Monday, September 10, 2007

Sushi of the Caribbean

"Siggy" Nakanhishi, owner and sushi chef at Aki on West 4th, spent several years as chef to the Japanese ambassador to the West Indies, in Kingston, Jamaica, where he started blending Japanese and Jamaican cuisine. Aki has a reputation for great sushi, but I was more interested in Nakanhishi's special creations.

I've stated my reservations about fusion cuisines before. I have no interest in the hotshot young American chef who wakes up one morning and decides he'll take the culinary world by storm with the first Croatian-Cambodian restaurant. Still, there are the occasional fusions that do work for me; they're usually the result of a chef mixing his native cuisine with something else he's picked up along life's gustatory path. One of my current favorite restaurants, for instance, is Itzocan Cafe, a tiny Mexican-French bouchon in the East Village. In that instance, two brothers from Puebla picked up French cuisine working in the kitchens of French restaurants in New York, and now brilliantly marry Mexican ingredients to French technique.

I'm not sure Japanese-Jamaican will be the next big thing. Aki is quite good, but I think it's where Nakanhishi's inventiveness doesn't try to push the Caribbean angle that he shines. The one real dud was the Jamaica Chicken, which is described as "organic jerk chicken rolled with a robust shrimp paste, vegetables, and a tangy mango teriyaki with banana tempura." I didn't taste anything that was mildly reminiscent of Jamaican jerk, and the whole fruity affair reminded me of something one might have found at Trader Vic's. The special roll combo, while not a washout, was a disappointment. It featured three of the restaurant's signature sushi rolls. The best of the bunch was the dinosaur roll, which had fried shrimp, avocado and tobiko (flying fish roe). The Caribbean roll, with yellowtail, mango and avocado, was OK, but I'm not sure the mango really belonged there. The banana boat roll, with fried banana and spicy tuna is not an idea whose time will ever come, as far as I'm concerned.

A day's special of uni (sea urchin) with yuzu jelly (yuzu is a Japanese sour citrus fruit) was a successful mix of tastes and textures. I think my favorite item was the eel Napoleon, which consisted of layers of eel, fried tofu, and creamy mashed pumpkin, garnished with yam chips.

Surely the most visually arresting item (and also excellent in the taste department) was the tuna mille feuille, which had alternating layers of tuna, avocado and fuji apple, with a white balsamic and apple vinegar dressing, bookended by apricots, and garnished with various sea vegetables. It was topped with a mild, golden fish roe (described as tobiko on the menu, but the tobiko I know is red).

Aki, at 181 West 4th, is very small, so reservations are essential.

Aki on Urbanspoon


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tobiko is an artificially colored MSG flavored caviar. And so is all the spicy mayo.

3:25 PM  

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