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SEA - Looking for best traditional sushi

I am looking for the best, most traditional sushi in Seattle or eastside. Price is no object. I want the kind of place that serves only sushi/sashimi, not ridiculous rolls with spicy mayo and cream cheese, where they cook and serve the guts of a baby abalone after you eat the flesh, where the rice is slightly warm and the fish cool, where omakase starts with sashimi and maybe gives me something i've never had before. Maybe this is too much to ask for and I'm hoping seattle can deliver but I've yet to find what I'm looking for. Please Help!

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  1. Nishino has the best o-toro and escolar (for those who like it) and you can always specify "sushi/sashimi only" for their omakase. Umi often serves unusual cuts of Japanese fish (at unusually high prices too). You can also try Kisaku. Kappo (above Chiso) is perhaps the most traditional and esthetic sushi bar (looks like Urasawa) but as a 1-man shop has limited selection and high prices. Shiro is a favorite of some but will not torch their sushi or provide crispy fish bone, and tends to serve unusually small pieces in my experience. Virtually every place still has spicy mayo for those who like it. For a different take on raw fish, try the sashimi at Crush.

    2 Replies
    1. re: barleywino

      I had omakase for the first time with Shiro on Friday. It was a great experience, definitely one of the best of its kind for me. I can't remember every item, but it started with the house poke, and then followed with cold battered smelt ("from la push"), with hot fried fish bone, then proceeded to a "tuna festival" including a torched piece of o-toro. The quality of the nigiri was very high, with considerable variety including a few I had never tried before. The albacore belly and the smelt nigiri were excellent.

      The only complaint was that he was a bit rigid about the procession and seemed bent on adhering to a set menu rather than allowing interaction. I realize that one should anticipate that with this format, I just expected that when we asked for "sushi and sashimi" he would have had included some of the latter, which is more typical for my limited omakase experiences. I did note that we did not get exactly what the pair next to us got, but it was similar. He all but insisted on a simple persimmon dessert that we would have otherwise passed on. We expressed great interest in the live urchins sitting on the counter, but our nigiri were drawn from a plastic tray.

      Total was $112. Its not the easiest balance to strike when you effectively give the chef carte blanche. No doubt it was a delicious meal. For me, the ideal omakase involves just the right measure of flexibility.

      1. re: equinoise

        thanks for your report. apparently he saves his "best" stuff for omakase customers. This has happened to me before there, i asked for otoro, he told me he didn't have any, then served some to another customer, who presumably was having omakase. same with the seared fish and the fish bone, apparently. Nishino provides those items without discriminating between different "classes" of diners. since i like to exercise some control over what i get (like, no flounder or whitefish, no tuna unless fatty etc), Shiro's traditional shut-up-and-eat style where there is no flexibility would not be ideal for me either. PS i did have a nice hamachi kama there recently (but his tatsuta age has gone downhill imo).

    2. Maneki, Shun, and Shiros are my favorites in town. Chiso is also a solid choice.

      Umi is too much of a scene with verrry inconsistent quality. Wasabi Bistro - forget about it.

      I've never been to Nishino but hear it is great, but you can probably get just as good for cheaper elsewhere in the city.

      Other CH'ers are right - there will always be the Americanized rolls on menus, but so what - sit at the bar and don't even look at the menu.

        1. re: hhlodesign

          I second Chiso Kappo and Nishino.

          Nishino has a great omakase and one of their chefs previously worked at the famous Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills.

          But I would recommend Kappo above Chiso in Fremont. I called in before going and spoke with the owner/chef Tai-ichi. He seemed hesitant at first and once he found out that i was NOT looking for rolls and that looking for very traditional and authentic Nigiri and Omakase he invited me to park in the building's garage. To my surprise, he had the waitress greet me in the parking lot and walk me in to Kappo. Kappo provides a very distinctive private chef/sushi bar setting and if not super busy, Tai-ichi will sit down and give you his full attention to what sushi you are absolutely craving.

          btw, his geoduck was amazing.

          3520 Fremont Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103

          1. re: shaolinLFE

            i find that Kappo often has very limited selection (ymmv). Their cooked food options are also few, so that i've actually left there still hungry.

        2. I'll second Maneki for traditional. You won't find anything with cream cheese there. I really enjoy the atmosphere and the service style, like you're being served by mom and grandma.

          1 Reply
          1. re: dagoose

            I find Saito's to be traditional and of good quality. I hear more Japanese-language exchanges at the bar there than any of the others mentioned above, FWIW. I always get ebi heads fried after eating the tails. Obviously, Saito serves some whimsical rolls like anywhere else, but that doesn't mean you have to order them. If you go on a quiet night and just deal at the bar with Saito or a competent lieutenant, explaining what you are looking for, I would think you'll have a fine experience.

            Kisaku is less traditional but very good (people complain about the temperature and seasoning of the rice but to me it's a non-issue because my sushi ken is limited on this point and I generally favor sashimi). Nishino and Chiso (never been to Kappo) are much more expensive than Saito's or Kisaku and only marginally better quality if you are sticking to only sushi/sashimi and not cooked items. Maneki is venerable and great, but its sushi is mid-range quality. Umi's fish is better quality than Maneki's but Umi anything but traditional...care for a James Bond 007 roll?. One pays for the scene there.

          2. I'm looking forward to the sake dinner at Chiso Kappo tomorrow. Kanpai!

            2 Replies
            1. re: SauceSupreme

              One word: awesome.

              I'm definitely coming back. Here's my blog post with pictures:

            2. In 2006 I had a stellar omakase meal at Kisaku that included some local seafood offerings, and the most impressive being bincho zuke (marinated albacore) and hotate no konbu jime (kelp marinated scallops), wish I could have explored more.

