle there is an onslaught of very flavorful and oily fish. Then the curve moves downward, each fish becoming softer, gentler than the one before. The final piece of sushi is this crab, which whispers into the mouth.
It’s the one sweet thing we have all night.
It has been a fascinating new look at sushi: the salty rice, with very little wasabi, no nori, and just the slightest umami hint of soy sauce, formed a frame around the fish, which seemed more naked, the flavors more exposed. To anyone accustomed to drowing sushi in that power pair of soy sauce and wasabi, it would be a revelation.
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