Takami’s fresh fish menu sets a new standard for Edmonton sushi
Who would have guessed a generation ago that Edmonton would one day be home to so many sushi restaurants?
Seafood on the prairies doesn’t make intuitive sense and yet here we are. It could even be said that a bad sushi restaurant wouldn’t last a week here, between established dynasties like Kyoto and Mikado, and up-and-comers like Takami, denizen of a new professional building along Calgary Trail are looking to make a mark on the local raw fish scene.
Browsing Takami’s menu online, it doesn’t look like there’s much to set them apart selection-wise—they seem to deal in the same sorts of starters, entrees, nigiri, sashimi and maki you’d find just about anywhere with a faintly Japanese-sounding name.
The difference, co-diner and I were about to discover, lies in their very splendid fresh fish menu, which is not presented online.
In point of fact, the fresh menu was somewhat diminished by the time we arrived for our reservation on a Friday evening. A party of 30—who had a lot to answer for—had swooped in and eaten the hell out of the place, and the fresh fish menu that’s usually marked up with erasable pen to reflect market prices and availability, was all smudgy from being denuded of item after item. The servers also scapegoated them for time lapse between ordering and eating, though the pace of service wasn’t remarkably slow.
Takami makes much of a not-entirely-promising space—basically a corridor between north- and south-facing glass doors that they’ve dressed up with wooden dividers, leatherette booths and arty photos of blossoms, given a subdued feel by gold-hued lighting. They were playing Coltrane and Miles Davis as well, which never hurts.
Despite the siege by the table of 30 and the ensuing disarray, service was prompt and attentive, though coordination between the three servers who visited our table was not optimal. In the absence of much novelty on the menu, co-diner and I ordered as usual: beef tataki ($14), deluxe tempura ($18), rainbow roll ($15) and salmon nigiri ($2.50/piece). The erosion of selection wasn’t going to keep us from trying the fresh fish menu.
We opted for a sample of the Bluefin tuna chutoro ($33/five pieces). We later found out they reserve a little bit of everything on that menu to serve in their combo platters, though that called for a significant outlay of cash on one platter of food.
The tempura came first and while the broccoli, yams and shitake were in the distinctive tempura batter, the shrimp and oysters had been coated in panko breadcrumbs and were better for it. Though the scantly battered mushrooms were tasty, the broccoli’s coating was doughy, not at all delicate as tempura batter should be, and the yam was on the wrong side of al dente. The shrimp were pleasingly crunchy, though, and the oysters so flavourful I wondered why more places don’t include them in the tempura mix.
The beef tataki—thin slices of seared, blue rare beef in a pool of vinegary, sweet sauce with shaved red onion and seaweed—was solidly executed, if not incredibly distinctive, but a fair price for the portion. The rainbow roll—inside out maki rinded on the outside with avocado and strips of tuna, snapper, mackerel, surf clam and cooked shrimp—set itself apart from other examples of the form with its crab and mayo filling and unexpected assortment of fish.
Any quibbles we had about the preceding were entirely forgiven when the Bluefin chutoro sashimi hit the table—five generous slices of pearlescent tuna on a bed of crushed ice that set a new standard for sushi lusciousness. We savoured each piece in drawn-out, probing nibbles after dredging it through wasabi-imbued soy sauce, letting them fall apart on our tongues, cleansing our palates with pickled ginger between slices so we could experience the subtle flavour and sublime texture anew.
A further dynamite roll ($15) filled with chopped scallop, mayo, tobiko, avocado, cucumber, tempura shrimp and hot sauce was entirely adequate but totally anticlimactic. The pieces of salmon nigiri were lovely mouthfuls, but no match for the chutoro. Co-diner and I vowed on the next trip to Takami to skip everything else and lay our money down for the deluxe assortment of fresh fish (22 pieces for $120) to see what other wonders lurked there. We had no doubt it would be money well spent.