              Seattle sushi hounds, you may want to take a look at this interview that I previously posted on the Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations Tokyo thread.

              The head chefs from Shiro and Chiso interview Jiro Ono (of Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza where Bourdain ate at the end of the Tokyo episode). Background, Jiro trained Shiro, and Shiro trained Taichi.

              Part 1


              Part 2


              1. I received most of my sushi education in the Los Angeles area in the 1990’s, much of it from the great sushi master Shibutani-san (aka Shibuya-san), the former chef and owner at Shibucho in the Yaohan Plaza in downtown Los Angeles. (Sushi Shibucho is now located in Costa Mesa, California). At Shibucho, Shibutani-san would fly in fresh akagai from Japan. He would bring out a large wicker tray of hot, freshly cooked anago, which he served as sashimi with only a dab of mixed salt and seaweed on the side. He would also bring out, freshly cooked from the kitchen, steaming plates of tamago. He introduced me to engawa, shira-uo, shiokara, and octopus brains. (I have lots of older posts on Chowhound’s Los Angeles board about my sushi experiences there.) Suffice to say that I have not yet found a sushi restaurant in Seattle that can match the best sushi restaurants in Los Angeles in terms of the variety and exoticness of the seafood they offer. Some, like Kisaku (which is one of the best of Seattle’s sushi restaurants) will offer things like shirako (cod sperm sacs), mentaiko (spicy marinated pollack roe), and sayori (halfbeak) when they are in season and available. But given the palates and sophistication of most sushi restaurant patrons in Seattle, who are largely non-Japanese, the restaurants simply can’t sell enough of the exotic stuff to make it worthwhile. They just wind up throwing it out. For example, I had a wonderful dish in Los Angeles where kanimiso (the grey-green contents of a crab’s head) was piled on top of crab meat and prettily surrounded by thinly sliced cucumbers. At this same meal, I had fuki no tou, the flower stalk of the fuki (bitterbur) plant that grows only in the early spring in the mountains of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, served in a light tempura. I’ve never encountered dishes like these in Seattle. If there is a restaurant that offers these types of specialties, I’d be delighted to learn about it.

                1. As background, I've lived in Japan for a few years and have been going back and forth between different parts of the States, currently Seattle, and Japan for 12 some years. I have been fortunate to dine at some of Japan's finest sushi and fish establishments. While some may look to variety or number of non-mundane delicacies, what should be given high consideration is freshness. Having eaten at many of the major sushi establishments up and down the coasts in the States, excepting LA, I must say that the establishment that has most closely approximated the freshness of fish in Japan is Shiro's. He is the self-proclaimed pickiest fish buyer in Seattle and I believe him. No matter what sort of variety any establishment may have, if it's not fresh, what's the point. That aside, many of the exclusive sushi establishments in Japan have a very small selection of fish, but all are of exquisite freshness. Shiro's is similar in that respect. Another element that makes Shiro's a great culinary experience is Shiro's use of many local fish items in their appropriate seasons, so, yes you will likely eat something you have not had before. Eating seasonal local food is a very Japanese mindset that Shiro has fully adapted to Seattle. That, coupled with freshness, is why discerning Japanese palates dine at Shiro's. Shiro now works only Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so make sure you go on one of those days, as it does differ than the other days of the week. On a different note, Shiro is a major figure in the history of sushi in the States since coming to Seattle 40+ years ago, fresh from training in Tokyo. Enjoy his food while he is still with us. The next best thing is to eat at Jiro's, although at $300 for 45 minutes, enjoy the relatively inexpensive fish at Shiro's.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: usagi

                    Great post, Usagi. I totally agree that the freshness and quality of the fish trumps all other considerations, and I did not mean to imply otherwise in my post. My post merely reflects the fact that there are certain items, such as shirako, that I enjoy, and that are very difficult to find in Seattle because of limited demand. But variety loses importance if the "non-mundane" item isn't of the highest quality. For example, Shibutani-san wouldn't prepare ankimo except in certain winter months when he had determined that the monkfish liver was sufficiently oily to make ankimo that met his standards.

                    1. re: Tom Armitage

                      Slightly off-topic but Shibutani-san in Costa Mesa has the best knife skills I've ever seen from a chef. And Ike-san at Sushi Ike in Hollywood has the best manual skills. I've eaten at Urasawa but I think I was too dumbstruck to really pay close academic attention. (There's no doubt that Hiro-san and his two Michelin stars, how shall I put this, is pretty good.)

                      And so it's with that background that I was thrilled to find Kappo Chiso, and I'm sure I'll enjoy Shiro as well.

                      I can't speak about Seattle but in Portland, there really lacks a sushi-ya that adopts the philosophy of understatement while still striving for perfection. In other words, there are no sushi "temples". Everything is too much high polish, and while many diners are hip to the lingo of omakase and otoro and hamachi sashimi and what have you, no itamae seems really intent on taking diners on a journey to learn something new.

                      That's why I'm so glad my PNW brothers to the north are able to have great sushi. I know it's only a matter of time before Portland catches up (the scene has changed by leaps and bounds already) but in the mean time I'm more than happy to make a 3 hour trip to get my sushi fix.

                      (My favorite place for ankimo: Sushi Zo near Culver City. He also does an uni spaghetti that's pretty awesome.)

                    2. re: usagi

                      If that's the case, why doesn't Shiro have sanma, which is currently in season and a very popular item?

                      1. re: barleywino

                        Shiro generally prefers to use local fish because he feels that he has more control over quality and freshness. Rather than offer sanma imported from Japan, he has been serving fresh local ocean smelt.