Saturday, August 12, 2006

Shumi Shows Me the Way

Sushi-loving New Jerseyans, take note: Shumi, in Somerville, is awesome.

Yes, it occupies a couple of modest windowless rooms at the back of a small, charmless office building, but that's where the criticism ends. The food is wonderful. On our first visit, Margy and I sat at the bar and let the chef feed us what was best that day. We cut no corners and ate a lot, and the bill was pretty big. This time, we sat at a table and ordered from the menu, and though we didn't get treated to things like a progressive tuna tasting from lean to fatty to superfatty, or a few pieces of "the best part of the salmon," we cut way back on the expense and still got to enjoy the freshest, most perfect fish we've been able to find in NJ.

In terms of the nigiri sushi, the tuna and yellowtail were tender and flavorful. At lots of middling restaurants, the fish will have only one of these characteristics, at best, though I find texture to be a little more reliable than flavor. For instance, there's a place in our town where the fish is fresh and usually pretty tender (at least the items that are supposed to be tender, as some things should be firmer or chewier). But the flavor: nonexistent. Last time I ate there I ordered a bunch of different fish, and not one of them brought my mind to the sea. Not one. I won't go back. Conversely, you'll sometimes find, say, a piece of yellowtail that actually tastes like yellowtail, but then you're still chewing it three minutes later.

Shumi finds the balance, seemingly without trying. My guess is that the chefs have a trustworthy supplier and know how to choose the best specimens on offer -- I assume it's as simple as that. Here the most fun part of our nigiri assortment was a little mackerel medley. That's straight-up, sardinelike mackerel (top left), milder Spanish mackerel (top right), and melt-in-your-mouth Japanese horse mackerel (middle right, with a dollop of green topping, which I believe was scallion and ginger). Everything was perfect, and our pieces of spicy squid tentacle sushi (top middle, just below the two mackerels) were the ideal end note, though of course we couldn't resist a little mochi ice cream for dessert.

Go to Shumi.

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