You know when you start dreaming of grocery sushi that you’ve waited too long. That’s your cue to head to Kanpai Sushi and Sake Bar.
For the last 10 years, Kanpai has served up some of the best traditional (with a twist) sushi in town. But let me tell you, traditional at Kanpai doesn’t mean ordinary. Or boring. Sure you can order your basic nigiri and rolls. But if you really want to make your taste buds skip and sing, opt for omakase—which means chef’s choice—instead.
Owner Justin Cook was our sushi chef the night of the review. The master started us out with bites of bright pink, cool tuna and melt-in-your-mouth Hamachi in a spicy ginger vinaigrette.
“Can we lick the plate?” I asked. I was only half joking. We would revisit that same sauce later in the meal when Chef Justin served us a seared scallop topped with scallion and dusted with dried bonito flake. The perfect marriage provided a study of textures, along with nuances of salt and spicy goodness, that we would experience in all our dishes that night.
Our taste of salmon in a garlic citrus vinaigrette with a dab of goat cheese, pickled red onion and a fried caper worked for all the same reasons, with the citrus addition putting it over the top.
“If sushi had a comfort food, this would be it,” my dining companion Leah said.
“So if I can’t lick my plate, can I have a straw?” I asked. Ever the pragmatist, I settled for a spoon.
“That may be the best dish of the night,” Leah stated. “I don’t know how he can do better than that.”
We were about to find out.
Poke on a chip over a bed of seaweed wowed us both. I loved the creaminess of the firm, fresh fish contrasted with the crunch of the fried wonton chip. Leah loved the fact that she felt like she was eating healthy nachos.
Our next dish, an experiment that Chef Justin wasn’t even sure would work, proved to be another Leah favorite—uni (sea urchin) on a bed of green sauce made from cilantro, serrano chili, shiso leaf and truffle salt.|
“Comfort food 2.0,” she said, grabbing one of the spoons I’d requested in order to round up every last drop of sauce.
My favorite bite followed: Hamachi sprinkled with ghost pepper salt and wrapped around avocado and a chiffonade of scallion, then topped with black tobico (flying fish roe) and drizzled with Spanish olive oil. Silky meets creamy in a citrus sauce with a subtle touch of ghost pepper heat. What’s not to love?
Noting that neither of us was using a drop of either soy sauce or wasabi, unheard of in our sushi world, we kept going. The bites of crispy pork belly topped with pickled mustard seed and served alongside home-pickled, al dente, ever-so-sweet vegetables were about the last thing I expected from a sushi bar. But what a delicious contrast.
To be honest, I didn’t expect to like the octopus ceviche, Chef Justin’s take on a taco. But the octopus was tender and delicious, while the clean citrusy jalapeno flavor proved a perfect follow-up to the fatty pork belly.
We ended our feast with Chef Justin’s version of dessert—unagi (freshwater eel) tempura with scallop and avocado in a pineapple gastrique (caramelized sugar, deglazed with vinegar), topped with an amaretto-soaked cherry.
“This guy has serious talent,” my friend Leah announced.
I’ll second that.