12 Hours of Sushi
One man’s marathon of this Japanese delicacy starts at lunchtime and goes late into the night.
If you’re the sort of person who hankers for a real Japanese breakfast, there are a couple of theme park-area hotels that serve pickled cucumbers, daikon and miso soup in the morning.
I’m not one of those people. I do, however, enjoy authentic, thoughtfully prepared sushi, so I skipped breakfast and set out on a 12-hour marathon of all things sliced, rice-wrapped and seaweed-rolled. What I found, for the most part, was exactly what I was seeking.
I began my quest at Shin Sushi, in the “uptown” section of Orange Avenue, which offers truthfully serious sushi to the young customers who fill it for lunch. Depending on how it’s written, “shin” can mean “truth” or “heart.” The four Japanese chefs who own Shin put their hearts into this bright and hip eatery.
Combined, Massaiuki Kumagai, Kenji Okamoto, Takanao Nakashima and Takeshi Sakurada have worked in 30 restaurants over the past 25 years, places as far-flung as Japan, Brazil and San Francisco. Kumagai, who calls himself Kuma, owned a restaurant in Key West for a decade, moving to Orlando in 2007 to open Shin with his head chef and two friends. “We’re old,” he says with a deep-throated chuckle. “We’re collectible antiques!”
The lunch combinations are a good choice: Nigiri moriawase (catch of the day, $16) is an assortment of 10 hand-formed mounds of rice draped with fish; ruby-red tuna, buttery white escolar, fat-ribboned salmon and a surprisingly tender slice of octopus. The Shin “lunch set” special ($13) combines sashimi (riceless fish), crispy shrimp and vegetable tempura, salmon teriyaki, and a serving of highly prized koshihikari rice, and is a great value. Rolls for lunch are limited and pretty simple, with more adventurous offerings saved for the evening crowd. “We try different stuff,” Kuma says. “Fried and raw tuna together, cooked stuff and raw stuff. Raw stuff gets boring!”
Shin Japanese Cuisine Sushi and Sake Bar
ADDRESS 803 N. Orange Ave., Orlando
The construction of a sushi roll is as important to a chef as the food itself. For Yoshi Kohazame, the chef at Banshoo, rolls are an art. Born in Okinawa, Japan, the soft-spoken Yoshi-san has angular good looks and an intense gaze. He watches what you eat from his immaculate (and very small) workspace near the lobby of the Rosen Centre on I-Drive, and suggests your next course, based on his observations. Fittingly, Banshoo (“sunset” in Japanese) is open for dinner only, and my meal started with Japanese ceviche of lime-marinated tuna, white fish and octopus ($12), and ended with a refreshing kanisu (tuna, snapper, salmon and crab wrapped in a ribbon of cucumber, $11), with many stops in between. It was a fascinating trip.
“Japanese sushi is very simple, plain,” Kohazame says. “Americans like combinations, so I’m always learning new ways. And I love it.” The simple addition of a small piece of avocado enhances the creaminess of raw salmon and highlights the already delicious Banshoo roll ($14), with lobster, crab, scallop, tuna and flying fish roe. Every sushi chef has a recipe for rice, with precise additions of vinegar, sugar and salt. Rice at Banshoo is a masterpiece, each grain firm and separate, yet sticky enough to stay together.
Kohazame’s skills have been honed through 20 years in America—at local legend Rangetsu, Disney’s Swan Hotel and his own restaurant in Tampa—so that they are as sharp as the sword-steel knife he uses.
Banshoo Sushi Bar
ADDRESS Rosen Centre Hotel, 9840 International Drive, Orlando
My steadfast sushi rules: no “krab,” and cream cheese belongs on a bagel, not wrapped in seaweed. On Fridays and Saturdays, you can find rolls both cream-cheesed and not at the Funky Monkey until midnight, but I chose to end my marathon at 11 p.m., when Funky Monkey closes on weekdays, because Sushi Monday means half-priced rolls (normally from $11 to $13). The sushi menu at FM is extensive, constructed by chef Matthew Slattery, who heads the Monkey kitchen and the Bananas Diner two doors down.
The comfy Monkey is a casual space to meet friends and chow down on what I call recreational sushi, where the experience is more important than the caliber of the sushi-maker.
Slattery has come up with some interesting combinations. His version of a rainbow roll combines roasted red peppers with tuna, salmon and avocado. His Loco Monkey brings eel, tuna, salmon and shrimp together, cleverly wrapping it all in rice paper instead of nori seaweed. And if you must, there’s the Deep Diving Monkey, with baked sea scallops, “krab” and cream cheese (shudder).
The major fault is the rice: bland, too sticky and, on my visit, without a trace of vinegar, which normally keeps the rice from sucking the moisture out of the fish, to the detriment of both.
But the fish is fresh and the wine is ample, and there are choices enough for sushi lovers of any persuasion, pro- or anti-cream cheese.
Funky Monkey Wine Company
ADDRESS 912 N. Mills Ave., Orlando