Remember when I said that Shiku was my favorite sushi restaurant in Seattle? Well, I never wrote it in stone. While I do love Shiku and look forward to my next visits, I’ve recently revisited an old fave in West Seattle and it’s taken back the reins of my favorite sushi restaurant at this moment. I had an awesome dinner at Mashiko a bit ago and I’m still drunk on the brilliance that I enjoyed.
We’ve been to Mashiko a few times now and they’ve all been magical. The deliciousness of the fish, the interplay of textures, and the ability to wow us constantly have all been hallmarks of our experiences. Our first visit was truly ‘another level’ dining experience. We, along with our friend JR, were able to sit at the bar and be at the whims of Chef Hajime. We still talk about the uni we had on top of a tempura shiso leaf; this made me a believer in the gospel of sea urchin. With this nostalgia, we were giddy to see what Chef Hajime and team had in store for us this time.
First word of note, Mashiko takes reservations and this would come in handy as Mashiko can get very busy. Sadly, we didn’t have the foresight to do such a thing. So we had to slog and wait it out for a spot (ended up being about 40 minutes on a Saturday night). Our preference would’ve been for the bar, but we were resigned to get whatever opened up.
Waiting inside Mashiko, we were able to fully absorb the feel of the place and note its idiosyncrasies. Let’s start with their website; sushiwhore.com. Clearly, you will not be dining at a reserved, mellow sushi spot. It’s more of a new school, hangout bar that has a rock ‘n roll feel. While waiting you’ll also notice some of the house rules. My favorites? ‘Everything you know is wrong.’ and ‘chopsticks are not drumsticks.’ You’ll also see the accolades that Mashiko has received. And they’ve been around since ’94, so they have buckets of them.
Sadly, we weren’t able to get that front row seat to Chef Hajime and his team’s show, but we were able to get a nice secluded booth on the other side of the room. Not even within eye contact of the chef! Truly this would be an interesting experience! We gave our server one instruction; omakase. Omakase is the act of putting your dining experience in the hands of the chef. But chefs generally prefer doing omakase with their frequent guests and Chef Hajime is no different. Because he would ideally like to get to know his clients likes and dislikes, we armed our server with this; give us what’s fresh as of this very day.
Here are the three really cool things that I love about Mashiko:
- The beauty of fish
This should go without saying with sushi. It should be about the fish. Take away all of the decor, atmospherics, whatever, when you go for sushi, you should be enjoying really, really good fish. This is what I notice when I go Mashiko.
Chef Hajime has a skill for highlighting the freshness and unique flavors of the different fish that make their way to his counter. And each piece has a unique and distinct in flavor. I love this about good nigiri.
Leaving ourselves in Chef Hajime’s hands, our server brought out escolar, bluefin, hamachi, and salmon, amongst other nigiri. The escolar was a highlight. Utterly delicious and tasty, this fish is similar to black cod or seabass in fat level and flavor. If you happen to see escolar on the menu, order it.
Bluefin is the type of tuna that the sushi world goes crazy for. It’s the most luscious and fatty piece of fish that I know. What I love most about bluefin besides how tasty it is, is the color. Almost fluorescent pink, it’s a joy to look at. Unfortunately, it’s a bit overfished so the level of guilt I had with eating it was easily outweighed by how delicious it is.
- Creativity with the menu
A few other dishes really stood out. First was hamachi kama. This is a favorite of mine at Japanese spots. It’s the collar of yellowtail that has been grilled or broiled and bursts with flavor. At Mashiko, they soak it in the lees of sake, then place on the grill and cover it with a bowl to allow the the flavors to infuse the fish. This was the first time that JR had hamachi collar and now I think he’s a convert. When you get it, eat the skin! Suck on the bones! All of the meat of the hamachi is delicious and you’ll find yourself on the verge of licking the plate. I love hamachi kama.
The other dip into the creative mind of Chef Hajime were the rolls that made our way to us. While we do love sushi rolls, our love for the element of surprise with nigiri and sashimi wins. If I have the choice of a slab of fish or a roll, I’ll go fish everytime.
But the nice thing about rolls is they allow for the chef to flex their creative muscle. Sushi chefs can play with textures, flavors, colors, plate design, etc. It makes the sushi experience just as exciting for the eyes as it is for the tastebuds. The roll that I loved at Mashiko had unagi with sweet potato tempura, surrounded by rice and mame-nori. This was really good. Unagi has a natural sweetness and combined with the tempura sweet potato was perfect. It was close to dessert! Lovely.
- The same idiosyncraties that make Mashiko unique
I covered this a bit earlier, but I truly love that Mashiko’s isn’t for everyone. But should it be? Should we go to places that are one size fits all? I’d think not; all dining experiences have their pluses and minuses; and the places we really like going to have far more pluses.
Mashiko is different; their website isn’t pc, they glamorize the sushi bar with a webcam, and they have rules! But all of these things makes Mashiko’s their own – and I love it. I’m not sure if you will, but I’m sure you will realize that your meal at Mashiko will push the needle one way or the other.