December 21st, 2012 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (1)
Sleek, spare yet somehow elegant, Utica Square’s newest gastronomic delight looks like a temple to good food. The servers, hushed and reverential, add to the foodie ambiance; service is unusually good. With sushi in the name, the star, as you’d expect, is raw seafood, but there are plenty of delights for someone who, like me, would trade the finest plate of toro-topped nigirizushi for the sizzle of fatty meat on the grill. I went there alone on two successive Friday evenings and was thrilled each time. First, the decor.
The menu has sections for salads, creative appetizers such as edamame hummus, nigiri ($5 or $6 for two pieces), sashimi ($9), maki (around $5) and American-style sushi rolls (between $8 and $16). But right on top is a big section called “GRILL”. I ordered from that. On my first visit, I chose the Ishiyaki Beef ($18). Would you like a bowl of complimentary miso soup, asked the waitress. You had me at complimentary, I replied. Meanwhile, nearby tables, already full at 5:30 PM (the word has spread), seemed to be ordering grilled items too. A huge bowl loaded with yummy-looking kalbi ($11), grilled short ribs Korean-style, went to the table next to mine. The miso came. I downed the flavorful broth. Then the ishiyaki arrived.
Four ounces of raw thinly-sliced steak and a hot stone (heated by a burner) to cook it on. First you dip a slice in a soy-based sauce, then throw it on the grill and hear it sizzle. It was fun! But the meat was a slight disappointment. You can’t get a proper sear on the stone so it tastes more boiled than grilled. Still, I liked it enough that when I had some free time a week later I returned. This time I got the Yakitori. That’s meat which has been cut in cubes, harpooned on a skewer, brushed with tare sauce and then grilled. Like kebabs. You choose between chicken and pork belly; it’s three skewers for $6. Of course I chose both. Here’s my order sizzling on the grill.
Yes, this grill gives a good sear. And here’s what arrived.
I loved the elegant presentation but I loved the taste even more. The chicken was very good, with a nice char. The pork belly was fantastic. Next time I’ll order nothing but pork belly, I resolved. It was a lean cut but there was enough fat to give it a fine flavor, and the tare sauce (made with soy sauce and sweet mirin) elevated the flavor to sublime level. I also ordered a bowl of rice (usually free on request but sometimes $2) and the high-quality sticky rice was a nice palate-cleanser between bites. I thought it couldn’t get any better. But then I ordered the scallops ($7). As I started to take a photo on the table on which I’d been eating, a waitress rushed over. “No, the table will look dirty in the photograph, let me clean it.” But I liked the clutter so we moved the scallops to the sushi bar for their photo session.
The scallops are grilled with yuzu kosho, a traditional sauce from Kyushu Island. It’s made by mixing the peel of the yuzu fruit with green chili peppers. One Japanese food blogger called this sauce “at once intensely fragrant, hot and alive, a zesty accent that plants a big, fat palate-popping kiss to any dish.” And yes, the scallops were like that. The flavor was sharp, citric and hot. (Not very hot, I should add.) So a delicious meal ended on a high note. I’ll be back. And who knows… I might even try the rawer items, especially since they look like this.
Sushi Alley Izakaya
1730 Utica Square (between Stonehorse and MedX)
Open daily from 11 AM to 2 PM and from 5 PM to 10 PM except closed Sunday. (There’s a special lunch menu that includes Korean bulgogi beef)
Brian Schwartz: Author
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.