Right on the mark

Gorgeous appetizers, lovely fish, and the potentially deadly fugu!


4 W. Roy, 281-1352 lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. AE, DC, MC, V / sake and beer AT SHIKI the lights are bright and a homemade shoji screen separates off one corner. The music rattling over the speakers is liable to be some form of Japanese easy listening; don't hold this against the place. That jolly guy behind the sushi bar—the one who barked out a robust hello when you walked through the door—is Ken Yamamoto, the Kobe expat who opened Shiki in March of this year. If you recognize him, it's undoubtedly from behind the sushi bar at the venerable Shiro's, where he reigned as head chef for five years from 1995. There he gained his reputation as a gifted saucier and sushi chef, and indeed to catch him at his craft is to spy a maestro at work. Carefully, dare I say lovingly, his palm curls around a lucent fillet and his blade glides in, butter smooth and right on the mark. At least diners hope it's right on the mark. By the time you read this, Yamamoto will have his FDA and Public Health approvals and will be serving fugu, the Japanese blowfish whose guts are so poisonous they've offed many an optimistic gourmet. The key to eating this delicacy, of course, is to avoid the guts, a high-stakes skill so exacting that only the most surgical of chefs are granted fugu licenses. To date-after a few understandably epic rounds with the health department— Yamamoto is the sole practitioner in the state and one of just a handful in the country. I went to Shiki before the license was finalized; there's no use pretending this pains me, since I regard the never-ending requests for restaurant recommendations and the occasional bout of food poisoning the extent of occupational hazards a food critic should have to face. But Shiki has enough in the non- potentially lethal category to satisfy epicures of all stripes. There's even chicken, slightly dry but done in a sprightly teriyaki sauce ($11.50 ࠬa carte, $13.50 dinner); it's perfectly adequate, nice for the children, and not the reason to come to Shiki. No, Japanese food connoisseurs will want to head for Shiki (and not even mind fighting the good fight for a lower Queen Anne parking space) when they hear about the black cod ($9.50 ࠬa carte, $18 dinner), drenched in sake and grilled to the approximate consistency of butter. A sumptuous fish on its worst day, the cod at Shiki is off the charts in freshness and preparation. Order it as dinner and you'll get miso soup, rice, and a green salad that's actually more—thanks to fine homemade dressing—than the standard-issue iceberg deal. Yamamoto's repertoire of fried items also delivers more than one might expect. The tempura appetizer ($7.50) features a slice each of carrot, zucchini, and green apple surrounding a gorgeous specimen of shrimp, all gilded with crunch and served with a mound of daikon radish. Gyoza ($3.75) are savory, plump, and fried to crispy. Ebi fry ($6.50) is three more of those glorious shrimp, coated in panko and served hot and explosively juicy with a heap of spicy spaghetti. But the kaki fry ($6.50) is the best: A plate of the freshest oysters are fried not a moment too long and served with tonkatsu sauce. BUT YOU'RE not coming for the menu; you're here to make check marks on Yamamoto's sushi sheet. Good luck deciding. He offers all the usual suspects—hamachi ($4 for two pieces of nigiri), toro ($7.50), hotate ($4), unagi (3.50), tobiko ($3.50), and plenty more—all done with crisp precision and pristine freshness, and each demurely concealing a powerful daub of wasabi between its layers. Sushi sophisticates who want to venture off the beaten path should consult the white board near the door, where they might find such rarities as anago (ocean eel) or ayu (trout) flown in fresh from Japan, or, in the way of cooked foods, hot-pot preparations of delicacies like monkfish or quail. Even Yamamoto's sushi rolls are special, thanks to his generous hand (the tuna roll, $4, is packed with tuna) and his insistence that even the fish in the rolls be of highest grade. The spider roll ($10) is particularly noteworthy, with the red claw of the soft-shell crab reaching dramatically out from the rice. Red bean or green tea ice cream ($2) concludes the evening gently. Service is right out of the crack- efficiency school of waiting tables, with one seasoned, big-haired gal actually calling me "hon." For a moment I was in an old-fashioned American diner—the bright lights, the crooning soundtrack, the bar across one side, the friendly chef, the efficient waitresses, the feeling you get that it's been here feeding its regulars for darned near ever. May this indeed be true, and here's to no unfortunate fugu incidents. krobinson@seattleweekly.com

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