Thursday, January 30, 2003

The Chau line

Posted on Thu, Jan 30, 2003 at 4:00 AM

I'm a lucky guy. What I do for a living doesn't require that I spend long days out in a fishing boat or toiling in the fields. So, unlike the people sushi was originally developed for, I eat it as a luxury.

That's right, sushi was the original box lunch, with the fermented or vinegared rice -- called "shari" -- the ingredient that preserves the fish without refrigeration. Like most things Japanese, the craft became an art, all of which culminates in the atmosphere of the new Shari Sushi Lounge, full of artistic morsels that delight the eye and the palate.

This latest restaurant to join the hip habitat of Thornton Park Central makes up in height what it lacks in width, two levels of shimmery chairs and black-clothed tables in a creamy white room. The sushi bar is a chrome and ebony island; the cases of fresh sashimi glimmering under tiny spotlights.

Technically, sushi means the fish part of the delicacy, with the shari having just as much importance as the colorful protein atop it. The fish that landed here are among the best I've tasted, and a combination roll like the "Fort Myers" ($7), with yellowtail and whitefish rolled alongside avocado, scallions and spicy mayo, is a savory showcase. "Beauty and the Beast" ($9) is a knockout, two rolls alternating tuna and eel with avocado, asparagus and flying fish roe -- I don 't know which part is considered the "beast," but this dish is a "beauty."

Simple offerings, such as boiled soybean edamame ($4) or a tako salad of pickled octopus, cucumber, orange slices and spicy kimchee ($7), are done to perfection. More elaborate and original dishes are irresistible. I tried something called "Toro Tartare" ($12) and was served mounds of deep red tuna on top of fried and flaky tortilla wedges; the textures were only surpassed by the taste.

Behind the silver bar is a cool-looking itamai-san (sushi chef) called Chau ("just Chau," he says). Chau's parents own Saikyo Sushi on Aloma Avenue, which is where some of Shari's inventive menu was tested. It is quite extensive, and I can envision several months worth of regular visits before exhausting the tasty options, but the prize is "Chau's truffles" ($15), an assortment platter that offers ever-changing samples of his remarkable talent. Octopus cupped in a crepe, translucent salmon covered in wasabi-flavored roe, and eel with cucumber thankfully bereft of sweet sauce, were just some of the treasures.

As sushi chef, manager and co-owner, Chau is responsible for much of Shari's superb quality, and you'll thank him when you leave.



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